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TV Review: Electric Dreams (Season 1, Episode 7)

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Electric Dreams is back and episode seven, ‘The Father Thing’, explores a classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers-type science fiction where Charlie Cotrell (Jack Gore) witnesses his father (Greg Kinnear) have his identity assumed by an alien.

Having a four-month hiatus between this episode and the mid-season finale, ‘Human Is’ was a sneaky but judicious move on the part of Channel 4. Not only would having two back-to-back stories about alien-possession of human bodies have felt quite cheap, but the thorough lack of complexity and originality to ‘The Father Thing’ would only have been further highlighted by the comparative excellence of the previous instalment.

The beginning of the episode struggles to get to the meat of the story, dedicating as much time to establishing the central father-son relationship and Charlie’s day-to-day life as would be expected from a feature film, not a 45-minute-long anthology episode.

Though arguably important to setting up the events through a child’s mind, the first act feels laboured and thus the core theme doesn’t land its full impact with the audience.

With the baseline established, ‘The Father Thing’ then jumps to an homage to classic alien invasion films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Faculty, The Thing, the more modern The Host, or even the television series V. There is no shortage of this science fiction genre, so making such a story original or unexpected is no easy feat.

It mostly fails, though its centring on the relation of father and son, and the timely Stranger Things and It flavour make a good attempt at giving the episode an extra layer. Despite it being well-made, aesthetically appealing and having a stylish ambiance, there’s not enough to ‘The Father Thing’ to shake the episode’s familiarity and make it stand out.

Similar body-snatching science fictions almost always serve as allegories for contemporary, real-world issues the writers feel society faces, whether it be commenting on consumerism and the loss of individuality with zombies, or a reflection of paranoid McCarthyism in the body snatchers trope.

Instead, Electric Dreams is much closer to Spielberg’s theme in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a story exploring a family coming apart in the suffocating intimacy of their suburban home, and the collapse of a patriarch-led nuclear family order.

When Charlie realises that parents are about to separate and change his entire world, an alien takes the place of his father. He finds the dumped human skin of his real father in the garage, and eventually kills the alien who took the patriarch’s place in the home. It’s a story for our emotionally literate age, in which the alien represents not a political threat, but a domestic horror.

There was much potential for Philip K. Dick’s original story to be developed into a sensitive exploration of family relationship breakdowns, seen from a young boy’s perspective, to have a father dethroned from childhood hero to flawed human. Instead, the whole thing is played too safe, too predictably, and ultimately, it fails to do much at all.

Most of what keeps you watching is the anticipation that there will be a twist, an unexpected element to prove that what we are seeing is not actually what we’re seeing. Disappointingly, and to the episode’s great loss, such a resolution never comes.

By ‘The Father Thing’s closing, with Charlie and his friends burning the pods, and Charlie sending out a #RESIST hashtag (there is no indication that the writers realise the serious, real-life connotations of the hashtag, which makes its use in this context uncomfortable), what should have been a moment of triumph feels more like a shrug.

‘The Father Thing’ is a capable and stylistically pleasant adaptation of a story that has been done and redone, which unfortunately results in an episode that feels very standard, with no excitement. Science fiction exists to push audiences to imagine alternative worlds and reflect upon contemporary issues in a new light; adaptations like this defy the point of the genre. This episode may have been watchable, but it was no tribute to PKD, nor was it reflective of what Electric Dreams is capable of doing.

Electric Dreams airs on Mondays at 9pm on Channel 4




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