Last night saw Channel 4 show the first in a televised series of Philip K Dick’s works, entitled Electric Dreams.
The first episode, The Hood Maker, sees a cop and a telepath join forces in a dystopian future on the brink of a potential war between “normals” and “teeps”.
I’m not hugely familiar with Philip K Dick’s work, beyond knowing his name and that his work influenced a lot of popular science fiction movies and TV series, such as the more obvious Blade Runners and Total Recall. What I’ve seen, suitably adjusted, I presume, to be more accessible to cinema-going audiences, have been particular highlights that I continue to enjoy.
I approached the series not really sure what to expect.
After watching, I felt like this series is going to be a bit of an uphill struggle for many people. I can see three audiences. There will be one extreme that may not understand it but will say it’s clever because they didn’t understand it. There will the the other extreme that may not understand it and will say it’s rubbish because they didn’t understand it. And there will be a kind of middle ground of people trying to figure out what Philip K Dick is trying to say.
I found the first episode difficult to watch on a couple of levels – the biggest of which was that it felt like I’d seen a lot of it before. The trouble with being as influential as Philip K Dick undoubtedly was is that you see his influence and footprints all over the place. The whole thread of the telepaths being used by the authorities, being abused by “normals”, living lives of squalour, just wanting to live in peace, fear breeding riots leading to the brink of a war, all the way on to telepaths being called “teeps” and non-telepaths being called “normals”, was something I saw done with far more screentime and depth and better written characters in Babylon 5. Seeing it condensed into just one episode left me with the feeling that the hour came across as a pilot episode for a “buddy cop show” than a complete work.
I suppose many will point to the surprise revelation at the end as being the crux of the piece, and the unanswered question it leaves hanging as thought-provoking discussion material. Whilst the latter may be true, the former falls down for me. With the viewer being denied the “revelation” until the final moments, we’re left with a feeling of being cheated out of the previous hour that we invested in the characters and their relationship. The revelation feels like little more than a cheat, telling us that the previous hour of our time was wasted. If this is a signature of Philip K Dick’s work, then I can’t say I’m looking forward to further episodes.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t take away the fact that the episode was visually inspiring and gave cause for thought on several issues (so long as you hadn’t already been through them on some movie/series inspired by those issues). With the “teeps” vs “normals” on the brink of war having already been covered by other (presumably inspired derivatives) works, it may have made more sense to stress the “surveillance society” aspect of the story far more than the character relationship and “surprise revelation” side of it.