The first episode of this Channel 4/ Amazon Prime Sci-Fi Anthology based on the writings of Philip K. Dick raises some interesting ideas and motifs, but lacks the killer instinct needed to make it truly stand out.
Kicking off Channel 4 & Amazon Prime’s new co-production Sci-Fi anthology series is “The Hood Maker“, adapted by Matthew Graham from Philip K. Dick’s 1955’s short story of the same name. Starring Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden and Holliday Grainger, it is set in a dystopian future London, and depicts the struggle between the “normal” populace of the country, and “Teeps”; those with telepathic abilities able to read the thoughts of anyone in the country. The central conflict portrayed is the way in which the Teep population are degraded, ostracized and discriminated against by ordinary humans. Into this already fraught situation arrives Agent Ross (Madden), a government employee tasked with harnessing a Teep called Honor’s (Grainger) telepathic abilities in order to find and arrest those humans rebelling against the Government’s Anti-Immunity Bill.
The first ten minutes of this show manage to compellingly introduce several interesting parallels between the show’s central ideas and modern society. The treatment of the Teeps and their degradation as second class citizens has echoes of our treatment of Refugees and asylum seekers because of our fear of “The Other” living among us. The Government in “The Hood Maker”‘s decision to use the Teeps powers for mass surveillance of individual citizens thoughts draws distinct comparison with the UK government’s draconian 2016 Investigatory Power’s Bill, or “Snooper’s Charter” as it is commonly referred to. While these themes had such potential to tap in to the Zeitgeist and draw chilling comparisons to our own lives, the show sadly seems to shy away from exploring these questions in depth and instead the episode evolves more into an exploration of Ross & Honor’s developing relationship and their hunt for “The Hood Maker”.
This titular name is a reference to a batch of mysterious woven linen hoods that begin to mysteriously appear as gifts “compliments of The Hood Maker”. These hoods act almost like a psychic firewall to the Teep’s telepatic powers, and Ross’ hunt for the mysterious group behind the appearance of these masks takes up the majority of the plot of this episode. It is suggested, but never explicitly stated, that the real reason the Government is so desperate to find the culprit behind these masks is that without the ability to read citizen’s minds they surrender the power to be able to act preemptively on people’s thoughts and motivations before a crime is committed (think Spielberg’s Minority Report – also based on a short story by Philip K. Dick). In this Dystopian universe order must be upheld at all costs, regardless of what personal liberties are lost in the process.
Visually, the opening to this series is captivating. Set in an London in an unspecified future time, the show actually lends more of its visual cues to neo-noir than classic sci-fi. Madden’s Agent Ross is a hard boiled detective, with a leather trench coat, gun holster and wide brimmed hat, while the visual styling of the set is battered 70’s style cars, a London scattered with junkyards, skyscrapers and waifs. It’s part Life On Mars, part Blade Runner, with just the smallest hint of Mad Max. The Colour Pallete is full of beige’s, browns and greens. Nothing in this world is fresh and clean and beautiful – apart from Ross’s treasured memories of his childhood fishing with his father in a beautiful country stream.
So far this review has avoided mentioning the program with which this anthology series has already been frequently compared; Charlie Brooker’s excellent Black Mirror. The comparisons are impossible to escape. Both are/were Channel 4 produced, Dystopian Sci-Fi anthology series set in alternate universes but designed to resonate with our modern day experience. Following Black Mirror’s departure to Netflix in 2015, Channel 4 clearly felt there was a market for such stories on Terrestrial television. They even kept the 9pm on Sunday time slot which was BM’s slot until it followed the money to Netflix.
While the universe presented in the first episode of Electric Dreams is interesting in many ways and presents some interesting themes to explore, it never quite manages the dizzying emotional and intellectual sucker-punches that Black Mirror managed to achieve in almost every episode. Perhaps it has something to do with time constraints – while Black Mirror’s varying episode lengths usually gave sufficient time to explore the intended theme/parallels in depth, Electric Dreams focus in the first episode was predominantly based around Madden & Grainger’s characters journey, meaning certain themes were mentioned early on and never explored again, arguably a wasted opportunity. Episode one of this new anthology has had an uneven start – lets hope next week’s “The Impossible Planet” featuring Benedict Wong is a more impressive installment.
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To read reviews of the previous episodes in this series, please click on the links below: