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!
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