Red Dwarf Review: Series IV Wrap Up

Well, we have reached the end of Series IV of Red Dwarf. We are, in terms of series amounts, halfway through Red Dwarf‘s original run. (In terms of episodes, we reach the half point after “The Inquisitor”.)

So, what do I think? Well, not much, other than this series was wonderful.

Sure, some episodes were weaker compared to the high standards of the golden age (Camille, anybody)? Overall, however, this season produced some wicked good episodes, including the uber-memorable “Dimension Jump”. All of the other episodes, however, are very much brilliant.

As I said in my preview, this season often gets overlooked, sandwiched between the critically acclaimed series 3 and 5. This series, however, was just funny. Granted, the series began and ended with two of the weaker “classic” episodes (“Camille” and “Meltdown”), but even those episodes were very, very funny.

Like series 3, the development given to the characters is awesome. Rimmer gets the brunt of the development, however. We get to see just how deranged he is in episodes like “Meltdown”, yet get to see how self-pitying he is and “Justice”. Making a character that is sympathetic, annoying, and funny at the same time is a hard feat. Red Dwarf simply excels at it.

The plots also got better and better, and more into the sci-fi territory. We had “Dimension Jump”, which analyzed the idea of alternate universes; “White Hole”, which used a kooky twist on sci-fi that only Futurama could do better; and “DNA”, which showed Kryten go from machine to man, with hilarious consequences.

This series is just a joy to watch. If you have iTunes cash, buy it. If you have actual cash, get the DVD. If you have a Netflix account, watch it.

Red Dwarf Review: Series IV, Episode 6: "Meltdown"

Airdate: 21 March 1992.

Synopsis: As Rimmer is boring the crew of Red Dwarf to death with his stories, Kryten discovers a matter transporter device in the research lab of Red Dwarf. It can convert an individual into digital information and then transmit them in the form of light beams to another point in space within 500,000 light years. The crew decide to explore the nearest planet with breathable air, 200,000 light years away. Rimmer and Kryten go first to see if the atmosphere is breathable and send the device back, but are then chased by two Adult Gappas, then taken prisoner by a gun-toting Elvis Presley and the Pope. Lister and the Cat follow but accidentally end up in what appears to be the Third Reich and are captured by Adolf Hitler, whose men take the device.

It soon becomes apparent that they have traveled to Wax-world — a Wax-Droid theme park that has been abandoned for millions of years, during which time the droids have broken their programming and gained sentience. Now the droid replica inhabitants of Villain World are waging war against Hero World, in “the ultimate battle of Good versus Evil”. The evil Waxdroids use the heroes’ wax to make more of their own kind. Thanks to this, the heroes are on the verge of defeat. Rimmer takes up the opportunity to turn the tide of the war.

Review: This episode gets a rather weak rap on Red Dwarf polls, as it is often cited as being too hokey and a bit unlike Red Dwarf.

And I can see where they are coming from.

Not only are there some shifts in character that are not explained well (the writers tried to keep Rimmer like a human, yet he is turned into a light bee that can practically stop him at any time), but the anti-war message at the end was pretty blatant. Not Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue blatant, but still pretty blatant.

Does that mean this is a bad episode? Not really.

This is not an episode that will place tops on the Best Red Dwarf Ever poll, but it still is a pretty funny episode. I actually like the idea of a two-plot structure seen in this episode, as it shows what happens when the Posse are split up. The end results are hysterical.

Not only is Rimmer training the Good Wax droids funny, but it also exposes an aspect of his character. He does not like being a leader so much as he likes a desire for control. He also does not give a lot about what happens to his soldiers: as long as he gets the personal feel of victory, all is right in the world of Arnold Judas Rimmer. That’s why he is obsessed with war: he does not like the historical aspects or the mechanics or the ethics. He likes to control. He thinks that he is leading, but he is controlling. His dialogue with the Wax Droids shows it all. Also, he has no idea how to lead anybody. “We attack tomorrow, under cover of daylight!” And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Plus, Lister and the Cat’s antics are pretty good. The scene with them in the jail cell is hilarious. There is the Cat flipping out, Lister watching the worst people come out and build gallows, and then…

They’re tyin’ him to a stake… it’s Winnie the Pooh! […] It’s Winnie the Pooh, I swear! He’s refusing the blindfold.

