Wednesday, 8 August 2007

BBC TV series: Empathy

I don't usually watch much SFF on TV or at the cinema, but I recently saw the start of a promising new series on BBC TV, called 'Empathy'. It is set in present-day England and concerns a man, recently released from prison, who has intense visions whenever he comes into contact with people or belongings associated with them. He discovers that these visions are real, that they actually show him what the people experienced at a moment of strong emotion – such as when killing someone. As a result, he stumbles across evidence concerning a murder. He tries to alert the police, but they arrest him for the murder instead, because he knows too much about it. Eventually he is able to prove his innocence and to convince the police that his ability is real, and he joins with them to track down the killer.

In an effort to identify the cause of his visions he has various medical checks, including a scan which reveals a brain tumour which he believes is causing his visions. In SF terms, there are some problems with this basic premise: to have him picking up images and emotions from people on contact with them is one thing, to have the same visions when handling their clothes is entirely another…and there's a suggestion at the end that he might be able to see visions of the future. So there's a greater than usual suspension of disbelief needed.

The mood of the production is adult and serious, like one of the better crime series. Some interesting tensions are building up between the protagonist, his ex-wife (now remarried) and the female police officer who works with him.

Despite the dubious plot issues, I found it a quite gripping and entertaining 90 minutes and will be watching at least the next one, to see how it develops.


Bill Garthright said...

Ugh! We're inundated with this sort of thing in the U.S.A. I don't consider it science fiction, but fantasy. And unfortunately, it's fantasy that more and more people seem to be confusing with real life. I don't know how it is elsewhere, but in America, it seems that most people really believe psychics can help the police solve crimes. Magical thinking is EXTREMELY widespread here, and television has jumped on the bandwagon. On TV, skeptics are never right, and the wildest fantasy is always 'real.' If this is the only TV show you've got like this, consider yourself - and your country - very lucky.

Anthony G Williams said...

I think it depends on where you draw the line between fantasy and SF. Psi powers are a well-established feature of SF, so as long as they have a reasonable pseudo-logical basis, that's acceptable IMO.

That's really why I pointed up the problem in the plot - reading people's minds when in contact is SF by my reckoning, but extending the same ability into reading clothes pushes it into fantasy.

sroe said...

I dont think there is ' a next one'; looks like it was a one-off pilot. It was good, yes. Never mind the framework, the writing, the acting kept you on edge... worth continuing in my book.

Anthony G Williams said...

Yes, you are right: I had the impression to start with that it was the first of a series, and that was only reinforced by the plot. They solved the murders, but there were so many loose ends...

What is he going to do about that tumour? How will the relationships with his ex-wife and the policewoman work out - they were only just beginning? And what about that last scene, which seemed to suggest some future crisis?

I've never come across a one-off which is so obviously setting the scene for more episodes. I can only assume that they're waiting to judge reactions first.