Monday, September 19, 2016

Red Dwarf II Episode 4: "Stasis Leak"

Rimmer takes mushrooms and things get a little bit confusing. Arguably the "best" time travel episode in the show's history, "Stasis Leak" is still not one of the high points of Series II for several reasons: it doesn't have much to say, it doesn't really do anything that "Future Echoes" didn't, and it all feels a bit pointless. It's reasonably funny, but the meandering narrative and general directionlessness of the whole thing make it a bit forgettable. The best bits include Rimmer's conversation with himself and Lister's long rant in the hotel corridor. The final scene isn't bad either. It's nice to see the cast slipping back into their Series I characterisations when playing their past selves, and it's nice to see Mac McDonald return in a couple of scenes. Where's Cat's future counterpart, incidentally?

This episode is also noteworthy as being the last "real" appearance of the original Kochanski, as portrayed by Clare Grogan, who would only appear again as a hallucination in "Psirens" several years later. It's not very clear how her marriage to Lister fits into the timeline. Presumably he doesn't send her off to get radiation-leaked a few weeks later, but Holly identified her as a pile of dust in the drive room, didn't he? Rewatching "The End" recently, I realised that while Holly says she's dead, we never see her remains, conveniently enough. She's not in Rimmer's death video. Did she go back to work after marrying future Lister, thus causing her to have the wedding photograph in her quarters and to be at her station when Lister came to see her in "The End"? Who knows how all this is meant to work. It seems to be half deterministic, representing time travel to the past as fulfilment of events that have technically already happened, and partly seems to imply that time can be changed.

Nonetheless I like the idea of Lister finding the clues to the stasis leak in the photograph and Rimmer's diary. Unfortunately, any significant conflict to be derived from Rimmer and Lister's differing opinions on who should use the stasis booth doesn't really emerge. In any event, it's largely limited by Series II's more mellow characterisation of Rimmer. As it bears out, there's not much to the issue of Kochanski's survival versus Rimmer's survival at all, as Lister's plot is simply him going to Kochanski's quarters and then to the hotel, and Rimmer's is just having a brief chat with his past self in two fairly similar scenes. Nothing more developed or complex, plot-wise, every really takes shape.

Really the best thing to focus on is funny moments, including Rimmer's love poems and Rimmer's admission that he's read Lister's diary as well, even though "it's full of puerile nonsense about Kristine Kochanski." I like future Lister's flippant attitude and smug sense of satisfaction, particularly in his response to Lister's astonished "Where did you come from?": "The bathroom." I also like Lister's joke that Cat is dressed like "a finalist from 'Come Jiving'." The future Rimmer absurdly referring to himself as "the Rimmer from the double double future" is funny, as is Holly's line about how the view through the hole in Lister's pocket reminds him of "Attack of the Killer Gooseberries." There's also another good joke about Lister's rough youth here, as he lost touch with his childhood best friend Duncan after he moved to Spain because of Duncan's dad's job: "it was a bank job he pulled in Purley." On the other hand, I find the opening gag about the hallucinogenic mushrooms a bit weak and I'm not hugely fond of the bit with Hollister in the chicken costume. I also think the lift announcer gag is a bit too Pythonesque and feels slightly out of place. On the other hand, we get Lister's agonised rant about losing women to "total smegheads" who, among other things, "wear turtleneck sweaters and smoke a pipe"; that particular bit of the description is my favourite. This idea seems to be revisited for the "wine bar" gag in "DNA" in Series IV.

It's interesting to note how much colour is imported into "past Red Dwarf" in this episode, including the Series II bunk room decorations and the fact that Rimmer wears an orange coverall rather than the dark grey one he wears in "The End". I also rather like the way the hotel reception is dressed up, with a few simple additions like android staff and a talking suitcase making things just that touch futuristic, within the bounds of budget and possibility, just to make the scene a little more convincing. Nonetheless, the full potential of returning to the past, either to the populated ship or to the solar system at large, isn't really fully explored, and even this early it shows why this kind of time travel doesn't tend to suit Red Dwarf very well.

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