On the radio: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The novel that became the many subtly-different films that are Blade Runner has now, via Radio 4’s Dangerous Visions series, become a two-part radio play.  Like the film, this radio adaptation dramatised by Jonathan Holloway, took certain liberties with the plot, but ultimately stayed true to Philip K Dick’s hard-to-love masterpiece about reality, hope, despair and the nature of life.

We’re in 1992.  A world after a nuclear war.  There are few living animals.  Seven Nexus-6 androids have escaped from Mars and must be retired.  Nexus-6 are the latest generation devices whose inventors hope are human enough to provoke sympathy from those who would ‘kill’ them – and possibly pass the Voight-Kampff test which determines human levels of empathy.  Fail the test and your machine brains will be blasted out.

Through this world walks Deckard (played nicely gravelly by James Purefoy).    Deckard is a bounty hunter who gets $1,000 for each retired android.  He dreams, not of electric sheep, but of owing a real animal.  $5,000 will be enough to buy him one although, this being a proper dystopian fantasy, we know that even if gets the cash the creature is likely to be fake. The other major voice in this adaptation was Jessica Raine as Rachael Rosen.  The seductive ‘is she human’ whose connection to Deckard seems almost too good to be true.

It was this relationship the adaptation chose to focus on whilst letting drop many of the others that litter the book.  This was definitely for the best.  Dick’s work is often confusing and contradictory (and unresolved) even without there just being so many damn ideas to fling into the mix.

Playing out over two-hour long parts Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was smart radio.  Mixing the noir style of the film (a hard-boiled voice-over, in particular, to guide us when things got confusing) with the meditative questions of the book – drawn together by a nice distilling of the essentials of the plot (with a few tweaks).  The repeated question of what it means to be alive, or to be living even, was given repeated airing.  And, in the end, everything turned out grim.  As it should be.  Nobody flew off into the sunset with Vangelis playing this time.

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