(after watching Winnie get executed, he simply steps down, completely fazed). That’s something that no one should ever have to see!

Also, Elvis Presley as one of the good droids that kidnap Rimmer and Kryten? Brilliant! And the bad special effects of dinosaurs? Wonderful!

Of course, the critics of the episode do have a point when they criticize the “moral of the story” ending. Unlike in “Justice”, where it was mocked by having Lister fall down a pipe, there was no such mocking of the moral. That’s not really like Red Dwarf. When it does include a lesson, it’s pretty subtle. Granted, some anvils need to be dropped, but still; a bit jarring.

TL;DR? A wickedly underrated episode, and a good closing episode to series IV.

Favorite Scene: The jail cell scene. Just, the jail cell scene.

Least Favorite Scene: The whole “moral of the week” ending. What is this, Red Dwarf, or Captain Planet?

Score: 8.

Red Dwarf Review: Series IV, Episode 5: "Dimension Jump"

Airdate: 14 March 1991

Synopsis: In an alternate universe, Arnold Rimmer is a handsome, loveable test pilot in the Space Corps (played by Chris Barrie). His close friends include engineer Spanners (Craig Charles, yes, THAT Craig Charles), chaplain Padre (Danny John-Jules; yes, THAT Danny John-Jules), secretary Mellie (Hattie Hayridge, notice a pattern here?) and head of Space Corps, Bongo (Robe… you know what I’m going to smeggin say). Bongo gives “Ace” the opportunity to take a dimension hopper and test it out. Despite being warned that he may never return, Ace takes up on the offer and winds up in another universe…

… where a mining ship is floating around, three million years deep in space.

In this universe, Rimmer manages to lay a major guilt trip on the others and makes him go fishing with them. While boring them to death, however, the dimension hopper manages to crash into Starbug, sending the latter ship crashing on the fishing planet, injuring the Cat (and worse, damaging his suits). Ace turns to rescue Starbug, and meets the crew. All of the Red Dwarf crew fall head over Cuban heels over Ace… except Rimmer, who belittles Ace for being better than him. Ace manages (with the help of Lister) to fix Starbug, and tries to save the Cat.

Now, why was Ace such a success? Well, it had to deal with an event in school. This one I’m not going to spoil.

Review: This episode is part of what I like to call the Red Dwarf episodic trinity, consisting of “Polymorph”, “Back To Reality” (from series V), and this episode. These three episodes have the most fame from the casual viewer, are considered the most memorable, and are considered to be the funniest.

And they have a point. This episode is just a joy to watch from beginning to end!

I’ll be honest: at first, I didn’t “get” Ace. However, upon repeated re-watchings, this episode went from being merely funny to outright brilliant.

Ace Rimmer is a brilliant parody of the typical action hero/”marty stu” character. His exploits are over the top awesome! In fact, Ace fills the role of action hero brilliantly (I thank Chris Barrie for this episode; he actually requested this episode, as he had spent his career playing Arnold Rimmer, the goofy Ronald Reagan on Spitting Image – that show also brought Grant/Naylor to fame – and the incompetent Gordon Brittas on The Brittas Empire.)

His introduction in the alternate universe is brilliant. The fact that Craig, Danny, Robert, and Hattie reprised there roles is brilliant enough, (in fact, when you realise this, the scene becomes even better), but they fit so well in their roles! What makes this scene even more brilliant is that you would never hear of any of the Posse liking Rimmer. Ace, meanwhile, was asked by both Bongo and Mellie if they wanted to have relations.

The backstory behind Ace Rimmer and what caused him to be so successful and why Rimmer is such a git is one of the most brilliant reveals in history. Even if you know what it is, it’s still brilliant. It brings up an important lesson: sometimes, negative reinforcement is needed to succeed.

This episode also goes quite far as to show who Arnold Rimmer really is: despite his smegishness, this episode cements him as a pathetic, poor individual who never got anything good to occur to him. Granted, much of this is due to the fact that, again, he is a smeghead, but a sizeable amount of his behavior was caused by his childhood. And then he mucks it up by mocking Ace.

