Just a few weeks after the excellent Monolith, here’s another single-location sci-fi with big ideas and a small budget. Mitch JenkinsA Million Days takes our destruction of the planet as a given, and extrapolates a plausible scenario of a frantic space race to colonise the Moon before dwindling resources run out. Tackling hefty topics like AI, the climate crisis, and fate, alongside more personal themes like jealousy and grief, A Million Days occasionally trips over itself presenting dense concepts for a midnight-movie audience, but becomes increasingly intriguing as the implications of its plot unspool before its small band of protagonists.

In 2041, in the prelude to environmental collapse, the Seed Programme has been established to start life again off-planet. Astronaut Anderson (Simon Merrells) and his computer scientist wife Sam (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) are spending a final night together before a crucial mission. They are interrupted by Charlie (Hermione Corfield), a new member of Sam’s team. She has some worrying data from Jay, the super-powerful AI created by Sam to facilitate the programme. Jay was supposed to have simulated the likelihood of the mission’s success. Instead her forecast has taken in the next 2740 years and a final destination of Proxima Centauri, with a quick layover at the Jupiter-orbiting Europa on the way. The team must decide whether to carry on with the mission, or abort.

A variation on a ghost in the machine narrative, A Million Days doesn’t have the most promising opening as the setup is clumsily presented by first Anderson and Sam, and then Charlie. It’s a necessary bump however. Even though it’s clear three people who are likely to be the smartest in most rooms wouldn’t be detailing the concepts and the concomitant predicament in the bluntly expositional terms they are here, it at least clues the viewer in on the general concepts. It’s not elegant, as if writers Michael Dobbin and Guillaume Fradin couldn’t find a way to show rather than tell, but once the ideas and stakes have been established, it’s pretty plain sailing.

Very much to the writers’ credit is how they’ve boiled down some massive concepts to a personal level. Anderson still pines for his dead partner, lost on a mission ten years earlier, and Sam is painfully aware of this and their relationship is depicted as a meeting of minds, while Anderson’s deceased lover will always have his heart. The friction between the personal and the ‘greater good’ becomes the central point of tension, especially when it becomes clear the ruthlessly utilitarian approach that Jay has taken thus far. The performances are also given the chance to breathe once the physics jargon has been dealt with and the revelations can begin.

There are lots of great little ideas within, tweaking existing tech in plausible ways like the best episodes of Black Mirror. Early on, Anderson helps avert a minor catastrophe by sending instructions for a spare part from Earth to be 3D printed aboard a spacecraft. There is also narratively important use of nanotechnology as a means of extending life, opening further avenues to be explored. It might be a fairly slight chamber piece in terms of story, but it’s quietly ambitious in terms of what it tries to do.

Ultimately, if A Million Days could have slipped more easily into the briskly enjoyable groove it eventually reaches it would have been another little high-concept gem. As it stands, it’s a little clunky – and the direction and performances are as utilitarian as the philosophy that’s being explored – but as a package, it’s very enjoyable.

Available to stream from Mon 18 Mar 2024