Monday, September 19, 2016

Red Dwarf II Episode 5: "Queeg"

Lister gets blown up and Rimmer gets all sweaty. Another of Series II's top episodes, the obvious standout in all of this is the guest role of Charles Augins as the titular antagonist, although there are numerous other good bits, including Rimmer's forced exercises, Chris Barrie impersonating the rest of the cast, Lister's pea on toast, the Porky Roebuck story, and of course the final cavalcade of woofers at the end. In fact there's scarcely a dry moment to be found, apart perhaps from elements of the opening scene, bits of the scene of Lister and Cat cleaning the floor and parts of the chess game, which still facilitate a number of good jokes. It's not the most deep and philosophical episode, and doesn't have a huge amount of sci-fi rumination apart from a joke about the consequences of machine intelligence, but this doesn't matter because the situation is so ripe with potential and the jokes are so strong. In that regard, it may be one of the best "pure comedy" Red Dwarf episodes ever made, if not the best. Even Holly's opening joke in this one, about the "collection of singing potatoes", is one of the funniest they did.

Among the huge number of woofers at hand, I have a number of personal favourites. I like Rimmer's gasped interjections as Queeg forces him to do trunk curls, forcing out a different exclamation each time: "Mummy! Mercy! Help me! Holly and I had this little understanding!" I also like Holly's alternative game suggestions during the chess match, my absolute favourite being "Cluedo? You can be Colonel Mustard?" At the risk of over-explaining the joke, I just find something incredibly amusing about the idea that Colonel Mustard is the "best" character in Cluedo. There are some decent effects bits too, include Rimmer's detached legs and of course the whole "Or was it the yellow cable" explosion, one of the only "action" sequences in the whole of the first two series. Cat's impersonation of Queeg's voice is good, as is his refusal to work: "I got a note from my mummy." I enjoy Rimmer saying that Holly's "not in for a single meal" and the conversation about whether Holly really has an IQ of 6000: "So you want me to prove it, do you?" The Space Scouts salute is amusing, as is Lister's revelation about Inflatable Ingrid: "I've been seeing her behind your back." Notably, the rubber doll would be re-christened "Rachel" in all subsequent appearances.

To be honest, there are even more woofers worth mentioning, so full of funny bits is this episode. Rimmer's comparison of Holly to a "blind old incontinent sheepdog" is good: "Take him out to the barn with a double-barrelled shotgun and blow the mother away." I also like Rimmer's genuine interest in the "shoes have soles" story. Chris Barrie's performance as Queeg is meant to be taking control of Rimmer's body is great, including his unconscious jogging and his amusing appearances running through other scenes. I also like Lister's early story about his geography teacher who "didn't think men were better than machines." I find the joke of Rimmer playing draughts with the Skutter a bit silly, however, particularly the piece with the little 'Rimmer' flag on it, and the "dramatic" chess game montage is a touch dry, but it's all made up for by the final reveal, the nature of which seems like a logical extension of the Norweb joke from Series I. A lot of the best humour in the episode overall derives from Norman Lovett's deadpan delivery of Holly's lines and the casual manner of those lines: "So you like a bit of chess, do you?" Another good example is from the "farewell" scene: "Perhaps not the most efficient computer ever invented, but we had a giggle." In terms of sheer impact, "Queeg never existed. It was me all along," is the line that sticks in my memory from the end.

As a "Holly episode" it's good, although you can easily see why there wasn't much potential for future episodes along those lines. Some of the stuff in "Future Echoes" and the Holly bits of "White Hole" feel like the only other interesting possibilities for the character, really, apart perhaps from Holly acquiring a body and having to experience life outside a monitor screen, or something of that nature. Norman Lovett's very good in this episode, and in general, but the role is clearly limited in terms of what it can do. What's there for him to do besides deliver one-liners and the occasional bit of exposition? Still, this is a top episode with a classic ending. Charles Augins is great as Queeg, conveying a surprisingly large amount; on the one hand he's scary, intense and intimidating, but consider the moment when, for instance, he frankly informs Lister that Rimmer fainted during the run. Queeg's not standoffish or unreasonable; he just enforces rules that are unnecessary and irrelevant in the characters' predicament, and thus reflects what Holly could be if he used his near-absolute power over the ship, and thus over the complete livelihood of the characters, in a less generous and easygoing way. I suppose it could also be said to suggest that, as our lives become more and more dependent on automation, it's equally essential for us to ensure that the intelligence which governs said automation is benevolent, and that in itself is a worrying thought about how we would be willingly making ourselves, effectively, the wards of such intelligences. This makes it a nice little character study for Holly in addition to being one of the standouts of the show's history.

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