That’s not to say that the other characters are totally left out. Cat’s reaction to having his leg crushed is brilliant! (“I look like a jerk. I’m bleeding an unfashionable color!”) There’s also Lister talking about his prior fishing experiences even though there was no fish, alongside Holly’s reaction to the crash, both of which deliver great laughs. Kryten, while not getting the same amount of brilliant lines as Cat and Lister, gets a laugh when he fesses up to Rimmer about attempting to leave him to go fishing.

Overall, a brilliant episode, and one of the all-time TV greats.

Favorite Scene: Ace’s first few minutes on TV.

Least Favorite Scene: Hard to decide. I’ll get back to you later.

Score: 9.5

Red Dwarf Review: Series IV, Episode 4: "White Hole"

 Airdate: 7 March, 1991

Synopsis: Kryten manages to create a device to repair Holly’s intelligence, at the cost of a decreased lifespan. The device works… too well. In fact, Holly, while brilliant, only has the lifespan of 3 minutes, so she has to shut herself down. Once Holly goes, so does the ship. Rimmer refuses to sacrifice his life to try and increase the lifespan for everybody, so the crew are stuck, waiting to die with no power nor heat.

While trying to move supplies from one part of the ship to another (which now takes hours), Rimmer and Kryten encounter a strange time phenomenon. Kryten deduces that this is the fault of a white hole, which spits out time. Holly is briefly reactivated to give a plan: shoot a bomb into the sun, knocking it into the white hole. Lister, however, decides to use his pool-playing skills to fire the bomb, and chooses another planet. The planets bounce against one another, and a sun plugs up the white hole… eliminating the events that happened in the episode.

Review: This episode marks something of a watershed moment in the character of Holly. The producers argued that the character was written out because they ran out of ideas for her. Nowhere is it clearer than in this episode. Initially, it seems that Holly will be the center of the episode, with the IQ increase and all that. However, once it’s revealed that Holly has to shut down, the episode jerks to another “Boys from the Dwarf” episode, with Holly barely mentioned, spitting out a plan, and having Lister deviate from her plan.

However, this episode is not hurt by this. Rather, this is my second favorite episode from the fourth series. The plot manages to combine brilliant sci-fi with killer comedy (they have to plug up a white hole by playing billiards). There was not a lot in the way of character development. However, in my Top 5 Lowest Arnold Rimmer Moments list, I cited the scene where Rimmer refuses to sacrifice his life for the good of the crew as an indicator that, despite his desire to lead, he lacks the components to lead.

The comedy in this episode was hysterical. I had previously mentioned that Talkie Toaster is much funnier here. This is actually a good example of the concept of Flanderization, where a single trait of a character consumes most of the character. In this case, Talkie Toaster went from a mere annoying git to a bread-obsessed annoying git. Granted, he does try and justify it (“It’s my raison d’etre- ‘I toast, therefore I am!’).

The Cat gets quite a few brilliant lines, such as this one.

Rimmer: (to the Cat) You’d sacrifice your life for the good of the crew?

The Cat: No. I’d sacrifice YOUR life for the good of the crew!

Kryten manages to end the episode by finally telling Rimmer that he is a complete and utter smeghead. Best. Red Dwarf. Ending. Ever.

Oh, and do I have to mention “What is it” and the pool with planets scenes?

Favorite Scene: Talkie. Toaster.

Least Favorite Scene: Don’t make me choose… alright! The scene where Lister and Cat have to go back to basics was the least funny. Still a decent scene, but a bit more filler.

Score: 9.

Red Dwarf Review: Series IV, Episode 3: Justice

Airdate: 28 February 1991

I can feel the symbolism!

