The Sandman (Audio Drama Series) – Chapters 1-8 “Preludes and Nocturnes” Review

I wasn’t sure of the idea of an audio adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman”, the original comics/graphic novels were so vividly brought to life by the artwork that it almost seemed… pointless? But then I saw the voice cast and I thought I’d give it a go! Sure enough there are some great performances here, but there are also some missteps, especially if you’re used to the Big Finish style of Audio Drama like I am. It’s a long one, so I’ve decided to split it up into its three original collected volume titles to take a look… so let’s do just that!

Synopsis:

Morpheus, Lord of the Dreaming, has been captured by mere mortals, and left to rot in a cell for 70 years. Upon his escape he finds a modern world full of chaos and sin, and the instruments of his craft missing. He must now reclaim his helmet, ruby, and sand pouch and repair the damage done to his realm…

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

First thing’s first: James McAvoy as Morpheus/Dream/whatever you want to call him is brilliant, he gets the melodramatic nature of the character down to the tee, sometimes veering into cheesy territory but never crossing over completely into a cartoony voice. Morpheus, especially in this story arc, is more of a fed up and desperate man than good or evil and McAvoy gets that across perfectly.

From here it’s a straight adaptation of the original eight issues of the comic, commonly collected in a graphic novel called “Preludes and Nocturnes”, including all the DC Universe cameos that entails. Morpheus is captured by a crazy cult trying to capture his sister Death and gain immortality, and spends 70 years away from his home dimension known as “The Dreaming”, causing lots of humans to have sleepless nights or become paralyzed entirely. He escapes, punishes the son of the man who trapped him, the actual man having died of old age, and the returns to The Dreaming only to find it in ruin. After he recovers he begins to hunt for his three key artefacts so he can begin to repair the damage. His search for his sand pouch leads him to meet with John Constantine (Taron Egerton) and an ex of the Liverpudlian mage who ends up on the verge of death due to overusing the Sand, with John convincing Morpheus to give her a peaceful dream to send her off.

Dream then travels to Hell itself to reclaim his helmet, meeting Lucifer (Michael Sheen) and fighting the demon known as Choronzon (Paterson Joseph), who had stolen his powerful helm. They do battle in the Hellfire Club, playing an “Old Game” of one-upmanship, Choronzon would name a wolf, so Dream would have to name something that could defeat it, and so on like an endlessly escalating game of rock-paper-scissors. Well, I say endlessly, after Dream picked the Universe and Choronzon chose anti-life, the master of the Dreaming picked Hope, the one concept that could not be defeated, and won his helmet back. Lucifer was angry, but could do nothing about it. During this there is a tease of Morpheus meeting a woman who he was once in love with and says he is not yet able to forgive, but that doesn’t become relevant for some time yet…

Very striking cover, though not a patch on some of the comic covers…

The last and longest part of the story is Morpheus’ search for his ruby, a stone that had been misused by a villain known as Doctor Destiny (William Hope). John Dee, the man under the villainous identity, is in Arkham Asylum, his ruby locked away, but he soon escapes and heads to where its stored at the same time as Dream heads there after getting a tip off from the Martian Manhunter. Morpheus is knocked unconscious by his own corrupted ruby, allowing Mr. Dee to become Doctor Destiny once more. He wreaks havoc on the world, especially a set of people in a diner (more on that later…) before having another showdown with Morpheus, who begins to win, leading Destiny to panic and assume breaking the ruby would kill his opponent dead, but instead it frees all the power from the object and sends it back into Dream, restoring him to his full power. Instead of killing his clearly crazed foe, Morpheus just returns him to his cell in Arkham and leaves him there, which really is more punishment that straight up killing him.

Now back to his full power the final part/chapter of this volume of the story sees Morpheus sulking in a park and meeting his sister, Death (Kat Dennings). She takes him on her rounds and cheers him up a bit, which given her rounds is meeting people as they just died to send them on to the afterlife is a bit weird, but there you go! A nice little epilogue to the first story arc.

The Bad:

Sadly the biggest “bad” in this production is the choice of narrator. I understand getting original author Neil Gaiman to read the narration made sense in their heads, but sadly as he’s not an actor and he ends up reading the narration pretty straight, only adding occasional pauses and short breaths that gets a bit tiresome after a while. I mean, I prefer the Big Finish style Audio Dramas anyway, ones that lack narration entirely, so it’s kind of distracting to hear so much Audiobook style narration as it is, but it could’ve worked had the narrator sounded more… bothered and added some emotion into it a bit, or at least some variety in tones depending on what he’s describing…

The infamous chapter where Doctor Destiny spends the entire time slowly torturing a group of people at a diner for 24 hours while waiting for Morpheus to find him isn’t very fun to hear played out over 30 minutes or so. The twisted dark humour just about worked on the comic page, but just hearing people giving in to desires, being terrified about nightmares and generally murdering each other wasn’t very comfortable listening. I don’t think you could’ve removed it from the adaptation, mind you, so I guess it’s still best it was in, but I didn’t really enjoy it. Not looking forward to another infamous chapter that caps off the third volume…

Overall Thoughts:

The first half (as the next two volumes are only four chapters long) of The Sandman is a great and unique tale, but I’m not sure the audio adaptation should be your port of call, unless your unable to read comics or think they’re in some way a medium that’s beneath you (if so, shame on you!) The actual voice acting is fine but the narration is dry and sometimes excessive, and generally it’s not easy to picture some of the bizarre locales and characters that fill the story, I’d wager. Actually I’d be interested in hearing from someone who never had any interest in the comics but listened to this, maybe having read the comics and having a lot of respect for them has dulled my enjoyment a bit? Who knows! I will be listening to the rest, but I listened to this in bits here and there over the last month or so, so I don’t know how quickly I’ll get through them… Overall, it’s fine but also somewhat pointless… which is what my initial reaction was, now that I read this review back…

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