Monday, September 19, 2016

Red Dwarf II Episode 6: "Parallel Universe"

The Dwarfers meet their female equivalents and Rimmer suddenly becomes a chat-up enthusiast. If I'm going to be truly, brutally honest, I'm not entirely sure that there's very much to seriously enjoy in this episode apart from "Tongue Tied". The whole premise is very silly indeed and largely just enables some fairly twee gags about commonplace gendered things having their genders flipped in terms of name or perhaps appearance. What's the point of it, really? As an exploration of gender roles it gets the job done, but without much subtlety and in a way that isn't particularly deep or compelling, largely as it requires the characters, particularly Rimmer, to acquire personality traits they never possessed previously, in Rimmer's case an interest in "tricks" for getting women interested in him. It all seems rather arbitrary, in this regard, when Rimmer's female counterpart starts aggressively hitting on him. Given that we've never seen Rimmer himself behave this way, it's difficult to see Rimmer in the other Rimmer's actions. It's also not clear why, in this scenario, he falls into the notionally "female" role. By this episode's logic, wouldn't they in fact both be aggressively hitting on each other? I'm not sure the scenario works. It also makes the frilly pink Skutters seem totally out of whack with the rest of the presentation. I'd love to believe that the pink and the frills and the eyelashes and what not were meant to be ironic, but I somehow suspect that it was just laziness and stereotyping.

Obviously the highlight of the episode is "Tongue Tied", which is a catchy tune and an amusing dance number that gives us an entertaining insight into Cat's rather whimsical psyche. I especially like the idea that Lister and Rimmer are his backup dancers; after all, they're the only people he really knows. The lyrics are reasonably funny and the music is memorable. I've always enjoyed it, and it's probably Series II's main contribution to that idea of a "big thing" that makes up the fabric of what we think of when we think "Red Dwarf". Probably the other most decent bit for me is the Holly Hop Drive, which rather pre-emptively takes the piss out of future props, and probably does this to a greater extent than it lampoons props already in use in the show, although perhaps it satirises sci-fi props in general. Lister's incredulous "Is this it?!" reaction to "just a box with 'stop' and 'start' on it" and Rimmer's "We're going to die" are particularly good moments. "The further thought occurs that we haven't actually budged a smegging inch" is another good line from the scene. "Plato invented the plate" is enjoyable too. One of the best gags about the hop drive, however, is unfortunately left on the cutting room floor and can be found in the Deleted Scenes on the Series II DVD set: "That geezer who invented cling film thought he'd come up with something good..."

Probably the most interesting part of the whole episode is Lister and Rimmer's conversation about "dating", as it were, towards the beginning, in which as usual their different characteristics are juxtaposed. I think one issue is that it's difficult to see Rimmer as the kind of person who actually would have the confidence to use corny chat-up lines on women, although the hypnosis thing does evoke his dubious encounter with Yvonne McGruder, as described in Series I and earlier in Series II. Rimmer claims to be "ill at ease with the opposite sex", while Lister says that Rimmer sees women "as some alien species that needs to be conquered with trickery." He adds that "They're not. They're people." One could argue that this statement primarily exists to set up the rest of the episode, as they go on to meet women who are indeed almost the same as them, but I almost feel as if the idea could be explored further. Why is it that Lister's fairly comfortable and experienced with that side of life, while Rimmer is baffled and confused by it? This is why, I think, the sexual aggression of Arlene Rimmer later in the episode doesn't quite work. I think it would be more effective if the script focused more on their inability to communicate with each other, which is probably the funniest part of that whole sequence.

The actors who play the parallel Lister and Rimmer are both effective and reasonably convincing in their roles. The idea of the Dog as opposed to the Cat is funny even if it's rather predictable, but I wish we could see more of what makes him a dog in the way the Cat is a cat. Besides his rubbishy dancing in the already over-long disco scene, there isn't much to it, and that disco scene really does go for too long. We also get Hattie Hayridge's first appearance in the show, this time as Hilly; they ought to have given her some more Holly-esque gags, I think. That would have been better than stuff like baby Skutters and long-winded confused conversations about Lister becoming pregnant. "You're in our universe. Our physical law applies." What? Being in another universe wouldn't spontaneously alter Lister's biology. What an odd excuse. It ties nicely into "Future Echoes", but other than that and the jokes "Come on you red!" and "I'm going to be an uncle!" the last minute pregnancy thing feels a bit pointless. Obviously it's meant to highlight a male cavalier attitude towards pregnancy, I suppose, but it's hard to get much out of it given how daft the whole situation is. There are definitely some good bits in "Parallel Universe" but I hate to say that, from my point of view at least, it's a bit of a fizzer as a final episode of the Series.

