Red Dwarf Review: "Pete" (Series VIII, Story 4)


Airdate: 25 March, 1999 (Part I), 1 April, 1999 (Part II).

Synopsis: Lister and Rimmer finally drive Hollister up the wall one too many times, including pulling a prank on Warden Ackerman and slipping a drug into the juice of a basketball team led by Hollister to hinder their performance in a game against the convicts. (Yes, there’s a basketball scene in Red Dwarf, why do you ask?) After their punishment in Spud Duty makes Hollister bald, the two are put in “the hole”, where they meet a professor with a bird. Meanwhile, the Canaries discover a time wand on one of the derelicts. The two paths meet, and the professors bird turns into… a T-rex. “Hilarity” ensues.

Review: I think I’ve mentioned this episode in passing once or twice. It’s often brought up as the nadir of Red Dwarf. As “Back to Reality” is considered the zenith, this is the bottom of the barrel. In both of the surveys launched by the Ganymede and Titan website, Part II of “Pete” ranked dead last in the polls: the 2013 survey put Part 1 just ahead of Part 2, while the 2008 survey put it a few spots ahead. The question is this: does either episode deserve the bad reputation they’ve gotten?

Well, yes… sort of.

On one hand, “Pete, Part I”, while poor compared to the stuff that went out from Series I-VI, is relatively watchable. The episode definitely picks up in terms of comedy near the end, albeit slightly. Lines like “We are all… going to die”, and scenes such as the “Spud” scene provide a quick chuckle, if only for their slapstick-esque manner. The basketball scene is moronic, though: while Red Dwarf has done physical comedy before, it was normally balanced out with character comedy. The scenes with the time wand were a bit dry, and the cliffhanger was a tad bit stupid. I did think that Kryten trying to fix Pete via the time want was somewhat in character for him: he’s a selfless soul, who tries to do good. However, Kryten is also more logical and scientific; I doubt he would use the time wand for a mere bird. I could imagine Lister doing something more like that.

There is a major plot hole the size of Alaska, however. The Time Wand can freeze anybody, anybody, in a short span of time. My question is this: why didn’t they freeze the crew, try and access clearance to a Starbug via some interference with the computers, and escape? Sure, it would end the series, but after “Krytie TV” and “Back in the Red III”, that’s probably for the best. (Plus, Series VII seemed to prove that the 8-episode series format was not to the show’s benefit).

Oh, and Lister is apparently too stupid to play “Connect the Dots”. Remember when Lister was just a tad bit slow on the uptake? We’ve moved on from “what’s an iguana”, people!

Part II… not so much. I can sum up the episode as such… toilet humor, jokes about Kryten’s lack of primary sexual organs, more pointless physical comedy, jokes that go on way too freaking long, whether they’re good (“WE’RE FINISHED!”) or bad (“See you in ten minutes.”), poor sci-fi, and weak characterization. Remember when Hollister used to be just frustrated, maybe with an occasional judgement slip (it’s implied that he was the officer that gave Rimmer the ill-fated duty of repairing the drive plate)? Now, he hands the time wand to two idiots that have driven him up the wall god-knows-how-many times, instead of, I dunno, giving it to people that could try and figure it out. I’d say he should give it to Kryten, but the moron tossed the time wand to a scutter that had no chance against a T-Rex.

One joke that goes on too long in both parts is, predictably, Lister and Rimmer getting marched to Hollister’s office. It starts the two-parter, and ends it. Any sane captain would’ve thrown new charges on them and extended their brig sentence by the third march in. Boy, Hollister is certainly lenient to these two smegheads.

I will admit a couple of things, though.

For one, I went into Part II knowing it’s status as one of the worst episodes ever. I think going in with low expectations meant that it was less painful.

Also, this episode was only stretched out to two episodes due to budgetary reasons and the fact they had to fill a slot or two. There exist fan edits that try and put this episode in a 30-minute slot, and they’re not half bad. Fan edits tend to hack the initial discovery of the Time Wand, cut out the “delayed fight”, cut out Kryten’s horrid excuse of a subplot, and trim several jokes that went on for far too long.

HOWEVER!

Back in the “golden age” of Red Dwarf, they didn’t just shrug their shoulders and put out whatever. The writers and producers actually tried to make the episodes make sense. “Back to Reality” was without a sizable budget for a chase scene. The end result is considered one of the greatest gags in Red Dwarf history, all contained in the best Red Dwarf episode. When Rob and Doug realized that “Dad” would fail as an episode, they threw it into the beginning of “Backwards”, in a scene that sets the tone for the franchise to anybody just getting into the show. The space freed up led to a run of Red Dwarf episodes that I would consider my favorite.

Back then… everybody cared.

That’s the most damning complaint against this series. The writers seemed to have stopped caring about the character, plot coherence, and comedy. In short, they abandoned what made Red Dwarf so special, and produced just another stock sitcom… actually, I take that back. Even sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory have put in more effort into character and plot than the whole of Series VIII.

That’s why “Pete” is looked down upon. Between the lowbrow humor, the trashing of character, and the overtly stretched-out plot, it is a microcosm of why Red Dwarf fell from grace.

Oh, and one more thing. I think “Pete” almost killed the franchise. You see, Part One attracted 6.32 million viewers. Part II? 4.53 million viewers. This leads me to believe that one of the following may have happened, depending on how TV ratings were measured back in 1999:

  • Part I was so boring or stupid that a lot of people decided not to tune in to the resolution, or;
  • Part II was so awful that a good chunk of the viewers turned off the TV midway through.
Keep in mind, “Back in the Red 1” attracted a record 8 million viewers. With the ratings drop the show experienced, I believe that the BBC realized that something was amiss, and were too reluctant to fund a ninth series.
For that reason alone, I’m giving the “Twin Dilemma” award to “Pete Part II”. For that reason, plus the overall pathetic quality of Part II, plus the worst joke in the history of the franchise, I am giving “Pete Part II” the dreaded 0 score. I will not call it my least favorite episode, nor the worst episode ever: that still goes to “Krytie TV”. “Pete Part II” just did the most damage to the franchise.
Part I doesn’t get off easy, either. It has weak characters, relies too much on slapstick and too little on character comedy, and led to the mess called “Pete Part II.”
We just have one more story. After that, I never have to watch this train-wreck of a series ever again!
Tidbits:
  • While the acting is still good given the quality, you can tell from the way they deliver their lines in the most dire of scenes that, at this point, the only reason why they’re putting in so much effort is that they’re getting big fat paycheques and (I believe) royalties.
  • Doug Naylor actually wrote the first part on his own. Paul Alexander got a writing credit for the second part. In two years, Alexander’s writing has gone into the toilet. (He also wrote “Krytie TV”).
  • Apparently, the time wand turned some prisoners into gorillas. I stopped caring at that point.

Favorite Scene: Don’t care.

Least Favorite Scene: The Alien parody in Part II. I can imagine several Red Dwarf fans turning the TV off, taking all their Red Dwarf merchandise, and setting it on fire. Red Dwarf needed that 10-year hiatus.
Score:
Part I=3
Part II=0
Average: 1.5 At least it’s almost over.
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