Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Red Dwarf III Episode 3: "Polymorph"

The Dwarfers get menaced by an emotion-sucking mutant that is meant to be the "ultimate warrior" yet barely seems to ever perform any physically violent acts. Another classic episode which delves a little into the characters, the highlights are probably Cat's increasingly disgusted reactions to Lister's meal and, of course, the meeting after everyone's emotions have been removed. Kryten trying to remove Lister's polymorph boxer shorts elicits quite the response from the audience, but perhaps it doesn't quite have the same level of impact after you've seen it a few times. As I indicated at the start, the Polymorph is an interesting creature but doesn't make a terrible amount of sense. It's not entirely clear why removing emotions makes it a more powerful warrior other than perhaps making its enemies more reckless; it almost never seems to do anything particularly violent to the crew apart from trying to strangle Lister while in kebab form. It's also a bit surprising and convenient that it's able to extract the emotions of androids and holograms as well as organic beings that actually have hormones and the like. It is memorable, however, as our first introduction to a GELF, although that term wouldn't be used for another series. It's obviously a takeoff of Alien, but the semi-serious, semi-comedic Red Dwarf spin gives it its own sense of originality and makes it clearly a part of the show's fabric.

I really like the way the cargo hold of Red Dwarf is handled in this episode, with some studio lifts and piles of boxes in a darkened room standing in for a cavernous expanse in a way that actually works and is convincing. I also think that the shot of the heat-seeking bazookoid missiles burning through the box the Cat holds up is startlingly effective. This is moderated, of course, by some fairly average bluescreen work that dates it a tad, but it's generally all quite nice, although I do think the sequence of Cat running around avoiding the heat-seekers is a little bit too long and drags a touch. The puppet used for the Polymorph's small form is reasonably amusing, as is the killer kebab, although some of its transformations are a bit naff and once again contribute to a slightly twee feel that Series III occasionally has.

There are certainly still plenty of laughs to be had despite the occasional corny moment. Cat gets a great variant on his Series I "How am I looking?" jokes with "Something smells good. What is it? It's me! I love this aftershave." His dismissal of Lister's dinner preparations with "This isn't a meal; this is an autopsy!" is classic as well. Kryten's fish lines after accidentally insulting Rimmer's mother are memorable without being hilarious, although the delivery helps. "You'll bonk anything" is of course timeless, and I personally like Rimmer's remark that the Polymorph "turned into a sort of splodgy squelchy thing and squidged off down the corridor." We see the first appearance of Space Corps Directives here, although Rimmer's "Osmond Family" joke isn't up there with "No chance, you metal bastard." Kryten's dramatic "It's insane" seems to be the first of such deliveries, later followed by "No sounds to hear" of Series IV, "Blood-chilling terror" of Series V and "Pure evil" of Series X. I like guiltless Kryten referring to Rimmer as "Bonehead", and I feel like he gets surprisingly few laughs, as the character is quite funny. The Polymorph as Mrs Rimmer is of course quite entertaining, and pretty much all of her remarks, including "he was like a set of pistons in an ocean liner engine room", "I honestly think my false teeth were going to fall out" and of course, "the things this boy can do with alphabetti spaghetti" are all suitably amusing for imagining Rimmer's embarrassment despite the fact that he must surely realise, as Holly tells him, that it's the Polymorph. There's a good cameo for "proper thesp" Frances Barber here as the Polymorph in its vanity-stealing form as well.

Obviously in the meeting pretty much all the best lines go to Rimmer, Lister having already delivered "I say let's get out there and twat it" in an earlier scene, although "Anyone who gets in my way gets a napalm enema" is a good one too. I have a personal fondness for Rimmer's description of the Polymorph as a creature that "salivates unspeakable slobber" and of course the "clitoris" gag. Ultimately, it's his hand gestures and manner that make the scene, although the suggestion of defeating the Polymorph with "street theatre" is a standout bit. I notice various reviews trying to attribute some kind of political satire to Rimmer's appearance in this, but I prefer how Chris Barrie describes anger-less Rimmer in the Series III documentary as a "Morris Minor driver", sort of tediously patient, egalitarian and nonviolent to little real purpose. Some attention must be given, in addition, to Robert Llewellyn's delivery of "disgusting, pus-filled buboe." I also like his response when his guilt is restored at the end: "Naturally, I will commit suicide immediately." By and large it's an entertaining episode, and arguably gives us some insight into the characters, including a largely suppressed violent side to Lister that only emerges on occasion and Rimmer's desire to be in charge and organised, even pacifistically. At the same time, it could be argued that this set the standard for the show's preponderance in later series, such as Series VI, for monster-of-the-week style "romps" that are less character-driven than some of the show's previous strongest outings. It really depends on the kind of Red Dwarf you prefer or are in the mood for at one time or another.

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