Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams

Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams


There’s a creepy fascination to clockwork automata, their blank expressions belying realistic human movements. Professor Simon Schaffer revels in that fascination as he explores the history of these “visions of fluidity and ambiguity between humans and machines”. He also highlights how these wonders of invention inspired the mechanisation of the Industrial Revolution and the advent of programmable computers.


Documentary exploring the history of the self-operating contraptions known as automata, which were first designed hundreds of years ago but display levels of technical sophistication that continue to amaze many today. Professor Simon Schaffer examines the history behind these clockwork motor-powered machines and the hardship endured by the workers that built them. Travelling around Europe, he visits a functional automaton city, observes a robotic boy that can be programmed to write, and witnesses a device capable of playing chess.

Cast & Crew

Presenter Simon Schaffer
Director Nic Stacey
Executive Producer Paul Sen
Producer Nic Stacey