Red Dwarf II Episode 5: "Queeg"

Lister gets blown up and Rimmer gets all sweaty. Another of Series II's top episodes, the obvious standout in all of this is the guest role of Charles Augins as the titular antagonist, although there are numerous other good bits, including Rimmer's forced exercises, Chris Barrie impersonating the rest of the cast, Lister's pea on toast, the Porky Roebuck story, and of course the final cavalcade of woofers at the end. In fact there's scarcely a dry moment to be found, apart perhaps from elements of the opening scene, bits of the scene of Lister and Cat cleaning the floor and parts of the chess game, which still facilitate a number of good jokes. It's not the most deep and philosophical episode, and doesn't have a huge amount of sci-fi rumination apart from a joke about the consequences of machine intelligence, but this doesn't matter because the situation is so ripe with potential and the jokes are so strong. In that regard, it may be one of the best "pure comedy" Red Dwarf episodes ever made, if not the best. Even Holly's opening joke in this one, about the "collection of singing potatoes", is one of the funniest they did.

Among the huge number of woofers at hand, I have a number of personal favourites. I like Rimmer's gasped interjections as Queeg forces him to do trunk curls, forcing out a different exclamation each time: "Mummy! Mercy! Help me! Holly and I had this little understanding!" I also like Holly's alternative game suggestions during the chess match, my absolute favourite being "Cluedo? You can be Colonel Mustard?" At the risk of over-explaining the joke, I just find something incredibly amusing about the idea that Colonel Mustard is the "best" character in Cluedo. There are some decent effects bits too, include Rimmer's detached legs and of course the whole "Or was it the yellow cable" explosion, one of the only "action" sequences in the whole of the first two series. Cat's impersonation of Queeg's voice is good, as is his refusal to work: "I got a note from my mummy." I enjoy Rimmer saying that Holly's "not in for a single meal" and the conversation about whether Holly really has an IQ of 6000: "So you want me to prove it, do you?" The Space Scouts salute is amusing, as is Lister's revelation about Inflatable Ingrid: "I've been seeing her behind your back." Notably, the rubber doll would be re-christened "Rachel" in all subsequent appearances.

To be honest, there are even more woofers worth mentioning, so full of funny bits is this episode. Rimmer's comparison of Holly to a "blind old incontinent sheepdog" is good: "Take him out to the barn with a double-barrelled shotgun and blow the mother away." I also like Rimmer's genuine interest in the "shoes have soles" story. Chris Barrie's performance as Queeg is meant to be taking control of Rimmer's body is great, including his unconscious jogging and his amusing appearances running through other scenes. I also like Lister's early story about his geography teacher who "didn't think men were better than machines." I find the joke of Rimmer playing draughts with the Skutter a bit silly, however, particularly the piece with the little 'Rimmer' flag on it, and the "dramatic" chess game montage is a touch dry, but it's all made up for by the final reveal, the nature of which seems like a logical extension of the Norweb joke from Series I. A lot of the best humour in the episode overall derives from Norman Lovett's deadpan delivery of Holly's lines and the casual manner of those lines: "So you like a bit of chess, do you?" Another good example is from the "farewell" scene: "Perhaps not the most efficient computer ever invented, but we had a giggle." In terms of sheer impact, "Queeg never existed. It was me all along," is the line that sticks in my memory from the end.

As a "Holly episode" it's good, although you can easily see why there wasn't much potential for future episodes along those lines. Some of the stuff in "Future Echoes" and the Holly bits of "White Hole" feel like the only other interesting possibilities for the character, really, apart perhaps from Holly acquiring a body and having to experience life outside a monitor screen, or something of that nature. Norman Lovett's very good in this episode, and in general, but the role is clearly limited in terms of what it can do. What's there for him to do besides deliver one-liners and the occasional bit of exposition? Still, this is a top episode with a classic ending. Charles Augins is great as Queeg, conveying a surprisingly large amount; on the one hand he's scary, intense and intimidating, but consider the moment when, for instance, he frankly informs Lister that Rimmer fainted during the run. Queeg's not standoffish or unreasonable; he just enforces rules that are unnecessary and irrelevant in the characters' predicament, and thus reflects what Holly could be if he used his near-absolute power over the ship, and thus over the complete livelihood of the characters, in a less generous and easygoing way. I suppose it could also be said to suggest that, as our lives become more and more dependent on automation, it's equally essential for us to ensure that the intelligence which governs said automation is benevolent, and that in itself is a worrying thought about how we would be willingly making ourselves, effectively, the wards of such intelligences. This makes it a nice little character study for Holly in addition to being one of the standouts of the show's history.

Red Dwarf II Episode 4: "Stasis Leak"

Rimmer takes mushrooms and things get a little bit confusing. Arguably the "best" time travel episode in the show's history, "Stasis Leak" is still not one of the high points of Series II for several reasons: it doesn't have much to say, it doesn't really do anything that "Future Echoes" didn't, and it all feels a bit pointless. It's reasonably funny, but the meandering narrative and general directionlessness of the whole thing make it a bit forgettable. The best bits include Rimmer's conversation with himself and Lister's long rant in the hotel corridor. The final scene isn't bad either. It's nice to see the cast slipping back into their Series I characterisations when playing their past selves, and it's nice to see Mac McDonald return in a couple of scenes. Where's Cat's future counterpart, incidentally?

