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“Androids, everybody needs good androids”. Not mobile phones, but the theme tune of Androids , the Neighbours -style soap opera spoofed in Red Dwarf when the crew first met beige-bonced Kryten.
Androids eh? Designed to do either trivial jobs or those too dangerous for mere humans, androids are always causing bother, intentionally or otherwise. When an android walks into a bar it’s it’s only a matter of time before they’re asking questions about humanity, provoking existential angst or accidentally killing everyone.
I’ve been watching the sizzle reel for Almost Human , the new JH Wyman show, a good few times now and while it might not feel like the most original concept, it’s sending out the kind of noises I want to hear. Gruff copper Karl Urban’s technophobic cop isn’t too happy about having a robot gammy leg, and even less happy working alongside android cops. He’s teamed up with an older model android who has some maintenance issues and turns out it might just be what he needs, a bit like bringing in Pinocchio to help with anger management issues.
I’m interested to see the life cycle of the show, and how they might sidestep well-trodden territory where Data from Star Trek and others have been so many times before. In anticipation I’ve randomly picked out a handful of other androids…
Hector (Saturn 3)
Even at a young age Harvey Keitel was up to mischief. Rocking up at Kirk Douglas’ space station/love nest on one of Saturn’s moons and building Hector, a giant psychopathic android with no head and two tiny eyes on stick; he looked like WALL-E after an overdose of hormone replacement therapy. Back in the day this was shown on BBC2 as part of a season of sci-fi, Wednesday at 6pm if memory serves. Other delights included This Island Earth and When Worlds Collide but it was Hector from Saturn 3 that shook me up. Particularly for the scene where lovely Farrah Fawcett gets a shard of microchip stuck in her eye and Hector picks it out with tiny tweezers that extend out of his big metal hands.
Ash & Bishop (Alien, Aliens)
For all the blood and guts in the first two Alien movies, I’m actually more disturbed by the white gunk that spewed out of the two androids upon their partial demises. Bishop being ripped open like a kid’s yoghurt drink, or Ash’s disembodied head on a table, gargling philosophically. There are no fancy effects to make these guys look less human; in the Aliens universe they’ve perfected androids that look like people. Whoever “The Company” is, it doesn’t care about concepts like the “uncanny valley”, and it doesn’t want you damaging its expensive property either, even when they’re shoving a rolled-up newspaper down your throat.
Alex Murphy (RoboCop)
With a human brain, technically RoboCop is more cyborg than android, but his behaviour can be programmed by computer, and, of course, he spends most of the first movie being told he’s not human, before his memories creep back. I read the book before seeing the movie with a slightly different ending where RoboCop punches Clarence Bodickers head off. Nice.
Roy Batty (Blade Runner)
If you can replicate the perfect human being, it’s a bit of a waste to make them work down a mine isn’t it? Or am I missing something? Rutger Hauer’s time-limited android Roy Batty is said to have add-libbed the end of his classic monologue before dying and letting the white dove fly into the sky. If I recall the last shot of the bird flying off (pre-latest director’s cut) – which jars a bit with the style of scenes around it – was filmed around the factories near my home in the the North East, where ironically all the mines had been closed. Blade Runner is set only six years from now. Ouch.
Kamelion (Doctor Who)
A show with its fair share of androids across the years, but I’ve picked one out especially. Kamelion could have been one of the best Doctor Who companions ever. As it is, he only appeared in two stories, and even then metaphorically shoved in a cupboard and eventually destroyed. An android who could do what the TARDIS did and more; as the Master put it, “capable of infinite form or personality”. The robot prop was apparently a nightmare to operate and parts kept falling off. He wasn’t a hit with the fans, but he was with me. A wonderful, wasted opportunity for the Doctor to have a sidekick who could fulfil the companion role perfectly, asking all the questions companions have to ask, and having a new face every so often, near and yet so very different to the doctor himself. Bring back Kamelion, are you listening Mr Moffatt?
Motoko Kusanagi and Daisuke Aramaki (Ghost In The Shell)
There are plenty spin-offs from the original 1995 anime movie, which still holds up amazingly well in the animation department 15 years later. I happily watched it about three times, not just for the animation but to understand what was going on. Two cops hunting down a cyber-terrorist come across a rogue AI looking for a brain to live in, which eventually fuses with one of the cops creating a new entity, or did it? Lots of musing on the nature of identity. Who are we? Why are we? Why does one cop have bottle tops for eyes? It almost threatens to collapse under the weight of it own introspection, but the action scenes are great.
Red Tornado (DC Comics)
One of my favourite underused DC comics characters, it’s great to see him getting exposure in the various DCU cartoon shows. He has all the classic tropes: wanting to understand humans, questioning, doing good deeds to better understand what emotions are, and fighting crime while pursuing a journey of AI enlightenment. In many ways he’s like Star Trek ‘s Data with a secret identity, except that he’s far better than Data because he’s red, has an arrow on his head, and can make a big tornado thing happen. ( Pah, he’s just the Vision with flatuence – Marvel-biased site ed. )