Peacock’s first big project, a much-awaited adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was recently reviewed by Sci-fi Pulse. Fair to say that we weren’t blown away by it. From it. We’ve identified some of what went wrong (it wasn’t awful, and there were some good aspects), but here we take a closer look at things that could have meant it was a much better show, all around. Most of the ideas here tie into one another and would have resulted in better arcs for characters and a stronger story, overall.
WARNING: SOME MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
In the first lines of the book, readers are told what the building is that the following scene is set in. It’s where the inhabitants of this strange place, the story world, are “made”. The series differed very differently from the book, in many ways. That’s expected. It’s not a problem, in itself. What would have been great to see though was the process occurring on screen, that is described in the book. It would have given a definite sense of everything that viewers accept as normal in their own world being removed. The concept of human natural reproduction would have felt distant and alien, being able to consider with some sense of objectivity.
Another trope of the book that could have been converted to this screen version, by focusing on the hatcheries, was the “factory farming element”. People were created to fill the world and take part in it as it is built, with no chance of it ever-changing. This is a missed opportunity and an example of the show almost entirely choosing action and melodrama over intelligent analysis
Linda’s Early Demise (John’s Mum)
John’s mum was another example of a shift away from the book’s depiction. Again, understandable. However, what is a shame is the fact she was little more than a plot device in the end. It didn’t start out that way. She was one of the stronger characters of the show, and in many ways much more formed than others. She had strong motivations and was cool, too. A great example of a strong female. She was reminiscent of Sarah Connor, in Terminator 2: Judgment Day and perhaps even more so in Terminator: Dark Fate. She was exhausted from surviving in a brutal world, and as a result, relied on alcohol to keep going. Yet, she continued defending her son. She was complex and also conflicted.
The choice to kill her off was poor. Not that she was killed, but that she died for nothing. John seemed to soon get over it, and didn’t even mention her again. It would have made for a better plot for John to have to perhaps choose between her and Lenina, ultimately. There could have been flashback scenes to John’s childhood. Keeping her alive would have benefitted John’s character development and very much made him “of two worlds”. This would have been easy to achieve by him having one foot in each, so to speak (his established love for his mother and growing love for Lenina. She was wasted though, and so too were opportunities to explore John’s differing expressions of love, an alien concept in New London. An eventual death would have had much more meaning, and incorporated aspects of tragedy and love.
Up there with the least explored elements of the show, what actually happened when Frankie was “reprogrammed” or “reset”, viewers were left to imagine. There’s nothing wrong with something being suggested, at first. It builds tension and fear. But it needed following up. Eventually getting to see the process of mind-wiping would have added to the terror when viewers saw them being threatened with it. The example in Flash Gordon is a prominent one and a good guide to have gone by.
One of the things mentioned as having no value in the New London society (and indeed the whole of the planet — New London was only one part of the larger civilisation), was personal history. It was deemed taboo for citizens to find meaning by thinking about their lives in any emotional terms. This was a perfect set-up to see them try and resist having their past taken away, by reconditioning. It would also have shown the hypocrisy at play, as the likes of Bernard or Henry, the authorities, were aware of these people’s histories, and in charge of them.
Without even having to try, a closer look at this as a weapon of oppression would have helped to create a perpetual state of death and rebirth. The concentrating on the all-important element of forging an independent identity would have been removed, as calculated acts were carried out to keep them in check. The themes of the show would have been brought out in a nuanced manner, and with a much more chilling visual impact, too…
Shakespeare Quotes and John’s Characterisation
Quotes from the great bard are replete throughout the book. They aren’t there for nothing, either. They perform simultaneous roles, too. The only books that John has ever known are Shakespeare’s complete works and a technical manual. Shakespeare is how John relates to the human condition. It’s how he anchors himself as human, contemplating what’s being said, and what it may mean. The themes of the story are matched to the quotes. There’s none of this in the series. Not even once. In a show that’s exploring humanity and emotion, the frailty and the pitfalls, there is nothing trumps quoting Shakespeare. Not for the sake of it, or to try and elevate the tone of a show, but because the ideas are formed by Shakespeare, to a degree. they didn’t even have to find their own. Huxley had done the work for them. This is high on the charge sheet of missed opportunities, and it borders on a travesty.
Sadly, Shakespeare is often seen as for “posh people”, or a tool used to show you’re educated. That’s definitely a tragedy. If the quotes and scenes were used well, then this adaptation could have really shown how universal the ideas, themes, and concepts Shakespeare are. It only needed a few “big moments”, too, to really hone in on the themes. Rather than them be seen as ways to isolate those who aren’t familiar with the work, this was a way to make it more accessible. Again, they went with a bland, dumbed-down version, with nothing much standing out about John at all. It would have worked and would have truly made the human condition the centre of everything, that it is in the book.
The Big Question: Heaven or Hell
At the very heart of Brave New World is the dichotomy between Utopia and Dystopia. As well as whether the world depicted by Aldous Huxley was or wasn’t heavenly or hellish, is the unanswered question of whether humanity can ever find a way to organize society on a mass scale, without there being brutal, conscious oppression, and as a result much blood-shed. The human condition in the modern age, and where it will take us, how we’ll get to the future, are the crux of the philosophical conundrums in the book. They are very much that. Complex riddles and enigmas that aren’t entirely answered. The series only brushes with this, which is mostly responsible for it being forgettable and a missed opportunity.
Making the series in the modern age meant having the benefit of hindsight. Almost a century has passed since the book was written, in 1932. The series chose to go with the world being artificially constructed, a sort of A.I. fascia, superimposed over a grim reality of world stripped of raw materials and ravaged by the destruction of the environment. One way to have asked the question would have been for John to get to choose whether he keeps everyone living as they are tells that their world is a sham(framing it as “heaven”, or whether he lets them what’s beneath, the “hell” of reality. That didn’t happen. There were questions left unanswered from the show, but by the end of it getting the answers didn’t seem that important. For that to happen the characters’ fates had to matter much more; as a viewer, they simply didn’t.
There’s many other ways the show could have been cooler and stronger viewing. These topics picked have been because in many ways they all tie into one another. They focus on the human experience, a key component of story-telling. If the characters aren’t loved, what happens to them doesn’t matter to those viewing. With so many shows to choose from, that’s even more crucial now. Huxley was right about the loss of value, by there being an abundance available; shows have to work extremely hard, be firing on all cylinders pretty much all of the time. This one wasn’t. For Sci-fi Pulse it will be another case of should’ve, could’ve if it would’ve . . .