This episode is also noteworthy as being the last "real" appearance of the original Kochanski, as portrayed by Clare Grogan, who would only appear again as a hallucination in "Psirens" several years later. It's not very clear how her marriage to Lister fits into the timeline. Presumably he doesn't send her off to get radiation-leaked a few weeks later, but Holly identified her as a pile of dust in the drive room, didn't he? Rewatching "The End" recently, I realised that while Holly says she's dead, we never see her remains, conveniently enough. She's not in Rimmer's death video. Did she go back to work after marrying future Lister, thus causing her to have the wedding photograph in her quarters and to be at her station when Lister came to see her in "The End"? Who knows how all this is meant to work. It seems to be half deterministic, representing time travel to the past as fulfilment of events that have technically already happened, and partly seems to imply that time can be changed.

Nonetheless I like the idea of Lister finding the clues to the stasis leak in the photograph and Rimmer's diary. Unfortunately, any significant conflict to be derived from Rimmer and Lister's differing opinions on who should use the stasis booth doesn't really emerge. In any event, it's largely limited by Series II's more mellow characterisation of Rimmer. As it bears out, there's not much to the issue of Kochanski's survival versus Rimmer's survival at all, as Lister's plot is simply him going to Kochanski's quarters and then to the hotel, and Rimmer's is just having a brief chat with his past self in two fairly similar scenes. Nothing more developed or complex, plot-wise, every really takes shape.

Really the best thing to focus on is funny moments, including Rimmer's love poems and Rimmer's admission that he's read Lister's diary as well, even though "it's full of puerile nonsense about Kristine Kochanski." I like future Lister's flippant attitude and smug sense of satisfaction, particularly in his response to Lister's astonished "Where did you come from?": "The bathroom." I also like Lister's joke that Cat is dressed like "a finalist from 'Come Jiving'." The future Rimmer absurdly referring to himself as "the Rimmer from the double double future" is funny, as is Holly's line about how the view through the hole in Lister's pocket reminds him of "Attack of the Killer Gooseberries." There's also another good joke about Lister's rough youth here, as he lost touch with his childhood best friend Duncan after he moved to Spain because of Duncan's dad's job: "it was a bank job he pulled in Purley." On the other hand, I find the opening gag about the hallucinogenic mushrooms a bit weak and I'm not hugely fond of the bit with Hollister in the chicken costume. I also think the lift announcer gag is a bit too Pythonesque and feels slightly out of place. On the other hand, we get Lister's agonised rant about losing women to "total smegheads" who, among other things, "wear turtleneck sweaters and smoke a pipe"; that particular bit of the description is my favourite. This idea seems to be revisited for the "wine bar" gag in "DNA" in Series IV.

It's interesting to note how much colour is imported into "past Red Dwarf" in this episode, including the Series II bunk room decorations and the fact that Rimmer wears an orange coverall rather than the dark grey one he wears in "The End". I also rather like the way the hotel reception is dressed up, with a few simple additions like android staff and a talking suitcase making things just that touch futuristic, within the bounds of budget and possibility, just to make the scene a little more convincing. Nonetheless, the full potential of returning to the past, either to the populated ship or to the solar system at large, isn't really fully explored, and even this early it shows why this kind of time travel doesn't tend to suit Red Dwarf very well.

Red Dwarf II Episode 3: "Thanks For The Memory"

Rimmer eats a sandwich and the woman he loves most in the whole world has her tongue down Lister's ear. An episode which I think has been reappraised in recent years and recognised as a low-key classic, this instalment continues the "Better Than Life" introspection into Rimmer's character and combines it, through a mystery plot, with a rumination upon the question of whether a person is the sum of their memories along with some insights into Lister's nature. We see Lister do something well-intentioned, but ultimately a little extreme, to help a person he's been repeatedly shown to not get along with. On Rimmer's part we discover that, while "Terrorform" would later argue that the dominant aspect of his psyche is self-loathing, the root cause of all of his issues is loneliness.

This is used to enable a long but engrossing "bunk room" scene in which Lister and Rimmer discuss the latter's personal life and attitudes towards people. After drunkenly confessing to have only ever had one sexual experience in his life, and also confessing that he would swap everything he had and hoped to have simply to be loved, Rimmer exposes the core and origin of his issues, which can be readily linked to his remarks about his parents from "Better Than Life". The character is probably at his most sympathetic in this episode, as we perceive his emotional stunting and his feelings of inadequacy and isolation.

