As C4’s series of Philip K. Dick adaptations continues, a tercentenarian longs for home.
Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams began with an explosive, world-changing adventure. The next adaptation sees a smaller, more character-driven story. ‘Impossible Planet’ has all the trappings of a rambunctious, big budget action thriller but the focus of a stage play.
The Impossible Planet
Published in 1953 in Imagine, ‘The Impossible Planet’ is one of Philip K. Dick’s shortest works. Captain Andrews and his partner, Norton, are hired to take a deaf and dying 300 year-old woman to her home planet. The only problem? She claims to come from some fabled blue-green planet called ‘Earth’. But, since she’s got money, the pair decide to take her on a joyride around space.
This TV adaptation was penned by writer, director and RSC Associate Director David Farr. His screen credits include various episodes of ‘Spooks’, the 2011 movie ‘Hanna’ and last year’s hit series ‘The Night Manager‘. In his introduction to the story’s reprint, Farr talks about how he expanded on the character relationships for television:
“When I adapted it i added a strangely romantic element that isn’t really in the story but just leapt out at me.”
Jack Reynor (Transformers: Age of Extinction) and Benedict Wong (Dr. Strange) play the spaceliner-pilots-turned-swindlers Norton and Andrews. The script greatly expands on their characters, giving them a personality they lacked in the original. That said, the story builds on what Dick had only implied and their relationship mirrors the source material. Norton is a reluctant participant in the scam and seeking escape from his current life. Adding in Barbara, his girlfriend played by Georgina Campbell (Broadchurch), gave him an extra incentive. It also neatly establishes a contrast for the old-world romanticism that Irma exposes him to. Wong is unfortunately saddled with a bit of a one-note character but gives a great performance nevertheless. Acting royalty Geraldine Chaplin (Doctor Zhivago) plays the deaf, 300 year-old Irma with the perfect mix of frailty and strength.
It’s a superficial detail but I really appreciated how the ship’s displays were presented. Most modern sci-fi insists on gleaming glass controls even on something as practical as military ships. It was oddly fitting that this space-age tour operator had systems like a supermarket till. In particular, the scrolling ticker showing special offers was a nice touch. Especially when set against the breathtaking CG cosmic phenomena happening outside. It really sells the commentary on package holidays that Norton and Andrews have later on. It’s a terrific merging of script, production design and direction. Farr, who also directed, gives the ship a more dangerous sense once they go off the beaten track. The warm neon and plush sofas vanish without warning.
Irma Louise Gordon
I can’t say I share Farr’s reading of the original story and the romance he saw between Norton and Irma. Certainly Norton shows the most concern for the 300 year old woman subjecting herself to the rigours of space travel. But Irma’s role, for the most part, is small. Her interactions with Norton are fleeting and his regard for her so passing. Nevertheless, Farr has done a lot of work to increase Irma’s role and develop her character for television. The conceit of the speech recognition device is a simple but clever way to aid that. Reynor and Chaplin have decent chemistry together and both maintain the hesitation that their scenes needed. For a relatively young actor, Reynor holds his own opposite a star as seasoned and prolific as Chaplin.
That said, the idea that Norton and Irma were drawn together by their ancestry was a strange direction to take it. This reaches uncomfortable levels when Irma reveals her grandfather’s clothes and asks Norton to wear them. Your opinion on the ending will probably depend on how you felt about this element. Either way, the robot – though a crucial element of the story – was really nothing more than a vehicle for false tension.
Every writer in Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams has the challenge of adapting short stories to a longer medium. But David Farr probably had the biggest hurdle expanding Impossible Planet to a compelling, 50-minute drama. Though a few minor plot details didn’t entirely work, the script expands on Philip K. Dick’s in a very natural way. Farr, as both writer and director, gave the work a very coherent pace and story while the score manages to sell the sweet nature of the story.