Thursday, September 1, 2016

Red Dwarf IV Episode 4: "White Hole"

Old Kryten is new Talkie Toaster, and Lister plays pool with planets. While a fun episode with some very memorable moments, "White Hole" suffers from essentially being two completely different and almost wholly unrelated stories jammed together such that the second story conveniently resolves the problem of the first story despite not flowing from it with any narrative logic. Put simply, the problem of the time-spewing white hole comes out of nowhere halfway through the episode and has nothing to do with the plot about Holly's lifespan being dramatically reduced and the ship being shut down. The resolution of the plot is essentially a time-reversing cop-out that would go on to be the staple of the revived version of Doctor Who.

Nonetheless, there's a lot to like about "White Hole": the return of Talkie Toaster, now voiced by David Ross, Lister and Cat's struggle to keep warm in the powerless ship, Kryten being used as a battering ram, the repeating conversation and Lister getting drunk to replace Holly's planet-pushing plan. It's a good example of how, when the writing's funny enough, it's no great problem if the story isn't all there, but it really does depend on the strength of the humour, and admittedly there are a couple of points here, particularly after the power loss, in which the episode becomes a bit slow. I'm also not sure why Holly turning herself off results in the power also being shut off.
As with the rest of Series IV, there are plenty of memorable lines to enjoy, starting with Talkie Toaster's "How 'bout a muffin?" Kryten's over-dramatic "There are no sounds to hear!" is an early expression in the vein of "Blood chilling terror". It's also the first "two minor drawbacks" jokes, revisited in Series V, followed up by Kryten's "I'm fine thank you Susan." Rimmer's "No chance, you metal bastard" and his speech about Captain Oates are enjoyable reminders of what a bastard he really is. The payoff of the whole "no power" situation is "It's just not possible to fry an egg using a bicycle-powered hair dryer", a cracking Lister line, the kind of which we don't get enough, much like his description of the stupid activities they do in "Timeslides". I can never watch the "conserve your energy" bit without thinking of the Smeg Up in which Danny John-Jules keeps flubbing the line.

"So what is it?" The conversation about the White Hole is another classic moment, made complete by the way it starts all over again at the very beginning: "I've never seen one before; no one has..." The thing about overriding time jumps "if we concentrate" is very much in the "magic thinking" vein, though. Fortunately it's not dwelt upon. The animation of the planets depicting Holly's plan is very well-presented, incidentally, and the model work of the planets is pretty decent. I particularly enjoy Lister's description of the plan as a "felt-ripper": "That planet is off the table and into somebody's pint of beer." Rimmer's description of their choice too is a big woofer: "On the other hand we have Lister, who, and let's be fair to him, is a complete gimp." The robotic pool cue prop is surprisingly good as well. This is more an episode to watch for the laughs and the vaguely interesting, if rather absurd, concept of the reverse black hole than anything too strong in the storytelling department. Red Dwarf is, after all, a sitcom, and this outing leans more heavily to that side.

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