Nonetheless, we get some good gags through this scene as well, making the whole section one of the highlights of Series II and of the show in general; the humour and pathos are blended almost perfectly. The triple fried egg chilli chutney sandwich, Rimmer's rapidly-changing reaction to eating it, Holly's "state of the floor" joke and Rimmer's reference to Lister as "Mister Fried Egg Chilli Chutney Sandwich Face" are a set of classics. The drunk acting is convincing, and I like Rimmer's joke about the time simply being "Saturday". The aftermath when they wake up is good too, particularly Rimmer's slow realisation of his drunken confessions exactly replicating what Lister predicted, and Holly's joke about the "A to Z of the entire universe, with street names, post offices and little steeples and everything" deserves a bigger laugh. Rimmer's effort to attribute the broken legs and finished jigsaw to aliens is kind of funny, but I prefer Cat's concluding woofer: "I wouldn't like to be around when one of these suckers is making a speech." I also quite like his reference to Lister and Rimmer as "you chimpanzees."

The major visual highlight of the episode is probably the excellent composite of location footage, model work and matte painting early in the episode to convey the sense of the characters on an alien planet with Blue Midget parked nearby and Red Dwarf orbiting in the background. It's entirely convincing and stands out completely from some of the iffier location work elsewhere in the series and in later series. The hologram projection cage is a pretty unnecessary prop, however. Must be a hell of an effort to get that back onto Blue Midget. Some memorable jokes from that scene include Holly's "ahead, groove factor five" and the gynaecologist joke, even if the setup is pretty laboured. I've always found Lister's "the sausages are done" funny for some reason.

The plot element of Lister giving Rimmer his memory comes about surprisingly easily. Apparently it's just as easy for Lister and the Cat to wipe their memories later. I kind of like how, when Lister modifies his memory for Rimmer, Lise Yates refers to him as "Rimmer" even though in the original memory she referred to Lister as "Dave". Cat's line about blowing up the hologram projection suite is funny. I also like the shots of Rimmer after his memory has been altered, including the dream about him, dressed and acting like Lister, with Lise Yates, and the closeup of him waking up excited and happy. The use of a more upbeat, romantic version of the "character" music used in the observation dome scenes is good too. It's interesting to observe how quickly everything happens by that point, with Rimmer and Lister's discussion of Lise Yates being rapidly followed by the confrontation in which Rimmer learns the truth, the observation dome scene and the burying of the black box. It might feel a bit rushed at points, but it gets the job done. The gravestone sequence, however, is a bit difficult to hear, especially Lister's explanation for why he wants the marker.

The whole idea of memory shaping identity could perhaps be explored a little more. For instance, is Rimmer the hologram technically already shaped by the memories of another person, the flesh-and-blood Rimmer who died in the radiation leak? How does that relate to his being given Lister's memories? We get some good lines as a result of the discovery nonetheless, particularly "You've destroyed me, Lister." It's all rather tragic, as Rimmer himself points out, and it powerfully shows the significant potential conflict between memory and other forms of knowledge. I can't help but feel that Lister comes across as a bit foolish as a result of this, but I suppose that's in keeping with his character; sometimes his desire to do good outweighs his common sense. These elements make "Thanks For The Memory" a true highlight of Red Dwarf's history and cause it to stand out as one of those noteworthy exemplars of the show's potential when humour, strong character writing and an interesting philosophical concept were all borne out in a half hour episode.

Red Dwarf II Episode 2: "Better Than Life"

Lister and Cat indulge their deepest fantasies by having a fancy meal and playing a bit of golf, while Rimmer becomes a gentleman of the road. A clever episode establishing an ongoing interest in the show in virtual reality and, subsequent to "Me2", in further exploring Rimmer's personality, "Better Than Life" is a strong character piece slightly let down by some ineffective location shooting struggling to visualise an over-ambitious script. The mail pod is an interesting device and I like the idea of communication arriving so many millions of years after it was sent. I also enjoy that this is used to reinforce the idea, first set up in "Balance of Power", that the Skutters like cowboy films.

Rimmer's reaction to learning of the death of his father is quite interesting and moving, supported by the composite shot used to realise the observation dome, as well as Howard Goodall's music cue. While I'm not that fond of the joke about Lister struggling to read Rimmer's mother's handwriting, I do like the conversation about his own (adoptive?) father's death and Cat's entrance to deflate the drama. I especially like "I'm so hungry, I just have to eat!" although "I'd prefer chicken" is of course the classic. Some of the jokes in the "Groovy Channel 27" news report are a bit naff, including the Bible one and the "rubber nuclear weapons" gag, although the one about poisoned Perrier water wiping out the middle class is vaguely amusing.

As I've said, the sequences within the Better Than Life game itself are largely let down by the dodgy location work, primarily at the beach in Rhyl. They should have just picked a different location for the characters to appear, somewhere that could be more realistically realised within the bounds of British location shooting. It's almost possible to overlook it until the shot of Marilyn Monroe walking off down the beach, at which point it just looks dirty and miserable. Perhaps something both pleasant and more achievable in England should have replaced the idea of a "beach in paradise", like a forest or garden or something. The restaurant screams "Eighties", but works well enough due to its quasi-Star Wars atmosphere, although a visible ceiling fan in one shot dates it heavily. It might have been better if the characters referenced the bad weather on the beach, which could have been added to the script as an early foreshadowing of how Rimmer's subconscious was tainting the fantasy.

