Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Last Enemy – 1984 updated for our privacy-conscious and identity-obsessed world

I’m a sucker for techno-drama. Anything that has scientists walking around a set wearing white coats is sure to warrant a few megabytes on my PVR. There’s about one a year. And no, Primeval doesn’t count! Last year’s candidate was the three-part Superstorm.

A lot of the time, the scientific community make lousy subjects for TV drama. Scientists come across all weak and lacking in life experience, desperately in need of strong leadership.

The Last Enemy feels like a worthy successor to George Orwell’s 1984. Its five hour-long episodes finished on BBC One last weekend, and over the last couple of days I’ve finally caught up and made it to the end. (Unlike about half the original audience of 5m who deserted it during the series if the viewing figures are to be believed.)

The Last Enemy - Stephen Ezard (played by Benedict Cumberbatch)

Stephen Ezard (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) is a recluse and returns to London for his brother’s funeral. See – you know already from the word “recluse” that he’s the scientist of the piece. Michael (Max Beesley) was an aid worker, killed in a landmine. Stephen quickly hooks up with his brother’s partner Yasmin (Anamaria Marinca) and starts to burrow into the details behind Michael’s death.

After a major terrorist attack, ID cards are now the norm, CCTV is all around and monitored centrally, and TIA (Total Information Awareness) is the state’s Big Brother. Not yet as controlling as Harrison Bergeron, but using technology to amass an incredible amount of intelligence about people’s movements and actions.

For a drama that was first dreamt up four years ago, and commissioned at the end of 2006. the prescient piece plays out in a UK that is identity-obsessed. Privacy concerns, political cover-up, explosions, and a lot of swiping cards and punching in codes to get in to rooms. A fine drama.

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