Villordsutch reviews Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams: “The Commuter”…
The latest serving of Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, titled “The Commuter”, was originally published way back in 1953 within the Science Fiction magazine Amazing Stories, and is now brought up to date by Jack Thorne (creator of the excellent Fades) and directed by Tom Harper (Peaky Blinders, Misfits).
Ed Jacobson (played be the brilliant Timothy Spall) is trapped within his own life. His daily job as a train station employee finds him dealing with numerous confused customers, sorting out blocked toilets, and fishing the odd tea-bag out of the bin to satisfy the need for a brew.
Outside of his workplace we discover his home life isn’t any better. The street in which he lives upon is strewn with rubbish, muffled music echoes from random houses and run down cars are parked across pavements. Yet, things become even more testing when Ed enters his family home, as we discover his son Sam (Anthony Boyle) has uncontrollable violent outbursts, and he releases his rage at his own mother Mary (Rebecca Manley).
During a standard day at the ticket office, Ed is asked for a ticket to Macon Heights, a town which to both his and his supervisor Bob’s (Rudi Dharmalingam) extensive knowledge doesn’t exist; however when this is explained to the woman behind the counter she vanishes.
The following day, with numerous stresses placed upon Ed, he follows some passengers aboard a train to see where they’re going, and around thirty minutes into the journey they open the doors and leap into a seemingly empty field; Ed quickly follows. He eventually arrives at a small, newly built town – in the mist – called Macon Heights. Entering a cafe and being served cake and tea from the waitress (Hayley Squires), he soon meets up with Linda (Tuppence Middleton), the woman from the station, who appears to be some sort of guide to this town.
Eventually when it comes time to leave and as Ed walks home from the train station, his street has changed to a quiet idyllic location; not only this it appears both he and his wife never had a child together. Reality has shifted somehow, though others are happy around them, Ed now has an itch he cannot scratch growing in his head.
The Commuter is a complete different change of track (no pun intended) from our initial two previous episodes of Electric Dreams. Both The Hoodmaker and The Impossible Planet weren’t overly positive, I’ll give you that, but the elements added gave you a sense that “love comes through”. Here in The Commuter, it is much more complicated. This is a battle of enforced “what’s good for yourself and others” versus free will; on one hand you’re wondering why Ed didn’t take the happy life with his wife and run, but then – as a parent – I can easily see the other side of Ed’s coin. Someone has taken his child, the love of his life, and he wants him back!
If anything The Commuter and its rewrite from the original would quite possibly get a thumbs up from Philip K. Dick himself. We still have running along the main story-line the shifting realities, which appear in a cluster of Mr. Dick’s tales (one of my favourites being “Flow my tears, the Policeman said”). However, here we have the microcosm of Macon Heights enforcing a state controlled-like new life on a person(s) for their well-being. It’s only with fight and sheer want can you ever pull yourself away from this “better life”, even then you are tormented as Macon Heights shows you the ill-effects you are having on others around you.
This week’s episode is a serious watch – it’s not light sci-fi by any means – and unfortunately it may be a Marmite episode. I certainly enjoyed what was served up, though I can see those not really big on their sci-fi, who may have enjoyed the opening two episodes of Electric Dreams, finding this episode a bit difficult to absorb.