Black Mirror: Series 1, 2 & Christmas Special boxset (TV series DVD review).

Watching these stories, the more I felt we have a different sort of Science Fiction. Showrunner Charlie Brooker and his writers are really combining kitchen sink drama with SF themes. I’m still not quite sure how I missed them back in 2011 but definitely seeing them without adverts doesn’t destroy the flow which is quite riveting.

The first story, ‘The National Anthem’, deals with a kidnapped princess and who kidnapper wanting to publicly humiliate the prime minister (actor Rory Kinnear) by having him have sex with a pig on live television. Oddly, throughout this episode, no one thought of the feelings for the poor sow other than making sure she had a good meal before hand. The British TV audience want to watch regardless but jeers change as they realise what is going on.

I’m less sure about ’15 Million Merits’ written by Charlie Brooker and Konnie Huq, simply because I don’t watch any of the TV talent shows. It’s even more peculiar how people earn merits simply by riding immobile bicycles all day. Very surreal. Hardly a prosperous job.

‘The Entire History Of You’ by Jesse Armstrong is more Science Fiction like in terms of an implanted grain gadget behind the ear that records everything you see and a remote that can rewind so you can watch earlier events continually. I’m not sure if rolling a button can find things so easy but, then, that happens with any recorder in TV and film so shouldn’t be surprised there. The only example we see of it being used as a government aid is it being used as a check at airport security to see if you’ve met any criminals.

Not all people have the implants but it’s never covered how such people can pass through such as airport security or whether there is any discrimination. The story is more a kitchen-sink drama where a husband Liam’s (actor Toby Kebbell) reaction to discovering that his wife, Ffion (actress Jodie Whittaker) had at least two affairs and could see the evidence when he confronts the previous lover plays to the SF strength. That is, would you really want a life with such a gadget recording everything even when there is a delete button that you forget to use?

Season one had interviews with show-runner/writer Charlie Brooker covering all 3 episodes. Director Otto Bathurst goes over the problems of ‘The National Anthem’ where there is no emotional context for the actors to draw upon for the dilemma. Director Euros Lyn appears to have had similar problems with his episode ‘Fifteen Million Merits’ when he had to use real porn stars for some of the video screens. The deleted scenes are from all three episodes.

The first story of season two, ‘Be Right Back’ by Charlie Brooker is borderline fantasy. Martha’s (actress Hayley Atwell) partner, Ash (actor Domhnall Gleeson), is killed in a car crash and she’s deeply upset and her sister suggests doing the same as herself and have an AI create a version of Ash based off his social media account. Reluctantly and without telling anyone in her isolated house, she does. Initially, it is a phone communication before eventually choosing a physical version. How this is done is not disclosed and hence it turns more into a fantasy but applying kitchen sink SF to it by reacting as we would. In Martha’s case, it’s more like a mental breakdown before she restores her sanity. This is the only story that has an extra with Charlie Brooker being interviewed. I’m still puzzling how the Ash AI is given solid form.

‘White Bear’ by Charlie Brooker is an upside plot with nothing quite as you expect it. An amnesic woman (actress Lenora Crichlow) flees into the street and sees people watching her, using phone-cams recording her from the street’s bedrooms. This becomes more intense when a masked man drives up and comes after her with a shotgun and then two more appear with different weapons. They ignore the bystanders and are after her. Fortunately, she bumps into another pair who have the same problem. Beyond that is totally spoiler and I doubt if you’ll be able to predict what is going on. Turning things upside down is ‘Black Mirror’s forte and nothing is safe or predictable unless you take nothing for granted.

‘The third story, ‘The Waldo Moment’ by Charlie Brooker and Christopher Morris is when a live animated TV comedy blue bear, voice and played by Jamie Salter (actor Daniel Rigby) is put up for a bi-election to show what a farce elections are. It’s a shame this one wasn’t repeated in last year’s General Election which would have given people pause to think about some of the hypocrisies that go on behind the scenes.

‘White Christmas’ is a 74 minute story from 2014 by Charlie Brooker. In a snowy outpost, Matt Trent (actor John Hamm) wants to celebrate Christmas while Joe Potter (actor Rafe Spail) is more than reluctant. They then relate stories from their past. Matt Trent is linked to an inexperienced person guiding him into dealing with chatting up girls by watching and listening through an illegal implant called Eye-Link. Let’s just say the date was a deadly failure. Although Trent didn’t reveal the details to his wife, she did block and leave him.

For the second part, Trent is involved in, for the want of a better word, the taming of a personality clone taken from its female host to run her home. This personality clone doesn’t believe she isn’t real and embedded in an egg. Think something akin to Alexa only with a real personality. Trent’s disregard to it having real feelings tends to come from knowing what it is and one can only hope some form of legal rights is sorted out before this kind of technology ever comes to the market.

Finally, Potter opens up about being rejected by his pregnant girl-friend, who literally wipes him from her life. There is a device, as seen in Trent’s second story, which prevents him from seeing or hearing her as anything but a blurred image. He discovers later that she goes through with the pregnancy but can’t see his daughter neither. Anything beyond that is definitely spoiler but I did realise what was going on at that point and was proven right. When you realise you have to look beyond the expected, someone like me starts looking for clues.

Something I would like to question is being able to prevent a person from seeing everyone. If you were in such a state, how could you buy food or anything? This reminds me of an old ‘Twilight Zone’ episode, ‘Where Is Everybody?’ This device works both ways after all as they can’t see or hear you properly neither. Presumably, as with any reality, there must be people who don’t have this technology so you’re not going to be totally alone but when police officers can administer the punishment without a court of law enforcing it, you do have to wonder what state this reality is. Not having seen the next three seasons yet, I do wonder if Brooker will explore this reality again.

This series is prepared to shock and make you think. Do not think of this series as a safe series to watch as it is very subversive but utterly brilliant. I’m convinced.

GF Willmetts

February 2020

(region 2 DVD: pub: House Of Tomorrow/Channel 4. 3 DVDs 362 minutes. 6 43 minute episodes and 1 74 minute episode with extras. Price: I pulled my copy for about £10.00 (UK). ASIN: C4DVD16573)

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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