* Warning: this article contains spoilers for Black Mirror Season 4 episode Black Museum *
Black Museum is one of the most distinct episodes of the fourth season of Black Mirror, a story of digitalised human consciousness told through three horrifying fables.
But the scariest part of this trio of tales? Two of them were first described by An Idiot Aboard star Karl Pilkington 10 years ago.
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*Warning: spoilers for Black Mirror: Black Museum to follow*
Exhibit A: the first mini-tale in the episode, the one that Black Mirror co-creator Charlie Brooker developed after a conversation with magician Penn Jillette.
The story follows a doctor, Dawson, who is able to feel the symptoms of any patient who wears a headset wired up to a device implanted into his brain.
Through this tech, Dawson is able to tell exactly what is wrong with a patient, which comes particularly handy when they’re not able to verbalise it (if they’re having a heart attack, for instance).
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It’s an intriguing idea that will be familiar to those who listened to the 2008 audiobook The Ricky Gervais Guide To… Medicine (which was later adapted for The Ricky Gervais Show – see clip below).
Speaking to Gervais and Stephen Merchant, Pilkington claims he’s unable to say what illness he suffers from “because I’ve been in my body for years”, so proposes a new invention: the doctor machine. This, according to Pilkington, is a gadget that would transfer symptoms between patient and doctor, a revolutionary contraption that would allow the medic to diagnose almost any illness.
As Pilkington explained: “[I would] get into the machine and if he could somehow transfer my feelings into his body, [he could know how I feel] then he’d go, ‘Oh, you’re not well at all’.”
Granted, Black Museum depicts a device sewn into a Doctor’s skull while Pilkington referred to an external machine – one that didn’t lead to a doctor becoming horrifyingly addicted to pain, as in Black Mirror. But still, the two inventions are impressively similar.
Then there’s exhibit B: the second fable showcased in the Black Museum.
This story follows a happy family who are suddenly torn apart when the mother accidentally steps into the path of a speeding van.
Fortunately, she doesn’t die. Unfortunately, she’s stuck in a coma, her consciousness trapped inside her lifeless body.
With no hope of speaking to her again, the husband decides to try out an experimental new technology: he has his wife’s consciousness inserted into his own head. She can see what he sees, feel what he feels and the two can constantly communicate with one another.
Now, doesn’t that remind you of Karl Pilkington’s film pitch for The Love of Two Brains?
If not, let’s jog your memory: in Ricky Gervais’ 2007 Fame Souvenir Program Podcast, Pilkington voices an idea he has for a movie. It follows a man (who Karl suggests should be played by the non-existent Clive Warren) who is put in a coma after being mown down by a bus.
When all looks lost, the man’s wife (played by Rebecca De Mornay in Pilkington’s imagination) agrees to add his mind to hers. As the doctor in the film (played by Morgan Freeman, obviously) tells her “he’s gone, but you’ll have his thoughts”.
Yes, it’s the husband rather than the wife that carries two minds in Black Mirror, and the episode doesn’t descend into the lesbian love triangle Pilkington imagined – but Karl should be proud.
Let’s be very clear: none of this means that Charlie Brooker in any way took Karl’s musings as inspiration for Black Mirror: he’s spoken at length about his influences and inspiration, and Karl does not come up.
But perhaps Karl’s ramblings were more genius than gibberish after all?
Now we think about it, there’s another Pilkington idea that bears close resemblance to a Black Mirror instalment…
Remember the MASS visual augmentation implants seen in Black Mirror season three episode Men Without Fire?
Well, in 2009’s The Ricky Gervais Guide To… The Future, Pilkington imagined humans would wear VR glasses that superimpose whatever reality is programmed into them.
And here’s where it gets really scary: Pilkington conceived those ideas a decade ago, before the augmented reality revolution.
So, perhaps his current predictions of the future could lend themselves brilliantly to season five of Black Mirror. As long as Karl doesn’t voice his ‘transparent skin’ idea then more classic sci-fi could be on the way.
Sadly, Pilkington declined to comment when we got in touch with this story – but did ask to clarify if either Clive Warren or Rebecca De Mornay starred in the episode.