Red Dwarf Review: “Can of Worms” (Series XI, Episode 6)

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“How do I break this to you… you’re a moron!” – Rimmer, to the Cat after his date.

Oh, Rimmer. Go easy on him. Let me handle this. Cat, man, you’re a moron!” – Lister, for once, agreeing with Rimmer. Bring on the giant meteor.

Airdate: 27 October, 2016

Written By: Doug Naylor

Plot: While cutting across an asteroid belt to get back on course, Starbug winds up coming across a largely deserted ship. It’s crew – a mercenoid and a prisoner. After some confusion, the crew take out the mercenoid, and the prisoner is rescued. Said prisoner, Ankita, happens to be of the Cat’s species. Cat becomes smitten with the very similar prisoner – assuaging his own anxieties regarding his love life (or lack thereof) – and goes on a date with her.

Unfortunately for him, Ankita happens to be a Polymorph who intends to deposit her eggs into the Cat. Ergo, the end of the Cat’s first date results in him becoming pregnant – thus becoming the third person on board Red Dwarf to become pregnant, and the second male.

Review:

Well, here we are. The last episode of Series XI. Hard to believe that it’s been almost 4 years since I began looking at this silly little sci-fi show – one that is more than the sum of its parts. And, so far Series XI has been rather solid. There’ve been no truly spectacular episodes, but I would argue that a couple of episodes have been great, and the rest, so far, have been good.

So, will Series XI continue the trend of stable quality? Will it break my expectations and be one of the most spectacular episodes of the series? Or will XI putter to the end?

Well, let’s start my analysis with the fact that this episode focuses on the Cat.

Yes, the Cat. As I mentioned in my review of “Can of Worms”, the Cat’s primary role has been to provide some level of comic relief. The downside to that is that his character development hasn’t been as front and center as it has been for other characters. Sure, he’s become (marginally) less selfish, as well as showcased his fantastic piloting skills and reflexes. However, there have been scant few attempts for episodes to focus on him. Let’s take a recap so far of episodes that could be considered (even somewhat) Cat-focused.

