Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Red Dwarf VI Episode 3: "Gunmen of the Apocalypse"

The Dwarfers all put on cowboy hats and it's a huge success. "Gunmen of the Apocalypse" more or less encapsulates Series VI: it's an entertaining blend of action and comedy without having a particularly large amount to say about anything especially insightful and it somewhat rushes through two different narrative concepts in the space of a single episode: firstly a plot about the Dwarfers fighting simulants and then one about them going into Kryten's head as cowboys. It's also noteworthy for re-establishing virtual reality, after "Better Than Life", as a source of unusual settings, something that would be done to death in Series VII. It also firmly established the nature and back story of simulants, the show's subsequent go-to for serious dangerous villains.

It's possible that, as tends to be the way with Series VI, "Gunmen" tries to do too much in half an hour, and that the cowboy section as such is rushed, but it's also worth considering that it might have become annoying if it'd gone for much longer. The storyline is also used in Rob Grant's solo Red Dwarf novel, Backwards, in far greater detail. Due to the gaps between DVD releases in the 2000s, I actually read this novel before I watched the episode, and I was surprised at how breezy it all is on TV, as in literary form it's a lot more drawn out. Grant's novel is a lot more harsh than the episode as well; several of the main characters die.
The simulant ship is a nice model and the crew are well-costumed, although the secondary eyebrows are rather peculiar. I personally love the "Vindaloovian Empire" joke, my favourite bit being when Lister, for no particular reason, licks the eyeball on his chin after speaking. The "Armageddon Virus" seems like an effort to be tech-savvy in an increasingly computerised decade, but the explanation of how Kryten intends to deal with it is a bit vague, and the whole thing is rendered in terms of analogy, which is a bit "magical" in a way similar to some Series V episodes. It's not clear that Kryten's actually doing anything to combat the virus in the time up to the implementation of the "dove program"; it's not especially apparent how the problem is resolved unless sobering up Kryten in the dream constitutes helping him solve the problem.
That being said, Laredo is obviously a good find for location filming and, despite the fact that it's clearly in the middle of the muddy English countryside, the shooting evidently benefits from the dedication of the Wild West enthusiasts responsible for the site. This episode, like "Out of Time", seems to be trying to establish a sort of catch phrase for Rimmer: "marvellous". Cat is spot on as the Riviera Kid, with a very snazzy Mexican costume, and I personally find his little dance amusing. The biggest woofer in the whole thing probably comes when Kryten's knocked down by the town sign. Check out the cast commentary and Series VI documentary for Craig Charles's complaints about being given the "knife man" character, which he apparently thinks was the worst option. I wonder why there wasn't a lasso character. I don't much associate knife throwing with the Wild West, but I'm not actually sure I've ever seen a Western, come to think of it.
As usual, Rimmer gets a lot of the best dialogue, including "Sorry, what were the choices again?" and "There's been a bit of a cock-up in the bravado department." The joke about the escape pod is entertaining too: "to cut a long story short, it's me." In terms of standout lines, however, the best overall might be when Cat asks if there's "some gizmo" that can let them enter Kryten's dreams, "and if not, why not?!" It was only recently that I figured out the meaning of "faster than a toilet stop in rattlesnake country". The whole confrontation with the Apocalypse Boys doesn't make a great deal of sense, but I suppose it's just an excuse for a cowboy episode. The model work featuring Starbug plunging into the lava and then bursting out again is top quality, and the lava itself is pretty convincing. "Gunmen" is an entertaining and visually pleasing episode with some good jokes and really only one from the formula, the "all nations agreement", but if I'm going to be completely honest I'm not sure what made it so wildly popular in its day by comparison to any other decent episode of this period in the show's history.

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