Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Red Dwarf VI Episode 1: "Psirens"

Red Dwarf is lost and Lister kisses a dung beetle. It's interesting to observe that this episode seeks to reintroduce the audience to the characters. It first aired nearly two years after Series V, so I suppose that's somewhat understandable, particularly in those days, and I'm sure the show was always eager to pick up new viewers and bring them comfortably into the fold. Lister's introduction with a wild mane of hair and comedy fingernails and toenails is an amusing opening, and I particularly appreciate his "Who the hell are you?" introspection at the opening, a nicely sombre complement to the grotesquely funny sight of him trimming his claws in the pencil sharpener. Why on earth would Starbug have a desk-mounted pencil sharpener? Must have been built by those Russians in that urban legend who didn't use pens in space.

This episode runs the full gamut of the Series VI formula jokes: "Do I have a head like an amusing ice cube?" "There's a Cat proverb..." "We're deader than corduroy." "Space Corps Directive 1742." "Head like a genetically flawed lumpfish." There are also three unrelated "X like Y" jokes and the same number of "More X than Y" jokes. Some of these are at least reasonably funny, including "bigger than King Kong's first dump of the day" and "our innards will be turned inside out quicker than a pair of Lister's old underpants"; this second one is greatly enhanced by Chris Barrie's rapid-fire delivery of the line. "Hook, line, sinker, rod and copy of 'Angling Times', sir," is a great gag, as is "Someone who badly needed a pen" and "It probably just plopped out", all enhanced similarly by Robert Llewellyn, Craig Charles and Chris Barrie's spot-on performances. "Smug mode" is also entertaining and I like the Cat's description of Red Dwarf as "a gigantic red trash can with no brakes and three million years on the clock."

There's some cracking model work in this one, setting the standard for the rest of the series. While Starbug striking the giant flaming meteorite isn't entirely successful, the shots of the spaceship graveyard and Starbug crashing onto the asteroid are very nice indeed, and the forced perspective shot making a full-size Starbug appear to have one of its legs buried in rock is pretty much entirely convincing. The Psiren costume is a big step up from some of the slightly ropey creatures of prior series, such as the polymorph and the curry monster, as well. Crushed Kryten doesn't look much like he's actually made of Kryten (more like foil and duct tape) but you can probably excuse that by imagining some other garbage got mixed in.

A noteworthy element of this is the last (as far as we know) appearance of Clare Grogan as the original Kochanski. It's a bit of an odd cameo, coming five years after the character's previous appearance, in Series II's "Stasis Leak". As the method of persuasion the Psirens would try to lure Lister, however, it makes sense. It also sets up a good Rimmer line: "Lister, tune into Sanity FM." Perhaps the best element from a sci-fi point of view, and one of the show's best cameos, is Jenny Agutter as Professor Mamet (or at least the illusion of her) forcing Kryten into the waste disposal. "Psirens" is a decent episode with some memorable lines and moments, but it feels like it would work better as the opening instalment of a much longer story than a six-episode series of Red Dwarf, especially as the narrative it sets up isn't resolved by the end of the series.

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