Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams ep 1: The Hood Maker

Set in a future which looks, as sci-fi futures tend to look, like a particularly grim, off-key vision of the past, The Hood Maker sensibly wastes little time on exposition, opting instead to focus on establishing its characters from the start and letting us see their world through their eyes while filling in any gaps for ourselves.

So Holliday Grainger is Honor, a telepath or “teep”, working for some sort of law enforcement agency, paired up with Richard Madden’s ostensibly reluctant Agent Ross to investigate mounting, violent unrest and stop the mysterious Hood Maker making things worse. The Hood Maker himself is a symptom rather than the cause of the pressure building up in the city, though: the teeps are second-class citizens, openly despised and exploited in imaginatively horrific and disturbing ways, while the “normal” majority rage against what they see and fear as the impending loss of their own power and control to a minority of people other than them. (If it sounds familiar, then it’s meant to.)

Ross seems different, however, as sci-fi heroes tend to seem, and he and Honor quickly – too quickly? – form a bond over runny egg sandwiches and dank, dirty crime scenes. Or do they?

If the romance is a touch speedy, and a couple of the story beats (the purpose of the Hood is blindingly obvious the second we see it, for all it seems to take Honor ages to work it out) a bit predictable, it’s still engaging and involving to watch. Madden and Grainger have so much chemistry, I would have been deeply disappointed if there hadn’t been any romance, and in fairness, these stories were written so long ago and Philip K Dick has been so influential, we’re bound to find themes and ideas we recognise. This episode’s aesthetic, for instance, is a mix of Blade Runner’s grimy, seedy neon and Indiana Jones’s dusty 40s chic; the former only to be expected given that it’s based on a PKD story too, and the latter because there are few things cooler than a tall, handsome man who can rock a fedora. The similarity with Spielberg’s cornball adventures ends there, however; a couple of flashes of humour aside, this story is much bleaker, darker and more ambiguous than your Raiders or your Temple of Doom. Which makes it very well-made, very engaging, somewhat old-fashioned but also entirely current since authoritarianism, oppression, slavery and prejudice are, sadly, timeless.

With all that said then, my problem with The Hood Maker may be an unavoidable side-effect of the anthology format itself rather than this story. I liked it so much I’m not actually ready to be done with it. Could we not spend more time with these characters in this world, rather than moving onto new people in a new story just yet? Come on, Channel 4 – any chance of a Hood Maker spin-off? Please?

Public Service Announcement 36 of 2017: Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams

Not, as far as I can tell, anything to do with one of my favourite songs of all time, new anthology drama series Electric Dreams is instead based on various self-contained short stories by seminal sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick and looks like the most ambitious thing channel 4 has done in a long time.

A (very expensive-looking) collaboration with Amazon Prime and Sony Pictures, the series involves a vast, impressive array of talent both behind the camera and in front of it, with writers like Battlestar Galactica’s Ron D Moore and Life on Mars’ Matthew Graham, big-time directors like Tom Harper and Jeffrey Reiner, and a cast of recognisable faces including Bryan Cranston, Liam Cunningham, Anna Paquin, Steve Buscemi and Timothy Spall, amongst others, popping in for various turns. In short, for sci-fi fans – including me – this is Big. News. Unfortunately, channel 4 seems to be adopting the US network model of mid-season hiatus by only showing the first six episodes this year (Sundays, 9pm) and saving the last four for 2018, but hey ho. The first instalment “The Hood Maker” starring Richard “Robb Stark” Madden and Holliday “also appearing in Strike over on BBC1 at exactly the same time” Grainger kicks off tonight (Sunday) at 9pm, so I’ll review this one and see how we go from there.