Red Dwarf Review: Series VII, Episode 1: "Tikka To Ride"

Airdate: 17 January 1997

Synopsis: So, apparently, the crew were not blown out of the sky by their future selves. A time paradox, however, trashed the Indian food. Lister, having a memory of the accident, suggests using the time drive to get 500 curries. He manages to swing Kryten by removing his guilt chip. Their time travel predictions are off; they wind up at the School Book Depository in Dallas, 1963… just as President Kennedy is passing by.

Review: Uh, no. I doubt I watched Red Dwarf. I think I stumbled across a bad fanfiction version of Red Dwarf.

Wait.

This is real?

Oh… crap.

Facepalms, facepalms everywhere.
 Well, let’s get to the obvious: this episode is pretty bad. We are but one episode in, and my hopes for the series have gone down quite a bit.
 
The big failure in this episode is character. Character is at the center of Red Dwarf. This series has effectively taken Lister’s character, and thrown it out the window. He might be the first victim. Through six series, we saw him develop beyond his slobbish character into a complex character with morals and virtues, who served as the true moral center of the cast, and could be quite mature and sensible. Here? He’s a curry-obsessed jackass. That’s all. I might be able to chalk it up to PTSD from the explosion… somewhat. Three years on, and Doug Naylor has forgotten to write for Lister. It’s bad. It makes the episode almost unwatchable, given the development he’s gone through.
The time travel is also very screw-y. While inter-series continuity is a bit weaker in Red Dwarf, this episode takes it to stupid new heights. The beginning of the episode makes it clear that there was a paradox caused by the fight in the previous episode, thus preventing the future selves from killing them. (It’s confusing enough to break a video camera). At the end of the episode, Kennedy gets involved in the same incident (long story)… and does not fall victim to the same effects. Hello, Doug? Also ticking me off is that “Out of Time” made it clear that the Time Drive did not travel through space? So, the question remains. WHY DID IT SMEGGING TRAVEL THROUGH SMEGGING SPACE TO SMEGGING DALLAS IN SMEGGING 1963-
 
It’s a TV show. Happy thoughts, dude. Happy thoughts…
…mmmm…
…that’s better. Anyway, credit where credit is due for this episode, I guess. I like the implementation of time travel and the effects of causality. With Kennedy alive, he gets impeached, the Mafia use J. Edgar Hoover as a puppet president, and manage to land in deep trouble with the Soviets/Cuba. It’s a pretty interesting take. I also liked the twist of JFK being the “man behind the grassy knoll”. Strangely enough, this is something of a callback to “Timeslides”. Remember when Kryten was talking about the photograph fluid?

“Well, we could go to Dallas in November 1963, stand on the grassy knoll, and shout “duck”! Uh, I’m sorry: I must have bypassed my good taste chip!”

Ironic, innit. Again, the good there is destroyed by the faulty time paradox.

I don’t know what to say about the ending. On one hand, I think it’s in character for our heroes to learn nothing from the experience. On the other, I shed no sympathy for Lister. Unlike the fine folks at Ganymede and Titan, I actually feel that Rimmer, Cat, and Kryten beating Lister to a pulp was somewhat excusable.

The biggest failing is that this episode really isn’t that funny. Too much focus is on drama. The balance is just off. It’s just a weak episode, and a bad sign of things to come.

Tidbits:

  • It’s worth noting that, in real life, had Kennedy ducked the bullet, he would’ve died soon after from Addison’s disease. His muscles had failed so much that he had to wear a brace. Had he not worn a brace, he might have been able to duck and avoid Oswald’s second bullet. (He might have died because the first bullet hit his trachea, but the bullet to the head definitely terminated his life.)
  • Kryten having his guilt trip works here. It just works better in “Polymorph”, where it’s somewhat crueler.
  • How come, if Kryten’s so smart, he wanted to eat a dead man? This episode is horrid at characterisation.
  • Again, THIS EPISODE FAILS AT CONTINUITY. Just figured I’d let that sink in.
Favorite Scene: While not as good as “Polymorph”, Kryten’s post-guilt-removal behavior is still pretty funny. ‘You bet your ass”, indeed.
Least Favourite Scene: Not scene, but by the end of the episode, I actually wanted to see Lister get beaten by his crew members. This episode was to him was “Rimmerworld” was to Rimmer: it destroyed his character.
Final Score: 4, only for the time travel aspect.

