Red Dwarf X: Fathers and Suns (2012)

Remember how the Klingons looked like dudes with bushy eyebrows and brown makeup in the original Star Trek series? Now, think about how they turned up in the films and later TV shows completely altered to have forehead ridges and other changes without any explanation. Detail oriented fans must have had a collective aneurysm that day, as one was lead to believe that fans were supposed to think “just pretend they always looked like this”. Fans made all sorts of theories on these discrepancies, books were written, and the producers had to FINALLY take care of the canonical issues in an episode of Star Trek Enterprise. Red Dwarf is different though; it isn’t one of those shows that always attempts to “clean up” instances of bad continuity between episodes, in fact it pretty much revels in it. In fact, there have been some real champion-level shenanigans placed into episodes. Take the Series VII episode “Ouroboros”, where the writers employ a brain killing paradox wherein Lister is revealed to be his own biological father. The episode we are looking at today can be seen as a sequel of sorts to that episode, as we see Lister struggle with the relationship between himself and his father. Confused yet? Good!

The episode opens with Lister filling out a Father’s day card for himself causing Rimmer great annoyance. It seems that every year he gets totally hammered on cheap booze and writes himself the card, this way he forgets what he wrote. Rimmer, in one of his few profound moments, asks why Lister should even like his father, considering he left him abandoned in a pub with only a rattle and a cardboard box. Lister is visibly shaken by this and feels that his son hasn’t lived up to his expectations. After talking with the ship’s medi-bot, a holographic projection of a doctor, he is given the advice to employ “tough love” on his son.

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There are two side plots in the episode, one that is pretty major and one that really isn’t. Getting the small one out of the way first, we have the crew pondering whether the game “Chinese whispers” (called “telephone” here in the U.S.) is racist because it assumes Chinese people can’t spread rumors well. This plot was funny, but completely non-essential to the main storyline. The main secondary plot involved Rimmer and Kryten installing a new computer system to replace Holly. Pree, the new system, is so powerful that it can predict what the crew is going to do. The programming is so good that when asked to fix a number of problems, Pree anticipates that Rimmer would make errors in ordering repairs, and so wreaks havoc on the corridors as he would have unwittingly ordered her to. This escalates as Lister gets drunk and resigns thus rendering their mission “go back to Earth” obsolete  – Pree decides to destroy the ship instead.

The part where Lister resigns was awesome, as it was beautifully written despite the fact that it was literally Craig Charles talking to himself. Taking the “tough love” approach to heart, daddy Lister leaves a video for himself. When he watches it he realizes that he is disgusted with his own behavior – he is lazy and has no motivation. Lister orders himself to take responsibility and enroll in classes on the ship to move up in rank, and to get a tooth pulled that he was been putting off. Lister blows “his dad” off only to find a second message that escalates the situation, then a third, and a fourth. It seems that drunk Lister knew he would not do what he asked and took charge by punishing him via throwing his prized guitar outside and other punishments. Lister replies with “ You don’t understand me, and I hate you”, pretty hilarious if you ask me.

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The jokes were pretty awesome in this episode. While I grew tired of the running “Chinese Whispers” gag, the payoff was pretty good in the end. My favorite gag was easily Rimmer asking Lister “what’s that whining sound?”(referring to a noise the ship was making), with Lister replying “it’s you, you’re talking!” I was worried that the joke style would be more like seasons VII and VIII, where they relied too much on fart humor and randomness, but this is classic Red Dwarf at its best. I think the small budget and the need for more “talky” episodes because of that lent well to the style of this episode being more “old school”.

My only quibble was possibly the characterization of Pree, seeing as there was a similar episode way back in series two involving a back-up computer called “Queeg”. While he wasn’t as harsh as Pree, and was actually just a prank by Holly to make the crew appreciate him, the similarity is there. I guess I should mention that Pree was played by Rebecca Blackstone, a lesser known American actress who seems to be doing some voice work lately. Not only is she “easy on the eyes”, but she does a good job of being cold and robotic in the role. The only other guest actor was “Medi-bot” as portrayed by Kerry Shale. Known for voice work and some minor roles in film and television, he is an actor that I’ve seen before but haven’t seen enough of.

