Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Red Dwarf VII Episode 2: "Stoke Me a Clipper"

Ace Rimmer returns and Rimmer Rimmer leaves. I honestly don't like this episode that much, although I know it's fondly regarded by some. It's not a terrible way of writing Rimmer out of the show; I just don't find it that funny. The opening sequence with Ace fighting the Nazis is obviously entertaining in how cheesy and exaggerated it is, but it almost feels more like a parody of the original Ace character. Again, there's obviously the excuse that it's not the same Ace, but it's possibly just a bit too ropey to look deliberately naff (something I think Doug Naylor points out in the Series VII documentary). Upon rewatching, the bit that made me laugh the most in this sequence was the bit where one German soldier says to another "That was Ace Rimmer! We're lucky to be alive!" and then a big rubber crocodile falls on top of them.

The sequence of Lister going into the virtual reality game to get his jollies feels very much like a repetition of the opening of "Gunmen of the Apocalypse", even if the "cheat code" element provides a slight spin on it. I also don't get why Kryten needs to be with him in the game; essentially it means Lister is fine with having Kryten in the room with him while he pleasures himself, which is pretty weird when you think about it. It also sets up the bizarre moment later in the episode in which Lister tells Cat and Kryten that "one of them knights has escaped from the AR Unit". What the hell does he mean? The AR characters only exist in the heads of people plugged into the game; it's not like the Holodeck in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Maybe Cat wouldn't notice this (or care) but wouldn't Kryten question it? Again, I know I'm overthinking it, but that's what happens with these episodes.

Overall, though, the way of writing out Rimmer doesn't really make sense if I think about it. As I stated in the Overview, the whole point of "Dimension Jump" was to show how small decisions could produce radically different people. "Stoke me a Clipper" basically says "no, that doesn't matter"; Ace even says that it's Rimmer's "destiny" to become the new Ace. Apparently he's competent enough after shooting a fake knight and sitting in the AR machine for a few minutes. This might be fine if any of it was funny, but it's not. It's just daft. It would have made more sense if Rimmer had to sacrifice himself in some way, but obviously they didn't want to close all doors on the character. To be honest, perhaps they were between a rock and a hard place here. This is why I think they should have done something that meant, like, Rimmer's light bee was disabled and they couldn't repair it until they got back to Red Dwarf or something. Doug Naylor even says in the documentary for Series VII that he didn't want to recast Rimmer (I find it highly unlikely that this option was ever seriously considered) because he wanted room to bring Chris Barrie back into the role for the film he wanted to make if nothing else. If he was trying to keep the character's options open, a sacrifice which incapacitated the character would surely have been enough.

I'm not entirely sure how many more funny things happen in this episode; it's possibly a bit funnier with cast commentary on the DVD than it is on its own. The bit where all the Ace coffins form the ring around the planet is kind of nice I suppose, although graphically it looks weak, and the episode has some nice music; I also kind of like how Rimmer and Lister hug before he leaves, but it's all a bit implausible given Rimmer's characterisation. I suppose the fact was they didn't know if Chris Barrie was leaving permanently or not (thank God he wasn't) and so didn't want to write him out in some offhand way. Possibly the best other funny bit in the episode is when Lister and Kryten burst into the cockpit when Ace's ship appears and Rimmer casually says "'Morning," as he and Cat put out the fires around them. This episode also features the series' first of two jokes about nuns: "Your brain moves faster than a nun's first curry." The funeral scene just involves rehashing a bunch of jokes from old episodes; probably the only bit that's funny is when Rimmer (as Ace) refers to himself as "Iron balls". You know what, bugger it. At one point I would have been inclined to say that "Stoke me a Clipper" is an okay episode, but it's not. It's bollocks. There is too much revisiting of stuff from old episodes, the way it writes out Rimmer is complete nonsense, and it isn't funny.

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