Electric Dreams Episode 1 The Hood Maker
Written by Matthew Graham, based upon the short story ‘The Hood Maker’
Directed by Julian Jarrold
Starring Richard Madden, Holiday Grainger, Noma Dumezweni, Anneika Rose, Richard McCabe
The Short Story: Published in 1955, ‘The Hood Maker’ was—like the majority of Philip K. Dick’s work—incredibly prescient of the world we now live in. It opens with a scene of an old man attacked on the street by a crowd. The reason? He’s wearing a hood that blocks his mind from telepathic probe. One of the crowd cries out: “Nobody’s got a right to hide!” In today’s world where we seem happy to ‘give away’ our privacy to Facebook or Google in return for access, the world of Philip K. Dick’s hood maker is not all that alien.
Written in 1953 (originally titled ‘Immunity’ and published in the June 1955 edition of Imagination magazine, left), Dick’s short story was originally reacting to the political and social suppression brought about by McCarthyism and the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC) of Congress. He simply projected what he was seeing on the news sometime in the future when hiding your thoughts, maintaining some privacy, was deemed not yet simply illegal, but just socially unacceptable.
As always, the population collude in their own oppression. The hoods are being distributed anonymously, but some recipients simply turn them into the authorities under the fear that mere possession of a hood would make them complicit in some anti-authority activity. Clearance Director Ross asks Peters why some people voluntarily hand in their hoods rather than use them. “They’re afraid to wear them,” replies Peters. “They pass the hoods on to us, to avoid suspicion. An innocent man has no reason to conceal his thoughts. Ninety-nine percent of the population is glad to have its mind scanned. Most people want to prove their loyalty.”
In Dick’s world, the loyalty oaths and wire-taps of his own time have been superseded by the mental access afforded by ‘teeps’, telepathic mutants employed by Clearance to seek out those whose thoughts are impure, disloyal or otherwise contrary to the majority of society. In this world, there is no need for HUAC, as a quick telepathic scan quickly reveals whether someone was now or had ever been a member of the Communist party (or whatever bête noir happens to be in vogue). It effectively does away with the concept of innocent until proven guilty; guilt or otherwise is instantly divined through a telepathic probe.
In a quintessentially 1950s sci-fi touch, the population of telepathic human mutants are the result of the ‘Madagascar Blast of 2004’ that saw thousands of troops dosed with a ‘hard radiation wave’. Their descendants developed new telepathic powers, now harnessed by the government for their own political and social ends.
While there is no mystery of who riled up the crowd to attack the old man wearing the hood (it was a handily placed teep), the question driving the Director of Clearance to distraction is where the hoods are coming from. Each recipient does not know who sent the hood to them—telepathic scans have established that much. The hoods and their use are multiplying, so the quest is on to find the hood maker.
The old man, Walter Franklin, is soon on the run from the Clearance Agents, unsure of what disloyalty he may have committed in his past. He soon falls into the hands of the resistance, who take him to the hood maker, James Cutter. Franklin is given a tour of the facility, in a dilapidated out-of-town industrial area, and finds out that the discovery of the alloy used in the hoods was accidentally made in a government lab in the past. Franklin has been targeted as part of a teep conspiracy, a take over of government by vested interests who want to remove those who might resist before they even have a chance to act. How do you defend yourself against an attack you have no reason to suspect is coming?
Franklin is tasked with stopping the government bill that will make possession and use of a hood illegal as he knows the proposer, Senator Waldo. He and Cutter take a trip to Waldo’s robot protected Colorado estate. Franklin’s Director level pass gets them through the robot guards and into Waldo’s building, where they run into teep Ernest Abbud, the ‘sallow-faced youth’ who first set the mob on Franklin. One shot of his ‘Slem gun’ and Franklin is an ‘oozing mass’ on the floor. Turns out Waldo is a teep who fully understands the implications of his bill, and Cutter, the hood maker, is now at the mercy of one of the most ruthless agents of Clearance.
Or so it appears. Forcing Cutter to remove his hood, Abbud subjects him to a forced mind probe, only to learn a deadly secret. Cutter is quite happy to be mentally probed on this occasion as he has made a devastating discovery about the teeps. They’re not a mutation at all, simply a one-generation aberration, unable to reproduce. There will be no more teeps once the current generation has gone. Upon realizing this, and to stop the message spreading through the teep mental network, Abbud commits suicide. He’s too late: Cutter’s message is out, spread through the teep’s own telephathic communication system. Their reign will be limited, and they have no future…
Dick makes the political point clear—there is always a faction (they don’t need to be the science fictional ‘teeps’) who want power to promote their own beliefs. As Cutter explains to Franklin: “The teeps are no different from the Jacobins, the Roundheads, the Nazis, the Bolsheviks. There is always some group that wants to lead mankind—for it’s own good, of course.” The teeps saw themselves as the next step in human evolution, therefore they are the ‘natural’ leaders of humanity. Instead, they were simply the latest in a long line of merely human special interest groups who saw it as their right to control everyone else.