Red Dwarf Review: Series VI, Episode 6: "Out of Time"

Airdate: 11 November, 1993

Synopsis: The situation on Starbug appears to have crossed an event horizon of horridness. There is no trace of Red Dwarf. Rimmer’s “morale meetings” simply serve the purpose of insulting the rest of the crew. There is no variety. Supplies are low. When the ship is attacked, Lister is knocked out. As Kryten is operating on Lister, he realizes that he is a droid… although it turns out that Lister was hallucinating, thanks to unreality pockets, planted by the Space Corps for defense purposes. The crew decide to enter deep sleep to avoid the effects of other pockets…

…and come across a time drive in a derelict.

While it serves no immediate purpose, the crew realize that once a faster-than-light drive is obtained, they can wind up back at Earth. At the same time, they are intercepted by a JMC vessel…. which consists of their future selves. The future crew were looking for themselves to gain components from the present’s time drive in order to gain access to the past. The makeup of the future crew is not only strange (Lister’s condition drives Kryten to mourn, for example), but the connections that said crew made turn the present crew ill, causing them to slowly contemplate essential suicide.

Review (SPOILERS! RUN IF YOU HATE THEM!): This episode is sort of the anti-“Rimmerworld”. That episode was funny at first, yes. By the end, however, I was sickened by how thin the plot and character was. THIS episode was weak on the humor… but when it came to character development, it is a behemoth.

For starters, we finally see Kryten’s relationship with Lister (and, to a less of an extent, the rest of the crew) solidify. While Kryten may just come off as a maid at first, we see that he takes over as a true parental figure for the crew of Starbug. Think about it (this info is according to earlier episodes, as well as the novels and future episodes: I apologize for spoilers)

  • Lister never knew his real parents, and his adoptive father died when Lister was six. His grandmother took him in, died off 7 years later, and Lister went around as an orphan until the JMC took him up.
  • Rimmer’s father took out his own failures on his sons, to the point of abuse. His mother dealt with the loveless marriage by sleeping around.
  • The Cat doesn’t even care about what happened to his folks.
We see him become very protective and defensive of the crew, wanting to see them achieve the seemingly unattainable. While the makeup of the current crew might not warrant that, this shows that, really, he is the creme of the crop when it comes to the crew. His neurosis, while tragically underexplored in this series, just adds more depth to the character. The same works with Lister: he finds a parent he thinks is overacting, yet when he sees what happens to him, he realizes that Kryten is not too far off the mark in his reaction.
The theme of this episode is clearly “power corrupts”, along with “richness corrupts”. And by god, does it corrupt! Our future “heroes” get to live in the lap of luxury in exchange for meeting the most corrupt/evil figures ever. The crew, composed of two working-class men, a service robot, and a cat who pays no attention to anything else, have become overtaken by power. While I was not a fan of how little attention was paid to their actual transformation, I don’t think that was entirely unintentional… or a bad thing after all.
People complain about the costuming, whining that they look far too old. I don’t see any reason to complain, except for continuity purposes. (Rimmer didn’t age a bit over 600 years in jail. Then again, it’s understandable; they spent a lot of time with the worst of humanity, putting on pounds (or in Lister’s case, losing a few).
The humor isn’t fantastic, but it’s still decent enough to pass through the episode. Personal favorites of mine include:
  •  “Herman Goerig is a bit dodgy?
  • “We have to keep our heads straight!” Cue them in obvious masks. Ah, BBC budgeting department; never change!
  • The entire morale meeting.
  • Cat’s reaction to learning what he turns out to be in the future.

Yet, now we reach the best part of the episode. That is Rimmer. If “Rimmerworld” showed him at his worst, this episode shows him at his best. The future crew’s transgressions and insanity finally gel with Rimmer. Meeting himself from the future shows just how bad his behavior has turned himself into a fat slob who has not escaped from his hell. It’s here where he finally realizes that, if it came between him dying and becoming corrupt, he’ll die.

It’s a bit ambiguous. One one hand, It’s probably selfish; future Rimmer is not physically attractive, being fat and grey. Rimmer thinks of himself as a handsome leader. On the other hand, he’s so disgusted by his behavior, by the fact that gaining power has trampled over people like he was way back when, that he might have seen the dark side of what he wanted to be. Seeing a reflection of himself years on in the future might have scared him, whether due to future Rimmer’s behavior, or due to future Rimmer’s looks. Nonetheless, once Rimmer says…

“Better dead than smeg!”

