There’s this bit that went undeveloped back in the Colin Baker Doctor Who serial, The Trial of a Time-Lord. In that adventure, the Doctor appears to turn evil for a period of time. This is never really explored, though it’s assumed to simply be the result of evidence-tampering at his corrupt trial. But the sequence hints at a fascinating idea, with the Doctor behaving in a way that seems to his companions to be utterly wicked and contrary to his normal standards. What was largely breezed over on TV in 1986 received fuller treatment in the 2002 Big Finish audio, The Sandman.
The Sandman is written by Simon A. Forward, and is about an alien race called the Galyari, a militaristic race who travel around the universe in a giant collection of synchronized ships called the Clutch. In an effort to curb their more violent tendencies, the Doctor finds a way to more or less insert himself into their racial memories as a vengeful god-like being demanding that the Galyari change their ways or be destroyed. Both we and the Doctor’s companion, Big Finish original Evelyn Smythe, see this from the Galyari point of view…so if we didn’t know the character and the series we could be quite confused.
Eventually, of course, we learn that this was all an act on the Doctor’s part, a necessary deception in order to accomplish the goal of helping the Galyari transition from a military to an economic-focused species. But in the meantime, the “Sandman”, as the Doctor is known in his cruel alter-ego, has come to be blamed for a string of vicious murders that have been taking place over the previous few years. And thus the Doctor finds himself the subject of a particular level of resentment and bitterness on this latest visit.
The Sandman is an interesting story with a good performance by Colin Baker and a lot of sharp and witty dialogue. It’s guest cast also includes Anneke Wills, who played the companion Polly back in the 60’s. She does a good job as a particularly vengeful Galyari whose children were murdered, she believes, by the Doctor. Her appearance her dates from the days before Big Finish figured out how to start including the companions of Doctors who were no longer around to record new stories. My favorite guest character, though is the “Star Gypsy” trader Mordecan, played by Robin Bowerman, who gives a breezy and amusing performance as a bit of a rogue who turns out to be on the Doctor’s main allies in the story.
However, The Sandman also features a lot of complex concepts, with the Galyari, the Clutch, the Doctor’s secret history as the Sandman, and the mystery of what is truly going on with the murders. This creates interest but means that there is an awful lot of exposition in the story. There are two extended “flashback” sequences where hear the Galyari’s original encounter with the Doctor, first from their point of view and later from his, and in spite of the cleverness of the ideas that can’t help to slow things down a fair bit.
The last of the four episodes features more explanation than my interest level could maintain, and threatens to collapse a bit under its own weight. The story’s conclusion includes all sorts of stuff, all of which the story has had to explain: the Galyari’s “memory eggs,” woven from their own flesh, but the remains of which can cause hideous mutations; the Galyari’s vision which renders them susceptible to bad headaches if they see something like the 6th Doctor’s coat; and the Galyari fascination with birds, which is actually not important at all except that provides the Doctor with an easy-to-control army to fight the final battle. I feel like if the story could have been thinned out a bit it would have made the ending more palatable.
But it’s not bad by any means, and for much of its run is pretty good.