Channel 4's new sci-fi anthology series Electric Dreams can't escape comparisons with Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror – the tech-dystopia series that also began on the broadcaster before departing to great success on Netflix (an exit poorly received by Channel 4 at the time).
Given that both series deal with dark sci-fi stories and are structured to have standalone stories in every episode, it’s not hard to see why many have lumped them together. But writer Jack Thorne is doing his utmost to minimise the resemblance between his episode and Brooker's creation.
“I was determined that it wouldn’t be a Black Mirror story,” the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child scribe, who penned tonight’s story The Commuter, told RadioTimes.com at a recent screening.
“That there’s no way this could fit into the Black Mirror universe. And I’m sure there are some other Philip K. Dick stories that could fit in very easily […] but it was important to me that this could never be seen as a Black Mirror story.
“Black Mirror’s not interested in stuff like this. So it was kind of important that it wouldn’t be.”
He added: “I love Black Mirror, by the way.”
In the end, his finished story about a railway worker (Timothy Spall) who discovers a strange, slightly too-perfect town that begins to subtly alter his life (including his relationship with his mentally ill son) is pretty far from the techno-horror of Black Mirror – and as Thorne went on to explain, was actually deeply influenced by his own family background.
“My granddad worked on the railways all his life,” Thorne said. “It’s weird how you come to these things.
“The original [Philip K. Dick] story is about a guy who works on a railway station who is told about an ideal town, one of these new towns like Milton Keynes or Telford, that doesn’t exist. And he goes there and his life begins to change at home as well as in that place.
“And I really liked that idea, and it made me think about my granddad who was a ticket clerk, and whose son was a paranoid schizophrenic and who ended up quite seriously depressed. I think probably he ruined his life. That he couldn’t cope with having my uncle for his son.
“And he’s someone also for whom the ideal wouldn’t be desert islands and coconut juice. It would be a pretty nice town where he could walk through and everyone was nice, and everyone was gentle with each other. I think that would be what [my granddad] Stan would like best.
He concluded: “So it was thinking about that and the idea of removing things from your life, and whether that would make your life better.”
Guess we’ll have to tune in tonight to find out the answer.
Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams continues on Channel 4 tonight (Sunday 1st October) at 9.00pm