Thursday, September 1, 2016

Red Dwarf IV Episode 6: "Meltdown"

A bunch of impersonators get blown up in a park and Rimmer plays the most intensely realistic game of toy soldiers imaginable. Supposedly this episode doesn't have the best reputation, but personally I think the only thing that lets it down a bit is some ineffective location shooting; they're obviously just in a park, largely due to the visible brick buildings behind them. The set for the good waxdroid HQ makes some effort to emulate this to make it feel more consistent, but I can't help but wonder if they could have whipped around to find something to give the locations a touch of dressing to at least give the vague impression that Waxworld is actually a run-down theme park. Admittedly it's meant to have been abandoned for millions of years, but it's still a bit drab.

Nonetheless, "Meltdown" is a very funny and memorable episode even if it visually isn't quite as flashy as some other episodes of Series IV. The anti-war message is pretty clear, but obviously a valid one, although of course it's primarily an attack on "military idiots" who sacrifice the lives of others for the sake of their own personal glory and the excuses permitted by their notional ideology. I like that Rimmer describes the enemy as "fascists", implying he's in a morally superior position to them, and Lister's speech is memorable and, in my opinion, not especially preachy: "all the corpses that litter that battlefield can just lie there safe in the knowledge that they snuffed it under a flag of peace and can decompose in a land of freedom. Ya smeghead." It's a nice exploration of Rimmer's romantic delusions about war, which were established a series earlier in "Marooned".

There are plenty of other good elements, starting with Rimmer's Risk story. It's a bit dubious that the matter paddle can transport them to a planet two hundred thousand light years away, isn't it? Couldn't they make a series of hops back to Earth with a device that potent? We're also introduced to Rimmer's light bee at last, although it's something that had clearly been implicit to the show for a while. The effort to describe the footage of the giant bird monsters as "unconvincing" doesn't entirely make up for how scratchy and old-looking the footage is anyway; it's from a Japanese film from the Sixties I believe, and it's quite clear that it's old footage taken from another source.

The impersonators are all pretty good, I think, and I honestly don't think Elvis is overused. He's hardly in it that much. The highlight is clearly Tony Hawks as Caligula and his constant slapping of Lister. We get the show's second Herman Göring joke in this episode as well. My personal favourite, however, is Pythagoras and his obsession with triangles, much to the exasperation of Einstein: "I still feel there's a solution, probably involving triangles." "If only we numbered twenty-one; then at least we could form an equilateral triangle." I also like Rimmer's reaction to see Father Christmas in the parade: "What's he doing here?" Why is Pope Gregory XIII part of the "hero world" assemblage? I looked him up, and I'm not sure exactly what he did that's so "good". He reformed the calendar, but that seems like a fairly neutral act. Otherwise, he appears to be a pretty average early modern pope to me.

The funniest bits are probably derived from Rimmer's increasingly deranged speeches and proclamations, and Lister and the Cat in prison, particularly Lister witnessing the execution of waxdroid Winnie-the-Pooh. Lister's line about taking "a group of holy men and pacifists and turning them into the Dirty Dozen" is funny, as is Rimmer's line about how there are always casualties in war: "Otherwise it wouldn't be war, just a rather nasty argument with lots of pushing and shoving." The comedy explosions and deaths of the waxdroids are amusing as well, and feel rather reminiscent of the "How Not To Be Seen" sketch from Flying Circus. "Meltdown" is certainly a touch let down by the location work but it's still pretty memorable and funny. This one was originally meant to go out first in broadcast but was pushed to the end to avoid scaring the horses during the Gulf War, and while it works well in some respects as a series ender because of its slightly more "spectacular" narrative, I can't help but wonder if it would be regarded a touch more fondly if it had gone out first as was originally planned and was seen as a "start of series romp" instead.

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