In deep space, leisure and tourism agents Norton and Andrews (Jack Reynor and Benedict Wong) show tourists the wonders of the galaxy, subtly altering colour and sound for maximum enjoyment, and they are soon approached by the 342 year old Irma (Geraldine Chaplin) who offers them a substantial amount of money to take her to Earth, an impossible task since it no longer exists. So they decide to take her to a planet that most closely resembles Earth, using their alteration techniques to sell the deception, and eventually, Norton and Irma build up a relationship that may very well have been destined to happen.
Once again, there are only three or four main characters so the performances really shine through and character development is top of the agenda; the dashingly handsome Jack Reynor gives a finely tuned performance as Norton, the voice of reason who is constantly uneasy about the idea of deceiving an innocent woman, later on developing a certain relationship with her and Benedict Wong provides good support as the rough-around-the-edges Andrews, determined to pull off the con, get the money and to live the high life straight afterwards. Reynor and Wong are a fine double act, “class and trash” as Andrews puts it, and their regional accents keep the show distinctly British. And a constantly wide-eyed Geraldine Chaplin is perfectly likeable and sympathetic and she delivers plenty of heart as the deaf 342 year old who is determined to visit the Earth from her grandmother’s stories, a final trip before she dies. The growing relationship between her and Reynor’s character is perfectly placed within the story as it is genuine, compelling and never awkward or saccharine.
And then there’s the “robot butler” RB29 that manages to be properly sinister and suspicious (well, in this type of story the android HAS to be up to no good, right?) as scenes with him in are remarkably tense and full of potential danger (glowing red eyes, anyone?). But thankfully, his part in the story subverts expectations and he offers up plenty of surprises and the writing in this part of the story is smart and accomplished.
Both written and directed by David Farr (from The Night Manager, apparently), “Impossible Planet” has a very smart, intricate and imaginative script that hits all the right notes and deftly balances multiple story elements and moods; it takes no time at all in setting up the main story and is altogether gripping and always leaves you wanting more. Like “The Hood Maker”, the episode takes things slow a lot of the time but thanks to the excellent script and grounded performances, the episode is always compelling and interest never wanes for a single second. Farr’s direction is also great as he uses plenty of tight close-ups for maximum dramatic effect and the slow pans go a long way in ramping up the tension and mystery.
Whilst “The Hood Maker” had a certain Blade Runner feel about it, “The Impossible Planet” is surely more akin to Total Recall as it centres on giving the ideal vacation even though it’s not completely real; in this case, the employees of the Dream Weaver company give an idealized experience by altering the colours and sounds of what’s being seen on the viewscreen. There’s even a rival company that goes a step further by simulating the feel and physical sensations of certain things.
Compared to the murky, 70s-era visuals of last week, “The Impossible Planet” goes in the other direction and is incredibly colourful, bright and vibrant from beginning to end. It’s essentially Doctor Who on a much bigger budget (again, it’s that Bryan Cranston money that’s behind it!) and the episode really shows off throughout the episode by boasting film-worthy visuals of nebulae, galaxies, planets that genuinely look enormous and even serene, idyllic visuals of waterfalls and lakes at certain points.
And another very admirable part of the episode is the music; the adaptable score is truly masterful as it can be chilling and tense in some scenes but then truly beautiful and haunting in the slower, more intimate moments. It is the work of a master craftsman who has a complete grasp on how to establish different moods and atmosphere and I was so pleased to learn that Bear McCreary was behind it, someone who I’ve taken notice of, given his outstanding work on Battlestar Galactica, 10 Cloverfield Lane and others.
Overall, this is just what I was hoping for in a second episode as the show heads off into space and is bigger, brighter, more imaginative and seems more like the Philip K. Dick that we’ve experienced in films and whatnot. “Impossible Planet” has a lot to offer: it’s imaginative sci-fi, there’s a touching relationship at its heart, there’s the possibility of approaching danger and all of these elements are perfectly balanced – very, very well written and directed by David Farr.
Again, an individual episode gets a grade.
Next week: Railway employee Timothy Spall discovers a hidden Utopia.