A Television show by the BBC
When it comes to Red Dwarf, there are definite times where the show is very silly, and there are others where the writers hit a bit of philosophical brilliance you don’t see too often in comedic science fiction shows. 1988’s Waiting for God is one such episode as it lampoons organized religion for all of the inherent issues it has, and simultaneously does a bit of world building for a character that up to this point has merely existed as a walking punchline. I enjoyed this episode because it doesn’t do the typical malicious attack on religion that a lot of science fiction does, instead opting for an almost sentimental, albeit sarcastic, “lampshading” of some of the worst parts of it.
“Holly, the ship’s computer, recovers a strange unidentified pod floating in the frozen wastes of Deep Space. Rimmer is convinced it contains the remains of a long-dead alien warrior, and immediately begins a scientific investigation to decipher the pod’s hieroglyphics. Meanwhile, Lister’s rather mundane day perks up a little when he discovers he is a God.”
The “main story” is about Rimmer becoming obsessed with a piece of space debris collected that he mistakenly assumes is some sort of alien pod when it is in fact a trash pod from Red Dwarf itself. Arnold Rimmer, whether through jealousy or hyper-focus on the trash pod, comes across as a douche in this episode, yelling at Lister a couple of times for no real reason. I was not a huge fan of this part to be quite honest. The “meat and potatoes” of the episode involves Lister coming across a series of books in Cat’s possession that turn out to be holy books about Lister himself. This half of the episode was great.
It seems that during the million years of Lister’s cryogenic imprisonment, a race of cats developed in one of the storage compartments, to which the character “Cat” is evolved from. The originator of this race was the very same cat Lister smuggled onto the ship, named Frankenstein. She was pregnant and apparently passed down stories of Lister’s exploits and his unfortunate “demise”. These got written down at some point, and mutated into a strange religion that wasn’t quite correct.
It appears that Lister has become the God “Cloister” and it somewhat upsets him when he weight of such information. It seems “Cat” is not the only of his kind on the ship, and a blind priest has been left behind after all of the other cats fled. Cat is the descendant of a notably stupid cat, thus the reason he was also left behind. Lister is upset when he learns that the cats tried to follow his plan to travel to Fiji and set up a diner, but nobody could agree to the finer details of the scripture and resorted to violence.
He feels immense guilt for this, and feels responsible for genocides done in his name. There was a great number of “Cat Wars” over the petty issue of what color hats the employees would wear, which wiped most of the species out over the years. The survivors left Red Dwarf in mighty ships referred to as Cat Arks, never to be seen again. Lister takes on the role of “Cloister” to comfort the terminally ill blind priest and let him know he did not waste his life following a false religion.
This episode is a bit uneven, somewhat talky, and less humorous than some others, however the parts with Cat and Lister are some of the best bits in series one for me. I like the idea of the origin of religion being a story misconstrued as the years go by, and one can imagine that pretty much every world religion is a similar idea. It reminds me of The Simpsons episode where Lisa Simpson accidentally creates life that sees her as a God, and eventually wipes themselves out in her name. It’s an interesting take on the origins of religion and points out the frivolous nonsense that has sparked billions of deaths for thousands of years.
It’s after this episode that Cat finally starts getting a bit more characterization rather than just showing up, saying a zany one liner, then disappearing into one of his many hideaways.
I have not watched it yet, but I am happy to note that the most recent series of Red Dwarf, The Promised Land, is a direct sequel to this episode. It picks up when one of those very same “Cat Arks” comes face to face with the crew of Red Dwarf. I will try to watch that pretty soon as I am behind on it, as well as a ton of other things I have slipped on. stay tuned for more Red Dwarf reviews, as I slowly try to get through as many episodes as I can.