I barely have time to keep up with broadcast and cable TV shows so I don’t take the opportunity very often to review a streaming show. But Amazon Prime’s new sci-fi anthology series “Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams” looked so appealing I had to check it out. If the name Philip K Dick isn’t familiar to you, his works most certainly are. Among the films and TV shows based on his work are Blade Runner, The Man in the High Castle, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau, A Scanner Darkly, Screamers, and Total Recall.
Electric Dreams is an anthology series based on his short stories. There are 10 episodes of the first season available on Amazon Prime now. The series is produced by Sony Pictures Television and originally aired in the UK on Channel 4. Amazon is just the US distributor and not really a producer. So far I’ve just seen the first episode titled “The Hood Maker”. I’ve not read the short story that is the basis of this episode but I can tell you very much that had I not known it was based on one of his stories I would’ve compared it to his work. It’s very much into the tone and content that we expect from this sci-fi icon who sadly passed away in 1982.
The story takes place in a near future with low technology. According to a synopsis online, humanity’s only mechanism for long-distance communication are mutant telepaths. As though it is clear these mutant telepaths known as “Teeps” are the center of the story, I did not really understand their role in society as described in this online summary. The episode opens with a group of protesters marching through the streets and alleyways of a slum. Hiding just out of sight are a group of riot police and some other plainclothes police officers accompanied by a strange woman with a scar across her eye. It soon becomes apparent that she is a telepath who is reading the minds of the protesters. She trying to discover if they are dangerous or not. She dismisses some of them as harmless but eventually points out a few that could be troublemakers. Then one of the protesters senses that his mind is being read and the protesters takeoff and charge the storm troopers creating a riot.
One of the protesters is wearing a hooded mask and takes off running. The detective chases him down and arrests him. It’s only halfway through the riot that we realize that the protesters are protesting the telepaths and the fact that their private thoughts are being invaded.
We later learned that this female telepath named Honor is working with the detective Agent Ross as a part of a pilot program to make use of her abilities in their investigations. We aren’t really sure what it is that the Agent is looking for or what his particular law enforcement department is in charge of. But we get the sense that this is a bit of a police state. There is apparently law that permits telepath abilities to be used on criminal suspects because she interrogates the suspect mentally. He tries desperately to resist but she manages to get information out of him about other people and his cell of the resistance group. The agent remarks to her “you raped him pretty good there.” She explained she had to push hard because he was resisting so much.
We eventually find out that the hood he was wearing is capable of blocking out telepathic signals. The hoods start popping up in various places and so the quest is on to find out who is producing and distributing them.
Without revealing the entire story we can tell you that there is sort of a three way tension going on between the government investigators, the rebel protesters, and the Teeps themselves. The Teeps are being treated as second-class citizens who live in a ghetto like environment and are exploited in a variety of ways. We also find Agent Ross and telepath Honor falling into a relationship that eventually finds them sleeping together. Ross is played by Richard Madden you may remember best as Robb Stark from Game of Thrones. Honor is played by Holliday Granger who played Bonnie Parker in the 2013 TV miniseries Bonnie & Clyde as well as Lucretia Borgia in the Showtime series The Borgias.
In this episode less than one hour long they do a great job of exploring very difficult themes of trust, privacy, and the rights of individuals versus an authoritarian government. There are couple of plot twists that I won’t spoil but I reveal that there is a bit of a twist just to say how well-written and deeply layered and nuanced this entire story is in a very short amount of time. The screenplay was written by Matthew Graham who is known for writing for the TV series Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes as well as three Doctor Who episodes and the TV miniseries Childhood’s End.
The production quality is excellent. The world they have created feels like a low-tech version of the slum areas in Blade Runner. Considering that is also a PKD world it’s no surprise it feels familiar. Also the theme that everything isn’t exactly what it seems to be is very much in line with the typical PKD story. He likes to play with the ideas of perception versus reality.
If this episode is any indication of the quality of the remaining 9 episodes then this is a real treat for those who love sci-fi that makes you think and doesn’t pull any punches on social commentary. If you’re looking for mindless space opera then this is not for you. But if you aren’t afraid to think and have your mind expanded a little bit then this is a definite must-see. I’m giving it a strong rating of “I really like it”.