 …you know that he’s willing to lay his life on the line, and become Ace… maybe… sort of. The end result is a cliffhanger that would torture fans for three years.

All in all, this wild season ends with an episode that, though dry on laughs, is one of the most powerful episodes in the show.

Tidbits:

  • OK, I will admit that they went a bit too far with the aging of the future crew.
  • Rimmer remarks that learning about the future crew might kill any of them. Coming from the dead man’s mouth, lads!
  • The obvious should be mentioned; this episode was made up on the set. Entire lines of dialogue were replaced whilst the camera was rolling or typed up on the autocue. Grant/Naylor actually never finished the script.
  • The ending was not supposed to end on a cliffhanger. The BBC apparently wanted a cliffhanger… but circumstances caused the next series to be pushed back three years.
  • Last, but not least, this is the very last episode produced by Rob Grant. Creative differences and a desire to diversify his output caused him to leave the Small Rouge One. From here on out, Doug is at the helm. Thank you for 6 series of fantastic comedy, Rob. You did a great job.
Favorite Scene: Let’s face it: the last 3 minutes are just epic.
Least Favorite Scene: The first three minutes are relatively unnecessary.
Score: 8.

Red Dwarf Review: Series VI, Episode 5: "Rimmerworld"

“For the crime of taking plot elements from previous episodes without substance, I sentence this episode to 200 hours of WOO. That will teach Grant/Naylor to be breadbaskets!”

Airdate: 4 November 1993

Synopsis: Rimmer undergoes a medical analysis from Kryten, and learns that he is predisposed to stress-related conditions. Meanwhile, Starbug returns to the Simulant ship that they had previously shot down to recover derelicts from the ship… the same behavior that got them shot down, caused an ill-fated wedding, and brought the Duke of Dork aboard Starbug. (Oh, those wackos never learn!) This time, they simply get threatened by a Simulant that managed to survive the destruction.

Fearing death, Rimmer does the honorable thing… and leaves the rest of the Dwarfers for dead as he takes the last escape pod on the ship. The other three manage to escape the Simulant, first using a time and matter transporter Kryten has come across. When that fails, it causes the crew to just belt for Starbug.

Whilst on Starbug, the crew realize that Rimmer took a pod from a ship meant to colonize a barren planet. He does so… with clones of himself. Cue the neo-classical set and costumes!

Review: A good rule of thumb would be the “cook all the way through” rule. You can make an episode which has the first 15-20 minutes full of comedy, yet if the last 10 minutes are weak enough, it makes those first 20 seem like a waste. Another good rule would be the “watch it without the comedy” rule, as comedy can often mask flaws in an episode that are unjustifiable.

This episode falls victim to both rules hard; so hard, that for the first time ever in my history of reviewing Red Dwarf, I can’t bring myself to give it a passing grade.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The first 20 minutes are pretty funny. However, it’s just there to provide jokes. Sure, the plot moves along. However, there’s little good comedy that’s directly connected to the main plot; most of it is the one-liners and the jokes that remind us that Cat hates Rimmer and Lister is a slob and all that.

The last 8 minutes of this episode, however, are tragically bad. Why? Well, let’s go down to Rimmerworld. Let’s have a guard from the Rimmers and the grand poo-bah of the Rimmers speak… and by extension, fail the episode.

Rimmer Guard: These three abominations stand charged on eight counts of gross deviancy. Not content with not looking like the true image, they flaunt freakish behavior such as charm, bravery, compassion, and… honor.

Rimmer Grand Pooh-Bah:  Are there no signs of normalcy in these wretches? No cowardice or pomposity? No snideness or snarm? Not even basic honest-to-goodness double-dealing two facedness?

Wait… what? What? Why? What? No, NO! WRONG, RED DWARF! WRONG! YOU FAIL! COME ON GRANT/NAYLOR, YOU SMEGGING-

“IT’S IN REVELATIONS, PEOPLE!”

-sorry. Let me recompose myself for a second.

Mmmmm….

That’s better. Anyway, that quote is utter proof that either Grant/Naylor didn’t watch some Red Dwarf before writing the script for this episode, or they were prevented by the BBC’s screwed up scheduling.

