Released October 2002
Big Finish continues its streak of bringing new writers and experimenting with formats in ‘The Sandman.’ Here, Simon A Forwards presents the perspective of those that the Doctor has affected and bringing into question previous assumptions and expectations along the way.
The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn land among the Clutch, an assembled collection of migratory ships that is a home of sorts to the reptilian Galyari race. The Galyari, as it turns out, are very familiar with the Doctor, holding a deep fear for him- or the Sandman as they know him- as well as the death and destruction he brings. There have been several attempts to make many of the different Doctors a darker character, and although the Seventh Doctor is known best for this trait, Colin Baker believably portrays a more sinister edge to his own version here. The script is clever enough to drop clues as to why this change in temperament occurs, but it leaves enough unanswered to successfully sustain the mystery of the Sandman. Even the manner in which the fact that the Doctor and the Sandman are the same being is revealed is quite nonchalant and understated, though the incredible fear the Galyari possess indicates that the Sandman is anything but.
Although the Galyari are a welcome addition to the roster of alien foes in Doctor Who and the alien atmosphere of the Clutch is brought life suitably by excellent sound design and score, the star of the show is undoubtedly Colin Baker who gives one his most mesmerizing performances. Big Finish has taken great strides to soften the character a bit, but on full display here is the loud bravado present from the television series, complete with an added layer of grim determination. The aggressive undertones that start to infect his performance- primarily in the scenes depicting his first encounter with the Galyari and then in the present as events progress- are shocking; Evelyn voicing her concern and fear speaks volumes given how tight-knit these two are. Despite typically strong acting from Maggie Stables, this is primarily her role in ‘The Sandman’ as she stays out of the primary action and instead expresses concerns and asks questions to give a voice to what listeners should be thinking.
Of the guest cast, Anneke Wills and Ian Hogg are the big attractions. Wills, who played Polly alongside the First and Second Doctors, here injects a brutal bitterness into Director Nirosha, driven by her hatred for the Sandman who took her children long ago. Hogg, likewise, is very strong and persuasive as General Voshkar, though his more limited presence is unfortunate. In another notable role, Robin Bowerman is quite unique as the star gypsy Mordecan, straddling a line of ambiguity in terms of where his allegiance lies and what his motivations are.
As an experiment, then, ‘The Sandman’ is wholly enjoyable and for the most part successful as the idea of the Doctor instilling such fear goes from a laughable concept to a terrifying one in Evelyn’s eyes. The core concept is intrinsically intriguing, and it offers a rather rare experience in seeing the Doctor’s fail (in some regard) as his very complicated plan falls apart. However, as the mystery is resolved and the entire perspective is exposed, everything falls into place and offers a satisfying conclusion another pleasant surprise from Big Finish.