Friday, August 26, 2016

Red Dwarf X Episode 6: "The Beginning"

The Dwarfers get menaced by some rather camp simulants and Rimmer discovers the truth about his parentage. Another episode written in haste after the scrapping of the location budget, this model-heavy finale is apparently adapted from the abandoned "Red Dwarf Movie" project. The plot of that supposedly involved the Dwarfers returning to Earth only to find it populated by human-hating "sapienoids", highly-evolved cyborgs intent on wiping out the last vestiges of their precursor species using "death ships". Here we have the logical replacement, simulants, and a tighter narrative about the Dwarfers figuring out how they're going to survive this latest threat from these recurring villains. It's worth noting that a deleted scene from this episode implies that the reason the human race is extinct three million years in the future is because they were wiped out in a war against the simulants.

While I think the film project was almost certainly misguided, and that in my opinion Doug Naylor was probably somewhat naïve to think that funding it was ever a realistic possibility, it's nice to know that, through this episode, it still made it to the screen in some fashion. In this regard it's a pleasant thought to realise that the character of Hogey the Roguey, originally read for by Richard O'Callaghan in the early 2000s film script read-through, was finally brought to life in this episode, played by O'Callaghan, who also portrayed the Creator in "Back to Earth". Hogey is a pretty silly character but I still like the idea that a role that was practically cast for the unmade film was ultimately realised, albeit not quite in the same way.

The big thing in this episode is Rimmer's character development, particularly his discovery that his horrible emotionally-abusive father is not really his biological parent. I think some people objected to this, but I didn't have a problem with it, particularly because it fits well with Rimmer's mother's reputation for having many liaisons; a common belief is that John, Frank and Howard were fathered by "Uncle Frank", so this doesn't matter. That being said, Rimmer's background is a bit inconsistent anyway. In episodes like "Dimension Jump" he appears to come from an affluent family with a large complex on Io, their own botanical gardens and the like; we know he attended a boarding school in what appears to be a parody of the typical upper-middle-class childhood, and in this episode his father claims descent from "Austrian princes and French royalty." By contrast, in "The End", the very first episode of the show, Rimmer complains about the disadvantages he's faced by not coming from "the right nobby background". It doesn't affect the character's previous behaviour in any way that matters. It also provides a mildly clever twist on the classic Star Wars revelation which has been parodied countless times.

There's plenty to enjoy in "The Beginning", from Cat's sleeping arrangements and Lister saying "Smeg off, Rimmer, I'm trying to sleep," to Hogey, to Hogey describing himself as "clever as a hedgehog." I like the idea of a character who shows up from time to time to annoy the Dwarfers and how exasperated he becomes that they won't get involved in his desire for a dramatic conflict. Gary Cady and Alex Hardy are both very amusing as Dominator Zlurth and Chancellor Wednesday of the simulants, particularly the former's camp villainy and the latter's pained noises after he mistakenly disembowels himself. The council of sycophantic Chancellors reminds me a lot of the film producer sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus. Philip Labey is quite convincing as Young Rimmer, and I like that they made sure that Rimmer's father, as portrayed by Simon Treeves, looked similar to Rimmer's father as he appears in "Better Than Life". Rimmer's "battle plan timetable" is a nice parody of the old revision timetables, and Rimmer's "fear" speech, while again quite Pythonesque (it's reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition) is a nice mockery of those kinds of pronouncements.

Possibly my favourite line in the whole thing is the way Chris Barrie delivers Rimmer's incredulous "Two forks and a pencil sharpener?!?" after Kryten completes the weapons inventory, reinforced later when Lister says "Kryten, bring them forks; we might need them." Kryten's speech about the "berserker generals" of the simulant death ships seems to be deliberately invoking his over-the-top description of the Inquisitor in Series V, which is amusing, and Cat's paying with string is similar to a scene from "Waiting For God". The thing about Rimmer's last words will obviously sit uneasily with anyone who knows that his last words were "Gazpacho soup", although Lister is obviously just joking. Rimmer's pretending to write a letter to the Geneva Convention while they were under attack also seemed to play well on Series VI gags, particularly from "Legion" and "Gunmen of the Apocalypse", about surrendering and claiming prisoners' rights.

There are definitely some purely exciting moments as well, like Rimmer's line about how "sometimes you live, you die, and then you live again" and "the slime's coming home." I like the solution to their dilemma; unlike, say, the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary, which used a similar solution, this is set up and foreshadowed effectively throughout the episode. Furthermore, the model work in the episode is terrific. It's worth watching the 'Making Of' documentary for Series X to see how fortunate they were to get the Death Ship and Annihilator models, as well as the other work done. It's all put together very well, with the end resulting being a space sequence that can sit easily alongside some of the classic model shots, including those of "Bodyswap", "Dimension Jump", "Terrorform" and pretty much everything from Series VI.

This episode also played up to the idea of resolving what happened at the end of Series VIII, and unsurprisingly it doesn't beyond suggesting, as could be expected, that Rimmer did something by fluke or accident to save the ship. It's nice to see the acknowledgement of this situation as well, despite the fact that any resolution would be pointless and probably be something ridiculous and extremely complicated. It's just another pleasant addition to an episode that seems to weave together a number of eras of the show, including one that never actually happened (the film). In fact probably the only thing I would really criticise about the episode is that I think the sets on board the simulant ship are just a little too sparse, although obviously this was a limitation of time and the budget. Ultimately, however, "The Beginning" is a strong finale for what I think was a strong tenth series; if they hadn't made any more of the show, it would have been perfectly acceptable as the last instalment of Red Dwarf. As it is, it's another funny and generally enjoyable instalment to round off a series which largely, to my mind, recaptured a fair bit of the magic of the show's best years.

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