REVIEW: Red Dwarf: Series 1, Episode 3 “Balance of Power” (1988)

A Television show by the BBC

You might have thought I forgot about my promise to keep watching Red Dwarf, but good news – I’m right here with yet another episode review! When we last left the crew of the mining ship Red Dwarf, some timey wimey hijinks was going on, however today’s episode is a bit less crazy. When we open, Dave Lister is absolutely sick and tired of Rimmer lording his power over him. Rimmer was only one miniscule rank ahead of Lister before the accident, now he is acting like a five star general on the ship. When Lister refuses to help him count and audit all of the ship’s food supplies (which sounds painfully boring), Rimmer does the unthinkable by hiding the ship’s cigarette supply away. Rimmer has basically declared war, and Lister knows the perfect way to put an end to it: by becoming an officer himself.

“Rimmer encounters his most dangerous blood chilling challenge ever – Lister is taking the chef’s exam. If Lister passes he will hold sufficient rank to have Rimmer replaced as the ship’s hologram. Just how low will the universe’s most obnoxious dead man stoop to stop him?”

As the series moves on, episode three really sets the tone for the relationship between Dave Lister and Arnold Rimmer here, at least for the time being. Lister isn’t a fan of Rimmer in the slightest. He states that he was the most unpopular guy on the entirety of Red Dwarf, and was so sad that he had to plan his own surprise birthday parties. Holly tells Lister that Rimmer was chosen in order to keep him sane, fearing that somebody he saw as a “buddy” would eventually lead him down the wrong path. We even see a bit of a flashback where Lister is very drunk and acting like a buffoon instead of finishing his work, something that would likely continue if anyone but Rimmer were onboard. Honestly, it’s the sort of behavior that caused his sentence in cryolock and the accident as a result.

On the flip-side, Rimmer needs Lister because he has an authority complex, and Lister is basically the one person he had some kind of authority over in his past life. Being a loser himself, but thinking himself leadership destined, Rimmer would succumb to the depths of hologram depression without him. The big problem is that a deal has been made regarding Lister taking a chef’s exam – if successful, Rimmer has agreed that he will allow Holly to swap the hologram to Kris Kochanski, a woman Lister had a crush on in the past. Rimmer is afraid Lister will keep the hologram that way afterwards, which obviously worries him.

Kochanski is played by Clare Grogan, who is also the lead singer of the 1980s new wave music group Altered Images. Honestly, we don’t see Clare do the role very much in the show at all, and when we do she’s kind of a bit too over the top for me. I actually prefer the later version of the character, as played by Chloë Annett. We almost think we see her actually appear to Lister, only to start bad-mouthing him and speaking in a familiar manner. This is actually Rimmer in disguise, which is somewhat creepy. He accidentally gives it away by trying to explain “her” behavior as due to “having a woman’s period”.

Cat is still somewhat one-dimensional here, obsessing over how nice he looks and generally acting as comic relief. As the show progresses he gets more of a fleshed out character, but it takes a bit of time. The big joke here is that Rimmer shows him how to use the food replicator, and without even the smallest iota of self-control, Cat eats so much that he makes himself sick. That’s about all we get here for him. I suppose he is needed here, as an episode like this is a tad dramatic despite the jokes. With Lister threatening to upend the power structure of the ship, it puts Rimmer on edge and perhaps shows him that he can’t get away with acting like a complete jerk all the time. Nothing comes particularly heavy, but the tension is there.

Overall, not much happens here, but it is a good set up for future episodes. We get some valuable character development for both Lister and Rimmer, but not much else. Once Cat becomes a bit more three dimensional he’s a lot better, but here he is used almost like a Jar Jar Binks sort of character which gets tiresome sometimes. Overall, solid episode if nothing spectacular.

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