Black Mirror Season 1

Black Mirror: The National Anthem
Prime Minister Michael Callow is awoken by a phone call giving him some very bad news – Princess Susannah, an attractive and much-loved member of the Royal Family, has been kidnapped. Downing Street’s attempts to keep the kidnapping quiet are futile – the ransom video has been posted on YouTube and soon the story is spreading like wildfire. The television news and the press at first agree not to report the story, but as the event goes viral – via Twitter and other social media outlets – it becomes clear that no-one can keep a lid on what is happening. As a full scale operation to find and rescue the princess swings into action, the Prime Minister’s team start to investigate contingency plans. However, the kidnapper responds by proving that the threat to Susannah’s life is very real indeed, and with public opinion turning against him, Michael and his team realise that the only option is for them to agree to the ransom demand, no matter what the consequences.
Black Mirror: 15 Million Merits
Representing the world in which humanity is enslaved by mass media, advertising and industry. The main character, Bing, spends his days pedalling an exercise bike in front of a television screen, like the whole of the middle class. He earns credits, called “merits”, to buy products or services. In this materialistic society, where technology dominates and corrupts, everyone is constantly being filmed. Reality TV and gaming are the only entertainment, and fame the only ambition. Not using pornography is a crime. Although Bing wants to revolt and denounce the system that oppresses him, he eventually becomes part of it, abandoning his morals for a comfortable life.
Black Mirror: The Entire History of You
Imagine a world where everything you see and do can be recorded, where every action, special moment, verbal agreement and joke that can later be cherished or misinterpreted is stored for clarity. This is the world of ‘Going Dark’. Technological advances mean that a chip, the size of a grain of rice, can be inserted under the skin at the base of the neck with enough data-storage capacity to record your life as you experience it. With a simple voice command your memories can be played back onto a nearby screen and so your whole life will be available forever to your future self, your future employer, your lover, to anyone to whom you grant access, to discuss and judge. Most people embrace the technology, enjoy it, find it useful. But what about the refuseniks who choose not to have the implant or those who turn their grain off for significant periods of time? What are they trying to keep secret? What are they ashamed off?
Charlie Brooker interview: ‘The Black Mirror stories are not warnings. Technological progress is inevitable’
The idea is it’s a bit of a selection box, handed to you by an unsettlingly smiling sociopath. I always used to like series like Tales of the Unexpected and The Twilight Zone when I was younger, because you didn’t quite know what you were going to get, but you knew it was going to have a certain hue. Black Mirror is a stab at doing something like that. Each episode is a completely self-contained story, but there is an over-arching theme. The Twilight Zone in the 50s was looking at stuff that people were interested in at the time, like space travel, this has got a bit of technology at its heart. But that makes it sound very dry, it isn’t dry. It’s sort of dark fun.
The name came about partly because it’s the name of a song, and partly because it reminds me of a plasma screen or a TV when it’s off. Which I’m hoping viewers won’t do in droves as soon as the episodes start.
There are three in this series. One of them is called The National Anthem – that’s the least sci-fi of the lot, in that it’s set very much in the present day. It’s sort of inspired by these news events that get whipped up in the social networks and Twitter, and everything feels like it’s rattling slightly out of control. I’m thinking about things like The Raoul Moat saga and when Gordon brown had to go and apologise to Gillian Duffy. You get this sort of strange centrifugal force that builds up throughout the day with the rolling news networks and public opinion. It’s a story in which the Prime Minister, who’s played by Rory Kinnear, and the Home Secretary, played by Lindsay Duncan, are faced with a dilemma. It’s very much in the Twitter age.
Yeah, I’m deliberately trying to annoy people on it at the moment, for my own amusement. The more people get upset, the more it amuses me. I’m like a child kicking the back of your seat on a long car journey.
There’s an episode called 15 Million Merits, which I’ve co-written with my wife [TV presenter Konnie Huq]. It’s set in a dystopian, sarcastic version of the future, in which everyone is compelled to live a life of physical drudgery, and the only real means of escape is by entering a kind of talent show, of a type which may seem familiar to visitors. In that episode we’ve got Daniel Kaluuya, who’s starring in The Fades at the moment, and Jessica Brown Findlay, who’s in Downton Abbey. And among the judges we’ve got Julia Davies and Rupert Everett, quite excitingly. He’s playing the sort of kingpin judge. That’s the setting. It’s quite visually striking; it’s got a very different vibe, for want of a better word than vibe.
Yes. You know when you have an argument with your partner, and everyone’s fantasised about being able to rewind and go “Here’s what you said earlier,” or “Look how you embarrassed me” or what have you? Well, this is set in a world where everybody has got the ability to do that – you’ve got the equivalent of Sky Plus or Tivo for your head, so that you can rewind and replay your visual feed. It’s about a couple who have a pretty bad evening, put it that way. So in these episodes, the broad theme is that technology is helping people mess themselves up.
Kind of, but above all it’s entertainment and satire, they’re all quite dramatic, but there’s humour in them as well, which often tends to be quite bleak. But they’re not finger-wagging, saying “all this technology is bad”. It’s not that. It’s exploring a lot of what ifs with technology at their heart. I’m slightly wary of even mentioning the technological aspect to it, in case it makes it sound like someone reading out the instructions to a satellite box. They’re very much rollicking tales.