In general, however, one can't help but feel that, locations aside, the script struggles to realise what a fulfilment of the characters' fantasies would be, at least for Lister and the Cat. This was something I must argue was handled more effectively in the novels, and I mean this in a sense that doesn't relate to the practical concerns of television production; purely on a writing level, the television episode possibly falls a bit short. In the novels, Lister's fantasy is a quiet family life, Rimmer's is grandiose success and Cat's is an absurd, impossible dreamland. By contrast, in the episode, Lister and Cat's "fantasy" is pretty basic, just a nice meal and some golf, which doesn't give us too much insight into the characters. Perhaps it's meant to imply that Lister and the Cat are level-headed enough to treat the game as just a game, and use it so simulate a sort of holiday from their normal day-to-day experience, while the needy Rimmer actually tries to experience, artificially, all the things that he genuinely desires in real life, at least until it all goes wrong.

I'm not sure how many woofers there are to enjoy in the episode. Holly's now-unfinishable chess game with Gordon the computer is a funny bit, and as I've said the Skutter's whimsical love of playing cowboys and indians is amusing. "Outland Revenue" is sort of funny, mostly in Chris Barrie's delivery and response, and Craig Charles's performance of the dad story is entertaining, with his embarrassed-sounding "So I thought they'd flushed him down the bog..." being a highlight. Cat, as stated, gets a good gag here, and Rimmer in the game imagining a Reliant Robin is a classic gag. Rimmer's failed joke with the "Officer chummies" and their sycophantic laughter is enjoyable, and as the episode goes on I like how Rimmer becomes more and more of a disgusting hobo, and reverts to being a hologram, as he becomes overwhelmed with insecurity and self-loathing, something explored several years later in "Terrorform". A great piece of dialogue arising from this is Lister's bemused "You fantasised that you had seven kids and a mortgage." The debt collector is a classic character and his surprise appearance at the end is a good way of concluding the episode.

There are definitely plenty of other shonky bits, like Miranda the Mermaid, although Cat's licking joke somewhat redeems this. The reprisal of Marilyn Monroe also seems weirdly pointless. I also think Lister and Cat's descriptions of their "rooms" in the game are not particularly funny. On the other hand, I like that Holly's monitor vehicle appears with a handkerchief on top like a stereotypical English holidaymaker's headgear, but I can't help but wonder if it would have been funnier if Holly had "appeared" in the game as a person in some fashion. Perhaps this would have distracted, ultimately, from the focus on Rimmer, his low self-esteem, self-hatred and superiority-inferiority complex, and the development of his fraught relationship with his parents. This is, as with other Rimmer-centric episodes, the story's strength, as it allows us to feel horrified by the depth and extent of Rimmer's neuroses while also encouraging us to sympathise with and pity him somewhat. It gives us an interesting insight into ideas like intrusive thoughts and how debilitating they can be, shows us how complex people's psyches can be, and encourages us to think about what we allow to shape our personalities and how our own choices intersect with our experiences and the influence of others. I'm inclined to argue that this is an episode that the Remastered Version almost improves on by cutting some of the twee stuff and improving the location shooting where possible, but it makes the serious mistake of altering the observation dome scene both visually and musically, to the detriment of the best scene in the episode, rendering the Remastering flawed in a different and more significant way to the original which, if it had benefited from perhaps slightly more script editing and some more creativity and compromise with location shooting, could have been one of the strongest episodes in the show's history.

Red Dwarf II Episode 1: "Kryten"

The Dwarfers find a legit robot and Cat tries to chat up a skeleton. Series II starts off strongly in my view, with an effective guest character, some surprisingly effective set design, good model work and a number of cracking gags. Probably my favourite joke in the whole thing is when Rimmer walks in wearing his incredibly elaborate dress uniform from "Me2", now with even more trim, and Lister says "You look like Clive of India." I think it's because so much is conveyed in such a simple expression; it's a curry gag, a class gag and a silly comparison all in one, and we instantly know what Lister means. Rimmer's line about being "Captain A.J. Rimmer, space adventurer" is classic, as is the "fear not" bit. We also get Holly's timeless "dog's milk" routine, Lister spray painting his backside and Cat's ludicrous gold space suit. The simple sets for the interior of the Nova 5 are pretty convincing, and I like the use of hanging plants to foreshadow Kryten's garden dreams. The brief glimpse we get of "Androids" is amusing too.
 
I wonder if the audience shouldn't be told that the Nova 5 crew are dead or if the dramatic irony is more effective. This is the cue for some more good woofers, including "I was only away two minutes", "Are you a doctor?" and "My mate Ace here is incredibly, 'credibly brave." I also like the way David Ross delivers the line "What about this one?" which seems to foreshadow "How 'bout a muffin?" from "White Hole". It's interesting to see this set up the nicknames "Bonehead" and "Ace", both of which would obviously be prominent in later series. This episode has a good Holly opening gag, summing up the characters' predicament quite well: "we are alone in a godless, uninhabited, hostile and meaningless universe. Still, you've got to laugh, haven't you?" The Esperanto scene is decent, especially Holly's interjection. Holly gets another good gag when he's wearing a toupee: "Whose head's that then?"
 