You see, that quote pretty much nullifies all of the development Rimmer has gotten up to this point. Yes, he’s a coward, an egoist, a nut, and all around odious. However, he was shaped into that character; his family was abusive (or at least neglectful), his school was insane (putting him through extra rugby practice), his friends betrayed him… even his pets attacked him! Most of his cowardice might come from trying to avoid a reaction that his abusive father might have given him (getting Astro-Nav questions wrong caused him to not receive food). It’s also shown that, as screwed up as he is, he also has some sort of code: he wants to succeed; he just shoots too high and is just too neurotic to prepare properly. It’s his frustration that manifests into smeghead behavior. Sure, a lot of his behavior is on him; it’s just that he has an excuse. Not a justification, but an excuse.

This episode seems to say “smeg it all” to all of that and more. What this episode says is that Rimmer is simply odious, and nothing more. There’s no pathos, no depth. It’s implied that this was part of the original Rimmer from the very start, as all the clones are not only just as odious as the original, but they embrace it!

Rimmer’s actions through the episode are stunningly awful. In other episodes, Rimmer would probably back down or cower. Now? He steals an escape pod. Remember when I did my “Top 5 Lowest Arnold Rimmer Moments”? Well, in hindsight, I should’ve knocked off Rimmer badmouthing Ace from “Dimension Jump”, moved 3 and 4 up one spot each, and put this in the Bronze spot. By the end of the episode, you wonder why the hell the rest of the crew went to save him.

The rest of the episode isn’t fantastic, either. Why was Rimmer revealed to be close to death when “Legion” showed him to be indestructible? Just for a gag about Chinese Worry Balls. Yeah, who cares about continuity? We need jokes about worry balls! How the hell was Rimmer able to hold up for the time he did upon entering Rimmerworld, as well?

It’s a shame, as there was a decent episode in here. Ignoring the continuity issues, the first 20 minutes are hysterical. Once the crew land on Rimmerworld, however, there’s nothing to distract from this episode’s faults… which are numerous.

Sadly, this is the first episode of Red Dwarf which I can’t pass. It’s tragic. And from what I remember… we’re coming close to the show’s Wilderness Years.

Tidbits

  • How could Rimmer even make clones? He has no DNA! He’s a hologram!
  • Continuing on the theme of episodes from this series ripping off episodes from other series, this episode is partially a rip-off of “Terrorform”. I can understand aping from “Polymorph” or “Back to Reality”. But “Terrorform”?
  • The Cat, the prince of fashion, thinks that his costume contains peach material. I’m going with more of an orange.
  • “If we wanted to stay in a state of perpetual agony, we’d let Lister play his guitar.” Yes, the same guitar that Cat smashed in “Emohawk”. Remember that? (“At least Lister’s guitar survived intact… not even Lister’s guitar survived intact!”)
  • Have Grant/Naylor lost creativity in creating obstacles? This series seems to be obsessed with Simulants.
Favorite Scene: Lister having “two conversations” with the Simulants and Rimmer (as the latter steals an escape pod).
Least Favorite Scene: Everything from the tribunal up to the last scene.
Score: 4.5

Red Dwarf Review: Series VI, Episode 4: "Emohawk: Polymorph II"

Airdate: 28 October 1993.

“Curse you, magic beans!”
“Oh, stop blaming the beans!”
The Simpsons: “Homer the Vigilante”

Synopsis: Rimmer’s emergency drill for the Starbug crew (posting a record time of 1:17:30) proves ironic, as the crew are intercepted by a Space Corps enforcement vessel. Threatened with death for theft of derelicts, the shuttle is hammered by missiles. Starbug manages to flee, but manages to crash land in an ocean on the moon, putting out the flames before they reach the fuel tanks. Nobody is injured, but most of Starbug’s contents are damaged by either fire, flood, impact damage, or Cat’s desire to never hear Lister play guitar again. Auto-repair can fix most of the ship, but they have to trade with the Kinotawawi, the local GELFs, to get a new Oxy-Gen unit, so that they can breathe in space.

In return for the unit, Lister must marry the daughter of the Chief of the Kinotawawi, who Lister doesn’t find too attractive. He plans to slip out in the middle of the night, but is forced to flee due to various circumstances involving the honeymoon. (“CHANGE OF PLAN! LEG IT!!!!”) Cheated by this maneuver, the Chief sends out one of his Emohawks- domesticated Polymorphs- to attack. It slips aboard Starbug and begins to attack, knocking down Cat’s cool and making him the Duke of Dork himself, while at the same time, dragging out Rimmer’s snideness and bringing out the Space Corps hero himself. If you don’t know who these two are yet, watch Series IV and V again.

