More (K) Dick
Blade Runner 2049 is not the only new work inspired by the sci-fi master this month
In 2015, Channel 4 was the proud producer of the most original, relevant show on British television for years — Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror — only to have it stolen away by streaming giant Netflix with its 40m Yankee dollars. It felt like a telling moment in TV history, a reminder that the truly groundbreaking stuff — even if it’s homegrown — belongs in America.
Black Mirror season three duly aired in October 2016 wearing its new budget like
a grand fur coat and, more devastatingly for Channel 4, was even more brilliant than before. But rather than admit defeat, the channel’s answer has been to pair up with Amazon Video and come out swinging with a distinctly Black Mirror-esque show all of its own, while poaching a member of US TV royalty. Take that, America!
Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams is a 10part anthology series spearheaded by
Bryan Cranston, adapted from the short stories of the titular Mr Dick (Blade Runner,
Minority Report). Intriguingly, Cranston — who serves as an executive producer and stars in one episode — says the writers, including Emmy-nominated Ronald D Moore and Michael Dinner, were given complete freedom to reinterpret the stories.
“We decided early we wouldn’t just be taking Dick’s work and putting it into a screenplay, but allowing the writers to totally reimagine them,” Cranston tells
Esquire at the south London studio where his episode, “Human Is”, is being filmed.
“We said: ‘Change the gender, change the location, change the time, put it in the past or put it in the future — wherever you want to go.’”
As for the debt to Charlie Brooker, Cranston is happy to acknowledge what is probably still a sore point for his new bosses.
“I look at Black Mirror as a big brother,” he says. “It showed us there is an audience for this kind of storytelling again, which went out of fashion for a while but used to exist in stuff like The Twilight Zone and The
Outer Limits. It’s for people who are deeply curious, like fans of Dick’s stories.”
If the set visit we were taken on is any indication, Channel 4 has pulled out all the stops for this series — including building an entire spaceship and a living room of bottled plant life set in an atmosphere-free future — but it is perhaps the talent Cranston has managed to attract that is the biggest cause for excitement. Timothy Spall, Greg Kinnear and Steve Buscemi are among the stars, the thought of the latter in a spacesuit in a south London industrial estate being almost too good to bear.
With that kind of pedigree, Philip
K Dick’s Electric Dreams has a fighting chance of proving, once again, that British TV has more to offer sci-fi than Doctor
Who. Just don’t tell Netflix if it works.
Electric Dreams airs on Channel 4 this month
Electric Dreams’ star-studded cast boasts, clockwise from below, Steve Buscemi and Julia Davis in episode ‘Crazy Diamond’;
Jack Reynor in ‘Impossible Planet’; Bryan Cranston in ‘Human Is’