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TV Review: Electric Dreams (Season 1 Episode 2)

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It’s another week, and another vastly different take on the science fiction genre, as Electric Dreams continues.

This week's instalment is ‘Impossible Planet’, adapted from Philip K. Dick’s 11-page short story by David Farr, who’d previously converted Le Carré’s The Night Manager to television. This episode, unfortunately, never quite stacks up to Farr’s better work, nor to last week’s ‘The Hood Maker’.

The last episode marked a bleak introduction to the anthology, both visually and thematically. Therefore, in a way, it’s understandable that the showrunners would desire to dispel the idea that all instalments would be equally miserable. Where there were good intentions however, the result of this episode is a campy sci-fi that is a far cry from prior beloved K. Dick adaptations.

This week's episode follows Irma, a 342-year-old deaf woman who, at last, is coming to the end of her life. She offers two cruise-ship operators a significant sum to take her to Earth, unaware that the planet was destroyed years ago. Nevertheless, Andrews and Norton decide to take her to a similar planet instead in order to pocket the payment.

Though it recovers the futuristic neon glow that made Blade Runner such a visual masterpiece, the setting fails to also bring with it the grit and nightmarish quality that make his work premonitory and cautioning.

In all fairness, unlike most of his work, in which the tales are exploratory of extreme technological advancement and its dangers, ‘Impossible Planet’ is closer to a general meditation on memory, death and the afterlife. However, none of these thematic contemplations are developed fully and thus the episode falls short.

The episode is briefly redeemed by its snapshot view of shifting realities in the contemporary world, in the way technology allows for the commercialisation of crafted realities. In letting the audience glimpse the workings behind the space tours, in which Edwards and Norton alter the tourists’ view of reality. A possible commentary on the synthetic universes created by virtual reality technology, CGI or something as simple as photo retouching on social media, is sadly abandoned within the first five minutes of the episode.

It is true that ambiguity can sometimes lend a level of erudition to science fiction, helping launch important conversations on complex topics. Yet, ‘Impossible Planet’ is all-around too predictable and clichéd to fall in that category, and thus, the viewer is simply left dissatisfied.

A bizarre and uncomfortable romance threads its way between Norton, the twenty-something tour guide, and Irma Gordon, an ancient and deaf woman who is supposedly upwards of 300 years old. No reason is offered as to why he looks exactly like her grandfather, nor why she wants to recreate an ancestral romance with a man she just met.  

The connection is made more difficult to accept by the incompatible tone of the two lead performances; where Jack Reynor’s performance feels artificial in its depth, Geraldine Chaplin’s is so forceful that it is reminiscent of a silent-era acting method.

Come the hour’s conclusion, the story already feels tired, and there is no sense of wanting to mourn the characters. A big twist to the short story that the TV version misses out, but which would have partially saved the instalment, comes when the reader, but not the character, realises that this stand-in planet is Earth after all. A rebondissement evocative of Planet of the Apes would have brought the unforeseen dimension the story craved.

Though I found it to be a disappointing hour, the beauty of an anthology series lies in its ability to move on week to week; to delve in and out of a variety of formats, and to cater to a diversity of tastes. ‘Impossible Planet’ will definitely have its fans, just as it will have its critics.  

Electric Dreams airs on Sundays at 9pm on Channel 4.

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