Exclusive: Bringing "24 Hours" to life was both a challenge and a delight for creator Neil Gaiman and showrunner Allan Heinberg

The Sandman creators on adapting one of the darkest storylines from the comics

(Image credit: Netflix)

Blending fantasy and horror, The Sandman boasts a number of dark moments across its first season. None, however, come anywhere close to reaching the harrowing heights of episode 5, which sees the Netflix show adapt the comic’s scariest issue: 24 Hours. 

Warning: the following contains spoilers for The Sandman episode 5. If you have not watched “24/7” then turn back now…

While the series centers on Morpheus, lord of dreams, the installment barely features the protagonist – and instead focuses on David Thewlis’s villain John Dee. The illegitimate son of Sir Roderick Burgess (Charles Dance), the magic user who imprisoned Morpheus (Tom Sturridge) for over 100 years and stole his tools, John regards Morpheus’s powerful reality-bending ruby as his birthright. Having previously been driven mad by using the stone, John manages to get it back from his mother and escape Arkham Asylum, seeking refuge on a rainy night inside a diner. There, he toys with the staff and regulars using the ruby for a whole day, before having them murder each other or themselves in gruesome ways.    

“[It] was a particular challenge for me,” showrunner Allan Heinberg tells Total Film, when asked what it was like to bring the story to life on screen. “It ended up being the second episode that we shot because of the COVID situation in the UK. In the comics, it’s narrated by an omniscient narrator, who gives us what’s happening in everybody’s mind at different points in the story. We had a much more naturalistic approach to it, so we had to figure out how to introduce the characters in a way that makes you fall in love with them before the dark strain starts to take over. 

“It was a challenge but then, also really rewarding because it freed me up as a writer to think outside of the comics in a way, and really dig into telling the same story through a different lens. It liberated me, I think, for the rest of the series, too, to make it as full-bodied an adaptation as possible. That it really lived on the screen as its own entity, even as it’s indebted to the source material.”

“I got to be in the lovely position of just getting to encourage Allan to make television,” Neil Gaiman, author of the graphic novel, adds. “I couldn’t explain to him the decisions that I had made 32 years earlier, that were based on the structure of a comics page, and why I did this and why you turn the page here, and so on and so forth. I was going, ‘You don’t have any of that and you don’t have this imposed structure of 24 hours and 24 pages. So we can do other things. Let’s build it as drama, and let’s make people care. Let’s do the same things, emotionally, to people that the comic did. But we can do them as television,’ and we did.”

The Sandman creators on adapting one of the darkest storylines from the comics

(Image credit: Netflix)

While the majority of The Sandman is faithful to the comics, almost word-for-word in places, “24/7” does take some creative liberties. For starters, there’s no mention of necrophilia, no orgies – well, the six of them do have sex, but it’s not a group activity – and John doesn’t force a children’s television host to harm himself live on camera. 

Another major difference is that John in the show, unlike John in the comic, allows each of the diner’s visitors to experience some semblance of joy before he kills them off. Heartbroken lesbian Judy (Daisy Head) finds new love with wannabe writer Bette (Emma Duncan) before the former starts hacking parts of her flesh off and the latter gouges her eyes out. 

Elsewhere, domineering CEO Kate Fletcher (Lourdes Faberes) and lesser executive Gary Fletcher (James Udom) temporarily free themselves from their loveless marriage by hooking up with customer Mark (Laurie Davidson) and cook Marsh (Steven Brand), respectively. Each of those four meet grisly fates, too, sparked by Mark fatally wounding Gary in an attempt to defend himself in a fight later on.

If you’re after more on The Sandman, check out our interview with cast members Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Jenna Coleman, and Gwendoline Christie or our other interviews with Neil Gaiman and showrunner Allan Heinberg. Or, if you’re stuck on what to watch next, then look to our list of the best Netflix shows for some viewing inspiration. All 10 episodes of The Sandman are available to stream now.

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