Lister's story about art college is good, although the delivery of "in the afternoon" is pretty stagey and heavily signposted. "You can still taste the toothpaste" deserves a bigger laugh. We probably should have got a better shot of Lister's space bike, which is different to his other bike, for the purposes of the ending. It's worth noting that this is the first episode in which Rimmer is shown to have a sense of smell despite being a hologram, as he reacts to Lister's moon boots. The Blue Midget and Nova 5 models are both rather nice, although the composite shot of Cat walking out to the ship in his space suit is obviously pretty dodgy. There are some strong musical cues in the episode as well, including Lister getting ready, the moody music used for shots of the crashed Nova 5, and of course Kryten's cleaning montage.
 
This montage is quite funny, particularly the skutter eye-gouging and Holly's bemused reaction to his screen being cleaned. Another good visual gag in the episode is, when Blue Midget is returning from the Nova 5, Lister slaps the Cat's hand away from a control he needs to operate. The ending of the episode is a bit corny, but works well enough, and Lister's conversation with Kryten shows the characterisation of Lister as a bit of an amateur philosopher emerging. "Some give orders, others obey" is probably Rimmer at his nastiest in the series. I feel that the space bike shot, restored in the remastered version, probably could have been used in broadcast for a slightly better closing. The episode is a good start to the series, being familiar but fresh and showing a bit of a transition for the characters if only the early stages. David Ross's Kryten is enjoyable and there are some big laughs. Nonetheless I'm unsure if this interpretation of the character would have worked for Series III onwards.

Red Dwarf Series II Overview

Despite the maintenance of the submarine-grey sets and beige uniforms, Series II of Red Dwarf is quite a departure from the series that began it all. Series II tends to be driven more by character action rather than specifically character conflict, while still delving into the characters' differing philosophies. Lister is still fairly slobby, but less so, and starts to move towards his "philosophical space bum" role, while Rimmer, despite probably being more neurotic than ever, is less like Lister's aggravatingly petty and pompous boss and more like his slightly sad roommate. Cat feels a bit like "Lister's sidekick", as rather than occasionally showing up he seems to be around more regularly, and the two of them hang out together in "Better Than Life" and "Stasis Leak", and work together in "Queeg". Holly gets some more verbal tics and personality quirks. There's more adventure and an early sense, in episodes like "Kryten" and "Queeg", of the characters as a team rather than individuals with markedly separate agendas.

As such the crew starts leaving Red Dwarf regularly, and this is ably supported by some excellent model work and composite shots, which for the moon visited in "Thanks For The Memory" and for the observation dome on the ship are remarkably effective. Some of the location shooting in "Better Than Life" doesn't really work, but other than that it's generally quite nice to watch despite obvious budgetary limitations. The sets have also been brightened up as much as possible, from screens in the remodelled drive room down to blue paint on the rivets in the sleeping quarters. The obvious standout addition is of course the huge inflatable banana, which draws the eye in Lister and Rimmer's accommodation to the extent that I almost think of Series II as "the one with the banana." Despite the fact that this was apparently just a random piece of set dressing by assistant floor manager Dona DiStefano (who appears as Kochanski in the final scene of "Stasis Leak") I find something whimsically amusing about it within the fiction of the show, as if one decoration Lister and Rimmer could definitely agree upon was having a big inflatable banana by the window. It also seems to tie in nicely with the underlying concept, expressed in the theme song, of longing for an escape to a tropical paradise.

Series II also moves away from Series I's tendency towards having what almost constituted an ongoing plot in order to portray more distinct and self-contained events. Unlike what occasionally happened in Series I, events are generally resolved by the end of the episode, such that the next episode is something largely unrelated. This would similarly set the tone for Series III, and in that regard, despite retaining much of the "look" of Series I and the fact that it's still largely the original four characters, it moves substantially towards the "settled" feel of Red Dwarf for the subsequent few series. Effectively, however, it's something of a halfway house, with episodes exploring the characters, like "Thanks For The Memory", perhaps evoking Series I to an extent, while "sci-fi gimmick of the week" episodes like "Better Than Life" and "Stasis Leak" start to crop up, which would become more commonplace in Series III. Series II is still fairly light on action, but it strikes a fairly good balance in terms of what had been the show's initial strengths, and the strengths that would be developed more fully in later years.

