Red Dwarf Review: Series VI, Episode 4: "Emohawk: Polymorph II"

Airdate: 28 October 1993.

“Curse you, magic beans!”
“Oh, stop blaming the beans!”
The Simpsons: “Homer the Vigilante”

Synopsis: Rimmer’s emergency drill for the Starbug crew (posting a record time of 1:17:30) proves ironic, as the crew are intercepted by a Space Corps enforcement vessel. Threatened with death for theft of derelicts, the shuttle is hammered by missiles. Starbug manages to flee, but manages to crash land in an ocean on the moon, putting out the flames before they reach the fuel tanks. Nobody is injured, but most of Starbug’s contents are damaged by either fire, flood, impact damage, or Cat’s desire to never hear Lister play guitar again. Auto-repair can fix most of the ship, but they have to trade with the Kinotawawi, the local GELFs, to get a new Oxy-Gen unit, so that they can breathe in space.

In return for the unit, Lister must marry the daughter of the Chief of the Kinotawawi, who Lister doesn’t find too attractive. He plans to slip out in the middle of the night, but is forced to flee due to various circumstances involving the honeymoon. (“CHANGE OF PLAN! LEG IT!!!!”) Cheated by this maneuver, the Chief sends out one of his Emohawks- domesticated Polymorphs- to attack. It slips aboard Starbug and begins to attack, knocking down Cat’s cool and making him the Duke of Dork himself, while at the same time, dragging out Rimmer’s snideness and bringing out the Space Corps hero himself. If you don’t know who these two are yet, watch Series IV and V again.

Review: This time, we get three sequels in one. And not just an “aping plot elements” type sequel – no, no. This time, this is pretty much three direct sequels in one here. The tragic part? The potential here is squandered, and it comes close to denting the memory of three of the greatest Red Dwarf episodes of all time.

First, the obvious. This episode is clearly a direct sequel to “Polymorph”. For those that need a refresher… click on the link. The difference? There, the Polymorph was given enough development and plot time to get the basics; the Polymorph simply drained the most negative aspects of everybody and everything it hit. Since it hit four of the most screwed-up people ever, it managed to make them into even more deranged people. Here, it’s target is unclear. Does it ape personality aspects, or certain emotions? And why does it produce physical changes? I’ll go with “it’s a different evolution”, except it was said to be merely a trained Polymorph. Rule of funny? Maybe, but in a show as well crafted as Red Dwarf, it’s just a bit frustrating.

Second, they bring back two characters who have no business being here.

  • We have Duane Dibbley, who I praised in my “Back to Reality” review as one of the reasons why I consider that to be Red Dwarf’s magnum opus. Most of Duane’s humor came on how he was stunned to learn that he was merely playing somebody as cool as The Cat. It’s a deep character moment: once Duane realizes that he’s really worthless, once the rest of the crew turn to suicide, he not only jumps in, but recommends the most efficient way of doing so. Here? He’s just a vehicle for geek jokes. No depth.
  • Ace Rimmer, from the epic “Dimension Jump”, gets a little better treatment. A lot of Ace’s comedy came from the fact that he was so unlike Rimmer; he’s brave, selfless, friendly, and well-rounded. I can see where they were going with bring in Ace here: he’s what Rimmer thinks Ace is. Why? Well, his plan is just risky: suck the Emohawk out into space, leading to certain death, but to “spare” Duane, he’s going to kill him beforehand. I just hope that’s the case. Alternate theory; they forgot how to write for Ace, but brought him “back” because, well, Ace+Duane+Polymorph=PROFIT!
The rest isn’t top-notch Red Dwarf, either. I would’ve loved to see an episode dealing with the Space Corps law enforcement. It may have aped from “Justice”… but I liked “Justice” due to it’s focus on character which, barring the last two episodes, this series seems to have put on the back burner. Here, most of the episode is sitcom-based humor (although I like the ambiguity of the Space Corps Directive joke).
This also brings me to another aspect that really didn’t please me; this is an episode that goes through plot points as quickly as a modern Simpsons episode. The shuttle is intercepted by law enforcement, causing the crew to crash land, causing them to trade with the GELFs, causing Lister to flee an arranged marriage, causing an Emohawk to board the ship, leading to comedy between Ace and Duane… it’s almost disjointed. Every plotline starts out decently enough, but the jokes become repetitive as time goes on.
A good chunk of the comedy that works holds up on its own merits. However, a sizeable chunk is held up mainly by the acting merits. I doubt jokes like “CHANGE OF PLAN” or “DUANE DIBBLEY” would be as funny as they are without the acting chops of Craig, Chris, Danny, and Robert here.
Overall, not really a good episode. It passes based on acting, the comedy that works, and the potential. The problem here is that a lot of the potential is shamefully wasted, and it almost drags down two fantastic characters.
Tidbits:
  • The set for the GELF scenes was actually to be used for the aborted TV show Covington Cross. Chances are, this allowed Grant/Naylor to use more explosive special effects.
    • Either way, the cash saved didn’t go to another Ace wig. The original toupee was unavailable. Thus, he got a replacement… a cheaper replacement.
  • The guy who played the GELF chief, Ainsley Harriot, not only became a celebrity chef, but also hosted a comic special for Red Dwarf’s 10th anniversary where the characters tried to cook.
  • Steven Wicknam played the GELF bride. He would later get a bit of a “promotion”-type deal in the show; 19 years later, he was brought back to be the chief of another GELF tribe in Series X’s “Entangled”.
  • Strangest thing about this episode? I now have a fear of cafeteria-sized bean cans.
Favorite Scene: I personally felt that the GELF scene worked the best.
Least Favorite Scene: I’ll just say that Duane’s behavior here brought me down.
Score: 5.5

