Humans (TV Series)

I recently posted on Facebook and Twitter: We’ve watched two episodes of HUMANS on Netflix, but we’re not totally hooked. Convince us to keep watching…

We received a variety of responses, mainly ones that suggested we give up, with some only managing one or two episodes. Equally, there were those who were very positive and urged us to keep going.

We actually gave up and watched another series, but came back to HUMANS, and we’re glad we did. From the third episode we were hooked and we’re currently on the second season.

Like all good science fiction drama and writing, it asks deep questions about life, and in this case what it means to be truly human. The series explores the themes of artificial intelligence and robotics, focusing on the social, cultural, and psychological impact of the invention of anthropomorphic robots called ‘synths’.

Without giving too much away, some of these synths become fully sentient and experience consciousness, a truly difficult concept to get your head around. As I write this, I know that I am a sentient being, but I have absolutely no way of proving that you have a similar experience, I simply have to make the assumption that you do.

So, if you like drama that asks difficult questions, then this is for you. If, like us, you nearly gave up on it, you might like to give it another try.

Update 10/11/20: We watched the final episode and were pleased we did. The whole series raises so many ethical and philosophical issues that are totally relevant to life today, brilliant and thought-provoking. Be prepared to invest in it and you will be amply repaid.

The Fall

Not to be confused with the Christian doctrine or the band, The Fall is a gritty police drama on Netflix that Naomi and I have recently finished watching. Like many modern crime dramas it’s not for the faint-hearted, this is no Dixon of Dock Green.

Originally shown on BBC, it features Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan in the leading roles. The script is excellent, and the acting of the whole cast is of the highest order, here is a drama with real suspense and menace maintained over three seasons.

I don’t know how we missed it first time round, but we were delighted to catch up with it on Netflix. We can thoroughly recommend it, just don’t have nightmares.

Note: Some people were disappointed with the ending, but I thought it was excellent. The last episode was (in addition to the drama) a very thoughtful and deep one. It brought together many of the characters’ feelings and emotions that had been a developing focus throughout.

Contagion (2011)

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Having criticised ITV2 the other day for showing Contagion, Naomi and I watched it on Netflix last night. The plot is very topical and concerns the spread of a novel virus transmitted by fomites, the attempts by medical researchers and public health officials to identify and contain the disease, the loss of social order in a pandemic, and the introduction of a vaccine to halt its spread.

At times it felt like watching a documentary as well as a narrative story. The movie has several interacting plot lines, making use of the multi-narrative hyperlink cinema style, and finishes with a very thought-provoking ending. I gave the movie 8/10 on IMDb. It would have been higher had the movie better conveyed a sense of fear and dread, but we’ve got plenty of that in real life right now.

Coming out as gay

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I write as a straight man, even though someone once found my website using the phrase ‘is john ager gay’, but also as someone who seeks to empathise and understand those who struggle with their sexuality and societal attitudes.

It came as a complete surprise when I heard this morning that Phillip Schofield had come out as gay, even if there were those who said they always knew.

Much has already been spoken and written about this, and I can’t possibly (nor do I intend to) cover all the issues raised by this announcement. However, I would like to raise questions of why it’s so difficult for people to come out, and why can’t people be allowed to be who they are in the first place?

I found a number of well-articulated comments on Twitter helpful in this important discussion and I leave them with you:

Owen Jones: It’s up to all LGBTQ people how or when or whether they come out. But when someone with a public platform comes out, it helps people who are struggling with their sexuality. Love and support to [Phillip Scofield]

Patrick Strudwick: Next year will be 30 yrs since I came out. (14, at my comprehensive school, it stopped me killing myself). To STILL see people trapped in the closet for decades before having desperate, highly-charged comings out reveals how little things have changed. We have so much more to do.

Sam Wise: [Phillip Schofield] grew up in a time when gay people didn’t have any rights and nobody can blame him for feeling he could not come out. Still today homophobia is alive in our society and people in the public eye feel they can’t be who they are…the fact that [he] has only felt able [to] come out now says more about our society than it does him. He’s made a courageous step today and the fact his wife and kids are right behind him with love and support is excellent.

Coming to terms with and being your authentic self is never easy, especially in the public eye. Phillip and his family deserve our love and support.

Bowie at Glastonbury 2000

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There’s not much that hasn’t already been said about David Bowie, who was taken from us three years ago and who would have been 72 years old today; but I didn’t want the milestone to go unmentioned.

I’ve always been fascinated by his music, his creativity, changes of style, his collaborations, and his determination to set trends rather than follow them. An example of the latter is that while punk was happening, he was at the Hansa Studio in Berlin crafting a totally new sound for what became the Low album.

While working in the office at home today, I enjoyed listening to David Bowie’s Glastonbury appearance in 2000 on Spotify. There’s a great selection of his songs, some of which (for example, Hallo Spaceboy) I prefer to hear live. I well remember watching his set at the time on television, one of the truly great Glastonbury performances.

Note: This might possibly have been my favourite live album of 2018 had I heard it during the year, as it happens another Bowie live album to that accolade. See here.

How to Build a Universe

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I always like to be reading a popular science book, and I’ve recently finished this excellent book by Professor Brian Cox & Robin Ince. It’s based on the acclaimed BBC Radio and podcast The Infinite Monkey Cage. It’s witty and comedic, an irreverent celebration of science and the wonders of the universe; totally silly in places and incredibly thought-provoking and mind-blowing in others.

Having three young children has meant that my reading habits have declined of late, but this was one of the books helping me get back into it; not least because this one is in a magazine format with diagrams, photos and lines drawings enhancing the text and dividing into manageable size chunks.

The title The Infinite Monkey Cage comes from the infinite monkey theorem which states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. In fact, the monkey would almost surely type every possible finite text an infinite number of times. However, the probability that monkeys filling the observable universe would type a complete work such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet is so tiny that the chance of it occurring during a period of time hundreds of thousands of orders of magnitude longer than the age of the universe is extremely low (but technically not zero). Wikipedia

Jodie Whittaker IS the Doctor

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It was announced yesterday that a female actor has been cast in the lead role of the classic BBC science fiction television series Doctor Who, a role previously only played by men. As someone who watched the first ever episode back in 1963, and as such might be considered a traditionalist, I was absolutely delighted to hear the news, especially as the announcement was made on my daughter’s first birthday.

There’s been speculation around this announcement, not to mention several clues in recent episodes; as the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) recently said, “We’re the most civilised civilisation in the universe. We’re billions of years beyond your petty human obsession with gender and its associated stereotypes”.

There have been howls of protest from some, but who said the Doctor has to be male? Last evening, much to my wife’s amusement, I found myself shouting at the radio when a man (on a phone-in programme) suggested it was a subversive left-wing plot, and that Jodie only got the role because she was a woman rather than acting ability [shakes head & facepalms].

The fact this has caused such a reaction demonstrates how far we still have to go in order to achieve equality within society. It’s one thing to accept the decision, whilst at the same time having a preference for a male Doctor Who (this is my mother’s view), it’s quite another to express displeasure in a negative, sexist manner.

[Sarcasm alert] I can believe he’s an alien with two hearts from another planet, who travels through time and space in a police box – smaller on the outside than the inside. I can believe he often regenerates into a new body, has a sonic screwdriver and regularly saves the earth from total destruction. But I can’t believe he could be a woman; a step too far, political correctness gone mad!