Sunday 13 July 2014

Do Androids Dream of Accurate Scripts?

Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep was, of course, the basis of the film Blade Runner. It was also recently adapted, in two parts, by Jonathan Holloway for BBC Radio 4 as part of their Dangerous Visions project, a season of science fiction audio dramas. Dangerous Visions is a prestigious and highly enjoyable enterprise, but I can't quite overcome my irritation that they've stolen their great and evocative title from Harlan Ellison's milestone series of science fiction prose anthologies without so much as a nod in Ellison's direction.

The radio adaptation of Dick's novel was immensely intriguing. It resembled Blade Runner, but was also radically different. The effect was so fascinating that it prompted me, after all these years, to dig out my copy of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep and read it.

Now that I've read the book I realise that Jonathan Holloway's energetic and inventive radio version departs considerably from Dick's text. For example, in the radio play Rachael is a tragic loss to Deckard. In the book she gets his goat — literally. Holloway's dramatisation also fixes some structural weaknesses: in the book Roy Batty turns up way too late.

In fact, the radio adaptation is almost as different from Dick's original concept as the movie was. Indeed, continuing the 'Dangerous Visions' tradition of, ahem, borrowing material without full acknowledgement, the radio play is based not just on the book but also on the screenplay of Blade Runner by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples.

For example, the whole film-noir private eye Chandleresque gumshoe approach which informs the radio adaptation originated in Blade Runner, and is completely absent from the novel. In keeping with this, Luba is changed from Dick's opera singer to a night club torch singer in the radio play. (The equivalent character in the movie is an exotic dancer.) I can quite understand why this was done, given how profoundly Blade Runner overshadows Dick's book in the public imagination. 

Still, there was no credit given to the film writers in the radio version, nor presumably any money paid to them for the use of their concepts...  a dangerous, if not visionary, course of action given how litigious Hollywood film companies can be.

Nonetheless, Holloway's radio version is a notable piece of work and well worth catching if you get the chance, and I'm grateful to it for getting me to finally read Dick's classic novel which I'll be writing about — if all goes according to plan — in my next post.

(Image credits: The photos of the actors in the radio adaptation, Jessica Raine and James Purefoy, are from the BBC Radio 4 web page. The movie poster is from Geeky Nerf Herder.)


  1. I've enjoyed reading this review. I wish that I had heard
    this radio series. I have seen the movie several times,
    including the ' Director's Cut' ( which I didn't think was
    an improvement), and I have read the novel. However,
    I now cannot remember much about the novel, so I would be glad if you could review this soon so that I
    can make up my mind whether or not to re-read it.
    What about ' The Man In The High Castle' too?
    Best regards

  2. I am delighted to say I'm just about to publish a post concerning the novel... and as for 'The Man in the High Castle', you must have read my mind. (A very Philip K. Dick thing to do!) Stay tuned. And thanks for reading.

  3. I'm happy to say that this has just been re-broadcast recently on Radio 4 Extra and I've gotten the chance to listen to ti at last. It's an interesting piece of work to be sure, in some ways more faithful to Dick's novel than Blade Runner was while also being quite different from it (especially with the ending). Well worth a listen though by all means.