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
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