Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams S01E02 “Impossible Planet”

Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams S01E02 “Impossible Planet”

2 comments 📅25 September 2017, 11:37

Airing in the UK at 10pm Sundays on Channel 4
Based on the short story:
The Impossible Planet
Written for television by:
David Farr
David Farr

Essential Plot Points:

  • Astral Dreams is showing tourists the Hermigan aurora. When poor conditions hide the phenomena, Brian Norton (Jack Reynor) fakes it on the viz screen.
  • A knock at the door. It’s an old woman, who seems to recognise the young tour guide, and he has a brief flashback to riding a bike. She wants to go to Earth and is willing to pay a lot in cash.
  • “Earth: Last inhabited 2451, Solar Fire 2673 – Planet Engulfed, Extinct Save Solar Gases.”
  • Boss Ed Andrews (Benedict Wong) finds a planetary match for Earth in the system. He wants to fake the trip, keep it off the books and bank five years’ salary.
  • Brian’s girlfriend Barbara (Georgina Campbell) calls. He’s late – but worse, has been turned down for a transfer to Primo Central for the fifth time. She isn’t happy.
  • They’re on the ship, heading for Emphor 3, the stand-in Earth. Miss Irma Louise Gordon (Geraldine Chaplin) recalls her 279-year-old grandmother, who told her stories of her life on Earth, including a cabin in the forest in Carolina and the nearby Elk River Falls.
  • The robot, RB29 (acted by Malik Ibheis, voiced by Christopher Staines) is savvy and knows its master is trusting. He also reveals that she has a heart condition and will die in the next two months. This will be her very last trip.
  • Brian and Irma talk in her quarters. He says he loves Barbara but they don’t always want the same thing: it’s her who wants the move to Primo Central.
  • The Astral Dreams logo tagline: “Life is a dream.”
  • Ed puts the ship on autopilot and goes to sleep but RB29 is awake and accesses the system. He sees the real destination is Emphor 3, not Earth.
  • They arrive. “The old girl happy?” asks Ed. “Yeah,” says Brian, but he wants to tell her the truth.
  • Brian is called to Irma’s cabin. He helps do up her grandmother’s dress and she shows him a picture of her grandparents – Bill Gordon looks like him.
  • Gordon calls Barbara. He basically breaks up with her.
  • They arrive at Earth’s solar system. But Mars isn’t red and she knows that’s wrong – until RB29 covers for them. She wants to land on Earth so they take the ship in.
  • They’re going onto the planet. She asks if he’ll wear her grandfather’s clothes: “I have a hunch it’ll fit you perfectly.”
  • They venture out and as the oxygen in their tanks runs out they hear the sounds of the forest. They’re young, like the grandparents in Irma’s picture. They take off the suits and swim naked in the waterfall’s pool. “I knew we’d make it,” Irma says.


Once again, as with The Hood Maker, the aesthetic of this episode is incredible. On the dingy home world that houses tour operator Astral Dreams, you half expect to see Quaid walk by plotting a Martian uprising. That squalor is in sharp contrast to the quality of the visuals the tourists – and the audience – get to enjoy on an Astral Dreams expedition, albeit sometimes enhanced.

And that core concept, which plays with the very nature of reality – what’s real, what’s not, and who defines that? – is the kind of deep philosophical question we want this series to explore in true Dick fashion. It’s there from the very beginning, as the opening voyage has Norton (an excellent Reynor) telling his ship’s compliment: “At its finest, ladies and gentlemen, the Hermigan aurora is enough to make you believe in God,” even as he fakes what they’re seeing.

Better yet, this is a jumping off point for an even deeper look at the nature of life itself, and David Farr’s script is packed with digs at our modern day existence. “Is it worth it? Selling people these pre-digested packages of happiness. There’s got to be more than this. Hasn’t there?” asks Brian. And at the end when Ed asks RB29 if he knows the truth, there’s a poignant response: “The truth? None of us know that Mr Andrews. This planet isn’t Earth for me, but for Miss Gordon…”

But all that sci-fi theorising would be lost if there wasn’t a human element to this story. Geraldine Chaplin (Charlie’s granddaughter, no less, which adds an extra layer to the tales of a grandfather here) is superb as the 342-year-old wannabe tourist. Her belief in a time and a place long past is at the heart of this episode’s success, and the incredibly intimate moments she shares with Reynor are some of the best relationship building you’ll see on your screens this year.

The Good:

  • Two exceptional central performances make this a joy to watch, while Wong’s additions are also a treat.
  • Benedict Wong steals all the good lines:
    “You’re rats in a sewer my friends. Rats in a sewer,” a smiling Wong says as he waves to tourists from his office window.
    “I think I’ll see this to the end. Just reached an interesting plot point,” he says of his alien porn video.
  • Just as the plot looks like it’s going to head down the clichéd bad robot route, it happily doesn’t.

The Bad:

  • Only Brian’s video chats with his girlfriend Barbara (Georgina Campbell) break the spell a little, as they lack the intensity of the other scenes. Although given that they’re at the point of breakup, maybe that’s intentional…

Review by Matt Chapman  

Read all of our Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams reviews


  1. Ryan
    26 September 2017, 12:45 Ryan

    Wow! The remote and lessor known Elk River Falls of Western North Carolina gets a mention in a UK based film. It really is a small world after all.

    I have to watch this now. I hope that it will be on Hulu.

    Reply to this comment

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