Synopsis (SPOILERS AHEAD): A pod from a prison ship lands on Red Dwarf. Unsure of whether or not the pod contains a female security guard or a simulant (which is like a mechanoid, but more human and more likely to kill humans), they go to the prison ship. Aboard the prison ship, the computer scans the crew for various crimes. Cat, Kryten, and Lister are cleared (the computer ignoring the latter’s adolescent misdemeanors.) However, Rimmer is charged with 1167 counts of second-degree murder, for failing to repair a drive plate properly aboard Red Dwarf (consequently causing that drive plate to explode and kill everybody, sans Lister and his cat). He is sentenced to prison for over 9000 years. In the Justice Zone, where Rimmer is imprisoned, it is impossible for him to commit a crime (if one tries to commit a crime, the effects are felt by the person committing the offense).

Kryten manages to convince the computer to give them a retrial. Arguing as his defense counsel, Kryten argues that the mind probe was merely used to ascertain guilt, not to ascertain the capability to commit a crime. Kryten also argues that Rimmer’s ego caused him to think that he was fully responsible for the deaths of the crew, while in reality, Rimmer was (and is) merely an egotistical, incompetent moron who should have never been held responsible for the crime in the first place. The computer ultimately rules in favor of Rimmer and Kryten.

As they try and return to Red Dwarf, the life-form in the pod escapes… and it is a simulant. While chasing the crew around the ship, the Simulant enters the Justice Zone… where offenses affect the offender. The Simulant tries to kill Lister… and winds up killing himself. Back on the ship, Lister goes on a lengthy rant about how there is no such thing as absolute justice… with the rant ending when he winds up in a manhole.

Review: One of Red Dwarf‘s greatest strengths is the psycho-analysis of Rimmer. As such, this episode is brilliant, as it really does go deep inside Rimmer’s mind. This episode asks the questions: is Rimmer responsible for his actions? Is Rimmer a good person blinded by his own ego and desire for control? Or is he really malevolent, willing to cut down anybody for his own selfish gain? This can be applied to the average Joe, much like Arnold Rimmer: do we do bad things out of malevolence, or are we good people that just made bad decisions and are clouded by our own faults? Is there such a thing as true justice?

It’s worth noting that Rimmer, in previous episodes, refuses to take responsibility for anything. Could it be that he has so much guilt for killing the crew, that he felt that he needed to relieve himself of some responsibility by putting up an egocentric aura? Or is he just an egotistical smeghead?

OK, let’s drop the philosophy for a second, and go into a full review.

The character development given to the two main leads is brilliant. This episode shows that Lister is not a bad guy by any means: he’s controlled by peer pressure. This episode also solidifies him as the show’s moral center, and the most well-rounded person aboard the ship (Rimmer’s a smeghead, the Cat is vain, and Kryten is still trying to get hold of humanity). Yet, the episode also mocks his attempts at summarizing the lesson to the crew. The development given to Rimmer is brilliant, with the smallest details in his life showing that Rimmer is a smeghead.

The simulant plot seems a bit unnecessary, just being there to move the plot forward. They could have made the entire episode about the trial. However, the simulant plot is still funny as all get out!

If I had to find one defining fault about the episode… it would have to be the Space Mumps scenes. They’re just there to pad the episode out to 28 minutes. It’s stupid and its resolution is just plain gross. They could have done without it. In fact, without the space mumps, the episode would have EASILY gained a 9.5 score. Instead, the episode only gains an 8 score: still great, but the Space Mumps knocks it down that far.

Favorite Scene: Lister’s fight with the Simulant. Just plain hysterical.

Least Favorite Scene: The smegging space mumps plotline.

Score: 8

Red Dwarf Review: Series IV, Episode 2: "DNA"

Airdate: 21 February 1991

Yes, that is Robert Llewellyn without makeup.

Synopsis: The Boys from the Dwarf board a drifting spaceship. While on the spaceship, the Cat fiddles around with a DNA modifier. At first, it turns Lister into a chicken, followed by him being a hamster. However, Cat, trying to turn Lister back into a Human (he succeeds), also manages to turn Kryten into a human.

While at first Kryten is enthralled with humanity, humanity quickly loses it’s luster, with Kryten being unaware about various body functions, being insulted by his spare heads, and unable to pick up JazzFM. Therefore, the crew decides to go back to the DNA modifier, where Kryten will become a mechanoid again. They test the DNA modifier on a vindaloo… only to create a vindaloo monster. It’s not worth revealing what they do to defeat the vindaloo monster, but it involves Lister using the DNA modifier himself.