Red Dwarf Review: Series VI, Episode 3: "Gunmen of the Apocalypse"

Airdate: 21 October 1993

Synopsis: As Lister is in the TIV machine (dating various characters), the wackos aboard Starbug are intercepted by Rogue Simulants, who just happen to despise humans and humanoids. An attempt to trick them fails (said attempt involves googly-eyes), and they are put to sleep. They are woken up, to find that the shuttle has been upgraded in terms of weaponry… so that they can battle.

Thanks to the Cat’s theories (and his dismissal of Tom and Jerry logic), the crew manage to destroy the Simulants. However, the Simulants go out with a bang; they inject a virus into Starbug that shuts down their controls, sending them hurling to a lava-moon. Fearing a wreck, Kryten wires himself into the computer to beat the virus. Said computer and virus manifest as a TIV-style game set in the Wild West, where Kryten is a cowardly, burnt-out drunkard of a sheriff put up against the “Apocalypse Boys”, who want him out of town.

Fearing for their lives, the gang wires themselves into the game to take down the virus, giving themselves strategic advantages via the “special powers”. Thus, the ballad of The Riviera Kid, Dangerous Dan McGrew, and Brett Riverboat begins. They have to deal with cowboys, barmaids, and the risk of the loss of “special powers”.

Review: I’ve noticed one thing about this series that really stands out. To be specific, that would have to be the pseudo-sequels that have made up most of the series; episodes that took strong elements from earlier episodes. “Psirens” was something of a sequel to “Camille”, “Legion” had elements of “Queeg” and “Justice”, “Rimmerworld” holds elements from “Terrorform” and “Meltdown”, “Out of Time” holds elements from “Stasis Leak”, and “Emohawk: Polymorph II” is a 3-in-1 package (“Polymorph”, “Dimension Jump”, and “Back to Reality”).

“Gunmen” is no exception; it really feels like a sequel to “Better Than Life”. I’ve mentioned before that “Better Than Life” holds a place in my heart; it was the episode that hooked me on Red Dwarf once and for all. This episode is also spectacular; in the somewhat lackluster Series VI, this episode is awesome.

Most of it has to do with it’s inventive and carefully-created plot. The Wild West has been something of a centerpiece of science fiction television. Star Trek did it thrice (in Enterprise, The Original Series, and The Next Generation). Doctor Who did it a couple of times (the obscure-ish “Gunfighters” and the recent “A Town Called Mercy”). Naturally, Red Dwarf had to not just do it, but parody it, interject it in a creative manner, and above all, make it funny.

And parody they did. Oh, and don’t forget to interject it in a creative manner. The drinks scene, the fight scenes, and the dynamic between the characters are comic knocks on the Western cliches. What starts one fight? Rimmer does not react well to a drink poured at the saloon.

Note that every time Cat pulls out his guns, he does not directly hit anybody; rather, due to the application of his “special ability” of creative shooting, he either knocks bullets out of the air, or knocks a sign down on somebody, knocking him out cold. No blood is shed. Oh, and Cat acts like such an exaggerated version of a stereotypical Latin dancer. The Riviera Kid: the awesomeness of a sheriff, the gracefulness of, well, a Cat.

