Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Red Dwarf III Episode 1: "Backwards"

Kryten eats an egg forwards and Cat inadvertently sucks a turd up into his arse. As an episode with more or less one overriding joke and a very tenuous (and by 'tenuous' I mean 'nonexistent') narrative logic behind it, "Backwards" perhaps doesn't hold up terribly well by comparison to other Red Dwarf episodes from this era. The two classic scenes are of course Lister and Cat's chat about Wilma Flintstone and the "Unrumble" bar fight, with a possible third being the conversation the four of them have about the merits and disadvantages of backwards time. Other than that, a lot of the scenes tend to constitute "stuff is funny because it happens in reverse", which is kind of funny once but fairly uninteresting on repeat viewing. Honestly, if it wasn't for lines about turning back into sperms swimming around in people's testicles and having sex with cartoon women, this would probably pass as slightly naff kids' TV of the time period. There's just something about Rimmer in his shiny green nylon and Kryten with his rubbery pink head sitting around in a generic café set that just screams "dirt cheap family-friendly BBC light entertainment" and not "groundbreaking science-fiction sitcom".
On the other hand, the Time Hole is the least irritating means by which the Dwarfers have ever found themselves on Earth in an inconvenient time period or situation, by contrast to Series VII's suddenly vastly-altered Time Drive and Series X's faulty Rejuvenation Shower. It may be an arbitrary plot device but at least it feels like there's a reasonably valid reason for them both getting there and leaving. I also note that Starbug has a convenient cloaking device in this episode that never appears again. That would have helped all those times they were being chased by GELFs and simulants and various other baddies, wouldn't it? Furthermore Rimmer, who previously needed a cumbersome cage to leave the confines of a ship's interior, now can wander wherever he damn well pleases, although the explanation for this would not arise for another series.
Obviously the backwards stuff doesn't make a lick of sense if you think about it. Everything's backwards except the Dwarfers' perception of reality, right? So when Rimmer and Kryten arrived they should have been un-fired, then the fight should have happened, then they should have done their novelty act for a few weeks, and then they should have been un-hired. This would have played nicely to the deterministic ideas presented in "Future Echoes", for instance, such that they find themselves doing things without having any intention of doing them; events would simply conspire to have them where they needed to be as effect preceded cause, from their point of view at least, which would raise fresh questions about time and free will. Similarly, the man in the park wouldn't think that Lister and Cat were stealing his bike, because from his point of view they're returning it, and the man with the van would have been dropping them off having picked them up at the pub, not the other way around. I'm obviously overthinking this as usual, but I can't help but feel like the episode might make its point about the nature of time more effectively if the presentation was more consistent. Things like the job advertisements in the newspaper make it seem like the inhabitants of backwards Earth know that time is running backwards and have a society built around it, rather than simply being forward time rewinding towards a "big crunch". Also, why are images and writing backwards? How does that correlate?
My pedantry aside, there are some decent lines to enjoy in the episode. Holly's line about being autopilot is amusing, and the ludicrous astronomical figures for "stopping distance" and "thinking time" raise a smile. Holly actually gets some more reasonable gags about the time period being "lunchtime" and how the most useful data would be that year's calendar. An early "Kryten's head" joke is "Tell them you took your car to the crushers and forgot to get out" followed up by the eventually-ubiquitous "head shaped like a novelty condom." Why does Rimmer think they should get a job? What would be the point? Cat's "They're gone, buddy!" and "Hell no; I don't even care about you," are memorable remarks that show how his character changes a bit as time goes on. I note that the "homing device" looks like a bottle of talcum powder. What the hell's the deal with the "Red Dwarf Shuffle"? Are we to imagine that Lister and Cat, who often tend to express enormous cynicism, like to burst into spontaneous light-hearted raps? At least we get Lister telling Rimmer "You already are one glorious hole", and Arthur Smith's rant which, when played forwards, tells you off for playing it forwards. The historical examples of reverse things are somewhat interesting, but we don't see enough of this in action. Rimmer's "thanks for your support" is okay, as is the visual gag of Cat having just reverse-defecated. "Backwards" is an interesting episode to an extent, but the inconsistent usage of the premise limits it somewhat, and it's pretty light on woofers. Perhaps my favourite aspect is the piss-take at the beginning with the Star Wars-style crawl rolling too fast for anyone to read, with a memorable Howard Goodall track in the background.

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