Char­lie Brooker’s Black Mir­ror is warp­ing into space for its fourth sea­son. Ian Ber­ri­man beamed onto the set

SFX - - Contents -

We’re on set as Char­lie Brooker un­leashes an­other bout of creep­ing techno-para­noia. Full dis­clo­sure: nano-cam­eras em­bed­ded in this ink are watch­ing you. Be­have.

Boom, left!” a voice shouts, prompt­ing a mass lurch to port. ”Boom, right!” sends ev­ery­one stag­ger­ing star­board as sparks fly and the light­ing flick­ers. Re­as­sur­ingly, some things never change in the world of sci-fi tv. Who needs sets mounted on hy­draulics when you can get the cast to do their best re­act­ing-to-ex­plo­sions act­ing?

SFX is at twick­en­ham Stu­dios, ob­serv­ing film­ing of an episode of Black Mir­ror – but feel­ing rather like a fly on the wall at De­silu Stu­dios in 1966 dur­ing the mak­ing of Star Trek. Be­fore us is a space­ship bridge, bedecked with banks of blink­ing lights. Stand­ing about it are six ac­tors in brightly coloured uni­forms. this is

is the USS cal­lis­ter, cap­tained by the heroic cap­tain Daly (Break­ing Bad’s Jesse Ple­mons) – who’s cur­rently en­gaged in a stand-off with a heav­ily-armed Gor­gon Dread­nought.

“We’re not run­ning any­where,” he says, point­ing at a green screen. “take us into the gas clus­ter!”

“it’s sui­cide, cap­tain!” protests the first of­fi­cer. “it’ll tear the ship apart!”

“You’re a Space fleet of­fi­cer,” Daly snaps. “Hold your­self to­gether!”

“Boom, left!” comes the cry from be­hind the cam­eras – fol­lowed by a vol­ley of “Pew! Pew! Pew!” noises as the cal­lis­ter re­turns fire.

Sit­ting along­side us be­hind the mon­i­tors, char­lie Brooker, cre­ator of the an­thol­ogy show, whis­pers that the look of this se­quence will be

very ’60s. “it’s all wonky an­gles and harsh light­ing – lights just on peo­ple’s eyes, beads of sweat, all that stuff.”

Daly’s dar­ing tac­tics even­tu­ally win the day, and he sends his alien ad­ver­sary off with his tail be­tween his legs, nobly declar­ing, “i showed you mercy – re­flect on that.”

a cry of “three cheers for cap­tain Daly!” goes up. af­ter a cho­rus of “for he’s a jolly good fel­low”, the hero wor­ship starts to look a lit­tle ott, as the first of­fi­cer drops to one knee to kiss his hand, and Daly swings a fe­male crewmem­ber into a clinch.

“cut!” calls di­rec­tor toby Haynes, and the cast dis­solves into laugh­ter. they’re clearly hav­ing a whale of a time.

Brooker tells us he came up with the con­cept for “USS cal­lis­ter” on the set of sea­son three’s “Playtest”.

“‘We’re a sci-fi se­ries and we haven’t done space yet!’ was the thought. ‘So let’s do space.’”

Not be­ing all that au fait with deep-space shows (“i can’t re­late to a cone-headed alien in white robes ex­plain­ing why hu­mankind has vi­o­lence in its sys­tem,” he jokes), Brooker en­listed the aid of Will Bridges (co-writer of last year’s “Shut Up and Dance”), who brought his nerd knowl­edge to bear on the script.

“We thought of him be­cause we knew he’s a sci-fi fan,” Brooker ex­plains. “He was fuck­ing de­lighted! He kept ref­er­enc­ing things where i was like, ‘i don’t know what that is!’”

With Bridges sup­ply­ing tech­nob­a­b­ble, fur­ther au­then­tic­ity has been added by hav­ing star Ple­mons work with a di­alect coach.

“We had some dis­cus­sions about de­grees of Shat­ner,” Brooker laughs. “ob­vi­ously it’s not a car­bon copy of Wil­liam Shat­ner, but he’s do­ing a re­ally good job of em­u­lat­ing those strange stop/start speech pat­terns.”

this be­ing Black Mir­ror, there’s much more to this episode than mere Galaxy Quest-style homage, though (all will be ex­plained about 15 min­utes in). in­deed, when Brooker first con­ceived the episode, it didn’t in­clude the ’60s stylings – that came in later.

“the idea came from the no­tion of liv­ing un­der a dic­ta­tor­ship,” Brooker ex­plains. “So it’s more about that dy­namic than nods and winks to clas­sic Star Trek. and if there’s any par­ody go­ing on, it’s done with af­fec­tion. my aim is not to have a pop at shows that are much more long-run­ning and in­flu­en­tial than ours!”


Dur­ing a break we catch up with the ac­tors, who are bathed in a red glow – not be­cause the cap­tain has de­clared Red alert, but be­cause on a freez­ing sound­stage in Jan­uary, the sen­si­ble place to be is around an elec­tric heater. fe­male cast mem­bers like cristin mil­i­oti – who plays Nanette, a new ad­di­tion to the crew – have it worst thanks to uni­forms that ex­pose ex­panses of goose-pim­pling midriff and thigh. one alien crewmem­ber is bright blue, and mil­i­oti is in dan­ger of turn­ing a sim­i­lar shade.

“i know!” she says, “it’s very cold, and it’s not the most com­fort­able out­fit. But it’s so much fun once you see your­self in the mir­ror with the big hair and the lashes.”

this must be what it was like work­ing on a ’60s sci-fi show, we sug­gest.