Rimmer also gets a chance to get into typical bar fights. The parody comes in Dan McGee’s behavior; despite getting into fistfights, he’s still quite a bit of a coward, still really aspires to the upper class, and still isn’t that bright. He finally gets something on his side; his physical strength is increased. Yet, it’s clear that all this has really done is boosted his ego. Once his special power gets damaged he’s back to the same old cowardly Rimmer. As much as Rimmer might be more one-dimensional this series than ever before, this is still an awesome reminder of something going right for him… and having it cruelly taken away. The writing for him is quintesential Red Dwarf; instead of just being a jackass, he is a man kept down by life itself.

Lister gets some throwbacks to his Series I and II childish behaviour, albeit not in the western itself. It’s found in his initial use of the TIV, which is to go on various dates and one-night stands. Also, his attempt at diplomacy with the Simulants results in what is considered one of the funnier scenes in Red Dwarf history.

Oh, here’s how you DON’T do diplomacy.

Just… fantastic.

Kryten’s Dwarfer traits have manifested in the TIV. There, desperate, he becomes a drunken wreck. I took it as Kryten showing a deep-seated reluctance to serve a slob, a narcissist, and an all-around wreck of a man. Of course, I might be looking too deep into his actions.

The sets and special effects are awesome, especially by BBC standards. I love models in this series. It would be a damn shame if they ever converted to CGI for the purposes of staying “modern” and developing cheap sci-fi plots.

It would be like The Simpsons making Elf-like Jockeys the villains for an episode, or Star Trek putting an entire episode in sickbay for the purposes of innuendo and sexual tension. Thank god those are just worst-case scenarios and never manifested… right?

Probably my biggest problems with this episode include the pacing (it seems to feel a bit too lanky at the beginning of the episode, and thus, a bit too rushed at the end of the episode) and the re-use of the sitcom gags (although these are funner this time around). Otherwise, we have a pretty good outing, one that really elevated the standing of Series VI as a whole.

Tidbits:

  • The BBC’s Head of Art and Entertainment, Janet Street-Portier, actually got hold of the script. She informed Grant/Naylor that the episode would be way too expensive and complex, and thus, demanded production be shut down. Her memo came down just in time for the episode to be in post-production.
  • One year earlier, Star Trek: The Next Generation aired an episode similar to this, called “A Fistful of Datas”. It’s actually not a bad episode in and of itself, even though it falls victim to some TNG-era cliches (Data wanting to be more human, the Holodeck breaking down, etc.)
    • Speaking of which, Patrick Stewart managed to catch this episode during an airing. Thinking it was a ripoff of “Fistful”, Stewart almost threw a lawsuit at the BBC. Then he began laughing…
  • The noir-type game at the beginning is a parody of the somewhat obscure 1971 UK film Gumshoe, which was set in Liverpool.
  • This episode was written main plot first; the Simulant plot came after.
  • Personal opinion; the music here is perfect. Do I have to mention the ending theme? It’s simply perfect.
  • For an episode that almost got shut down by the BBC’s arts department and almost got Grant/Naylor sued, this episode…
    • Won an International Emmy in 1994;
    • Topped Red Dwarf polls in 1994 and 1997
    • Ranked second in 1999;
    • And, after a 10-point drop in 2008, was bumped up to #3 in 2013.
Favorite Scene: Pretty much everything from the Vindaloovian scene to just before the final battle. It’s some of the best Red Dwarf ever.
Least Favorite Scene: The noir scene just goes on too long.
Score: 9. It deserved it’s smeggin’ Emmy!

Red Dwarf Review: Series VI, Episode 2: "Legion"

Airdate: 14 October, 1993

Synopsis: Starbug is in a dire situation. Supplies are low; water is being reused, and the only thing available to eat are Space Weevils. The Dwarfers take turns piloting in shifts. To make matters more distressing, as Lister eats his Space Weevil for dinner, a tractor beam manages to capture Starbug. When the shuttle ends up at a space station, however, the crew are met by Legion (Nigel Williams), who fixes Lister’s appendix, turns Rimmer into a hard-light hologram, feeds the crew (albeit with strange chopsticks), and grants them bedrooms with their greatest desires. However, it comes at a price: they have to stay on the ship for the rest of their lives. Why? Well, the words “composite” and “gestalt” come to mind.

Review: Now, this episode feels a little bit more like Red Dwarf! After the first episode of the series was a dud, this episode really seemed to show Series VI settling in.

