Friday, 12 October 2012

RED DWARF X – 'Fathers & Suns'

Friday, 12 October 2012

written & directed by Doug Naylor

This was a strange amalgam of the classic Red Dwarf sitcom format (which Series X is an attempt to return to) and the overreaching action-adventure style that swamped Series VII. Consequently, "Fathers & Suns" felt more hit-and-miss than last week's premiere, although things resolved themselves well enough for me to forgive some of its bigger flaws. There were two major storylines this week, and each would have been improved without the other's inclusion. Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) and Rimmer (Chris Barrie) installed a new computer to replace the mysteriously absent Holly, resulting in the birth of beautiful AI called Pree (Rebecca Blackstone) whose USP is an ability to predict behaviour and carry out crew orders before they're even given. The second storyline found Lister (Craig Charles) celebrating Father's Day by sending cards and video-messages to himself, which he's forgotten making after getting hammered on GELF hooch.

Both stories had their pro's and con's. The arrival of Pree recalled Series II's classic "Queeg", although this computer's problem wasn't a strong authoritarian streak but unwavering logic and the fact she operates by forecasting the orders of idiots. It was a good idea, but beyond the amusement of Rimmer insisting on Pree being given attractive physical attributes, it wasn't a particularly funny idea. The story instead moved into fairly dramatic territory—with Pree deciding to eject Lister out of an airlock, before deciding to fly the ship into a nearby sun—and this is what made "Fathers & Suns" feel like a Series VII episode. The show just works best when it's about jokes and the character's interactions, not when it's trying to orchestrate action sequences like Lister in a jet-powered spacesuit flying down the exhaust of Red Dwarf.

Most of the first half was focused on Lister's paradoxical Father's Day (he's his own dad, as Series VII's "Ouroboros" unfortunately made canonical), and this was the big highlight of the show. I wasn't sure the episode would get much mileage from the idea, but having Lister interact with himself (via messages recorded while drunk the night before) was a very funny idea. The standout scene being when Lister was trying to outfox "Dad Lister" by refusing to follow his instructions properly without skipping ahead to the next message. Interestingly, this story was similar to Pree's in the sense that the drunken "Dad Lister" was likewise able to predict behaviour. I'm just not sure this was intentional, or a weird coincidence.

Away from the two big stories, I have to admit I'm quite enjoying how Doug Naylor's decided to expand the world of Red Dwarf without losing the core ingredients (the major mistake of Series VI-IX). It's still about four dumb blokes stuck on a heap of junk in deep space, but I like how there's now a feeling of artificial community with the introduction of a Medi-Bot program (who performs dentistry on Lister and Cat) and the many vending machines that have suddenly been given voices and personalities. It's a fun evolution for a show that once gave us an unforgettable talking toaster. Added to the fact we're seeing far more of the ship than was ever possible in the BBC days (the cockpit, longer corridors, the dental room, a waiting area), and it feels like the scope of the show has effectively widened without compromising anything. Maybe we'll even discover where Cat sleeps one day?

Overall, I have conflicting thoughts. The less said about the extraneous running gag about "Chinese Whispers" the better, seeing as it resulted in material that got perilously close to racist. As a whole, this episode segued into Series VII-style nonsense by the end, forgetting that nobody ever watched Red Dwarf for action set-pieces and high-stakes drama. The episode should have been entirely about Lister trying to give himself a fantastic Father's Day, with Rimmer's input on the idea of fathers being responsible for how their children turn out. With fewer laughs than last week's "Trojan", slack plotting, and a storyline rehashing "Queeg" (to some extent), I can't recommend "Fathers & Suns" for anything other than the excellent Lister-vs-Lister scene (which Craig Charles did a fantastic job with).


  • It's nice of Dave to tease the next episode at the end of every new instalment, but who's editing those montages? They're so random and communicate very little in terms of plot and jokes.
  • I know it's only a silly sci-fi comedy, but why was hologram Rimmer affected by laughing gas? Speaking of which, who else prefers the days when Rimmer couldn't touch things? It just worked better when he was technological ghost, haunting Lister.
11 October 2012 / Dave