Friday, August 26, 2016

Red Dwarf X Episode 1: "Trojan"

Rimmer is reunited with his brother Howard and Lister buys a Stirmaster™. I personally thought that this was a very strong series opener. A Rimmer-centric narrative is always a reliable proposition for Red Dwarf, and this is no exception. It's an amusing concept at its core; Rimmer gets the others to help him pretend he's the captain of a high-tech "quantum twister" so that when they rescue his brother Howard he believes Rimmer is his equal. The "Lister wants a Stirmaster" aspect is less funny but has its moments, although I listened to a podcast from major Red Dwarf fansite "Ganymede and Titan" recently that pointed out that Doug Naylor seems to be confusing phone shopping, which would want to get the customer's money as quickly as possible, with tech support and other phone help lines, which have a reputation for being bureaucratic and inefficient. It'd probably make more sense if Lister had received a faulty product from All-Droid and then was trying to get help with it.

If I had any quibbles with "Trojan" they'd be plot and setting related ones, which are a bit vague. Where did Howard's ship come from? I think the implication of Kryten's question "Did the rod do this?!?" is meant to suggest that it was pulled through time and space somehow, but it's not very clear. Furthermore, why is Howard also a hologram, especially if, as the episode ultimately reveals, he's just a repair technician? It makes sense for Rimmer because there's no other crew and he's meant to keep Lister sane, but if Howard's from the past and is so low-ranked, why would he be brought back? Perhaps he was the only person who died and therefore could be resurrected? I'm overthinking this obviously but that's the pitfall of being a huge nerd. In that regard, it's actually possible to slot this neatly into series continuity. Howard says he thought Rimmer "went down" with Red Dwarf; Crawford is part of the crew of Columbus 3; Kryten has known about simulants and their history since Series IV and VI, and Kryten was created a fair while after the Red Dwarf accident. Thus we can imagine that Howard and Crawford come from the time after Red Dwarf was lost but before the Simulant program was discontinued. It's presumably also from after Legion invented hard-light hologram projection. Getting past the nerdy elements, the Trojan set is also pretty pleasing; I like the side teleporters and the elevated Captain's chair, an obvious dig at Star Trek.

What about the Stirmaster thing? This is used as a vehicle for a lot of jokes in which characters say one thing but then immediately do the opposite, such as when Lister and Cat instantly change their minds about wanting a Stirmaster and when Kryten, offering a voice of reason, immediately loses his temper at the droid operator. The "would you like to make a complaint about being put on hold all the time? Please hold," bit is funny, as is the inevitable bit when they hang up the phone. Ultimately, however, the main plot is a greater source of humour. Something I think deserves more of a response from the audience is when they're showing Howard and Crawford around the ship and Rimmer says "This is a corridor; windows of course..." It reminds me of another show in which someone delays showing someone else around a house by obsessing over a light switch (not to be confused with Rimmer's attempt to praise Legion's light switch). I also like all of Rimmer's different nicknames for Howard: Howie, Howster and Howdy-doody.

It's a big laugh when Cat walks past with the Trojan map while Crawford is holding the rest of them at gunpoint, although I think the episode could perhaps have better established why Cat is wandering around the ship at that time (he got lost looking for a felt tip pen). I also like the gag at the end when the onboard computer recommends that Red Dwarf be renamed the "SS Howard Rimmer". The "Touch T" joke works well too, especially Howard's plummy "That's amazing," response to it. I'm not sure how effective the moose jokes are across the board, although I notice references to mooses occur surprisingly often in Red Dwarf; Holly refers to Rimmer as "moose brain" in "White Hole", for instance, and in "Ouroboros" Rimmer says that Lister's ideal woman would have a laugh like "a freshly wounded moose strapped to a cement mixer." I feel like Lister's line about "antlers out the sunroof" deserves a bigger laugh, and Cat's pre-empting of Rimmer's moose question is funny. I just think its insertion into the episode is a bit forced. Speaking of which, how many times does Lister go barging into Petersen's quarters? I also think the pig racing thing at the start is a bit daft, and the line "sometimes you have to learn how to lose before you're ready to win" is repeated a few too many times. Nonetheless, Rimmer's sinking down when he presses the wrong button (which was actually just Chris Barrie crouching without a chair) and Kryten erasing his own memory and then looking around in bewilderment are smashing physical gags that make up for anything like this by far.

I think Rimmer's "No, we just hosed him down and gave him a hat" line could have been a little funnier if it had been "Well, we hosed him down and gave him a hat" or something like that instead. The bit when they all lean over to pretend the ship is turning is amusing, as is Rimmer's exclamation "Just do it!" setting up this joke. Obviously, Howard's "you were an utter twat" is a big laugh too. Mark Dexter's guest performance as Howard is very well-realised and memorable. In general, it's a funny episode that re-establishes a lot of the show's premises, like holograms, simulants and Rimmer's family history quickly and smoothly. The shot of the four Dwarfers walking down the corridor in Star Trek style uniforms is funny, as is the model shot of the Trojan being towed through space by Red Dwarf. I greatly enjoy the way Rimmer says of his resentment-drained mind "Before I was living in a tiny one-bed; now I'm in a barn conversion" and I like the way he taunts Howard about cars at the end. I watched "Trojan" three or four times the night it was first released; I feel like it pretty much hit exactly the right spot for a first episode of the revived series.

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