The Bladerunner book: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep on Radio 4

Jonathan Holloway’s adaptation rightly cherished many things that the film ultimately minimised, in particular the novel’s mourning of the extinction of various animal species.

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Dangerous Visions: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Radio 4

A season of dramas about future dystopias on Radio 4 featured a nicely depressed dramatisation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (15 and 22 June, 3pm), Philip K Dick’s best-known science-fiction novel. James Purefoy played Deckard, the bounty hunter charged to “retire” advance-model humanoids manufactured by genetic engineers in a congested, polluted, postwar 1992. Purefoy got that Dickian sense of inward scrutiny – his voice a scar of suffering, quivering with impatience and humiliation.

So often, radio adaptations of stories that have already been made into blockbusting movies (in this case, Blade Runner) ooze with self-consciousness; you’re terribly aware that you’re listening to something suspended between the page and the screen. Not here. I was half an hour into the show when I noticed they were using the word “android”, which appears in the book, rather than the iconic “replicant”. (In 1982, Ridley Scott felt that “android” represented the kind of B-movie lingo that the world was heartily sick of.)

Jonathan Holloway’s adaptation rightly cherished many things that the film ultimately minimised, in particular the novel’s mourning of the extinction of various animal species. On the page, Deckard recalls the days when the owls “fell out of the sky” and people did nothing but sit about, numbly reading animal obituaries. On the radio, he has a simple, gnawing desire for a pet monkey – a real pet monkey, not one that smells of electricity, a sure sign the creature is artificial. (A brilliant suggestion in the early drafts of the movie screenplay was a menagerie of mythic animals – including a unicorn – created to replace real ones. But it proved too expensive and the animal idea became less pivotal generally.)

Philip K Dick’s sense of a world reduced to an electronic slum was marvellously captured in the production – often with just the vague sound of static, or the swish of doors sliding so smoothly open and shut that after a while it began to feel like barbed wire in your head. And always there was Purefoy’s Bogartian, mumbled, perished voice, longing for a glimpse of his non-electric monkey, or even a slither of real sky, poor son of a bitch.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 25 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Who was Franz Ferdinand?