Review: Oh, this was hilarious. Not exactly the most memorable episode of the series, but hilarious.

Let’s start with the biggest problem with this episode: it’s more sitcom-y than the rest of the episodes, which are more character-driven. Granted, it’s not NEARLY as bad as what we would get in the torrid series VIII, but it was a small hint at things to come.

Still, it pulled it off. Character development is not too high, but it managed to give some insight into the functions Kryten does as a mechanoid, while still showing his naivete with humanity. Therefore, he’s not just an exposition spewer: he is as flawed as the rest of the crew.

The ending is something only Red Dwarf would pull. The humor in this episode hits all styles (lowbrow, highbrow). The “monster of the week” is pretty freaky, yet still hysterical. The delivery by Robert Llewellyn as a human is wonderful. Just a great episode to watch.

Favorite Scene: Kryten talking to his spare heads. That’s how you do “man vs. self” in sci-fi.

Least Favorite Scene: Not that I hated it, but the scene aboard the drifting ship before they reach the DNA machine was a bit disturbing.

Score: 7.9 (Rounded to 8).

Red Dwarf Review: Series IV, Episode 1: "Camille"

Airdate: 14 February, 1991.

Synopsis (Spoilers): Lister is trying to teach Kryten to lie to other people (such as calling a banana an orange), and to call Rimmer a Smeghead (which Kryten can’t do, so he instead calls Rimmer a “smeeee heeeee”). His lesson is interrupted by Rimmer asking Kryten to take him asteroid spotting in Starbug. During the spotting, Kryten notes a doomed ship, and against Rimmer’s orders, goes down to the ship to look for survivors. He finds one, a female mechanoid named Camille (played by Robert Llewellyn’s significant other, Judy Pascoe), and it is “Advanced Mutual Compatibility at First Sight”. Camille goes aboard Starbug. When Rimmer sees her, however, he sees a female hologram (played by Francesca Floan). Aboard Red Dwarf, when Lister sees her, she looks like a normal human being (played by Irish songwriter Suzanne Rhatigan, who was dating Charles). When the Cat sees her, he sees himself. Really.

The crew find out about what each other saw, and Camille decides to come clean: she is a Pleasure GELF, who appears to people as the person of their desire. In reality, Camille is a green blob. While initially hurt, Kryten decides to make a go for it, and he and Camille enjoy their date. However, Hector, Camille’s husband, finds them, and Kryten manages to convince Camille to leave for her own good… lying through his teeth the whole time.

Review: Well, this was a rather mild series opener. Not that it’s bad at all- in fact, it has a cute story and decent humor. However, it does come off as weaker than the rest of the series.

There are no glaring flaws in this episode. Cat’s first meeting with Camille is pretty smegging hilarious. Lister’s conversation with Camille is pretty funny. The Casablanca send up is pretty funny. (“We’ll always have Parrots.” It makes more sense in context.) Kryten gets some damn good character development. And “It’s a Banana” and “Smee Hee” are quite funny.

If there are ANY flaws in this episode, it’s a minor inconsistency. Why could Kryten lie about Silicon Heaven to Hudzen 10 in “The Last Day”, and yet not be able to lie in this episode? However, Red Dwarf does not rely on continuity as much as shows like Doctor Who and Star Trek so this can be forgiven.

The biggest problem with this episode is that it’s overall not very rememberable. After all, outside of “It’s a banana” and “Smee Heee”, what else is well known about this episode in the fanbase?

Overall, it’s a pretty cute, though unremarkable, episode, made even cuter by the fact that it aired on Valentine’s Day (although that was because of the Persian Gulf War pushing back “Dimension Jump”).

Favorite Scene: The Cat meeting Camille, who, in the Cat’s eyes, looks like the Cat! Cat puts it best: “Damn my vanity!”

Least Favorite Scene: The date scene, while pretty cute, is probably the weakest scene in the episode. Although, Kryten and Camille do go to a restaurant called “Parrots”. Kryten’s right: they’ll always have Parrots.

Score: 7.5