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So there we have it, another solid episode from the cast and crew. One would have thought that would be a little “ring rust” on everyone getting back into the swing of things, but nothing like that seemed evident here. Seeing all these computerized talking heads around the ship like Medibot and Pree made me realize how much I miss the character of Holly, and wish Norman Lovett would bury the hatchet with Doug Naylor and come back. Hell, I’d enjoy a return by Hattie Hayridge even though she only briefly did the role. So there we have it, one of the more complex Red Dwarf episodes – the kind I love!

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I bought this Blu-Ray on Amazon, maybe you should as well!

Fathers and Suns [HD]

Fathers and Suns

Red Dwarf: X [Blu-ray]

Red Dwarf: X

And if you do, use these links, as you are helping this site!

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Red Dwarf: Series 1, Episode 1 “The End” (1988)

This fall is going to be a great time for fans of UK-based science fiction. Not only are we going to have six episodes of Doctor Who just after the Olympics, but there is a new Season of Red Dwarf on the way as well! Since there still is a ton of time left, I figured that I could easily pass it by looking back at some older episodes of Red Dwarf, sort of like a countdown to the new ones. So, without further ado, my review of the pilot episode from the far off time of 1988 – “The End”

When I first watched Red Dwarf, I immediately fell in love with it. My (now) wife had actually seen it on a PBS affiliate, and at the time I was oblivious to it aside from a passing mention. I wasn’t really into my full “anglo-phile” mindset at the time, and didn’t really seek out older shows yet. That all changed in 2004 when I got Netflix and started renting old Doctor Who episodes and Red Dwarf. I loved the idea of a science fiction sitcom, although very few of these cross-genre mergers were any good. Shows like Homeboys from Outer Space and Small Wonder put a bad taste in my mouth, but I was willing to try something new. I was immediately sucked in by this incredibly powerful and somewhat intense introduction:

I actually wish they’d bring a version of this introduction back. I like the more jazzed up one and all, but this is a nice palette cleanser for the hilarity about to ensue. I know some would say that “it doesn’t fit the show”, but I still love it, and that’s all that matters to me.

From the very beginning of the first episode we learn the dynamic between the two main characters –Lister and Rimmer inside and out. Lister is the lowest ranking guy on the ship, and a total slacker. His main goal is to simply collect a paycheck until he can retire to Fiji and start a farm. He’s all about having fun, and has no interest in his work. To foil this, his direct superior Rimmer (the second lowest ranking guy on the ship) is a self-righteous know-it-all with a severe inferiority complex. He always strives to become an officer on Red Dwarf, but ruins his chances with his manic nature, poor people skills, and sheer arrogance. This “odd couple” motif has been done countless times, but rarely is it done in such a humorous way as we see it here.

The thing that truly stands out with this show is the characters themselves. We might be used to seeing the exploits of all the highest ranking officers on serious shows such as Star Trek, but imagine an entire program consisting of “red shirts”. And not just plain “red shirts” but the ones that aren’t even cool enough to go on away missions and get their faces eaten by aliens. Focusing on characters that are destined to fight, screw around, and do nothing of any real importance whilst trying to get back to Earth basically writes itself. We see other characters in the beginning like Captain Hollister, but they won’t matter for too long, as they all die within minutes of the opening credits.

This is where the show gets fun. Lister gets in trouble for smuggling a pregnant cat named Frankenstein into his sleeping quarters on the ship. This is against regulation, and he is sentenced to stasis – a choice he made rather than giving up his pet. Lister’s job was to work on food replicators, and ironically, one messed up royally while he was unable to fix it. Rimmer tried to fix it, but Rimmer is Rimmer, and he messes it up even more. The entire ship went through a huge dose of nuclear radiation – killing everyone on board except Lister and Frankenstein, who was safe in the cargo bay. Three million years later, Holly (the ship’s computer system) informs Dave of some shocking news:

“They’re Dead, Dave….Everybody is dead, Dave.”

To fill this cast out, Lister is joined by other rejects, we have a holographic version of Rimmer, the person that the ships computer feels was Lister’s closest friend, a human-like creature that evolved from his stow-away cat simply named “The Cat”, and the ship’s computer itself, driven mad for the last few million years. Credits roll, and that’s why we kick off history folks! If you haven’t seen this show, and don’t mind special effects that are 2 decades old, I would definitely recommend checking it out. Currently you can watch it for free on Amazon Instant Video, if you happen to have an Amazon Prime subscription, or you can rent it on Netflix. The episodes used to be available on Netflix streaming, but they let the videos lapse for some reason.

