The National Anthem – Series One, Episode One.
Truly scandalous, The National Anthem, sets the dark, cynical tone of Charlie Brooker’s infamous show. Though perhaps not the best episode of all, the sheer balls of making this story the first episode deserves recognition. Immersive and intriguing, this episode is a masterpiece in its own right. Wherever you think Brooker is taking you, you’re mistaken.
White Christmas – Series Two, Episode Four.
The highest rated episode on IMDB, White Christmas returns to the tech/mind interface shown in The Entire History of You from series one. Brooker’s writing is excellent, layering complex stories and characters in one self-contained episode. Jon Hamm and Rafe Spall work well together, the dynamic between their characters subtly shifting as their darkest secrets spill out. As in many episodes, Brooker’s dare-devilish approach to how dark he can go comes to the fore, leaving a bitter taste in your mouth.
Nosedive – Series Three, Episode One.
Carried by the endearing performance from Bryce Dallas Howard, Nosedive provides a thought-provoking examination of social media’s insidious underbelly. The sickly-sweet colour palate paired with the forced grins and painful pleasantries bring this episode to life. Howard’s character is flawed, but engaging and a pleasure to watch. The series three finale, Hated in the Nation also deals with social media, but the uncharacteristically light-hearted and redemptive approach in Nosedive is refreshing: you don’t loathe humanity when the credits roll.
Playtest – Series Three, Episode Two.
As with all the episodes on this list, Playtest relies on a strong performance. Wyatt Russel’s performance as the likeable, relatable Cooper is understated and completely believable. Like the game he enters into, this episode is immersive, surprising and terrifying. Combining the established themes of tech gone wrong with a horror movie feel, Playtest is fresh and playful. Saying that, don’t be fooled – this episode isn’t all that it seems.
USS Callister – Series Four, Episode One.
This Star Trek homage/rip-take is my personal favourite. It plays with the shameless macho arrogance of the original Star Trek series, pointing out its obvious flaws whilst celebrating all that we love about it. This episode provides a fresh, innovative exploration of the previously established themes of technology, virtual reality, and the rights of digital people. So, even if you’re not a Star Trek fan there’s plenty to love about this episode.
Hang the DJ – Series Four, Episode Four.
This episode almost ties with USS Callister for the best episode of series four. Hang the DJ looks at the future of dating apps, focussing on two people as they take part in a system which has a 99.8% success rate with pairing people with “the one.” This episode takes an unflinching look at the lonely detachment which accompanies empty sex and serial dating, whilst romantically exploring the concept of true love. In true Brooker fashion, this romance comes with a pinch of salt and an unexpected, bitter-sweet resolution.
By Emily Black