I have watched the latest season 6 of Netflix's Black Mirror and I have a question about its third episode, Beyond the Sea. This episode is about two astronauts, David and Cliff, who are on a six-year mission in space, but they can also live on Earth through their replicas, which are robotic body doubles that they control with their minds.

At first the idea of using surrogates for astronauts to be with their families looked quite new and original to me. But during the past few days, some vague memories are popping up which make me suspect that some variations of this idea may have been used before in Sci-Fi novels. So my question is, have you seen this plot theme anywhere else? To be more specific

The main characters of the story are astronauts who are going on a lengthy mission. But at the same time they have body doubles on earth, which exactly look like them. It may also be the case that a surrogate goes to the mission and the original body remains on earth. Where did this idea appear for the first time?

  • Not quite the same purpose, but Dr Who had a similar mechanism in the Gangers.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Aug 28, 2023 at 11:43
  • The principle reminded me of this movie: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surrogates
    – Clockwork
    Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 10:31
  • The actual question should be why the hell did they travel on the ship while their surrogates stay on earth and not vice versa
    – Bardo
    Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 10:56
  • @Bardo that would be a question for another site maybe... Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 11:45

2 Answers 2


This is copied from my (no doubt wrong) old answer to a story identification question.

1956: "Look Homeward, Spaceman", a short story by Robert Silverberg; originally published (as by "Calvin Knox") in Amazing Stories, August 1956, available at the Internet Archive; reprinted in Science Fiction Greats, Winter 1969 (all-Silverberg issue), also available at the Internet Archive.

The astronaut comes home on a two-day leave after six years in space:

I guess this is the street, Paul thought. I'm back. It annoyed him that after six years in space he was no longer quite sure where his home was.

Paul comes home to his mother and his brother Jim—and, to his surprise, a robot replica of himself:

Horrorstricken, Paul stared at the man who had opened the door, and the man inside calmly returned the glance. They stood there, frozen, looking at each other.

He was looking at himself.

Not quite himself, he decided once the initial shock had worn off. It was a younger version of himself at the door, with narrower shoulders, a paler face (Paul was proud of his heavy space-tan). The livid white scar across Paul's forehead did not mark the brow of the other man. He was shorter, softer-looking.

[. . . .]

He rushed to greet his older brother, but Jim dodged around him and went to the other Paul. With a swift, sudden motion Jim touched his hand to the other Paul's back, and the other Paul stiffened in mid-stride.

"A robot!" Paul said, astonished. "A robot copy of me!"

[. . . .]

"Tell me what that thing is doing here. It was a nightmare to find myself answering the door."

Jim chuckled hollowly. "I bought him right after you left. It was pretty rough for a while, Paul: mother missed you terribly the first week. She became ill worrying about you."

"There was nothing about it in her letters," Paul said.

"Of course not. We'd never tell you. I wrote a lot of those letters myself. She was so sick that the doctors told me she wouldn't live unless you came back from space immediately. I didn't dare ask you to come back—I couldn't do that to my own brother—and so I had the robot double made. I told her that you were back, that your flight had been called off or something like that, and she accepted it."

  • 1
    This is it! I knew deep down that I have read something like this before. But the memory was too foggy to provide any details. And I doubt that another earlier story could be found. So your answer is gratefully accepted. Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 4:39
  • William Nolan wrote something very similar with a slighty different twist in 1958 ("And Miles To Go Before I sleep"), where the protagonist commissons a robot double to deceive his parents about the fact that he will succumb to a deadly illness before he returns to earth. Meanwhile the parents have commissioned robot doppelgangers of themselves before they passed on, so that their returning son will not have to mourn the death of his parents. The story was used in English classes in Germany in the 80s. Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 7:28
  • @EikePierstorff And in Silverberg's story the astronaut's mother has also been replaced by a robot duplicate. Both stories, Silverberg's and Nolan's, were unaccepted answers to the same old story-ID question. scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/160628/…
    – user14111
    Commented Aug 29, 2023 at 7:41

The 1960 short story "Poslední dobrodružství kapitána Nemo" ("Captain Nemo's Last Adventure") by Josef Nesvadba incorporates a similar idea, however, here the surrogates go on the mission.

  • 3
    Looks much more reasonable than otherwise.
    – Mithoron
    Commented Aug 28, 2023 at 17:26

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