This episode, after all, really establishes this show as a more direct parody of Star Trek: The Next Generation and some of the tropes that TNG loved. Need to declare a red alert? Well, that’s going to require some maintenance! Have to dine with somebody you’ve just met? Have them use strange chopsticks and fling food all over the place! Imprison them for life? Put them up in bedrooms with their greatest desires!

The idea of the gestalt entity is a great sci-fi trope. Legion itself is brilliant: a sentient being with the minds of many. The faults of this are quickly revealed; while it can lead to greatness in the minds of scientists and geeks, it can lead to irrational behavior when idiots like the Dwarfers are involved. Such irrational behavior involves capturing the crew for life, stabbing himself in the hand, and threatening to stab himself in a far more sensitive place. The will of the many is best demonstrated in a quote he says that’s lifted from a little anthology called The Bible.

My name is Legion, for we are many. – A possessed man who’s taking to Jesus, Mark 5:9. Oh, and Legion in this episode, also.

Let me tell you something; it’s easy to make a lowbrow joke (of which there are quite a few in this episode, albeit concentrated in the first 4 minutes). It’s harder to make a direct reference to the Bible, one of the most indirectly referenced pieces of literature of all time. The will of the many have taken over Legion; thus, he is at their control in terms of emotional traits. He definitely possesses the neurosis and selfishness of Rimmer, for one.

Onto the jokes, they definitely work better here than they did in “Psirens”. A good chunk of them are still very much sitcom based, yet for some reason, they work better here. Maybe it’s because the character comedy is somewhat more prevalent. Rimmer’s now a hardlight, for once. This should mean he ascended to another piece of life, right? Nope; it gives him the opportunity to get food all over him and to get beaten up by Kryten in a futile attempt to disable the Gestalt. Nothing’s changed in his life, except things can’t pass through him. His life is still miserable.

Really, the only problem with this episode is the one that dominated “Psirens”, yet it’s a problem that smacks down this episode: no matter how good the jokes worked in this episode, this still feels more like a typical sitcom episode. Outside of the Cat (and his relationship with Lister), none of the characters get a whole lot of development. Outside of the tragedy of Rimmer being turned into a slapstick-based character for the episode, he is still less-dimensional than he was in episodes such as “The Inquisitor” and “Back to Reality”. Nothing in terms of character is really explored. It’s sad, because the lack of development drags down an otherwise well-done episode.

Tidbits:

  • This marks the second time that Lister had his gallbladder removed; the first time was revealed in “Thanks for the Memory”. Don’t you only have one of those? You do, right?
  • Nigel Williams was actually sewn into the Legion suit during filming.
  • When Legion stabs himself in the left hand with the scalpel, the rest react by grabbing their left hand… except for Lister, who grabs his right hand. Why?

Favorite Moment: Strangely enough, despite it being relatively lowbrow, I laughed at Legion’s threat to the Dwarfers in the case of a second insurrection. Let’s just have the reactions of the Dwarfers.

Kryten: “Legion, that type of tough talk doesn’t scare us!”

Cat, Rimmer, and Lister: “YES, IT DOES! 

Least Favorite Moment: It has to be Rimmer’s reaction to being turned into a hardlight. This is the closest that Rimmer is getting to being alive, and his reaction is similar to one’s reaction to getting a free Big Mac. It’s really just there to get some slapstick out of him, which is hilarious, but still. Grant/Naylor can say what they want about wanting to expand the potential of Rimmer. These guys are great, but I can’t buy that one.

Score: 7.75.

Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 11: "All Singing, All Dancing"

Airdate: 4 January, 1998

Synopsis: Homer claims to hate musicals, revealing his disdain after renting a musical that Homer thought was a Clint Eastwood western. The rest of the Simpsons note the irony of this, stating the mere fact that the family (and the entire town) tend to break into song on a semi-regular basis. Meanwhile, Snake tries his hand at robbery… and reveals his distaste for musicals.

Review: This will be a short one; it’s meh. It’s a clip show; what more do you expect? I’m not really going to go into depth here, though.

First, let’s get this out of the way; the clips themselves are sublime. The first eight seasons of the show featured some damn good music. My favorite would have to be a tie between “In the Garden of Eden” from “Bart Sells His Soul” and “We Do” from “Homer the Great”.

Now the original material. It starts out great: “Paint Your Wagon” was pretty damn funny. However, by the start of the second act, it runs low on gas. While most of the characters are, well, in character, for some reason, I just can’t see Snake backing off as easily as he does. Maybe it was an attempt at character development. Maybe they just realized they needed something to keep the plot moving. Who knows?

