Saturday, 9.30pm, SBS One It’s not every day we see a new 10-part science-fiction series, far less one made in Sweden. Though it first aired in that country in January, there is already talk of an Englishlanguage version of Real Humans, mirroring the fate of Wallander and of course The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo film series. The premise is not the most original idea in the science-fiction pantheon. In an alternate reality somewhere in present-day Sweden, people have been living with domestic robots for more than 10 years. Hubots, as they are called, have become so sophisticated that they live with people as full partners, replace lost sons, function as nannies, sex workers and, in one of many nods to Blade Runner, rebel against their makers. (In the robot sex bar we visited in last week’s debut, one of the bots for hire was made up almost exactly like Daryl Hannah’s Blade Runner character, Pris). There is a troubling absence of Asimov’s laws of robotics hardwired into the brains of these androids, and the show’s ethical dilemmas of dealing with artificial people have been thoroughly explored in everything from Star Trek to The Terminator. But what Real Humans lacks in originality it makes up for with a beautiful realisation of artificial looking people in various stages of development and decay . Though the series never resorts to camp, I do find it amusing that hubots have a standard household electrical plug behind their left shoulder and an off button under their left arm — shades of everyone from Rhoda the robot ( My Living Doll) to Star Trek ’s Data. There’s a bloke in the title sequence who has a USB port between his shoulder blades. I suppose you could take him to work if you lost your thumb drive. Though far from perfect, Real Humans is the best science-fiction series to hit the small screen in a long time. The real ace in the hole is that the program is downright creepy. The Swedes are getting very good at this. it is, but it stars Penelope Keith, the original star of the wonderful To the Manor Born, which ran from 1979 to 1981. Now 72, Keith is still energetic and rather lovely, and though age has dimmed the beauty of her face, those upper-class vowels remain untarnished. She still talks of going down to see ‘‘ the hice’’. In this program Keith tells us she is on a mission to overturn the rules of visiting stately homes. You know the kind — don’t touch this, don’t sit on that, don’t go beyond this or that barrier. Of course she is joined by a wonderful team of the best British television personalities who specialise in updating old hices, er, houses. Keith does fret terribly that there may not be enough time to get wonderful old Avebury Manor in Wiltshire into shape. But over four episodes I’m sure she’ll try to make sure the hice is in order, and that the great unwashed get to jump on the beds, picnic in the kitchens and touch almost everything. because we are witnessing first-hand the event that causes a long war of succession known as the Anarchy. It is the death of William Adelin, the only legitimate heir of Henry I aboard a vessel known as the White Ship. We see it all from a sort of Titanicsurvivor position under and in the water as the ship goes down in flames. Then we are off to the king’s court to witness the beginnings of chaos. There’s loads of sex, intrigue, scheming and struggle, and, naturally, gore by the bucketload.
Mike & Molly