Channel 4’s epic new anthology series brings the godfather of sci-fi to the small screen
THE INTERGALACTIC COLONY of Primo 241 can be found just off London’s A4. The location for Impossible Planet, one of the short films in Channel 4 and Amazon’s ten-part Philip K. Dick anthology series Electric Dreams, has a shabby retro-futurist vibe. It may be set 500 years in the future but the inside of the Dreamweaver spaceship resembles an Atomic Age cocktail bar, all Formica surfaces and moulded furniture. In Impossible Planet, written and directed by
The Night Manager’s David Farr, a rich, old, blind woman (Geraldine Chaplin) hires two cosmic tour guides (Jack Reynor and Benedict Wong) to take her to Earth, presumed long dead. They plan to rip her off but discover, says Reynor, “that there’s something happening on a different plane of existence” — a recurring theme for Dick, who constantly questioned the nature of reality.
Hollywood has feasted on Dick’s chewy ideas for years with the likes of Blade Runner, Minority
Report and Total Recall, and now it’s TV’S turn. Five years ago, Dick’s estate, led by his daughter Isa Dick Hackett, approached veteran producer Michael Dinner to adapt his choice of the writer’s 121 short stories. Two weeks later he called back: “How about all of them?” Dinner assembled a crack team of producers (Bryan Cranston,
Battlestar Galactica’s Ronald D. Moore) and writers (Jack Thorne, Tony Grisoni, Matthew Graham). “My notion was to create singular points of view,” he says. “I didn’t just go to sci-fi geeks.”
The stand-alone episode format (five filmed in London, five in Chicago) also helped Dinner attract Steve Buscemi, Timothy Spall, Anna Paquin, Greg Kinnear, Janelle Monáe and Cranston himself. “People responded to the material,” Dinner tells Empire, “and the idea of playing in the sandbox for three weeks.”
Regardless of genre, time period or set design, says Dinner, the appeal of Dick’s stories is in ideas and emotions. “I’ve never read science-fiction,” Geraldine Chaplin says apologetically. “I should, shouldn’t I? This is so romantic and so strange.”
above: Jack Reynor as space tour guide Norton with robot RB29 (played by Malik Ibheis and voiced by Christopher Staines); Benedict Wong as Andrews, his partner in crime; Norton faces bigger questions than he’d anticipated; Behind the scenes on set, with Geraldine Chaplin as the story’s central rich tourist, beside Reynor.