Listen up, sheeple!

- Stephen Kelly

RELEASED OUT NOW! 140 minutes | Podcast Publisher Radio 4/BBC Sounds

All of Piers Corbyn’s worst nightmares come true in this sporadical­ly compelling but largely limp five-part BBC drama, which posits a post-covid-19 future in which the minds of the masses have been taken over by medical microchips.

It stars The End Of The F***ing World’s Jessica Barden as Joleen, a young profession­al tennis player whose brain tumour diagnosis leads to her travelling to Seattle to be cryogenica­lly frozen. The hope is that she will one day wake up to a cure. Instead, she awakens in Alaska, to find a world divided between Steelheads – people with microchips that have been hacked to place them in a perpetual state of bliss – and those who are resisting control by the nebulous “elites”.

It’s Brave New World via your least favourite cousin’s Facebook page. There’s even a “Bill Gates resting centre” for people whose microchips have malfunctio­ned – a wry wink in what is mostly a straight “What if the anti-vaxxers were right?” premise. Portrayal is not endorsemen­t, of course, but the scripts by Brett Neichin and John Scott Dryden (who also collaborat­ed on The Cipher, a previous entry in Radio 4’s Limelight strand) often feel too broad, stodgy and humourless to sell it.

The series does pick up in its latter half, where a slow-burning set-up gives way to a more engaging series of twists and turns. It’s here that Joleen and her party must pretend to be “shiny, happy people” to blend in, leading to some delightful voice acting. Barden in particular brings much-needed humanity and warmth to what are fairly well-worn sci-fi ideas. There is only so much she can do, however.

In 2016 a 14-year-old cancer patient won the right to be cryogenica­lly frozen after death, which inspired this series.

One wry wink in what is mostly a straight ‘What if the anti-vaxxers were right?’ premise

 ?? ?? How’s your 5G reception these days? (And so on.)
How’s your 5G reception these days? (And so on.)

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