Friday, August 26, 2016

Red Dwarf X Episode 2: "Fathers and Suns"

The "Lister Episode" to the "Rimmer Episode" of "Trojan", "Fathers and Suns" is a strong piece of writing and performance reflecting on one of the show's more contentious previous developments in a much funnier and more successful way, delicately interwoven with a staple science fiction plot about a dangerous computer. This material is only weakened by a third running element about Chinese Whispers that isn't particularly funny and at times comes across as very unclear in regards to what it's trying to say.

The main premise, Lister dealing with being his own father and his own son, is handled well and functions as a worthy comedic payoff for the otherwise nonsensical finale of "Ouroboros" from Series VII. The "conversation" Lister has with the recording of himself is an excellent centrepiece for the episode, the obvious highlights to me being the bit when he says "You drink too much" as he's getting wasted, the part when he falls of his chair, and especially the line "I will not be having any of your nonsense." The visual joke with the floppy guitar is handled really well also. This plot delivers some other entertaining moments too, including Rimmer's incredulous "That's your day?" when Lister says he's busy getting drunk, and Lister's declaration "let the drilling commence" when in the dentist's chair. Cat's "never ask a cat to share, 'cause a scratch to the face often offends" is good too. I like that Lister (in the recording) tells himself to "find Krissie"; while I'm not sure Kochanski really needs to come back in a regular sense, I would like to see this followed up on eventually.

The other main plot is Rimmer and Kryten installing Pree, a new predictive computer to replace the seemingly permanently-deactivated Holly, who goes on to cause havoc by pre-empting Rimmer's poor maintenance decisions and ruthlessly enforcing JMC protocols. In some respects, this aspect might seem a little too reminiscent of the plots of "Queeg" and "Cassandra", but Rebecca Blackstone's strong performance and the implementation of the concept in an original way overcomes this, in my opinion. Some amusing moments are derived from Pree rendering their conversations irrelevant and "cocking up" Rimmer's work for him. Probably the funniest aspect is the way the script mocks Rimmer's chauvinistic approach to the computer's appearance. A subtle highlight is that when Kryten asks Rimmer what frame size they should use he doesn't care, such that when Pree appears in close up he's disappointed. Robert Llewellyn does some great reaction work in this episode, particularly Kryten's satisfied nods and smiles as Pree agrees with him and, at the end of the episode, when Lister tells him to open the champagne.

The third aspect of the episode is the "Chinese whispers" thing, the least effective part. The setup is funny; I like the enthusiastic way Kryten says "We had so much fun," in regards to playing the game with the vending machines, and Rimmer's response that "I'm not remotely interested in some stupid parlour game you were playing with a talking condom machine and two Lil-let dispensers." This, however, would have been enough. I get that Rimmer's limited and increasingly stereotyped examples of Chinese inventions are meant to show his own ignorance, and I think Taiwan Tony is meant to be a ridiculous and obnoxious caricature, but I'm not quite sure that comes across as clearly as it should, and I don't quite see the point of all of it. I feel as if this sequence, as well as the Medi-Bot and Denti-Bot, rely too much on silly voices and puns that even the studio audience doesn't seem to care for. I do like the way Kryten says "Hi Garby!" when he walks past the garbage machine.

Nonetheless, I like the resolution, I like the episode following up on "Back to Earth" with Lister motivating himself to improve his lot, and I like the ending gag despite how predictable it is; note that in the following episode Lister is studying his course, and in the one after he is looking for Kochanski (despite getting appropriately sidetracked). One thing I notice about the climax is that Pree's deploying of the laughing gas suggests that she's responsible for the medical bay running out of anaesthetic, because she took it in anticipation of them turning against her, but in the next episode Rimmer says they've still run out. So did they not recover it? I also greatly enjoy the line "Dave Lister saves the day, being brave in a hostile universe," and the different little dances they all do. The "Chinese whispers" element is definitely a bit crap, and this episode might even be nearly perfect without it, but "Fathers and Suns" is still a strong instalment to show that Red Dwarf was, by and large, back on track in Series X.

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