It’s also worth noting that not even the writers wanted to do this episode; the ending makes this pretty clear. Worth noting that this episode came out shortly after the release of the CD Songs in the Key of Springfield. Thus, I blame FOX executives for the dryness of this episode.

That’s really how to sum it up: it’s just a largely forgettable episode. I’ll give it a pass, but only because it wasn’t as nonsensical as “Miracle on Evergreen Terrace”, and it reminded me of more entertaining episodes. If you want to watch a good clip show, watch “So It’s Come To This: A Simpsons Clip Show”, “Another Simpsons Clip Show”, and “The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular”.

Tidbits: Just two.

  • At the end, a shotgun is fired during the credits. Two blasts are heard on one occasion. Said occasion is when Phil Hartman’s name comes up. Five months and change after this episode aired, Hartman’s wife shot him dead before turning the gun on himself.
  • David Mirkin was credited as the executive producer. For once, Mike Scully is absolved of blame.

Favorite Moment: “Gonna paint your wagon, gonna paint it good…” SING ALONG!

Least Favorite Moment: Snake leaves because he figures that the family would not make good hostages… because they sing. Just seems a bit off for him.

Zaniness Factor: 1.5, mainly for the singing.

Jerkass Homer Meter: 1. (That’s a first, I think).

Score: 5.5.

Scullyfied Simpsons: Season 9, Episode 10: "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace"

Airdate: December 21, 1997

So apparently, burning a plastic tree turns it into a solid with presents still sticking out from it, possibly intact. Did Ron Hauge pay attention in Chemistry?

Synopsis: Christmas has arrived yet again for Our Favourite Family. This time, Marge wants to ensure that everybody wakes up at the same time (7:00 AM) on Christmas Day to open their presents. Who else but Bart would sneak down to play with his gifts? One problem, though; he burns down the tree.

He manages to hide the tree under the snow, blaming thieves when the family wakes up to an empty den. The townspeople rally around the family and give them a whopping $15,000, which they promptly blow on a sedan (which wrecks). When Bart confesses about the tree, however, the town turns the family into social pariahs… again.

Review: As I’ve mentioned before, the fine folks at Dead Homers Society are not exactly fans of Season 7’s “Marge Be Not Proud”. They argue that it was schmaltzy, sitcom-ish, clumsy, and quite slow. I am willing to agree with that; it does feel somewhat more like a “special” episode than anything else, and one that’s quite formulaic to boot. However, Dead Homers also points out that “Marge Be Not Proud” is, at least by modern standards, comically efficient and funny. I’ll take it a bit further- “Marge Be Not Proud” is almost as funny as the rest of the episodes of that season; it’s just dragged down by the overt emotion and slower pacing. Maybe it was a parody of the “very special episode”, or maybe it was genuine. Who knows?

Why do I bring up that episode? Well, “Miracle” is essentially “Marge Be Not Proud”… with the schmaltz cranked up to “wham-o”, a good 50% of the comedy siphoned, and the cynicism turned up to outright unbearable levels.

Now, keep in mind, The Simpsons is in and of itself a rather dark series. However, it managed to set the tone at the right amount to not only make it hysterical, but also allow for character development and sweetness. Here? It’s just depressing and cruel.

I don’t think it would be as bad if the characters weren’t so screwed up. Blast “Marge Be Not Proud” for sapping up the characters and making Bart a bit too sensitive, but not only were the sappy moments still filled with funny lines, the rest of the characters were perfectly crafted for the plot. In this episode, not only do you have the entire town becoming just a bit too cruel to OFF for a lie Bart told, but the second the family wakes up on Christmas morning, Bart’s character just seems off. I mean, it’s alright to show some character development to try and not make Bart one-note, but the problem here is that it was controlled by the plot. Characters no longer control the plot; plot controls the characters.

Not to mention the first minute of this episode is dedicated to making Homer as much of a law-skirting buffoon as possible. There’s him kicking the heater (which spits out snow, not kidding there), parking across three handicapped spots (stolen from “The Springfield Connection”, only there, Homer’s jerkassery lands him in jail), masquerades as a cashier to steal gifts for Christmas (which I suppose might have been there to set up the irony of him blasting the “thieves” when he himself stole the Christmas presents, but was more likely there to show Homer acting reckless), and he falls off of the roof (stolen from “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”, only dragged out).

