Charlie Brooker’s dream­ing of a dark Christ­mas… Stephen Kelly en­ters the twisted realm of Black Mir­ror

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Black mirror - By its cast alone, the Yule­tide spe­cial, which is ti­tled “White Christ­mas”, has shown how pow­er­ful Black Mir­ror has be­come, land­ing the likes of Game of Thrones’ Oona Chap­lin, Edgar

Of course there’s tinsel,” grins Charlie Brooker, ges­tur­ing to a por­tion of it hang­ing above a door. “It’s Christ­mas!” The bit of tinsel in ques­tion is a sad look­ing thing, a golden strand that dec­o­rates the wall of a wood cabin – the sort that you’d as­so­ciate with des­o­la­tion, of post- apoc­a­lyp­tic sur­vival, rather than chest­nuts roast­ing on an open fire. Dot­ted around are at­tempts at fes­tive cheer: a dy­ing Christ­mas tree, a half- eaten turkey din­ner, Santa grin­ning out from a gar­ish Toby Jug. All blackly funny against the bleak back­drop, all typ­i­cal of what you might ex­pect from a Black Mir­ror Christ­mas spe­cial.

For those not ac­quainted with the twisted world of Black Mir­ror, it’s the dystopian an­thol­ogy se­ries of Charlie Brooker – Guardian colum­nist, sweary pre­sen­ter of Screen­wipe and writer of 2008’ s Big Brother zom­bie satire

Dead Set – that grimly pon­ders where the not- so- dis­tant- fu­ture of tech­nol­ogy is tak­ing us. From 2011’ s first episode “The Na­tional An­them”, in which the Prime Min­is­ter of Great Bri­tain and North­ern Ire­land is forced to have sex with a pig on live tele­vi­sion, it cut a fig­ure like no other. It was dark, it was chal­leng­ing, it was sci- fi with a point to prove: that if the drug of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy has us hooked, then there must be side ef­fects. “One of our mod­els was the orig­i­nal

Twi­light Zone,” ex­plains Brooker, on set to­day at Twick­en­ham Stu­dios. “It came out at a time of change and un­cer­tainty and I wanted to do some­thing sim­i­lar for what’s af­fect­ing us now: tech­nol­ogy. I kind of felt like this wasn’t be­ing stud­ied in other drama se­ri­als. It felt like an un­tapped re­source for creepy, dark ‘ what if ?’ sto­ries.”

Over the course of two se­ries, those sto­ries have var­ied in topic, theme and tone. Its open­ing three episodes, each an hour long, es­tab­lished the show’s am­bi­tion, “The Na­tional An­them” tack­ling voyeurism and news in the Twit­ter age; “15 Mil­lion Mer­its”, co- writ­ten with Brooker’s wife Kon­nie Huq, en­vi­sion­ing a terrifying fu­ture of re­al­ity TV and Jesse Arm­strong’s “The En­tire His­tory Of You”, which took the huge sci­ence fic­tion con­cept of a world able to record and play back mem­o­ries and con­densed it down to one para­noid, crum­bling re­la­tion­ship. Se­ries two, mean­while, fully hit its stride with the thought- pro­vok­ing “Be Right Back”, in which a widow clones her dead hus­band and has his per­son­al­ity ex­trap­o­lated from his so­cial me­dia pres­ence. Then there was the har­row­ing “White Bear”, whose twist re­vealed a rightwing night­mare; and “The Waldo Mo­ment”, in which a sweary car­toon dog en­ters pol­i­tics.

“The sto­ries are more about the con­se­quences rather than tech­nol­ogy it­self,” says Brooker. “The way we just spend a lot of our time, the way we com­mu­ni­cate with other peo­ple, that’s changed mas­sively in a short pe­riod of time and it keeps shift­ing again and again. We’ve not re­ally had time to think through the con­se­quences of it all. In fact, the big­gest chal­lenge is com­ing up with the fic­tional ver­sion of some night­mare fu­ture be­fore it un­folds. Cer­tainly with the first two sea­sons, things that we’ve put in there have sort of hap­pened, like a web­site [ live­son. org] that would cu­rate your tweets and as­sem­ble a ver­sion of you after you die. It’s terrifying.”

cracking the story

Wright fave Rafe Spall and Don Draper him­self, Mad Men’s Jon Hamm.

“I heard he was a big fan of the show,” says Brooker. “Then he was in London and his agent got in touch with us, say­ing ‘ Jon wants to meet up as he’s a fan.’ So we met with him for a meal and it was just a so­cial oc­ca­sion. And then I went off and then I was like, ‘ Hang on a minute. He says he’s a big fan of the show...’ I was writ­ing the script at the time, and the character [ that Jon Hamm would play] was quite dif­fer­ent. Orig­i­nally he was go­ing to be this cheeky cock­ney guy and I thought, ‘ Some­thing about that is a bit weird any­way,’ and then you think, ‘ Hang on a minute, if I change this and this, would he? No... surely not.’ Then I thought, ‘ If you don’t ask, you don’t get.’ He got back re­ally quickly.”

