Star Tours [Review: The Impossible Planet]

The second of Channel 4's Electric Dreams TV dramas is an adaptation of Philip K. Dick's short story The Impossible Planet. In a distant, space opera future two cynical intergalactic tour guides, Brian Norton and Ed Andrews, take parties of human tourists on cruises to see the most beautiful sights in the Universe - secretly editing the sights and sounds to make them more dramatic. When an elderly woman knocks on their office door accompanied by her personal robot and a suitcase full of cash, asking for a private tour of Earth, Norton and Andrews know that they can't really do this - after all, Earth was vaporized centuries earlier. But she is persistent, and able to pay cash. Perhaps there's a way they can grant her wish after all...

The Impossible Planet is slightly reminiscent in places of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide or a good episode of Doctor Who. It's just as inventive and darkly funny. However that's as far as it goes in terms of comparison. Amazingly, this is a space-based drama that feels nothing like Star Wars, Star Trek or any other mainstream space opera. It has an eccentric look and feel of its own, from the quirky art-deco spaceships to the wooden android who seems a little too smart.

After watching last week's episode The Hood Maker, then listening to the Electric Dreams podcast about that episode, I realised that a lot more had gone into the backstory than I'd originally picked up - for example there's a whole story about how and why that society had regressed from advanced electronics back to 50s typewriters and internal combustion.

This week I've learnt my lesson - I paid more attention to the story. In this version of the future the dominant industry and political power appears to be space travel and logistics, with space tourism a minor side-swindle. Also, the existence of faster-than-light intergalactic travel means that everything in the Universe has already been discovered and all that's left for humanity is to be idle, gullible tourists.

Once again the cast are brilliant - this time Jack Reynor as Norton, and Geraldine Chaplin as Irma, and the writing is good. Again there's an everyman hero - get used to this, they are PKD's bread and butter - and this one is absolutely typical, the kind of person who's not unrealistically honest, but while he's made his peace with small cons he struggles with his conscience over bigger moral issues. Meanwhile watch that wooden robot - he's up to something, and his own moral choices are also pretty interesting. The ending to this episode is more of a puzzler than The Hood Maker - it makes good artistic sense but you need to be ready to believe a few more impossible things before breakfast. A planet, perhaps.

No comments