Technology’s moving so fast these days – is there a danger that, however futuristic you make something, we’ll have probably superseded that technology by the time the programme goes out in a couple of months?

I bloody hope not! Especially with 15 Million merits, because we’d be living in a hell. It’s set in a world where every single surface works like an iPad, so you can swipe away at every wall. I think we’ve got some way to go before we’re there – maybe not that far. It’s funny, I watched lots of old bits of sci-fi while thinking about writing this, and in some respects old sci-fi looks very dated, like what they’re wearing, the 60s version of futuristic clothing, but in other respects it can be incredibly forward thinking.
It’s tricky. The National Anthem episode, for example, my first draft was way too long. It’s a story in which a lot of things are happening at once around the country, so it leaps from one bit to the other. Initially the script was 100 pages, and it had to be almost half that. Compacting things down to fit in an hour – actually the 15 Million Merits episode is an hour and 15 minutes – it’s a completely different discipline. I’m writing different voices and different people. I used to read about writers, how they’d write a story and say “I was halfway through writing it, and suddenly this character decided to do something.” I always thought “That’s bullshit,” but it’s weird, that is what happens. That really does happen. It can be hard to get started, but you know you’re into it when you lose track of time, and when your characters sort of start doing things.
Well, she didn’t have much choice but to get involved, because I was always going on about it. It was sort of her idea, 15 Million Merits. One of the first things you see is somebody in a room, which is almost like a cell, where every single wall functions like an iPad. She was watching me using an iPad and taking the piss out of me, saying that I’d basically be happy in a room where every wall as like that. The tone of that episode is probably not what people would expect – in places it’s almost like a romance. It’s sweet and sour.
I have done in the past. I don’t worry about it so much now, really. Back in 2005, when I co-wrote Nathan Barley, I thought people would slag it off because I’m a critic, but people didn’t actually care. And with Dead Set I thought the same thing again and there was surprisingly little of it. Sometimes you get people saying “How can you ever write anything about other TV programmes again?” That’s ridiculous, it’s like saying, um, like saying someone shouldn’t shit in the street… because… you shit yourself… in rooms…? No, that analogy is terrible; I don’t know what I mean by that. Anyway, I never really thought of myself as a proper TV critic. My main aim, whenever I sat down to write the column, was to entertain the reader.
I don’t think I was actually that unfair when I wrote things, but I would often exaggerate. I was slightly writing in a persona. I saw my job as basically “I have to entertain people for this page in the newspaper, because life is shit, and if I can make people laugh in this 600 word article about The Only Way Is Essex, then I’ve done my job.” You’d have to be quite psychotic to get that angry about TV. There were occasionally things that I would genuinely get angry about. I remember one of the last Screen Burn columns I wrote was about this documentary about racist skinheads, and they really did make me very angry. But those ones generally wouldn’t be quite so amusing.
Very. Early on, we made a decision for that episode that we’d have the stuff actually there – often the effects are put in afterwards, but we figured that wouldn’t really be possible with this. So we built a set where every wall is a screen. We had a fantastic design team, it’s quite remarkable. It looks like it’s working. It feels plausible and concrete somehow, in a way that I don’t think it would have done if we’d superimposed it in afterwards. It looks great – to start with, you think “That looks really cool,” and then as it goes on you think “Oh God, would it actually be so nice?”
Oh God yeah. Absolutely. The first thing you see in that episode is the character waking up as these walls spring into life and start showing a cartoon, Angry-Birds-style version of a sunrise. It looks fun. Anyone with a slightly geeky bent would look at that and go “Wow, I wish my bedroom was like that.” Then, as the episode goes on, I think you’d start to query your initial thought.
It is, it is. It always is. Weirdly, sometimes you feel slightly guilty. When there’s some small detail that you’ve written in really casually, and you realise that some people are busting a gut and running around all over town to try and get it. It’s always odd to see something that you’ve been imagining coming to life. Sometimes you can find it disappointing, but that hasn’t been the case here at all. In fact, I’d say that they’ve surpassed what I’ve been imagining in most respects.

Black Mirror - White Christmas