TV review: Philip K Dick's Electric Dreams, Channel 4
- Brian Donaldson
- 12 September 2017
A starry cast assembles for C4's attempt to plug the Black Mirror gap
A sci-fi anthology series which rewrites the very notion of dystopia and imagines our likely enslavement to technological 'progress'. If that sounds a little bit like the dictionary description of Black Mirror, then it applies equally to the show which Channel 4 has commissioned to seemingly replace Charlie Brooker's baby after he hotfooted it over to Netflix after two series. But instead of penning all-new nightmarish visions, Electric Dreams dips into the short story canon of late sci-fi doom-monger Philip K Dick. On the basis of its opening two slabs of techno-satire, Electric Dreams might be falling between the stools of warmly replicating Dick's work and being in thrall to the feel and heart of Black Mirror.
Episode one, 'The Hood Maker', was written by Dick in the mid-50s and imagines some post-apocalyptic terrain where the populace are up in arms about state surveillance while the cops use individuals with telepathic skills ('Teeps') to bring rabble-rousers to justice. Richard 'Robb Stark' Madden reclaims his Renfrewshire brogue from the Westeros-by-Bolton accent he adopted on Game of Thrones while nicking Harrison Ford's Deckard-look and attitude (plus Indiana Jones' hat) as he battles against a mass uprising while trying to get it on with his own sidekick Teep played by Holliday Grainger.
If this opener comes over all Blade Runnery, number two 'The Impossible Planet' echoes those Black Mirror strands where commerce attempted to facilitate a person's unrealistic hopes (such as the sort-of resurrection of Domhnall Gleeson's dead character in 'Be Right Back' and the complex simulated reality of 'San Junipero'). Starring Benedict Wong and Geraldine Chaplin, it features a woman (aged 350) wishing to take one last trip back to the now defunct planet formerly known as Earth. In and of themselves, both episodes are perfectly fine but have little in the way of an emotional impact that a number of the Black Mirror episodes achieved.
There are certainly plenty of attractions among the cast and creatives throughout the series with the likes of Julian Jarrold, Tony Grisoni, Jessica Mecklenburg and Ronald D Moore among the writers and directors while on acting duty we can enjoy Steve Buscemi, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Timothy Spall, Anna Paquin and Bryan Cranston. In the light of that line-up, it would be wrong to totally write off Electric Dreams but as an expensive fix to fill a gap in one channel's schedule, it might not quite bear the fruit it's aiming for.
Philip K Dick's Electric Dreams starts on Channel 4, Sun 17 Sep, 9pm.