Channel 4’s new Philip K Dick sci-fi anthology Electric Dreams continues with The Impossible Planet, adapted by The Night Manager screenwriter David Farr from an 11-page short story.
The story is “really just one simple idea,” Farr writes in the introduction for the Electric Dreams short story collection. “When I read it I just fell in love with the proposition – two galactic nobodies think they can make a mint out of a VERY old lady by taking her on a ride on a spaceship to nowhere. But who is kidding who?”
We should say upfront that this article contains SPOILERS for both the TV show and Philip K Dick’s short story. But if you’re wondering what happened in the original plot, read on.
Does the TV show follow the same plot as Philip K Dick’s original story?
Mainly – but with two key differences: the ending, and the love story.
Both Dick’s original short story from 1953 and Farr’s TV adaptation follow the basic plot. An extremely old and deaf woman called Irma Vincent Gordon arrives with her robot servant (“robant”) and tries to employ the services of Captain Andrews and his co-worker, Norton. She has a suitcase full of cash and wants to go to Earth.
Now, Norton and Andrews know this is impossible: no one is even sure Earth exists. But this woman, who is over 300 years old, insists her grandfather came from there. And she wants to see it one more time before she dies. So Andrew, with Norton’s reluctant agreement, decides to scam her by taking her to see another planet (Emphor III) and pretending it’s Earth.
The robant realises what’s happening, but keeps up the charade to so Irma can believe she’s visited Earth before she dies. She dies on the surface of the planet, thinking it’s Earth.
How is Channel 4’s Electric Dreams adaptation different from the original?
Screenwriter David Farr has added in a love story to make the narrative more complex, stretching out to the full hour.
In the original, Norton’s private life and feelings never come up beyond his disgust at this trickery. But in the TV version, we see he has a girlfriend, Barbara, who is extremely fed up with him for continually failing to get a promotion and a transfer to Primo Central. Their relationship is on the rocks, though he doesn’t want to admit it. Instead he finds himself falling for Irma.
Somehow, Norton finds himself accessing memories of life on Earth – idyllic bike rides, flashes of grass. And then Irma shows him a picture of her grandad, and he looks EXACTLY like Norton. There’s something odd going on. A weird chemistry grows between them.
In the original, the craft lands on Emphor III as planned. Irma and her robant vanish into the “mud and filth” and disappear.
But in the TV version, Norton actually heads out into the radioactive hellscape of the planet alongside Irma, leaving the robant back in the spaceship to stare at Andrews disapprovingly. When they run out of oxygen and just before they die, Norton experiences a vision of his life on Earth with a younger Irma, getting naked and making out in a lake. He dies alongside her instead of heading back home and quitting his job.
The other big twist in the book – which is missing from the TV version – comes at the end. Surprise surprise! This was Earth after all. Andrews picks up a “small disc” and reads the words “e pluribus unum”. It’s a coin, but he’ll never know it.
Philip K Dick finishes with the words: “He shrugged, tossed the ancient bit of metal into a waste disposal unit behind him, and turned his attention to the star charts, and home…”
Electric Dreams continues on Sunday 1st October at 9pm on Channel 4 with Jack Thorne’s episode The Commuter