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.

Red Dwarf Review: Series VIII, Story 1: "Back in the Red"

Airdate: 18 February, 1999 (Part 1) 25 February, 1999 (Part 2), 4 March, 1999 (Part 3)

Synopsis: Starbug crashes into the newly reconstructed Red Dwarf. The crew find out that the nanobots also reconstructed the original crew, and made the ship the way it was intended to be constructed before budget cuts came in. Naturally, Lister and Kochanski are placed under arrest for playing Grand Theft Starbug, as well as hauling two stowaways. Kryten is classified as a woman and put in Kochanski’s bunk, he is forced to be reprogrammed to try and preserve his innocence, and the Cat’s biology baffles the doctors. Lister wants to get the files to try and save the crew. He has to go to Rimmer, recreated… and more of a smeghead than ever before. The deal involves him warming up to Captain Hollister, who might have a trick or two up his sleeve.

Oh, this episode is told in something of a flashback… as Rimmer and Lister are bunking in jail, apparently livid over the fact that something was poured over Rimmer. OK, there goes the ending and any reason to watch.

Review (WARNING: SPOILERS FOR EPISODES… WELL, ONES THAT ARE ACTUALLY GOOD): People tend to give this episode a bad rap, citing lowbrow humor, poor pacing, scenes that made no sense and were pointless, character was weak, and the quality degraded as the episode went on.

They are right.

Actually, the first part seemed to have the least amount of problems. Hell, it was funnier compared to episodes like “Duct Soup” and “Beyond a Joke”. However, a main problem was that just one too many jokes were either stretched out too far (Kryten at the Psychiatrists office), explained (Lister’s definition of honor, according to Rimmer), or filler. Character wasn’t too bad, though. I sort of understood why Rimmer was more pompous and self-centered, as he was resurrected in his original personality. People complain about the “lemonade and a really large scotch” joke, but I think it fits Lister’s character: even after 6 or so years of development, he’s still skeptical about authority. I was more concerned about Lister being able to leave his quarters with Rimmer despite earlier being forced to wear a bracelet that gives him a shock if he tries to leave. Eh, must’ve been allowed because Rimsie is his superior. Who knows?

My question is how come everybody has their memory from before the accident, yet has no memory of their death? It’s never really given even a real mention (except for in that way-too-long scene with Kryten’s evaluation.)

The second part was a pretty damn steep drop in quality. It basically took the problems that were part of the first part, and made them into the second part. There was the infamous salute scene, Kryten’s physical, Kryten taking Kochanski’s advice too literally (to the point where he takes a bunch of scientists hostage), the elevator gag with the sexual magnetism virus (although I did like the ultimate punchline with that joke), and the moronic Data Doctor.  The “Dibbley Family” also confused me. Why would Cat want to become the man that represents everything the Cat hates right after blasting his “disguise”? Why? And why would the Scutters want to be Dibbleys? It. Makes. No. Sense.

The reveal on Captain Hollister and the psycho-analytic monitoring… I think it could’ve been an interesting twist… if the episode was far better. As it is, it leads to the aforementioned stupid scenes. Why would they think this stuff? It tries to be “Back to Reality”… and fails.

Rimmer also realizing how everything could backfire on him did keep in tune with his character: his actions that once seemed positive impacted him in negative ways. I did find the scene where he tries to reduce the impacts of the “sexual magnetism virus” stupid and pointless.

The third part was solid 92% filler… none of it was funny. It starts with another annoying entry similar to the first part when the entry in the second part was a recap by the Captain. There’s very loose (if any) consistency in this episode.

I tried to make heads of tails of the infamous Blue Midget dance. Apparently, it was the Cat’s ego overtaking his strategy. But why would he do something so monumentally stupid if he was in a “Back to Reality” scenario?

The thing is, “Back to Reality” worked because the twist was reserved until the episode’s climax, where “Jake Bullet” did the one thing Kryten would never do. It’s revealed in the second part of a three-parter. Thus, there’s no reason for us to care through the third part. Here, it’s just an excuse for horrid claymation and more stupid jokes.

I think this three-parter was trying to do some sort of commentary on the corruption and idiocy in the upper ranks. That’s fine. Yet, unlike the first six series, which used to hide that under a veneer of great comedy and character… there’s none of that to discover. This story is boring, stupid, and just a bad way to start the series.

Could it have been better? Maybe. There exists an edit of the episode that trims a good percentage of the filler and the pointless jokes. It would’ve been better if confined to 60 minutes. Instead, it’s 90 minutes of schlock.

Tidbits:

  • Actually, this story was supposed to be 60 minutes. However, several aspects of the story overran, and it was extended to 90 minutes. Yes, because we so needed the Claymation crew and the blue midget dance!
  • The CGI is back, and is as awful as ever. Apparently, the guy who does the CGI did it in his own house. Alright.
  • They actually built a model of Red Dwarf. It was too big. What, couldn’t dig up the original model? I know that this ship is said to be larger, but really, is it that big of a difference?
  • Dave Ross was actually hunted down to bring back the reprogrammed Kryten. Robert Llewellyn would wind up doing his own voice. He didn’t even try and imitate Dave Ross.
  • What is with Holly? Remember when he used to be just aged somewhat and senile? He’s gone beyond that into pure idiocy.
Favorite Scene: Rimmer and Lister’s first conversation after Lister gets arrested was quite a bit funny. Also, Norman Lovett still makes even the stupidest jokes funny.
Least Favorite Scene: Part. Three.
Score:
  • Part 1: 5.5
  • Part 2: 3
  • Part 3: 1.5
  • Overall: 3.3

Red Dwarf Review: Series VIII Preview

Well, we’re here. Series VIII. The last of the 51 episodes commissioned by BBC Two. To steal a line from Russell Wilson, it’s been a long road, getting from “The End” to here.