“i’m sure – though with, like, 95% less sex­ism,” she wryly notes. “No one has slapped us on the ass at lunch, which i’m sure is what that was like… But yeah, it’s one of the most fun jobs i’ve ever had. in be­tween takes, all of us are beam­ing, be­cause it’s what you dream about do­ing when you’re a kid. it doesn’t feel like work.”

We put it to Ple­mons that “do­ing a Shat­ner” must be par­tic­u­larly good fun.

“there can only be one Wil­liam Shat­ner!” Ple­mons in­sists. “But i’m try­ing to do my ver­sion. it’s been an in­tense les­son for me in

Star Trek, be­cause i never grew up with sci-fi – i grew up in texas, watch­ing West­erns. But it’s a lot of fun to have all this footage to go through. Some­one told me that Shat­ner was clas­si­cally trained and did a lot of the­atre, and watch­ing the episodes with that in mind, you do get the sense that he treated Star Trek as if it were Shake­speare.”

time for a nose around the bridge, do­ing our best to tune out the elec­tric heaters and hot wa­ter bot­tle (a method mil­i­oti’s been us­ing to fend off hy­pother­mia). Notic­ing that iPads have been inset into the con­soles, we peer at the la­bels on them. Some are suit­ably fu­tur­is­tic, like “HYPeRviSoR viRtUal­iSa­tioN”; some not so much – why would the USS cal­lis­ter need “vPN eN­cRYP­tioN”? in­trigu­ingly, the walls fea­ture soft pan­els, like a

He’s do­ing a good job of em­u­lat­ing Wil­liam Shat­ner’s speech pat­terns

padded cell – a sen­si­ble pre­cau­tion in case you’re hurled against a bulk­head mid-bat­tle? But the neat­est fea­ture is a re­volv­ing bar. its shelves are lined with cock­tail shak­ers, swiz­zle sticks and de­canters of brightly coloured liq­uids, which in­clude “dis­tilled root blood” and “Ben­gar­ian phlegm shots”. it’s a good job it’s there, be­cause these char­ac­ters are go­ing to be in reg­u­lar need of a stiff drink…

MiR­RoR, MiR­RoR

clock­ing in at 74 min­utes, “USS cal­lis­ter” is just one of six episodes of sea­son four, which vary wildly in tone.

“We’ve got ones that are overtly comic,” Brooker says. “and ones that are in­cred­i­bly bleak and bru­tal.”

We’re ac­tu­ally get­ting eight sto­ries, mind, as “Black mu­seum” is an an­thol­ogy that uses the tit­u­lar crime mu­seum as a fram­ing de­vice for three tales.

“it’s a bit am­i­cus hor­ror movie,” Brooker says, “a bit camp­fire tale. and it’s got quite a lot of nods and winks to pre­vi­ous sto­ries – we’ve gone very easter egg-y on it.”

the short­est episode of the sea­son – and the se­ries so far – is “met­al­head”, star­ring max­ine Peake. it’s also, at the sug­ges­tion of di­rec­tor David Slade (30 Days Of Night), the first mono­chrome Black Mir­ror episode.

“He said, ‘i want to make it in black-and­white,’” Brooker ex­plains, “and we thought, “Yes, that’s a good fit,’ be­cause of the na­ture of the story – it’s de­lib­er­ately pared back.”

then there’s “Hang the DJ”. Does the Smiths-lyric ti­tle have any sig­nif­i­cance?

“Prob­a­bly not in the way you might think,” Brooker says. “they don’t lit­er­ally grab a noose and hang a DJ! that’s to do with ro­man­tic lives.” Brooker also con­firms that “croc­o­dile” does

not fea­ture an ac­tual croc­o­dile. a “night­mar­ish thriller” star­ring an­drea Rise­bor­ough, it was shot in ice­land by The Road’s John Hill­coat.

“that’s one of our log­i­cal traps,” Brooker says. “a shock­ing thing hap­pens at the open­ing, then it’s all about the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of that. there’s a darkly comic el­e­ment to it, but over­all it’s sweaty and tense.”

fi­nally, the story that’s most per­sonal to Brooker is “arkan­gel”. Di­rected by Jodie foster, this in­ti­mate tale of a mother/daugh­ter re­la­tion­ship has a kitchen-sink feel.

“that’s very much in­formed by my ex­pe­ri­ence as a par­ent,” Brooker says. “You can buy an app now that tracks a child’s where­abouts, and there’s nurs­eries that have we­b­cams so peo­ple can check in and watch their kid. the in­stinct is a no­ble one. But at what point are you like the se­cu­rity ser­vices?”

in clas­sic Black Mir­ror style, the episode fea­tures tech it’s not dif­fi­cult to imag­ine peo­ple be­ing happy to use in the near-fu­ture.

“You see this daugh­ter be­ing fit­ted with an im­plant that al­lows her mother to see where she is at all times, to see med­i­cal in­for­ma­tion, to see what she’s see­ing… and also to po­ten­tially in­ter­vene in what she’s see­ing.”

talk­ing about the parental in­stinct to pro­tect takes Brooker back to some­thing that hap­pened when one of his sons was three.

“i was be­ing a bad par­ent, he was watch­ing stuff on Youtube, on the app. then the al­go­rithm goes, and it plays the next thing, and the next thing… i went out of the room, i came back, and he was watch­ing the trailer for John car­pen­ter’s The Thing! He was not happy!”

fans of the likes of “White Bear” and “Shut Up and Dance” will be hop­ing some of sea­son four proves to be just as trau­ma­tis­ing...

All aboard the USS Cal­lis­ter for the se­ries’ first space-set episode.

“Met­al­head” is the first Black Mir­ror episode to be shot in black-and-white.

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