WARNING: this post has SPOILERS. If you haven’t watched Black Mirror’s latest instalment, Black Museum, go and watch it before reading this, or don’t. Either way, here be spoilers, so on your own head be it.
For fans of two completely different things (Black Mirror and The Ricky Gervais Show), the most recent episode of the former (Black Museum) will have been a very weird watch. Well, more accurately, it was probably a weird watch for everyone given how weird it is, but an added layer of weirdness lurked behind the scenes. I’m going to stop saying weird now, I’ve said it too much and it’s gone weird.
Anyway, when watching Black Museum, I noticed that the first two of the three stories being told by the increasingly sweaty proprietor, Rolo Haynes (Douglas Hodge), bore a striking resemblance to the ramblings of national treasure Karl Pilkington. In the story of Doctor Peter Dawson (Daniel Lapaine), a device is implanted in his neck that allows him to feel the physical suffering of his patients, thus giving him an insight into what’s gone wrong with them. This is pretty much the exact idea that Karl came up with in the 2008 Ricky Gervais Guide To…Medicine, Karl said you would have to climb into a machine, that “would make my doctor feel like me” because he doesn’t know if he feels well or not, or can’t properly describe what’s wrong with him when he does know he’s ill.
This is uncannily close to the Black Mirror episode, and the only really differences are the MO of the machine (which is an implant and a neuro-transmitting head covering), and the horrifically dark turn the doctor takes into self-mutilation and sadomasochism.
The second story was much the same. Two people meet and fall in love and have a child together. The mother is hit by a van in the park one day, and is sent into a coma from which there seems to be no return. The couple are offered a technology that will allow her consciousness to be put into her partner’s brain, based on the oft-repeated maxim that we only use a small percentage of our mental capacity. Of course, it goes horribly wrong. She is totally without agency, and he is always being watched: their relationship totally deteriorates and it’s all very depressing.
In The Fame Souvenir Program Podcast (2007), Karl pitches his idea for a film (which they name A Love of Two Brains), in which a very similar story unfolds. The stars were supposed to be Clive Warren (who doesn’t actually exist) and Rebecca De Mornay (whose career was, by 2007, already pretty much over). They fall in love get married, but soon after Warren his hit by a bus in the morning. The doctor (Morgan Freeman), offers a surgery whereby they will remove one half of each of De Mornay’s brain, and replace it with one half of Warren’s.
In this scenario, the situation becomes very difficult for them in a similar manner to Black Mirror, but is expressed through Warren’s desire to eat shredded wheat. Where the two stories diverge, however, is at the point that Warren falls in love with another woman, who used to be De Mornay’s gay lover.
Could the Black Mirror creator, Charlie Brooker, have run out of ideas and turned to an obscure inspiration? Or perhaps Pilkington was just unexpectedly ahead of the times, and unwittingly made an incredible prediction. It might be just a coincidence, but I like to think otherwise.
The museum in the Black Mirror episode was full of Easter eggs: objects from many previous episodes which included the bath from Crocodile, the masked, shotgun-wielding man from White Bear, the DNA encode from USS Callister and the suicidal artist from the very first episode, National Anthem. Perhaps the more abstract Easter egg was in fact the story itself.