In general, Series II is strong, although I'd argue that "Stasis Leak" and "Parallel Universe" somewhat represent dips in the effectiveness of ideas or fulfilment of the narrative. On the other hand, I would argue that "Kryten", "Thanks For The Memory" and "Queeg" are some of the best episodes in the show's original run. Personally I find that the movement towards a more episodic writing style made the less effective episodes more difficult to disguise, as by contrast I think that Series I, with its very limited cast and sets, feels more consistent across its run than this. Nonetheless, it's natural that with a bit of experimentation and movement away from an established form, as well as the need to produce more stories, there's the chance of elements being hit and miss. It doesn't alter the fact that Series II is definitely one of the overall highlights of Red Dwarf's history.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Red Dwarf III Episode 6: "The Last Day"

Kryten finds out that he's going to die so the others throw a party. In my opinion, this rivals "Marooned" as the strongest episode of Series III. There's some good characterisation for the newest member of the crew, some amusing satire about the purpose and intent of organised religion, and a memorable antagonist at the end. My only significant criticism would be that I think some bits of the party scene are a bit twee or naff (take your pick) and some of the gags in the finale are a touch weak, in addition to a very poor sound mix making a lot of the dialogue in the climax difficult to hear. Other than that I'd say it's a solid episode and a satisfying conclusion for the series.

Obviously the episode delivers a somewhat Marxist attack on organised religion, an "opiate of the masses" type interpretation in which artificial intelligence is duped into serving humans with the promise of a post-life reward, just as the argument goes for the traditional working classes. If you think about it, it doesn't seem terribly necessary. Wouldn't programming be enough to ensure the subservience of intelligent androids? Nonetheless, it also serves as a complementary piece of satire to that explored in "Waiting for God", which largely interpreted religion as one of the many excuses people develop for war and violence. While the parodies of Bible verses raise a slight smirk, the best line has to be Kryten's retort to Lister about "human heaven": "someone just made that up to prevent you all from going nuts."

It's also nice to see Lister caring about Kryten's welfare, much as he did in "Kryten" in Series II and would go on to do in "Camille" and the like. By contrast, Rimmer is typically blasé about the whole thing: "Well it's all very sad, Lister, but what can we do?" His explanation of his parents' religion also allows for some more satire, this time of Biblical literalism. There's also something intrinsically funny about Sunday lunch involving the wearing of "sou'westers and asbestos underpants". The "Lemming Sunday" story is what you'd expect of Rimmer, and "mind that bus, what bus, splat" is a classic line. Chris Barrie also gets a nice, albeit brief, chance to impersonate Kryten with the joke about the "employment of time in a profitless and non-practical way."

I like the scene with the Marilyn Monroe robot, especially the gargantuan foot and "look at the face that comes with the kit." It seems that the possessions of the long-dead Petersen are an endless source of useless junk. The party scene contains some good woofers, although I don't think it starts that well; I find the "special mechanoid menu" to be rather twee, largely, although I like the gift giving. Rimmer's Patton sinus fluid, Cat's hated earring and the lumbering, hastily-assembled robot are all entertaining elements in their own way. The "Jackson Pollock" gag in the drunk conversation is okay, but the highlight is certainly Rimmer telling Lister that he's "forbidden passionfruit" and that there's a possibility that his parents "were brother and sister". He wasn't far off, was he? At least in Doug Naylor's imagination. Cat's "Yeah, on both feet" is an amusing interjection. Rimmer's story about Uncle Frank is pretty weird. If Rimmer fancied Uncle Frank's daughters, wouldn't that mean he fancied his own cousins? Perhaps they were step-cousins or "Uncle" was an affectation. At face value, however, the story is unsettling well before we discover that Uncle Frank "accidentally" molested Rimmer during the night.

The hangover scene and the confrontation with Hudzen round out the episode well. I like Kryten's damage control report, which suggests as its final course of action "replace head", followed Kryten saying "Boy, what a night!" Lister wondering "where the smeg I got this traffic cone" is a top gag too. I'm not as fond of Hudzen karate-chopping a brick in half with his knob, but when he arrives the costume and makeup on Gordon Kennedy are really good, and I think the idea of him becoming deranged after pursuing Kryten for millions of years is clever. The sound effects used to make his movements more mechanical really add to the scene as well, and he has a particularly good line: "You'd better leave an address with your body so I can mail it to your head." Rimmer's threatening speech is good, as is Lister's interruption: "What's he going to do, drop his trousers?" I also like Rimmer's little confused run when Hudzen starts attacking. Some of the sound mixing at this point is really off, such that lines become very garbled, and I'm also not fond of how intimidated Cat is, but Hudzen's final exchanged with Kryten is a classic moment to end the series: "but where would all the calculators go?" I don't know why I find that line so funny. I guess it's the odd singling out of calculators in particular, as if they're some particularly devout device. It's a nice triumphant ending for the series that gives Kryten the character development he needed as a new addition to the cast, establishing him firmly as part of the ensemble with equal footing to the other characters. This is definitely another of the highlights of Series III.

