Electric Dreams: Impossible Planet, review - A complicated snapshot of unreality
It’s not necessarily the job of science fiction to foretell the future, but posterity will always pat it on the back for having got it spot on. Electric Dreams (Channel 4, Sunday) the anthology of Philip K Dick’s short stories, is on a more complicated journey.
Dick’s imagination was operative when the technology we now take for granted looked like wizardry with nobs on. The writers of the drama series’ 10 episodes were given carte blanche to invent as they pleased. So unless you read the source material first, you’re never quite sure if you’re watching Dick’s retro-predictions, or something else entirely.
The second instalment in the series was written (and directed) by David Farr, whose adaptation of The Night Manager boldly rejigged Le Carre’s original. It felt like a snapshot of the way we now commercialise unreality. Its setting – a virtual theme-park offering tours through space – was not dissimilar to the synthetic universes summoned up by contemporary video games or CGI cinema in 3D.
A client arrived to test the limits of the demoralised staff’s loyalty to the status quo. Irma (Geraldine McEwan), claiming to be 340, requested a trip to Planet Earth, specifically a sparkling ancestral memory of a waterfall in Carolina. Although they knew Earth to be long since extinct, they accepted her careful of cash anyway and set off on a trek through the galaxies, destination solar system S483B65. “We’re con artists,” worried Brian (Jack Reynor). “What other type is there?” retorted his colleague Ed (Benedict Wong) before humming a line or two of Fagin’s theme tune “You’ve got to pick a pocket or two”.
The story, about the longings that precede death, played out as a remedial journey into the perilous unknown. It felt somehow right that the denouement never quite laid all its cards on the deck; sci-fi which over-explains itself leaves no room to ponder its provocative visions.
Reynor nobly grappled with his conscience, while Chaplin, that now lined face of hers bearing the ghostly imprint of her father, was affecting as a woman on the brink of the inevitable. And her robot servant was believable too, which is always a good sign.