Review: This time, we get three sequels in one. And not just an “aping plot elements” type sequel – no, no. This time, this is pretty much three direct sequels in one here. The tragic part? The potential here is squandered, and it comes close to denting the memory of three of the greatest Red Dwarf episodes of all time.

First, the obvious. This episode is clearly a direct sequel to “Polymorph”. For those that need a refresher… click on the link. The difference? There, the Polymorph was given enough development and plot time to get the basics; the Polymorph simply drained the most negative aspects of everybody and everything it hit. Since it hit four of the most screwed-up people ever, it managed to make them into even more deranged people. Here, it’s target is unclear. Does it ape personality aspects, or certain emotions? And why does it produce physical changes? I’ll go with “it’s a different evolution”, except it was said to be merely a trained Polymorph. Rule of funny? Maybe, but in a show as well crafted as Red Dwarf, it’s just a bit frustrating.

Second, they bring back two characters who have no business being here.

  • We have Duane Dibbley, who I praised in my “Back to Reality” review as one of the reasons why I consider that to be Red Dwarf’s magnum opus. Most of Duane’s humor came on how he was stunned to learn that he was merely playing somebody as cool as The Cat. It’s a deep character moment: once Duane realizes that he’s really worthless, once the rest of the crew turn to suicide, he not only jumps in, but recommends the most efficient way of doing so. Here? He’s just a vehicle for geek jokes. No depth.
  • Ace Rimmer, from the epic “Dimension Jump”, gets a little better treatment. A lot of Ace’s comedy came from the fact that he was so unlike Rimmer; he’s brave, selfless, friendly, and well-rounded. I can see where they were going with bring in Ace here: he’s what Rimmer thinks Ace is. Why? Well, his plan is just risky: suck the Emohawk out into space, leading to certain death, but to “spare” Duane, he’s going to kill him beforehand. I just hope that’s the case. Alternate theory; they forgot how to write for Ace, but brought him “back” because, well, Ace+Duane+Polymorph=PROFIT!
The rest isn’t top-notch Red Dwarf, either. I would’ve loved to see an episode dealing with the Space Corps law enforcement. It may have aped from “Justice”… but I liked “Justice” due to it’s focus on character which, barring the last two episodes, this series seems to have put on the back burner. Here, most of the episode is sitcom-based humor (although I like the ambiguity of the Space Corps Directive joke).
This also brings me to another aspect that really didn’t please me; this is an episode that goes through plot points as quickly as a modern Simpsons episode. The shuttle is intercepted by law enforcement, causing the crew to crash land, causing them to trade with the GELFs, causing Lister to flee an arranged marriage, causing an Emohawk to board the ship, leading to comedy between Ace and Duane… it’s almost disjointed. Every plotline starts out decently enough, but the jokes become repetitive as time goes on.
A good chunk of the comedy that works holds up on its own merits. However, a sizeable chunk is held up mainly by the acting merits. I doubt jokes like “CHANGE OF PLAN” or “DUANE DIBBLEY” would be as funny as they are without the acting chops of Craig, Chris, Danny, and Robert here.
Overall, not really a good episode. It passes based on acting, the comedy that works, and the potential. The problem here is that a lot of the potential is shamefully wasted, and it almost drags down two fantastic characters.
Tidbits:
  • The set for the GELF scenes was actually to be used for the aborted TV show Covington Cross. Chances are, this allowed Grant/Naylor to use more explosive special effects.
    • Either way, the cash saved didn’t go to another Ace wig. The original toupee was unavailable. Thus, he got a replacement… a cheaper replacement.
  • The guy who played the GELF chief, Ainsley Harriot, not only became a celebrity chef, but also hosted a comic special for Red Dwarf’s 10th anniversary where the characters tried to cook.
  • Steven Wicknam played the GELF bride. He would later get a bit of a “promotion”-type deal in the show; 19 years later, he was brought back to be the chief of another GELF tribe in Series X’s “Entangled”.
  • Strangest thing about this episode? I now have a fear of cafeteria-sized bean cans.
Favorite Scene: I personally felt that the GELF scene worked the best.
Least Favorite Scene: I’ll just say that Duane’s behavior here brought me down.
Score: 5.5

Red Dwarf Review: Series VI, Episode 3: "Gunmen of the Apocalypse"

Airdate: 21 October 1993

Synopsis: As Lister is in the TIV machine (dating various characters), the wackos aboard Starbug are intercepted by Rogue Simulants, who just happen to despise humans and humanoids. An attempt to trick them fails (said attempt involves googly-eyes), and they are put to sleep. They are woken up, to find that the shuttle has been upgraded in terms of weaponry… so that they can battle.