‘The Hood Maker’ is a clever little tale, well told, even if the characterization of its small cast is somewhat deficient (often a problem with Dick’s earliest short fiction). This was one of Dick’s earliest tales about telepaths and telepathy, subjects that would feature in much of his later work. From the surveillance society to notions of disloyalty and privacy, as well as political corruption, it is the ideas that count. It is the ideas that have brought Hollywood, filmmakers and television showrunners to Dick’s work as idea-rich source material. There are just over 120 short stories and 44 novels to be mined, enough to keep the PKD visual media stocked with concepts for a long time to come…
The Television Episode: In bringing ‘The Hood Maker’ to television, screenwriter Matthew Graham faced a challenge. The material would obviously have to be expanded to fill an entire 50-60 minute episode of television, but exactly how that expansion was realized could make or break the show. The television version of ‘The Hood Maker’ is, as a result of that expansion, a mixed success.
Richard Madden stars as Clearance Agent Ross (using his natural Scottish accent, for a welcome change), while Holliday Grainger is the teep, Honor, assigned to him as a partner with special skills. This is a world, visually and conceptually, that is reminiscent of Blade Runner. Madden is dressed and acts like a cut-rate Rick Deckard, while the shanty towns, marketplaces, and urban environments (some shot in the Thamesmead estate made famous by Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange—instantly recognizable, despite an attempt to hide it through all the murky cinematography and constant rain) all recall scenes from the first ever Philip K. Dick big screen adaptation. It seems, as ever, that any take on Dick’s work has to somehow pay homage to the foundation text of Blade Runner.
While retaining some of the overall concepts (teeps, surveillance, a divide society) and character names (Agent Ross, Cutter as the hood maker, Franklin as a high up official), the television episode diverges so wildly from the short story that by its conclusion it seems to be making the exact opposite point of Dick’s original by apparently coming down on the side of the rebellious teeps.
Here, the teeps are portrayed as a suppressed population (perhaps significant of immigrants or ethnic minorities), harassed and used by those in authority or power. There is a march against involuntary scanning depicted at the beginning and a reference to the anti-immunity bill in passing, but the political conspiracy suggested by the short story is entirely missing. No origin story is given for the teeps and their abilities (it’s only one line in the short story, but at least it is there and germane to the resolution), and the ultimate secret revealed at the end is Agent Ross’s seemingly naturally evolved immunity to telepathic scanning rather than the teep generation’s inability to reproduce (which, come to think of it, looks forward to Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep’s limited lifespan for the andys, or ‘replicants’ in the movie).
While both Madden and Grainger give great performances, there seems to be more of an emphasis on world-building than character (perhaps apt for a PKD short story adaptation). There’s no advanced technology here (sight of a typewriter and a record player, as well as a car straight out of Graham’s Life on Mars, suggest the 1970s, but references to computers and the internet reveals this is in fact a post-technology, perhaps post EMP burst, world). It is inconsistent, though, and seems to detract from the main theme of the short story, that of enforced mental surveillance.
The character of Cutter, built up as a mysterious Man in the High Castle figure, eventually appears simply to provide an info dump before dying at the hands of the teep rebellion. As Honor discovers Agent Ross’s betrayal of her (and her kind), the episode ends on an inconclusive note—as the teep rebellion gathers pace, which side will Honor choose… does she open that door to save Agent Ross, or not?
This television adaptation of ‘The Hood Maker’ appears to come down on the side of the teeps as an oppressed minority, rather than as a threat to be feared, which may be symptomatic of the current approach to drama (and its reflection of the wider contemporary culture and politics), where Dick’s original was firmly embedded in his mid-1950s period of McCarthyism.
Naturally, the television versions of these stories will be different from their source materials, but in the case of ‘The Hood Maker’ it almost feels like it has not been expanded enough to do justice to all the concepts and possible story threads. The drama could have been more front-loaded to better cover the purpose of Clearance, the slow emergence of the hoods, and the quest to find the maker. A 90-minute feature length version of Graham’s take on the material might also have provided the possibility of a conclusion (perhaps including the political conspiracy plot and the teeps’ mental link, hinted at as the ‘grapevine’ here but not capitalized on), rather than the unsatisfying open-ended position where the drama simply stops.
Verdict: Overall, the television version of ‘The Hood Maker’ is a little disappointing in comparison with the short story, perhaps with a focus on the wrong elements.
Brian J. Robb
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