Electric Dreams – Episode 2: Impossible Planet – Review

Impossible Planet - photo










(Written and directed by David Farr)

Electric Dreams is a science fiction anthology of unrelated short stories based on the stories of renowned science fiction writer Philip K Dick, who is best known for his dystopian depictions of human life.

I’ll be reviewing some of these short stories to cover the themes that resonate in these inspiring episodes. Though an avid fan of Philip K Dick’s stories, I haven’t actually read some or all of the short stories that inspired the episodes in this adaptation.

‘Life is a Dream’

Norton works for the budget space travel company Astral Dreams, showing (creating) glamorous spectacles in the form of colourful interstellar dust clouds for passengers, among other spectacles, but he needs to leave the company because his partner Barbara is fed up. Barbara wants to move to Primo Central, away from their remote outpost, and she has waited four years for Norton to show some promise. Now, Norton checks his vid-mail as she advises him to do in a call, and yet again Primo Central has rejected his application. The stakes are high: if he doesn’t get his act together she could leave him and he’ll feel it’s his fault.

When somebody repeatedly knocks on their office door, Norton has a feeling that something remarkable is going to happen and decides to open the door, against boss Andrews’ protests. It’s a 342-year-old woman! Not something you see every day. And she’s accompanied by her robot helper RB29, who translates because Irma Gordon, the old woman, is partly deaf. Irma Gordon is here to return to Earth, and she’s offering 2 kilo positive (five years’ salary) for their services; something Andrews is quick to exploit. Norton isn’t sure about it, until desperation with the situation between him and Barbara forces him to accept. What Norton doesn’t know is that this is Irma’s last trip; she has a heart condition and will die in a few months; and he and Andrews are both taking advantage.

The problem is that Earth ‘no longer exists’. It is extinct save for solar gases. Irma isn’t aware, or more accurately, doesn’t accept that the particular place she wants to visit can no longer exist. The specific place she wants to visit in Carolina before she dies is a pool in Elk River Falls where her grandmother told her she and her husband swam naked! Andrews searches for a practical solution and finds a similar planet, though duller and less beautiful than Earth in the belief that it can be made to look like Earth. Andrews is morally corrupt on a daily basis, watching pornographic aliens when he’s supposed to be working so he’s not going to worry about Irma Gordon being told the truth when 2 kilo positive is involved, and Andrews reminds us later this is their job: to create happiness. Of course, Norton has reservations about how Andrews is handling the journey; it’s not usual for Andrews to be present on the ship itself. RB29 is not to be hoodwinked and engages them in questioning and undertakes a bit of liberal investigation.

However, Irma Gordon is not just a very old lady; she has a sparkle in her eyes and deduces more than she should. Like the translator she uses to read what is said to her, she picks up some sentences more than others, which may be more meaningful. It’s this greater meaning behind what she reads, or sometimes hears, that makes us wonder if she knows much more than Norton and Andrews about life and the universe. We forget that she doesn’t actually need RB29 to translate, and he is only there to look after her.

There is a connection between Irma Gordon and Norton, which maybe could have been represented better, for Norton’s dreams didn’t have a noticeable effect on his day apart from when he came into contact with Irma. Not only does Irma have a benevolent influence on him but they both desire a return to nature; life as it is instead of the prevalent ‘pre-digested’ happiness such as his partner Barbara’s wish for a perfect life and his own job creating visual spectacles in space and making people think their dreams have come true. Like Irma Gordon we want to believe that not everything is accounted for in the universe and that some mystery remains, to excite us and inspire us. This would be especially important for a very old woman, but no less so for many of us I believe.

In times that are rapidly heading towards greater knowledge of science, technology, and space, is it true that a part of us longs for that hidden mystery that cannot be understood, and can only be embraced?

More information about Electric Dreams

Missed it? Watch it on Channel 4’s Catch Up