August 23, 2007

Warning: we are your police

Filed under: philip k. dick — ubikcan @ 9:54 pm

What was the next thing Philip K. Dick wrote after this blog’s namesake novel, Ubik? It was a plot outline for tv entitled “Warning: We are your police” (1967, first published in 1985 as issue 7 of the Philip K. Dick Society). In this post I offer a synopsis of this interesting story which features questions about truth, illusion and love.


Written as a narrative story rather than a true outline, it features two schoolboys, Keith Mumford and Al Jennings, who through a stratagem involving an interesting watch and a secret code embedded in an image (an early example of steganography) attend a meeting held in an downtown office building.

Dick describes what happens next:

The viewer, by this time, has seen confirmations of his suspicions that these “people” constitute an assembly of the aliens, that the billboards have been used as a method of notifying everyone of the time and place of this evidently high-level meeting. However, what comes next should be a surprise.

The boys quickly produce a weapon and fire it at all the aliens who shimmer and vanish “which as we all know” Dick drolly adds, “is the way in which aliens die here on Earth.” One alien fires back, killing Jennings and is then in turn killed by Mumford.

Alone now, Mumford seats himself at the main desk and looks at papers regarding a man called David Vincent. On the way out he sees that Jennings’ corpse is really an android, but he shows no surprise for he is presumably an android too.

Scene 2 shows Vincent at home marking up alien sightings with a friend on a big wall map. the phone rings and tells him to record a message at high speed; as it is transmitted it is unintelligible, but when played back it reveals the following information (a third instance of hidden information, a central concern of PKD’s work):

The message claims to come from an intra-galactic police agency. Earth has been invaded, not only by the original aliens but by this police force. Vincent has vital information (nb) they need to combat the hostile aliens and he must go to a certain hotel room and have his brain scanned. Is this the truth? Dick notes that at this point the viewer should not be able to tell if this is the truth or not, but be suspended, as enacted by Vincent, between two different possibilities.

Without being able to decide on the truth, Vincent goes to the meeting, but on the way is cleverly kidnapped and replaced by a lookalike. He himself is taken away by two men wearing strange uniforms.

Scene 3 begins as reproduced below:


From the fake living room Vincent watches the fake Vincent enter the hotel room. There’s a flash of light and the screen goes blank. The substitute Vincent has been killed. Or has he? Perhaps this was just a plot to get him to trust them? Vincent can’t be sure.

Vincent protests, “I’m tired of dealing with illusion…it’s been a long time and I’m worn out. I’m worn out trying to make out what’s real and what’s merely–“. So they try to convince him. They show him their real forms: the android appearance of the two schoolboys. They show him clips from that event. But they’re interrupted by an attack of the other aliens. Grabbing the girl, Vincent escapes and drives off, only to crash and black out for a moment. When he awakes he sees the girl dead beside him. He’s quickly surrounded by the cold, invader aliens who render him unconscious. “Do you think he suspects?” they knowingly ask each other. Just before the fade-out we see the girl, working with them.

Scene 4. Vincent is unconscious but before he wakes we see the girl and the other aliens talking. There’s a plan to convince him of something, obtained at great cost to themselves: they must fight the intra-galactic police force. The girl is reluctant to leave, and seems drawn to Vincent. Eventually she leaves and they bring him round. Vincent realizes he’s been captured again. The attack takes place between the invaders and the “police” force, leaving many dead, but ultimately the police win out.

The leader of the “police” force (as Dick is now labeling them, in a further destabilizing move) says, “You see, Mr. Vincent, we still had to be sure about you…” He explains that they weren’t previously wiped out, and just like the invaders told him a few moments earlier, actually everything is going to plan–their plan. The invaders are pretty much wiped out. It’s over. Vincent “appears” to relax (nb). He can tell others that it’s over.

On the way home though Vincent spots something near the wrecked van: it’s the girl. He chases and catches her. Why did she come back? Why did he: a “hunch.” “It was all faked” says Vincent, “There aren’t any intra-galactic police here…” He continues to realize that he was supposed to stop trying to warn people, that it was being taken care of. But his feelings for her took him back to the van where she’d apparently died, “Because I cared about you; I cared about what happened.” She runs, is hit by a car, for real. Vincent is stoic and stony, yet not without pity.

In the moralizing conclusion, Dick writes in a voice-over, we see that Vincent has not been fooled. But for a while he thought that “others may come to take up the task, others better qualified and many of them–professionals who would win, who would spread their protective cloak over a defenseless Earth.” That was the real hoax, that we can abdicate our responsibilities to authority figures.

Now we understand the title: anybody who claims authority, who claims power, treat that as a warning.



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