Thanks to the Cat’s theories (and his dismissal of Tom and Jerry logic), the crew manage to destroy the Simulants. However, the Simulants go out with a bang; they inject a virus into Starbug that shuts down their controls, sending them hurling to a lava-moon. Fearing a wreck, Kryten wires himself into the computer to beat the virus. Said computer and virus manifest as a TIV-style game set in the Wild West, where Kryten is a cowardly, burnt-out drunkard of a sheriff put up against the “Apocalypse Boys”, who want him out of town.

Fearing for their lives, the gang wires themselves into the game to take down the virus, giving themselves strategic advantages via the “special powers”. Thus, the ballad of The Riviera Kid, Dangerous Dan McGrew, and Brett Riverboat begins. They have to deal with cowboys, barmaids, and the risk of the loss of “special powers”.

Review: I’ve noticed one thing about this series that really stands out. To be specific, that would have to be the pseudo-sequels that have made up most of the series; episodes that took strong elements from earlier episodes. “Psirens” was something of a sequel to “Camille”, “Legion” had elements of “Queeg” and “Justice”, “Rimmerworld” holds elements from “Terrorform” and “Meltdown”, “Out of Time” holds elements from “Stasis Leak”, and “Emohawk: Polymorph II” is a 3-in-1 package (“Polymorph”, “Dimension Jump”, and “Back to Reality”).

“Gunmen” is no exception; it really feels like a sequel to “Better Than Life”. I’ve mentioned before that “Better Than Life” holds a place in my heart; it was the episode that hooked me on Red Dwarf once and for all. This episode is also spectacular; in the somewhat lackluster Series VI, this episode is awesome.

Most of it has to do with it’s inventive and carefully-created plot. The Wild West has been something of a centerpiece of science fiction television. Star Trek did it thrice (in Enterprise, The Original Series, and The Next Generation). Doctor Who did it a couple of times (the obscure-ish “Gunfighters” and the recent “A Town Called Mercy”). Naturally, Red Dwarf had to not just do it, but parody it, interject it in a creative manner, and above all, make it funny.

And parody they did. Oh, and don’t forget to interject it in a creative manner. The drinks scene, the fight scenes, and the dynamic between the characters are comic knocks on the Western cliches. What starts one fight? Rimmer does not react well to a drink poured at the saloon.

Note that every time Cat pulls out his guns, he does not directly hit anybody; rather, due to the application of his “special ability” of creative shooting, he either knocks bullets out of the air, or knocks a sign down on somebody, knocking him out cold. No blood is shed. Oh, and Cat acts like such an exaggerated version of a stereotypical Latin dancer. The Riviera Kid: the awesomeness of a sheriff, the gracefulness of, well, a Cat.

Rimmer also gets a chance to get into typical bar fights. The parody comes in Dan McGee’s behavior; despite getting into fistfights, he’s still quite a bit of a coward, still really aspires to the upper class, and still isn’t that bright. He finally gets something on his side; his physical strength is increased. Yet, it’s clear that all this has really done is boosted his ego. Once his special power gets damaged he’s back to the same old cowardly Rimmer. As much as Rimmer might be more one-dimensional this series than ever before, this is still an awesome reminder of something going right for him… and having it cruelly taken away. The writing for him is quintesential Red Dwarf; instead of just being a jackass, he is a man kept down by life itself.

Lister gets some throwbacks to his Series I and II childish behaviour, albeit not in the western itself. It’s found in his initial use of the TIV, which is to go on various dates and one-night stands. Also, his attempt at diplomacy with the Simulants results in what is considered one of the funnier scenes in Red Dwarf history.

Oh, here’s how you DON’T do diplomacy.

Just… fantastic.

Kryten’s Dwarfer traits have manifested in the TIV. There, desperate, he becomes a drunken wreck. I took it as Kryten showing a deep-seated reluctance to serve a slob, a narcissist, and an all-around wreck of a man. Of course, I might be looking too deep into his actions.

The sets and special effects are awesome, especially by BBC standards. I love models in this series. It would be a damn shame if they ever converted to CGI for the purposes of staying “modern” and developing cheap sci-fi plots.

It would be like The Simpsons making Elf-like Jockeys the villains for an episode, or Star Trek putting an entire episode in sickbay for the purposes of innuendo and sexual tension. Thank god those are just worst-case scenarios and never manifested… right?