Red Dwarf III Episode 5: "Timeslides"

Kryten accidentally invents an extremely implausible time machine and Rimmer eats a banana and crisp sandwich. "Timeslides" has got to be one of the most peculiar representations of time travel in any show I've seen. Photographs move, playing back the time period they were taken in. If they're projected onto a screen you can walk into them to travel back in time somehow. If the past is changed, sometimes people are aware of it and sometimes they aren't. It's all fairly arbitrary and doesn't make a terrible amount of sense, again tying somewhat into the "gimmick" quotient of Series III along with "Backwards" and "Bodyswap" in which video effects seemed to have a fairly large impact on the plot. The thought occurred to me recently: do the photos just keep showing the time period forever? Do they repeat or does time within them just keep passing indefinitely? If we left Frank Rimmer's wedding photo, for instance, would the guests clear off and normal life resume in the picture? Who knows. How come Holly and Rimmer are aware of Lister changing time, but Lister himself isn't? If Lister never joined Red Dwarf, why would Rimmer's hologram have been activated? How can Rimmer become human but not realise? How can developing fluid "mutate" when it's not a living substance? It's really not worth giving too much thought to. It's also very odd that, despite the fact that physical objects can be removed from the photo, no one tries to bring a person through. Didn't Lister have an old photo of Kochanski somewhere? Didn't Rimmer have one of himself?
The most interesting part of the whole thing is probably Lister's sense of frustration, something that could have been set up more and developed further, especially since it doesn't come up much after this, perhaps not until "Back to Earth" in fact. It seems like a sensible character element that could have been given more attention. This also sets up Lister and Cat's amusing discussion about all of their "ingenious ways of wasting time", the highlight being Lister's description of "unicycle polo": "two grown men on unicycles, belting a beach ball up and down a corridor with French loaves." Cat's cued up applause for the miniature golf is great too, and it's a nice juxtaposition of the attitudes of Lister and Cat; Cat, as a cat, is a comparatively solitary being who seems to be just as capable of enjoying himself alone as he is in company. He doesn't care that he's trapped on a space ship with only four other people. Lister, by contrast, is starting to get worn down by the loneliness, something somewhat implied by what he says in "Marooned" about his guitar. It's a bit of a shame, then, that the episode plumps for the typical "if in doubt, make it be about Rimmer" method, as the episode becomes more or less about him and his efforts to set things right or take Lister's place, such that at the end of the story there's no payoff for Lister at all. Lister, Cat and Kryten just wander out of the photo lab without a backward glance, almost as if they don't know why they're there. Perhaps that's meant to be implied to be the result of all the time-travelling. The gag with Rimmer being human at the end (which causes all sorts of continuity problems of course, but I won't go into that) and then accidentally blowing himself up always seemed like a weirdly Blackadder-y ending to me for some reason. In any event, it gives us the episode's other rather strong scene, Rimmer dropping in on Lister at his mansion in the changed timeline. Robert Addie is particularly good as Gilbert. I get the impression some "fans" object to Ruby Wax as Blaize Falconburger, a part originally intended for Graham Chapman, but I think she actually suits the part well.
I'm not quite enamoured of the "young Lister" and "young Rimmer" scenes, as I think they're both a touch dry. The name "Smeg and the Heads" for Lister's band tends to strike me as a touch self-referential, although Craig Charles's brother Emile is good as the teenage Lister, and I like that in Rimmer's dorm room there's another instance of "Bonehead", the nickname first attested in Series II. Rimmer's reaction to his younger self telling him that he's got extra rugby practice is amusing as well, as it appears to stir up memories of childhood humiliation. The background song "Cash", performed by Craig Charles's band, fits in well. Chris Barrie's turn as elder Rimmer brother Frank in the wedding photograph seems to provide a bit of inspiration for Ace in the voice if nothing else. It's interesting seeing Robert Llewellyn's Kryten in photos that are clearly meant to be from the Nova 5, and the effects work on having the multiple moving photographs while the camera is panning across them is very effectively done. It's also amusing to note Kryten having to develop photographs in a darkroom and listening to music on a cassette tape. Perhaps he's just into vintage technology. One thing I do like is seeing Kryten dancing around a bit and playing air guitar as he develops the photos. It's a nice little bit of background characterisation that I wish we'd seen more of.
The all-time great line from this episode is of course "It's my duty; my duty as a complete and utter bastard", although Rimmer gets some other good ones, including comparing rich Lister's life to "me, with... what I've got" and referring to himself as "old iron balls." The way Gilbert the butler pronounces "fish 'n' chip" as "fish nuh chip" has always tickled me. A good early one is when, by comparison to Rimmer going to school with Thickie Holden, Lister says he went to school with the famous "Charles Keenan", who was famous because he "ate his wife." It's the kind of classic example of the difference between Rimmer and Lister's backgrounds that you don't see enough. It's a bit odd to think that young Lister doesn't know what the H on Rimmer's head stands for, although I suppose you could imagine that holograms hadn't been invented yet back then or he'd never seen one before. I feel like the absurd idea that Hitler had a "banana and crisps" sandwich deserves a bigger laugh. Other than that, I have to say that "Timeslides" might be one of the weaker instalments of Series III. It has some good moments, but at times it feels a bit directionless, the characters aren't really explored in great detail despite the opening, Cat and Kryten have scarcely more to do than they did in "Marooned", and the way the time travel works is all a bit wobbly. Then again, there's always the enjoyment of Cat telling Lister "You can carry your own damn flags!"