Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Red Dwarf VII Episode 1: "Tikka to Ride"

Lister's time-travelling quest for curry almost unravels the course of history. Probably the most glaring thing about this episode, as many have noted, is that the time drive of Series VI's "Out of Time" now works in a manner completely contrary to its original function: it now travels through space and time rather than just time. As such, Lister is able to request Kryten (or at least Spare Head 2) to transport them to London in the 23rd century. Despite the fact that this goes wrong, why doesn't Lister just ask Kryten to take them back to Earth in their own time period instantly? The only vaguely plausible option is that Lister's still meant to be trying to follow what happened way back in "Stasis Leak" in Series II but the idea is pretty risible. Really it's quite apparent that they just wanted to do an episode about the Dwarfers being responsible for the assassination of JFK, which is fine, but they could have done it in a way which created fewer plot holes; they could, for instance, like in "Backwards", have gone through a wormhole or something.

I'm obviously suffering from the nerd's failing here of taking a silly sitcom too seriously and prioritising the sci-fi over the comedy, but I can't help but feel that a show in which the entire premise is that the characters are stuck three million years into deep space probably shouldn't have episodes where they just "pop over to Earth" and then "pop back to deep space" again willy-nilly. Maybe if you want to make a show about the JFK assassination, do it in something other than Red Dwarf. The whole concept is too "Doctor Who" for me. I like (classic) Doctor Who, but it's a different show to this.

Nonetheless, "Tikka To Ride" has its moments, such as Spare Head 2's behaviour; "just call me badass" is a favourite line of mine, as is Lister's later reprimand "you don't say 'bet your ass'." A couple of other good ones are "The laws of time and space? Who gives a smeg?" and of course "You've brought the twentieth century to the very brink of extinction. Gum?" The shot in which the four of them are pulled on the rope as Lee Harvey Oswald falls out the window is a classic example of hammy Red Dwarf visual comedy as well. Probably the strongest joke, however, comes early in the episode when Rimmer tells Lister that, in tribute to the lost curries, he proposes they have "a minute's flatulence." Nonetheless, the show takes Lister's curry fixation to ludicrous levels, with him describing himself as a "curry-aholic".

The location filming on the air base to represent 1960s Texas is well-chosen, well-shot and convincing, but I think it suffers a little from a lack of establishing shots. I also still don't really understand why they need JFK to assassinate himself, but I'm sure Doug Naylor could explain it. The ending's okay as well, as the bit in which Rimmer throws Lister to the ground and he, the Cat and Kryten proceed to beat the shit out of him for all the trouble he's caused is funny because it's so over the top, even though it feels rather farcical compared with the show's more common reliance on verbal humour. The scene in which the Cat and Lister discover they've been eating the cooked remains of the dead man is kind of funny and bears mentioning, but Kryten's remark that they're "picking on the chickens" doesn't really work in my view. Incidentally, this episode seems to establish a curious idea that in his hard-light form Rimmer doesn't eat solid food; he's always seen drinking soup. I wonder what the point of that was meant to be; he's shown eating hologrammatic food elsewhere, and "Legion" makes a point of the fact that he can now eat normally (although how that's meant to work I couldn't tell you).

It's worth noting that the DVD has an "extended" version of the episode, originally released on VHS, adding a few extra gags and an epilogue sequence in which Lister discovers that the curries disappeared because he stole them himself from the past using the time drive. It's completely pointless and you can see that it was only filmed to make the home release of the episode a bit more appealing. Oddly, this was filmed at the end of Series VII shooting, after Chris Barrie had decided to come back to the show. He wasn't gone long, was he? They may as well have filmed a few inserts for the rest of the series with him showing up on monitors saying "All right Listy, this whole Ace lark isn't working out; I'll be back in a bit."

In general, while "Tikka to Ride" has some funny moments, I don't think the core concept is a good fit in Red Dwarf, I don't like the way it turns Lister into a curry-obsessed caricature, and I don't like the way it resolves the cliffhanger from "Out of Time" purely to make a silly prop gag about cameras exploding because they're confused by explanations of time paradoxes. I honestly feel like a few things that made the show good were simply forgotten when it came to writing this one.

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