Thursday, September 1, 2016

Red Dwarf IV Episode 2: "DNA"

Robert Llewellyn gets to act without a mask on and Kryten gets a double polaroid. "DNA" is an interesting episode, but one that I think feels incomplete. The exploration of identity and being, presented through Kryten's accidental transmogrification into a human, feels limited and cut short as the episode, for its finale, turns into a silly run-around about the Dwarfers being menaced by a curry monster. Perhaps the Kryten narrative achieves everything it needs to do with time to spare, but I can't help but feel that it could have been dwelt upon in a little more detail by exploring more of the nature of "being". It's not entirely clear whether the episode is trying to discuss the problems that would arise from humans playing god, or if it's about how you should be "true to yourself".

I wonder if the "DNA Ship" is the most futuristic thing that's ever appeared in the show. We know the Time Drive in Series VI comes from the 28th century. Is the DNA Ship even more advanced than that? It's an interesting concept regardless, suggesting that in the very far future the human species might have achieved technology that would seem practically alien to us, although it's let down slightly by the somewhat uninspiring corridor sets on the ship. It's odd that Rimmer doesn't get excited by the possibility of aliens this time. While the Glenn Miller joke is funny (and I say that as someone who appreciates a bit of Glenn Miller), doesn't his big band and swing music seem like the kind of thing that would be right up Rimmer's alley? Perhaps it's not cheesy enough. Rimmer otherwise doesn't get too many noteworthy lines in this one, the other one early on that I like being "What's the hurry? Have you got some major luncheon appointment you have to rush off to?"

Kryten's transformation is used well on the joke front; the "double polaroid" gag is classic, and the whole medical scene is reinforced by both Robert Llewellyn's exaggerated Kryten facial expressions, now no longer hidden by the mask, and Craig Charles's great reactions as Lister is exposed to the photo collection, as well as "smirk mode". Kryten's sudden ignorance of human anatomy is obviously a little inexplicable given how much time he's spent around humans, but it's at least worth it for the knob gags. The conversation with the Spare Heads is another classic, especially Spare Head 3's accent and "Shut your stupid flat head." I wonder if it's meant to be implied by Kryten's outfit that he based his wardrobe choices on the Cat's sense of style, without really having Cat's poise or fashion sense.

Lister's squirrel story seems to give a bit of a mixed message in my opinion. On the one hand, it says that being human is overrated. At the same time Lister's trying to argue that you shouldn't try to be what you're not. Lister doesn't seem to reach the conclusion that being human involves coping with bad feelings; instead he encourages Kryten to change himself back. So what's Lister's point, really, with the squirrel story? It'd make more sense if he concluded it by saying that despite envying the squirrel he realised that he had to deal with the pain he was feeling because he was a human. Then again, that still doesn't really apply to Kryten's situation. Thus I feel that the philosophical question of the episode isn't entirely successfully ruminated upon to its logical conclusions. I prefer the story about the wine bar. Lister's imaginings of becoming middle class and "playing squash every Tuesday night with a bloke called Gerald" is quite reminiscent of his complaints about Kochanski's assumed husband in "Stasis Leak". I also enjoy Kryten's line about being "a complete and total polaroid head."

The curry monster is a funny idea, and looks pretty decent, but ultimately it's a fairly mindless run-around at the end of the episode. The main advantage of it is Rimmer's line "I don't believe I'm running away from a psychopathic curried man." Lister's transformation into "man plus", and the line about how lager is "the only thing that can kill a vindaloo" are both funny bits, although it really does feel like a "comedy ending" in which the laws of a joke somehow become the laws of reality, as the beverage suited for washing down a spicy curry becomes the actual Achilles' heel of a creature made of curry. The Robocop referencing in the "man plus" costume might be a touch too on-the-nose as well. That being said, the bluescreen work to get miniature Lister into the shot and throwing the giant beer cans is surprisingly effective. One thing I'd say is that in the series' running order, this episode possibly takes a bit of a hit because it's another episode largely concentrated on Kryten and his relationship with Lister straight after Camille, something that might have been avoided if the broadcast order hadn't been changed, although perhaps they were always going to be broadcast one after another; I'm struggling to figure out what the original order was meant to be. Still, it's overall another pretty strong instalment showing that Series IV is where it's at.

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