The spe­cial takes the form of a fea­ture­length hour and a half long episode, which cen­tres around Hamm’s Matt and Spall’s Pot­ter swap­ping sto­ries of life be­fore they ended up at this snowy, re­mote cabin.

“The struc­ture of it is three in­ter­weav­ing sto­ries that are be­ing told by Jon and Rafe’s char­ac­ters. Matt is the chat­tier of the two, while Pot­ter has been ex­tremely tac­i­turn up un­til that point. And be­cause it’s Christ­mas Day, Matt is mak­ing Christ­mas lunch to try and break the ice. And break­ing the ice takes the form of, ini­tially, Matt telling sto­ries of his own life. So, he starts ex­plain­ing what went wrong for them to have ended up there, as they do a real shitty job.”

Un­like what we’ve seen of Black Mir­ror so far, this will be the first time that the show’s dif­fer­ent tales will be told in the same con­ti­nu­ity.

“The sto­ries are shorter, but they’re all in one and there’s an over- arch­ing story that con­nects the whole thing to­gether. So it’s longer and shorter, if you see what I mean. You’re get­ting a sort of com­pi­la­tion. If the

“things that we put in the first two sea­sons have SINCE hap­pened”

in­spi­ra­tion for Black Mir­ror was The Twi­light

Zone, for this it’s a hy­brid of com­pen­dium films like [ Eal­ing ’s 1945] Dead Of Night, or the Am­i­cus hor­ror films of the ’ 70s, like Robert Pow­ell vis­it­ing the lu­natic asy­lum in Asy­lum. It’s like a short story col­lec­tion.”

se­crets and lies

The three sto­ries them­selves are shrouded in mys­tery, with Brooker re­luc­tant to go into de­tail on con­cepts and plot. One he is quite open about, though, fo­cuses on the idea of be­ing able to block peo­ple – as you would do on Twit­ter – in real life.

“You use this par­tic­u­lar type of tech­nol­ogy where ev­ery­one has this com­put­er­is­tic vi­sion,” he ex­plains, “so if I was to block you, you’d be a sil­hou­ette to me, and I’d be a sil­hou­ette to you, and you’d be anonymised. I wouldn’t be able to hear you ei­ther, so you wouldn’t be able to com­mu­ni­cate with me, and vice versa.

So it’s that no­tion of block­ing peo­ple on so­cial me­dia, if you could do that in re­al­ity.

“I re­mem­ber yonks ago hav­ing an idea on what would hap­pen if peo­ple had magic gog­gles to air­brush out the home­less. That was years ago. Then you see Google Glass com­ing along, and you think, ‘ Hang on a minute, we’re not far away from that sort of thing hap­pen­ing.’ So, that’s an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion in it­self: if peo­ple could do that, clean up the world by push­ing a but­ton by their eyes, would they bother fix­ing real so­cial prob­lems? If they didn’t have to step over some­one on the way to the cash­point be­cause they couldn’t see or hear them, would they still care?”

The other two sto­ries, how­ever, are be­ing kept vague at best.“There’s another story where Jon’s character is ad­vis­ing in an un­usual form of ro­man­tic guid­ance to a naive young man. So he’s of­fer­ing ro­man­tic guid­ance. It’s like coach­ing, men­tor­ing. That has a tech­no­log­i­cal as­pect to it. And the other story... I can’t ex­plain what it’s re­ally about with­out blow­ing the whole premise. Let’s say... you see a woman go­ing in for an op­er­a­tion. What if you had an op­er­a­tion in Black Mir­ror? Let’s put it that way. It’s re­ally, re­ally hard to ex­plain the story with­out screw­ing them up. Chan­nel 4 have asked for some clips for a promo and we were go­ing, ‘ What the fuck can we ac­tu­ally give them?’ When you see it then hope­fully you’ll know what I mean.” One thing ’s for sure, though: the Black

Mir­ror Christ­mas spe­cial, fes­tive though it is, is cer­tainly still Black Mir­ror. Is there some­thing Brooker finds par­tic­u­larly dark about the hol­i­day sea­son?

“Have you seen EastEn­ders? I mean we’re not that fuck­ing dark. That’s pretty much, you know, peo­ple toss­ing kit­tens into fur­naces on Christ­mas Day…”

Black Mir­ror airs on Chan­nel 4 on 6 De­cem­ber.

Eggnog al­ways strikes twice.

“Lis­ten, Egg. I like you, you like me, but this isn’t go­ing to work.”

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