Probably my biggest problems with this episode include the pacing (it seems to feel a bit too lanky at the beginning of the episode, and thus, a bit too rushed at the end of the episode) and the re-use of the sitcom gags (although these are funner this time around). Otherwise, we have a pretty good outing, one that really elevated the standing of Series VI as a whole.

Tidbits:

  • The BBC’s Head of Art and Entertainment, Janet Street-Portier, actually got hold of the script. She informed Grant/Naylor that the episode would be way too expensive and complex, and thus, demanded production be shut down. Her memo came down just in time for the episode to be in post-production.
  • One year earlier, Star Trek: The Next Generation aired an episode similar to this, called “A Fistful of Datas”. It’s actually not a bad episode in and of itself, even though it falls victim to some TNG-era cliches (Data wanting to be more human, the Holodeck breaking down, etc.)
    • Speaking of which, Patrick Stewart managed to catch this episode during an airing. Thinking it was a ripoff of “Fistful”, Stewart almost threw a lawsuit at the BBC. Then he began laughing…
  • The noir-type game at the beginning is a parody of the somewhat obscure 1971 UK film Gumshoe, which was set in Liverpool.
  • This episode was written main plot first; the Simulant plot came after.
  • Personal opinion; the music here is perfect. Do I have to mention the ending theme? It’s simply perfect.
  • For an episode that almost got shut down by the BBC’s arts department and almost got Grant/Naylor sued, this episode…
    • Won an International Emmy in 1994;
    • Topped Red Dwarf polls in 1994 and 1997
    • Ranked second in 1999;
    • And, after a 10-point drop in 2008, was bumped up to #3 in 2013.
Favorite Scene: Pretty much everything from the Vindaloovian scene to just before the final battle. It’s some of the best Red Dwarf ever.
Least Favorite Scene: The noir scene just goes on too long.
Score: 9. It deserved it’s smeggin’ Emmy!

Red Dwarf Review: Series VI, Episode 1: "Psirens"

Airdate: 7 October 1993

Summary: Two hundred years since that little incident with the Despair Squid, we see the crew again wake up from a 200-year sleep (except for Kryten). Apparently, Red Dwarf had been taken by an unknown party, and the Posse are only now catching up to the ship. All they have to do is pass through an asteroid field to get close. However, whilst in the asteroid field, they are intercepted by Psirens, who are shape-shifting GELFs who try to lure them in with their greatest desires… only to immobilize the crew by feasting on their brains. These GELFs take the form of such figures as Kochanski, Kryten’s owner, two temptresses, and even Lister himself.

Review: The first time I watched this episode, I wasn’t a huge fan of it. I was turned off because of the lowbrow humor (or rather, the amount of it), the running gags that would dominate the rest of the series, some continuity errors, and the recycled-ish plot. Now… I still wouldn’t call it my favorite episode.

This episode is occasionally cited as one that has aged quite well in the eyes of the fandom: the 1999 Better Than Life poll put this episode at 44th place out of 48 stories. Then again, that survey put “Pete” at 17 out of 44. In 2013? The two have almost switched spots: “Psirens” has taken 21st place out of 61 episodes, while the two episodes that comprise “Pete” are ranked dead last.

Now, I can see where they were trying to go with this. Shaking up the formula is not always a bad thing: we saw that with Series III. This time, they may have been trying to create something of a series-long arc, exploring more sci-fi concepts rather than just mocking them.

However, a good chunk (albeit not a majority) of Red Dwarf‘s comedy was based around making fun of the science fiction concepts in the show. By playing them relatively straight (picking off the crew one by one, for example), there is not a lot to work with in terms of comedy.

But that’s fine, what about the characters? They were the center of Red Dwarf since 1988; they still must be pure comic material!

Well, yes, there still is character comedy. Tragically, it’s greatly reduced. Why? Well, the show shifted its focus from character-driven plots to sci-fi plots. Rather, with the show not being character-focused anymore, there is less “need” for it. Rather, a good chunk of the humor is either sitcom-style gags (“We’re deader than (Z)”, “Space Corps Directive (X)”) or gross-out jokes. And yes, there are a ton of gross-out jokes here. Granted, not all of them are dire, but what made Red Dwarf work was its balance between high-brow humor and character comedy with lowbrow gross-out jokes. Here, it’s too tilted to the lowbrow jokes. It’s just not really as funny.