Join me soon, for a look at episode 2!

DVD Review – Red Dwarf: Back to Earth

“Red Dwarf is one of those shows that you are either going to love or hate. If you like your sci-fi bleak and dark like the fad seems to be these days, you may not like Red Dwarf as it pokes fun at itself at every turn. “

The Boys are back…

Red Dwarf is one of those shows that you are either going to love or hate.  If you like your sci-fi bleak and dark like the fad seems to be these days, you may not like Red Dwarf as it pokes fun at itself at every turn.  Much Like the Hitchhiker’s Guide series, Red Dwarf likes to be as self-referential as possible and generally mock other sci-fi tropes.  Things like unnecessarily complex time travel situations, parallel universes, and genetically engineered monsters are all par for the course.  When I had heard that we would see more Red Dwarf after such a long hiatus, I was ecstatic as I have been a huge fan of the show for quite a while.  But was ten years too long to wait?

When we last left the crew of the mighty mining vessel Red Dwarf, things weren’t going so well.  Rimmer was about to die, and the rest of the crew was stuck in a parallel universe as the titular ship smoldered to a crisp.  With an unresolved cliffhanger like that, pretty much anything would be hard to follow up, especially after such a large break.  The producers and Writers of Red Dwarf came up with something ingenious and in tone with the show, by having a “missing season” thus, not actually resolving anything at all.  Many questions persist at the beginning of Back to Earth like: Why did Ace Rimmer go back to the Dwarf, and re-join the crew as Arnold Rimmer?  What Happened to Kochanski?  I guess we’ll never know, and that makes me chuckle.  With a show that had a main character turn out to be his own father and other such shenanigans, what more would I expect.

New Tension emerges between Sophie Winkleman‘s new science officer character and Rimmer

The story of Back to Earth takes place some nine years after we last left the crew.  Everyone is back aside from two notable exceptions.  Holly, the deranged ship computer (played by Norman Lovett or Hattie Hayridge respectively) has gone out of commission after Dave Lister, the show’s main character, left a bath running for nine years which fried Holly’s electronics.   Kristine Kochanski, the shows on-again and off-again love interest for Dave is dead, and Dave has matured from the experience.

After a run-in with a sea monster that had stowed away in the ship’s water supply, a hologram other than Rimmer appears claiming that Rimmer has put the crew’s lives in danger for the last time, and his holographic life is to be decommissioned.  She also decides that Lister needs to find a mate, and orchestrates a dimensional jump to take Lister Back to Earth.  Earth is not all it is bargained for, as the crew finds out that they are from a parallel dimension and are in fact, characters in a TV show called Red Dwarf.

On a storyline basis, Back to earth is a really good aside from a large stylistic change.  Rather than the joke a minute tone of older seasons, there are a few somber moments where Lister is on the brink of sadness due to his diminished status as a fictional character.  Aside from the drama, we also see home old-school sci-fi action, in the guise of homage to the film Blade Runner.  A few scenes were either directly or indirectly based on scenes from the popular Harrison Ford film, all the way down to costuming.  While these stylistic changes seem a bit in contrast to the show’s normal format, but work in the context of this special.

Carbug is definitely a silly addition, here’s hoping it stays on, if more episodes are made.

On the technical side, Red dwarf has never looked so good.  While shot on a shoe-string budget, the show has never had such well utilized computer generated effects, and other touches, and a lot of that has to do with the new HD camera that the crew used during the filming.  During the making of segment at the end of the disk, we were shown how a few shots were done using this new camera system, and it was truly awesome.

All In all, Back to earth was a good episode, but I would recommend it as a feature length viewing session.  Split up into three parts, the story structure seems to front loaded with jokes and padded in the middle with drama.  As a movie, which is what I believe the original intention to be, this series really shines, and may usher in a complete re-birth of the show if rumors hold any water.

Here is a trailer, that shows a bit of the Blade Runner parody:

My Score: 4.5/5