  • “Waiting for God” – was ultimately more focused on Lister dealing with holy wars fought in his name, as well as Rimmer’s hypocrisy on the matter.
  • “Back to Reality” – Beautiful as this episode was (to the point where I consider it, on an objective if not subjective, level, the best ever Red Dwarf), Duane Dibbley was just one of four alter-egos for the Red Dwarf crew. Sure, Duane did a lot to flesh out Cat’s own insecurities, but it was treated more comically compared to the Brothers Doyle or Jake Bullet.
  • “Emohawk: Polymorph II” – Duane really comes back in the second half (thanks to the eponymous creature), used for fanservice only to see an equally warped Rimmer attempt to kill him in an act of Ace-esque heroism. What a guy.
  • “Identity Within” – an attempt to give Cat pathos and expand on his more lustful side. Never produced, because “Duct Soup” was apparently considered a better script. (No, I don’t know what the BBC Two Commissioner had for lunch that day.)
  • “Back in the Red III” – Not only did he take up the Duane Dibbley persona (which he loathed), but tried to get the crew off the Dwarf with a dance sequence involving Blue Midget. All littered amongst a cavalcade of puns.
  • “Give and Take” – pegged for a Kidney donation. Time travel then happened, saving him from a Kidney donation. Plus, the doctor in charge wasn’t trained for DNA rewriting.
That everything? Yup.
“Can of Worms” tries to rectify that by focusing on the Cat finding his perfect mate – in effect, a stripped down version of “Identity Within”. Yet, while “Identity Within” was scrapped so Doug Naylor could make Kryten into a whiny, petulant child and give the audience a non-medical form of NyQuil, this episode winds up being… rather good. Surprisingly good, in fact, given the relative lack of attention to the character in previous episodes.
While it was touched upon in the aforementioned “Back to Reality”, this episode starts by looking at Cat’s own insecurities. We all think of the Cat as the source of bravado, of flamboyant brilliance and unflappability. Once he remembers that his own view of himself as the greatest lover on the ship is but a fantasy, he suddenly becomes more anxious, more paranoid. He thrives on his status, and without it, he feels like he’s the butt of the joke. The fact that a Polymorph (Ankita) appeals to his ego by being exactly like him is no coincidence – by appealing to his lust for love, ego, and flamboyance, she is able to lure him into her trap – impregnating him with Polymorph eggs.
But lest you thought the Cat was but a mere joke character, the fact that he was able to take out his kids with perfect precision – using the cliche “a mama always knows her kids” – showcases a high amount of chutzpa and reflexes from our favorite silly character. The fact that he saved his crewmates showcases that, while not an upstanding member of Starfleet, we’ve come a long way from the Cat paying attention to his food instead of saving his God.
So, in some ways, this episode does accomplish its goal of being a Cat episode. Success? I guess I could call it that.However, it speaks to the relative lightness of his character that this episode requires quite a bit of filler. This comes in the form of a relatively pointless B-plot involving a personality tuck – going into the brain to remove (or reduce) personality traits. It’s called back at the end, but really has little (if any) impact on the plot. (It does produce the brilliant reaction from Rimmer as Cat freaks out -“Thank god I didn’t have that coward-ectomy!”)
And as for what plot elements combine in this episode… well, it’s “Polymorph” meets “Parallel Universe”, with a hint of “Me2”. I would chalk this up as an attempt to be another series finale if the show wasn’t renewed for two series at once. So, yeah – kinda redundant in that regard. Still, it doesn’t feel as obvious as the previous “few sequels at once” that was “Emohawk”. It elaborates more on how the Polymorph operates and reproduces. Sure, “Emohawk” focused on its domestication, but that was more of a means to an end – the reappearance of Duane and Ace – not an over-reaching aspect of the episode.
Finally, it’s one of the funnier episodes this series. Everything, from Rimmer running away from his coward-ectomy, to the Cat describing his night with Ankita, to the Cat having to deliver the polymorphs who keep shape-shifting as they come out, all the way to their cuteness defense mechanism, had me laughing. Yeah, it was silly, but I really liked it. That was only aided by the crew getting confused with each other while looking for the Polymorph offspring and was capped off by a rather interesting ending to the episode.
I think that pretty much sums up “Can of Worms”. While not containing the most original plot, and a B-plot that was executed in a less than stellar manner, I can safely say that I had fun watching it. It expanded on a relatively underused character, contained some great laughs, and expanded on the universe more than it’s predecessor in the “Polymorph” saga.  As such, it’s a rather solid end to Series XI.

Tidbits:

  • Am I the only one that got a weird terrorist-esque vibe from Kryten’s description of the Mercenoids? I mean, free upgrades in Silicon Heaven? Y’know the trope of terrorists committing heinous acts in the name of their God to get the touch of virgins in heaven?
  • The fact that Rimmer has a tape telling himself that he is attractive really speaks levels to just how pathetic he is. “All I wanted is to love, and to have been loved.”
  • Interesting that the Cat doesn’t know what a Caesarian is, given that Rimmer demonstrated quite well in “Parallel Universe”.
  • Downloading the brain? Ah, “Bodyswap” throwback. Flash drive instead of tape backup? Ah, the 80s were a strange decade. Vinyl records competing with new forms of music media, strange hair, sprite-based videogames, electronic-styled pop music storming up the charts, pop culture figures being elected President, a rise in nationalism, a conservative woman as the British PM…

Wrap Up:

Favorite Scene: The Cat’s euphoria mixing with the others realizing that he’s pregnant with Polymorphs.

Least Favorite Scene: How pointless was the B-plot? It wound up here.

Score: 7.75. A weak B-plot is balanced with the episode being quite funny.

…and now I’m caught up with Red Dwarf again. Wrap-up should be up within the next week or so.

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