Speaking of character, it’s a mixed bag for character here. I do like the Cat’s smell being brought in; it reinforces the fact that he’s a cat instead of just a dandy. Lister’s slobbish behavior was almost good, except it was one of the reasons why the lowbrow humor was high in this episode. Kryten seems to be formally settled in his role as Mr. Exposition, which is actually a decent move, although it does take away some of his depth (i.e: his own neurosis). This one, however, was pretty bad for Rimmer; there is little trace of the tragic character seen in Series V. He’s a base coward, with not as much charm as he had in prior series. I’ll grant him that he was turned off for 200 years, and thus, may have regressed a bit in terms of character. Still a bit grating.

It’s not a total loss. If the lowbrow humor wasn’t overdone, it would actually be pretty funny. Almost all of the not-so-overtly lowbrow humor worked. (“This baby’s crashed more times than a ZX-81” was a personal favorite of mine.) I liked Claire Grogan’s appearance as Kochanski (her last), and the callback to “Parallel Universe” with Jim and Bexley. And, like always, all four actors deliver stellar performances.

The plot itself isn’t bad either. It isn’t going to light the world on fire; it just seems a bit too similar to the stellar “Polymorph”. But, let’s remove “Polymorph” from the equation for just a second. You have a damn decent plot here. I’d even go as far as to say that this episode explores the concept of the human id, falling for the desires of a potential lover no matter what the risk is. Also, who doesn’t love a good callback to Homer’s Odyssey?

Tragically, not even a decent plot nor decent humor or decent callbacks could resolve the main problem… it just seems dry. It’s decent, sure. But this first episode doesn’t really have the magic that even “Terrorform” or “Demons and Angels” had. Let’s just hope it’s an anomaly.

Tidbits: Yes, I’m actually doing it. Where this will be placed might change from post to post, but I’m actually doing a “tidbits” section.

  • This episode seemed to pull not one reset/error on continuity, but rather, three. One, it’s stated that Lister dated Kochanski for a few weeks, going against “Balance of Power”, which stated that Lister barely even spoke to Kochanski. This I don’t mind too much, since Red Dwarf has done resets to “before the wipeout” scenarios in the past (“Justice” increased the amount of dead on the ship by a solid thousand.) However, this series, as well as the next two, will pretty much run on episode-by-episode continuity, which I find ironic. They might have reset this fact to throw Kochanski in for a bit; this, again, is Claire Grogan’s last episode.
    • What got to me more was another error/reset, with one of the Psirens (disguised as Peter Tranter’s Sister) stating that Lister has not had sexual relations in three million years. All fine and dandy… until you remember not only “Parallel Universe”, which featured Lister and his female counterpart getting drunk and sleeping with each other (with hilarious results), but also “Polymorph”, where another shapeshifting creature shifted to Rimmer’s mother and promptly slept with Lister (to make Rimmer angry, and thus, vulnerable).
    • There’s also a redaction of “Marooned”. In that episode, Lister claims he’s not very good with the Guitar. Here, he believes he’s a diva. Now, I’ll chalk that up to Lister being close to death in “Marooned”, as well as his memory not being totally restored after a 200-year stasis.
  • The garbage compacter is a pretty cool Chekov’s Gun, with Kryten’s post-compacter appearance and actions being quite funny.
  • The guy who played Lister’s guitar alongside Lister? (Long story.) Phil Manzanera of the band Roxy Music.
  • Captain Tau shares the same name as the captain from the unaired pilot for Red Dwarf USA. (Tau there was a stand-in for Captain Hollister).
  • Back to “Polymorph”, it works as a sequel… that is, if it wasn’t for the actual sequel coming up this season.
    • It could also work as a sequel to “Camille”, with the Psirens being the villainous versions of the Pleasure GELF’s seen in that episode. Ironic as that episode parodied Casablanca, where this one parodied The Odyssey.
Favorite Scene: As Lister is getting his bearings straight, Kryten is getting ready to reactivate Rimmer. This ensues:

Lister: Rimmer? Is he my best mate?

Kryten: Sir, you are sick!

Second place? The contest between the real Lister and the Psiren Lister.

Least Favorite Scene:  The joke about Lister putting Tabasco Sauce on his cereal went on way too long. Given that I complained about the gross-out jokes, it’s a bit ironic that a relatively mild joke got the “least favorite”. It just feels like they wanted to kill time.

Score: 6.