Like ‘Black Mirror’? Try Channel 4’s ‘Phillip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams’

The sci fi anthology series is on now.

Sci-fi loves a good clone and, if you were to be uncharitable, you might make an obvious joke about a passing resemblance between the new anthology series Phillip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams and Charlie Brooker’s acclaimed satire Black Mirror. Hot diggity, though, would you be dismissing something that’s real, real good.

First of all: yes, there’s a through-line from Electric Dreams to Black Mirror, and not just because actors Benedict Wong and Tuppence Middleton have appeared in both series. Channel 4 famously dropped the ball on Brooker’s show after the second series, and it was then snapped up by TV’s moneybags arch enemy, Netflix, at which point it arguably became even better.

Phillip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams is Channel 4’s riposte, mining the short stories of the late genius writer, who produced his most famous work – including Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, later filmed as Blade Runner – in the 1960s and ‘70s. Here, then, is why it’s well worthy of your time.

It’s timely, yeah?

Last weekend’s first episode was the first of 10 unrelated stories – six will air this year, followed by four in early 2018. Entitled The Hood Maker, it explored a world in which telepaths (or ‘teeps’) walk among us. As in The X-Men, these gifted sorts are reviled by fearful normies – and with good reason, if you happen to be a bad bastard, as the police use ‘teeps’ to read the minds of potential criminals. Everyone in the real world is currently skeeved out because Google’s snooping on us all, so it’s not hard to work out what director Matthew Graham (who created the TV show Life on Mars) is driving at here.

There’s an all-star cast

It’s not just Netflix with deep pockets, you know. Channel 4 still knows how to dish the dosh in these straitened times. And so we see in their thought-provoking sci-fi anthology series such famouses as Bryan Cranston, Anna Paquin, Greg Kinnear, Juno Temple, Janelle Monáe, Julia Davis and Steve Buscemi. Do viewers dream of well-known actors making fantastic telly? We do, we do.

Channel 4 has a score to settle

Know this: the trendy terrestrial channel has not taken that painful Black Mirror poaching very lightly at all. No, the broadcaster has gritted its teeth and vowed to move on and make a success of its stand-in satirical sci-fi offering, though not before former departed Chief Creative Officer Jay Hunt seethed: “Black Mirror couldn’t be a more Channel 4 show. We grew it from a dangerous idea to a brand that resonated globally. Of course it’s disappointing that the first broadcast window in the UK is then sold to the highest bidder, ignoring the risk a publicly owned channel like 4 took backing it.” Jay, here you must learn an valuable life lesson: simply replace your adored ex with someone that looks kinda like them – and you’re good to go!

Those Black Mirror comparisons don’t always hold

Brooker’s show famously deals with technology, while, as has been pointed out, Electric Dreams takes a more humane approach, exploring universal truths about us masses of meat and bone.

There’s good stuff to come

The next episode, ‘Crazy Diamond’, is based on Dick’s 1954 short story Sales Pitch, in which an advertising robot (totally a thing) is so relentless in marketing stuff that it causes one poor bloke to lose his mind. In the real world, there’s currently a rumour that smartphones can overhear your conversations and use the information to serve you online ads. Yeah: Dick called it again. Anyway, this Steve Buscemi-starring adaptation deviates from the source material in that it centres on a fella who has an existential crisis when a robot woman involves him a heist. Like the whole show, it’s both prescient and thrillingly weird. In other words: great sci-fi.