The anthology series Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams returned to UK television screens on Channel 4 a few weeks ago and it’s taken me some time to catch up. I blame the creators of the excellent Assassins Creed: Origins for my tardiness.
‘Father Thing’ was the first episode of the batch and was an adaptation of 1954’s short story ‘The Father-thing’ which covers one night in a young boy’s life and spans ten pages of Gollallacz’s The Father-Thing: Volume Three of the Collected Short Stories. The collection also features the stories ‘Sales Pitch‘ and ‘Exhibit Piece’ which were also adapted as part of this television series.
In the short story Charles Walton is asked by his mother to go and find his father and get him for dinner. Charles goes out to the garage and witnesses the strange sight of his father talking to a replica of himself. When his father comes in, Charles quickly realises that it’s the replica and tries to warn his mother that ‘the other one’ has come into the house.
Charles escapes the house and looks in the garage to see if he can figure out what happened to his father. He finds the dried out skin of his dead dad hidden in a bin in the garage. The father-thing goes looking for Charles to administer a spanking for leaving the table before he’d eaten up his dinner. Charles runs off to a friend’s and with the help of another school friend they discover that the father-thing is being controlled from outside the house by a bio-mechanical thing like a silver centipede which tries to burrow and escape tunnel.
They pin it down with a rake before it can escape, but the father-thing fights them. Charles hides in some bamboo in his garden and discovers two mushroom like pods which are growing into replicants of him and his mother. The father-thing brings the growth of the replicant son to completion and Charles is about to meet his demise when the father thing switches off like a doll with it’s strings cut. The other boys have poured kerosene down the insectoid’s tunnel and killed it.
The story was adapted for Electric Dreams by writer-director Michael Dinner and starred Greg Kinnear as the father. The first thing to note is that there’s a big chunk of scene setting establishing that Charlie’s dad is a big baseball fan (yay!) and is going to leave his mother (boo!). They come back from a camping trip where his father was supposed to tell him he was leaving but bottles it and is distracted by baseball trivia and a meteor shower (both not in the written version).
The timeline of the television adaption stretches over a few days where Charlie is forced to put up with the father-thing and how far the alien infiltration of America has extended is revealed. In this sense the television version is far more of a far-reaching ‘body-snatchers’ style piece than Dick’s original tale of a family infiltrated. The father-thing even tells Charlie what the plan is, he is so cock-sure of his dominance.
In true Stranger Things style, the boys hatch a Home Alone style plan to kill the father-thing. This quickly goes tits up and Charlie is chased in the woods by the father-thing. In the woods, low and behold, he finds a shed load of pods – these far less mushroomy and a lot more Matrix-womby. Father thing gets hit by a car one of the kids drives into the woods and the silly metallic insectoid makes an unexpected appearance only to be quickly dispatched under Charlie’s sneaker.
Then the kerosene is dished out and all the pods are set on fire. Charlie then pops home, is reunited with his mother and records a internet video telling people to join forces and fight the ‘dickhead aliens’.