I also loathe the “Liar Revealed” cliche; I’ve mentioned it several times before. This episode embraces that cliche, for the most part.

I do think the plot makes a little sense. Of course, people are going to be irrational if they find out about potential theft of cash. I do, however, think that going to Los Angeles to go on Jeopardy was a bit much (as well as done simply to get Alex Trebek on the show). At least they kept the Jeopardy bit relatively short (and decently funny).

The ending with the town “reimbursing their losses” is admittedly a decent idea, and fits in with the show’s tradition of mocking TV cliches. Too bad there were few laughs, and it required a good chunk of the characters to act, well, out of character (again, irrationality, but still).

It’s a shame, since this episode did have some funny lines. There’s Patches and Violet, the family buying an ill-fated car for more than it’s worth only to have it wreck, damn near every scene with Brockman (“Little Homer’s sausage?”), and anything with Alex Trebek. Still, it’s not enough to save this episode. The trope of “Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy” is in full effect (the episode tries to come off as a “very special episode” when everybody is close to being unlikable), there seems to be little sense of timing, and the show was just too dry. It’s a pretty empty episode, to the point where it’s almost unwatchable.

In other words, this is the first Scully-era episode that gets a failing score. And it won’t be the last.

Tidbits:

  • Just one, really. This episode seemed to eschew logic and physics when the tree caught fire. For one, the rest of the den should’ve caught fire. There’s no smoke coming from the tree, either. And instead of totally disintegrating, the tree melts into a wheel, with the presents merged inside. Also, how the smeg was Bart able to dig in one spot to cover up the remains of said tree and barely leave a dent in the snow?
  • Oh, I forgot. I know Homer is an idiot, but wouldn’t insurance have covered the car? Look, I know that’s a very minor point, but still. Bugs me a bit.
  • Flanders also says “there goes Christmas dinner” when seeing OFF after the truth is revealed… despite this being well past Christmas.
  • I did like the Springfield Shopper headline; “Angry Mob Mulls Options”.
  • This was written by Ron Hauge, responsible for one of my favourite Season 8 episodes, “Homer’s Phobia”. Kinda tragic that he can veer between that and this boring mess.
Favorite Moment: In an episode as dry as this, the Jepoardy bit was pretty funny.
Least Favorite Moment: I just can’t bring myself to even remotely smile for the entire first act. I can’t bring myself to do so. I can’t pick one moment in that first act that’s worse than the other; it’s just dull and stupid.
Zaniness Factor: 1.5 Note the demise of the Christmas tree above. Nothing in there makes sense.
Jerkass Homer Meter: 2.75. I’d give it a 3, but Homer’s jerkassery mostly evaporates by the second act. While not the worst act he committed in the episode, I pick him parking across three handicapped parking spaces. Why? Well, as mentioned above, Homer did that in “The Springfield Connection”, wound up starting a conflict with Marge, and Marge wound up arresting Homer. Here, Marge just goes along with the zaniness.
Score: 4.5. This episode just bored me.

Red Dwarf Review: Series VI, Episode 1: "Psirens"

Airdate: 7 October 1993

Summary: Two hundred years since that little incident with the Despair Squid, we see the crew again wake up from a 200-year sleep (except for Kryten). Apparently, Red Dwarf had been taken by an unknown party, and the Posse are only now catching up to the ship. All they have to do is pass through an asteroid field to get close. However, whilst in the asteroid field, they are intercepted by Psirens, who are shape-shifting GELFs who try to lure them in with their greatest desires… only to immobilize the crew by feasting on their brains. These GELFs take the form of such figures as Kochanski, Kryten’s owner, two temptresses, and even Lister himself.

Review: The first time I watched this episode, I wasn’t a huge fan of it. I was turned off because of the lowbrow humor (or rather, the amount of it), the running gags that would dominate the rest of the series, some continuity errors, and the recycled-ish plot. Now… I still wouldn’t call it my favorite episode.

This episode is occasionally cited as one that has aged quite well in the eyes of the fandom: the 1999 Better Than Life poll put this episode at 44th place out of 48 stories. Then again, that survey put “Pete” at 17 out of 44. In 2013? The two have almost switched spots: “Psirens” has taken 21st place out of 61 episodes, while the two episodes that comprise “Pete” are ranked dead last.

Now, I can see where they were trying to go with this. Shaking up the formula is not always a bad thing: we saw that with Series III. This time, they may have been trying to create something of a series-long arc, exploring more sci-fi concepts rather than just mocking them.

