Red Dwarf Review: "Epideme" (Series VIII, Episode 7)

Airdate: 28 February, 1997

Synopsis: The idiots aboard Starbug board an abandoned ship, the Levithian. While investigating the ship, they find the body of one of Lister’s former lovers, Caroline Carmen. Despite the crew failing to thaw her out, she eventually thaws herself out, decomposed, and attacks Lister with the Epideme Virus. While the Epideme virus is intelligent and supposed to cure victims of any addiction to nicotine, in reality, it kills it’s victims within mere hours. The crew realize that the only way they’re saving Lister is moving the virus to one of Lister’s hands before lobbing it off with the virus, which works as well as you expect.

Review: Wait, wait. Stop the presses. Is this a Series VII episode that I actually… enjoyed?

Well, relatively speaking, this feels pretty damn close to classic Red Dwarf, compared to “Beyond A Joke”, which made me want to quit watching Red Dwarf altogether.

The plot is certainly one that wouldn’t feel too out of place in, say, Series IV… except for maybe the resolution, of course. The idea of a super-intelligent virus that talks like a game-show host (Gary Martin) is actually pretty creative, if a bit derivative of “Confidence and Paranoia”. The game-show elements really sell the Epideme character, and provide for some decent character comedy. (Again, much like Confidence, why does the virus have an American accent?) The idea behind it’s creation adds a great idea to a theme of unwanted consequences; in this case, a virus created to save lives instead kills people.

Epideme’s character is actually one of the better “monsters-of-the-week” out of all those we saw in the past two series. (Yes, that includes Legion and the viruses from “Gunmen of the Apocalypse”.) His game-show host accent helps mask a more manipulative and cruel character. However, he also brings up the fact that he does his actions because he needs to live, much like a human does. Thus, we have to consider: is there a method to the “madness” of other species? Is the virus knowingly “evil”, or should he live despite his deadly shortcomings? These are just questions.

Character, while not perfect, is some of the best this season. This episode serves to remind us that, if Lister is the last gasp for humanity… is the species worth saving? Does Lister’s overtly humanist and lazy behavior offset his general kindness? The positives here somewhat conflict with “Meltdown”, where Lister argues that the Wax Droids are practically human because they’re capable of independent thought. (He is promptly arrested by an increasingly insane Rimmer). I might be able to excuse this by means of his positive outlook being chipped away by various antagonists, and the fact that it contradicts the well-being of others, but still.

This episode actually shows a portrayal of the Kryten/Kochanski rivalry that didn’t want to make me poke out my eardrums. Is it still an insult to Kryten’s prior character? Quite. Still, this was more tolerable, given that Kryten only whines once or twice. Also, we see them agree on one thing: the well-being of Lister is one thing they certainly agree on, even if their relationship with the man is somewhat different.

Kochanski still seems to not really gel in terms of character development, barring her relationship with Kryten (somewhat). We do see her take a rather creative solution to Lister’s predicament with Epideme, one which I sort of liked, but it still poses the big problem with Kochanski and the rest of the crew. Red Dwarf was, from the beginning, a show composed of a bunch of inexperienced losers, who might have won once or twice on their own accord rather than sheer luck or through borderline pyrrhic victories. Here, Kochanski’s solution is simply too “good” for Red Dwarf. That’s the problem with Kochanski in a nutshell: her character doesn’t fit. I can understand the “middle class officer on a ship full of losers” and where Doug Naylor was going with that. It’s just not working in terms of fantastic comedy or engaging resolutions. However, Kochanski does get a few funny lines, and Chloe Annett is really making the best of the awkward situation.

This episode seems to go back to comedy, compared to “Beyond a Joke”. Most of the comedy outside of the transfer of the virus seems to be lighter. The virus-transfer scene seemed to want to ape the infamous “Polymorph attacks Lister” scene from “Polymorph” in terms of more low-brow humour. It works, but “Polymorph” worked better because of it’s use of established character traits, sight gags, and the awesome camerawork. It’s not as deep. Still, can’t really fault the comedy too much, even if it provided more giggles than out-loud laughs.

What we have here is a pretty damn good episode here. Easily my favorite episode from Series VII. Maybe my hopes are too high for the last episode (“Nanarchy”), but still.

Tidbits

  • This episode was written by Paul Alexander, who also co-wrote “Stoke Me A Clipper”, another great episode from this series. It seems like, if Doug Naylor is paired up with somebody not under his thumb, his dramatic/sci-fi impulses are kept in check with some comedy, or there’s somebody there to check his flaws.
  • This episode was also based off an old Joseph Carrot joke; “What if your flu could talk to you”. Normally, episodes based on flimsy jokes tend to fail. In this case, it seems like this show has succeeded,
  • I still hate the CGI Starbug. I’m not sure how it would look on a 90s CRT-TV, but it certainly looks cheesy nowadays. Compare the models, which still look pretty damn good on a modern TV.
  • Gary Martin was actually brought into the show by his friend, Danny John-Jules.
  • One last thing… looks like Red Dwarf is creeping in stateside. Stations in Washington State seem to be airing the show, as well as the first series. Let’s just hope it arrives on Long Island soon.
Favorite Scene: I personally liked damn near every moment with the Epideme Virus. Maybe it’s the voice. Who knows?
Least Favorite Scene: The first minute or so is pretty pointless.
Score: 7.
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