Now, Series VII had received a lukewarm reception amongst fans, many of whom (including yours truly) deriding it for shaking up the formula in a manner that replaced an interesting character with a bland, static character; replacing the beautiful models with low-quality CGI; mishandled almost every character; and, maybe most damning of all, syphoned the depth out of the show in favour of stock sci-fi plots and sitcom humour.

So, how was Doug Naylor to appease fans after such a radical change? ANOTHER RADICAL CHANGE!

First off, a combination of the love of his work on Series VII and sudden emptiness in his schedule (The Brittas Empire had been cancelled) convinced Chris Barrie to reprise his role as Rimmer full-time. A hole in the cast dynamic had been filled… seemingly, at least.

Doug Naylor seemed to have tired of the “Starbug putzes around in space” storyline of the past two series, and desired to bring the “small rouge one” back. Yet, he also had been watching Series I-III for the remaster (side note: stick to the originals). For some reason, he wanted to elaborate on the conflict between Rimmer, Lister, and Captain Hollister. So, it was decided to make it so that the core four (plus Kochanski) were no longer alone.

To facilitate this, Red Dwarf was essentially turned into a prison comedy, allowing Rimmer and Lister to interact with the Captain and others.

Yet, the actors that played Petersen, Selby, and Chen were not available on a regular basis. All of them had become successful and couldn’t fit the show into their schedule. Ultimately, new characters had to be created, such as Kill Crazy (played by Jake Wood) and Warden Ackerman (played by Gavin McTavish).

Strangely enough, a combination of an eight-episode series plus a low budget meant that two stories had to be stretched out. “Back in the Red”, originally an hour-long two parter, was transformed into a 90-minute three-parter. “Pete” (originally titled “Captain’s Office”) was also transformed into a two-parter, changing from an episode dominated by Lister and Rimmer’s troubles with Captain Hollister into one where the crew have to fight… a dinosaur.

The end of the series was actually devised to be used in case the series wasn’t renewed. The crew would’ve wound up back at Earth, wrecked up the place, and traded insurance details with the few remaining people to restore damage. It was going to be epic… until Doug Naylor took a look at the budget.

Thus, another finale had to be devised, which had four, count em, four endings planned. The one they went with was actually whipped up at the last minute.

Ultimately, this series proved to be controversial, much like VI and VII were. It’s worth noting that, over the course of the series, half of the viewing audience left. “Back in the Red” premiered with 8.05 million viewers. By “Only the Good”, only 4.24 million were still tuned in.

Initial reception was relatively positive, claiming that the show had “returned to form” with the return to more comic strips and Red Dwarf. Now? Well, fan site Ganymede and Titan did a survey in 2013 to commemerate the 25th anniversary of the first ever Red Dwarf episode. The bottom 5 episodes? All from Series VIII.

Overall, Series VIII took a beating in the poll, ranking as the worst series overall. Unlike VI, which shook it’s initial controversial reception to become relatively beloved, and VII, which always seemed to be derided, VIII has gone from being a relatively beloved series to one that is considered the death kneel for Red Dwarf.

So, what else is there left to lose? May as well dive in.

Oh, one thing: this series has two multi-parters. I have decided that it would be best if I reviewed every storyline, rather than every episode. I’ll still give the episodes separate grades and note the difference between the parts, but it will allow for the reviews to have more of a “flow”. Also, it might be a while between reviews.

Anyway, like always, EPISODE RUNDOWN!

  • Back in the Red: Yup, the crew are back in Red Dwarf… and risk jail for stealing a spacecraft and transporting stowaways on board ship. Lister has to get through to a resurrected Rimmer to help the crew escape. However, the resurrected Rimmer has none of the knowledge and development of the previous Rimmer; he’s still pompous and egotistical. One thing leads to another, and the whole of the crew are trapped in a series of unfortunate events that land them in jail… but for reasons not related to the shuttle crash.
  • Cassandra: The crew, now jailed, are signed up to join the “Canaries”, who go into dangerous situations, as they are expendable. While on a “canary” mission, the crew meet Cassandra, who can predict the future… and the deaths of the crew.
  • Krytie TV: Kryten, upset that his physical construction has placed him in the female quarters, is knocked out by several unsavoury prisoners and reprogrammed to start his own TV service, just so the unsavoury prisoners can get video of the women’s quarters. With his new programming, Kryten becomes a ruthless media mogul.
  • Pete: Lister and Rimmer have driven Hollister spare one too many times. After an incident involving medicines, spuds, and hair loss, the two are placed with a psycho with a bird. Meanwhile, the Canaries come across a device that can transform people. The two combine… and create a dinosaur.
  • Only the Good: A ship-eating microbe is brought onboard. As you could guess, the microbe begins to eat the ship. A shortage of escape pods means that the prisoners are left for dead. Rimmer, however, realises that he could try and find the cure for the microbe.
…I have a bad feeling about this. Eh, may as well dive in.