However, a good chunk (albeit not a majority) of Red Dwarf‘s comedy was based around making fun of the science fiction concepts in the show. By playing them relatively straight (picking off the crew one by one, for example), there is not a lot to work with in terms of comedy.

But that’s fine, what about the characters? They were the center of Red Dwarf since 1988; they still must be pure comic material!

Well, yes, there still is character comedy. Tragically, it’s greatly reduced. Why? Well, the show shifted its focus from character-driven plots to sci-fi plots. Rather, with the show not being character-focused anymore, there is less “need” for it. Rather, a good chunk of the humor is either sitcom-style gags (“We’re deader than (Z)”, “Space Corps Directive (X)”) or gross-out jokes. And yes, there are a ton of gross-out jokes here. Granted, not all of them are dire, but what made Red Dwarf work was its balance between high-brow humor and character comedy with lowbrow gross-out jokes. Here, it’s too tilted to the lowbrow jokes. It’s just not really as funny.

Speaking of character, it’s a mixed bag for character here. I do like the Cat’s smell being brought in; it reinforces the fact that he’s a cat instead of just a dandy. Lister’s slobbish behavior was almost good, except it was one of the reasons why the lowbrow humor was high in this episode. Kryten seems to be formally settled in his role as Mr. Exposition, which is actually a decent move, although it does take away some of his depth (i.e: his own neurosis). This one, however, was pretty bad for Rimmer; there is little trace of the tragic character seen in Series V. He’s a base coward, with not as much charm as he had in prior series. I’ll grant him that he was turned off for 200 years, and thus, may have regressed a bit in terms of character. Still a bit grating.

It’s not a total loss. If the lowbrow humor wasn’t overdone, it would actually be pretty funny. Almost all of the not-so-overtly lowbrow humor worked. (“This baby’s crashed more times than a ZX-81” was a personal favorite of mine.) I liked Claire Grogan’s appearance as Kochanski (her last), and the callback to “Parallel Universe” with Jim and Bexley. And, like always, all four actors deliver stellar performances.

The plot itself isn’t bad either. It isn’t going to light the world on fire; it just seems a bit too similar to the stellar “Polymorph”. But, let’s remove “Polymorph” from the equation for just a second. You have a damn decent plot here. I’d even go as far as to say that this episode explores the concept of the human id, falling for the desires of a potential lover no matter what the risk is. Also, who doesn’t love a good callback to Homer’s Odyssey?

Tragically, not even a decent plot nor decent humor or decent callbacks could resolve the main problem… it just seems dry. It’s decent, sure. But this first episode doesn’t really have the magic that even “Terrorform” or “Demons and Angels” had. Let’s just hope it’s an anomaly.

Tidbits: Yes, I’m actually doing it. Where this will be placed might change from post to post, but I’m actually doing a “tidbits” section.

  • This episode seemed to pull not one reset/error on continuity, but rather, three. One, it’s stated that Lister dated Kochanski for a few weeks, going against “Balance of Power”, which stated that Lister barely even spoke to Kochanski. This I don’t mind too much, since Red Dwarf has done resets to “before the wipeout” scenarios in the past (“Justice” increased the amount of dead on the ship by a solid thousand.) However, this series, as well as the next two, will pretty much run on episode-by-episode continuity, which I find ironic. They might have reset this fact to throw Kochanski in for a bit; this, again, is Claire Grogan’s last episode.
    • What got to me more was another error/reset, with one of the Psirens (disguised as Peter Tranter’s Sister) stating that Lister has not had sexual relations in three million years. All fine and dandy… until you remember not only “Parallel Universe”, which featured Lister and his female counterpart getting drunk and sleeping with each other (with hilarious results), but also “Polymorph”, where another shapeshifting creature shifted to Rimmer’s mother and promptly slept with Lister (to make Rimmer angry, and thus, vulnerable).
    • There’s also a redaction of “Marooned”. In that episode, Lister claims he’s not very good with the Guitar. Here, he believes he’s a diva. Now, I’ll chalk that up to Lister being close to death in “Marooned”, as well as his memory not being totally restored after a 200-year stasis.
  • The garbage compacter is a pretty cool Chekov’s Gun, with Kryten’s post-compacter appearance and actions being quite funny.
  • The guy who played Lister’s guitar alongside Lister? (Long story.) Phil Manzanera of the band Roxy Music.
  • Captain Tau shares the same name as the captain from the unaired pilot for Red Dwarf USA. (Tau there was a stand-in for Captain Hollister).
  • Back to “Polymorph”, it works as a sequel… that is, if it wasn’t for the actual sequel coming up this season.
    • It could also work as a sequel to “Camille”, with the Psirens being the villainous versions of the Pleasure GELF’s seen in that episode. Ironic as that episode parodied Casablanca, where this one parodied The Odyssey.
Favorite Scene: As Lister is getting his bearings straight, Kryten is getting ready to reactivate Rimmer. This ensues:

Lister: Rimmer? Is he my best mate?

