Friday, 9 November 2012

RED DWARF X – 'The Beginning'

Friday, 9 November 2012

Series X draws to a close with arguably the most action-packed episode in its history, partly adapted from the failed Red Dwarf movie's screenplay. "The Beginning" was certainly amongst the best episode of this series, but still not without some underlying problems. I wasn't a fan of rogue droid Hogey (Richard O'Callaghan) who sneaked aboard ship and proceeded to threaten the crew's lives with "a duel across time and space"; partly because it was a thin joke stretched to breaking point very quickly, and partly because it was another example of Series X's odd use of xenophobic caricatures (following the Chinese med-bot, and Taiwanese/French vending machines).

Luckily, things perked up once Hogey was left plugging a hole in the ship's hull and attention turned to a Simulant Death Ship commanded by the Dominator (Gary Cady), who've been tailing Hogey and have consequently stumbled upon Red Dwarf. They were some of the better villains the crew's encountered, and the show took on an enjoyable dynamic as the Dwarfers left the ship in Blue Midget and hid in an asteroid field to formulate a plan—the first of two Star Wars nods (the other being some dialogue between Rimmer and his "father".) Ultimately, "The Beginning" became a Rimmer (Chris Barrie) story, which was foreshadowed by a prologue with the young Rimmer (Philip Labey) as a victim of a classroom prank perpetrated by his teacher father (Simon Treves)—where Rimmer's tendency to conform to the will of a crowd was tested and proven by an Asch experiment. The relevance of this was made clearer towards the end of the episode, when Rimmer's plan to defeat the Simulants was only put into action once he actually stood up for himself and refused to conform.

In general, "The Beginning" offered major changes for Rimmer's character. Even more so than "Trojan" gave us, with the reveal at least one of his illustrious Space Corp brothers is also a neurotic liar. Here it was revealed that Rimmer was actually the son of the family's simpleton gardener Dungo, which goes further to explain why Rimmer was such a black sheep growing up. I can understand why Doug Naylor has gone down this path, but I don't agree it was necessary and actually undoes a lot of what Rimmer such an amusing character. Making him the failure of a successful family is what informed so much of his personality, so making him a comparative success considering his real origin just isn't as compelling. It's unfortunate that Series X's main offering to the Red Dwarf mythos is to have undone what made Rimmer who he was. I don't begrudge him a moment of victory—formulating a strategy that saved everyone's lives, involving Hogey's "wibbley" gun (although he's been the hero quite a few times on the show, usually in finales)—but I didn't like that it came packaged in a story that upended so much of what made Rimmer special.

Overall, "The Beginning" was a strong finish to a series of mixed success. The creative decisions were much appreciated (restoring a live audience and a sitcom feel), but I didn't care for most of the storylines, the comedy fell flat too often, and they've gradually ruined Rimmer's character. Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) was particularly poor this series (a friend of mine thought they'd recast him because he was so unfunny), although my least-favourite character Cat (Danny John-Jules) was unexpectedly great (loved this episode's "stick and string" scene). At least Series X didn't end on a cliffhanger that will never get answered, for one reason or another. It amused me how Naylor even teased us with a long-overdue explanation for how Series VIII's "Only the Good..." resolved itself—yet infuriating they still haven't after 13 years!

Will Red Dwarf return for a Series XI? I'm guessing so, if only because the ratings have been consistently strong for Dave, but maybe they'll wait to see how much money they make on DVD/Blu-ray sales before committing to more. It may also depend on how helpful Coronation Street will be, to allow Craig Charles months off to film another series. If it does come back, I'm happy with that. This isn't the show I adored as a teenager and it will never recapture the genius of Series III-V, but there are worse ways to spend 30 minutes every week.

9 November 2012 / Dave