Kryten: Sir, you are sick!

Second place? The contest between the real Lister and the Psiren Lister.

Least Favorite Scene:  The joke about Lister putting Tabasco Sauce on his cereal went on way too long. Given that I complained about the gross-out jokes, it’s a bit ironic that a relatively mild joke got the “least favorite”. It just feels like they wanted to kill time.

Score: 6.

Red Dwarf Review: Series VI Preview

Series VI. Let that sink in for a second. Red Dwarf, the show that few had faith in when Grant/Naylor shipped it off to various BBC offices, has made it through 6 series… more than many brit-coms.

So, it’s late 1993/early 1994. Rob Grant and Doug Naylor were obviously trying to land new ideas for their next series. Rumors were that they would go to more of a Series III-type format: there would be more Holly and more Red Dwarf focused stories.

Garant/Naylor bent to fan opinion… which is to say, they kicked Holly out of the show and got rid of the “small rouge one”.

What a twist!


Yes, Grant/Naylor decided to make another radical change in the show’s format, the first real shift since the Series III relaunch. The show formally leapt into Sci-Fi dramedy, a style that Series V had flirted with.

For the first time, episodes were connected with a long-run plotline; the theft of Red Dwarf by simulants. This style would dominate the show for the next three series; Series VII would continue with this idea of getting back Red Dwarf, while Series VIII started a new plotline… one that involves prison comedy.

If you thought the production on Series V was stressful with Julie May joining and leaving within 4 episodes, hold on! This series was effectively written on the set. Yes. Entire scenes were cued up and rewritten on the set. This was because of the proposed Spring airdate for Red Dwarf set by the BBC… one that never happened; the show was pushed back to October.

Well, the response?

Very mixed.

I’m serious; fandom is split down the middle, even though this series has aged decently according to the Ganymede and Titan Silver Survey. Half of the fandom loves it for its sci-fi plot, it’s radical change of the formula, and the darker and edgier episodes (in an already dark show). The other half hates this season for what they declare are the following reasons; the reset of character, the basic formula for most episodes this season (done to relax the pressure on production), the running gags, and various controversial plotlines (such as Emohawk: Polymorph II).

Episode Rundown? Here goes!

  • Psirens: With Red Dwarf stolen by Simulants, the crew are out to chase it after a 200 year deep sleep on Starbug. Their attempts are interrupted by a group of GELFs that telepathically manipulate individuals with their deepest desires.
  • Legion: Food and supplies are down, and Red Dwarf slips further and further away. What better way to catch up than to be captured by a strange being?
  • Gunmen of the Apocalypse: Starbug is taken over by a virus… just as Simulants board Starbug. The rest of the crew are forced to go into Kryten’s mind… and forced to go westward ho!
  • Emohawk: Polymorph II: Starbug wrecks on a GELF planet. To get supplies needed to breathe in Starbug, Lister is forced to wed the daughter of the chief of the Kinitawowi tribe. When Lister bails on the union, the chief attacks with a domesticated Polymorph. Remember those guys?
  • Rimmerworld: Rimmer takes an escape pod out from a Simulant ship to escape certain death at the hands of a Simulant. He lands on an uninhabited planet, and the makeup of the planet allows him to make copies of himself… right down to the treachery.
  • Out of Time: The crew find themselves right next to, well, themselves… from 15 years in the future. Stunned to meet them, they find out about what possession of a Time Drive has done to the crew.
Well, this is the last of the “bubble seasons”; the last season before a shocking change in staff for the show. Let’s go!
Oh, and by the way, I’m considering a small “tidbit” section for all future reviews. This might be small production notes, or stuff I found interesting/disgusting. This is largely inspired by Mike Amato of Me Blog Write Good (link on the side), a blog where he reviewed the first 20 seasons of The Simpsons (guy has a lot of stamina: I’m only reviewing the 4 Scully-era seasons.)