Red Dwarf: Series 1, Episode 1 “The End” (1988)

This fall is going to be a great time for fans of UK-based science fiction. Not only are we going to have six episodes of Doctor Who just after the Olympics, but there is a new Season of Red Dwarf on the way as well! Since there still is a ton of time left, I figured that I could easily pass it by looking back at some older episodes of Red Dwarf, sort of like a countdown to the new ones. So, without further ado, my review of the pilot episode from the far off time of 1988 – “The End”

When I first watched Red Dwarf, I immediately fell in love with it. My (now) wife had actually seen it on a PBS affiliate, and at the time I was oblivious to it aside from a passing mention. I wasn’t really into my full “anglo-phile” mindset at the time, and didn’t really seek out older shows yet. That all changed in 2004 when I got Netflix and started renting old Doctor Who episodes and Red Dwarf. I loved the idea of a science fiction sitcom, although very few of these cross-genre mergers were any good. Shows like Homeboys from Outer Space and Small Wonder put a bad taste in my mouth, but I was willing to try something new. I was immediately sucked in by this incredibly powerful and somewhat intense introduction:

I actually wish they’d bring a version of this introduction back. I like the more jazzed up one and all, but this is a nice palette cleanser for the hilarity about to ensue. I know some would say that “it doesn’t fit the show”, but I still love it, and that’s all that matters to me.

From the very beginning of the first episode we learn the dynamic between the two main characters –Lister and Rimmer inside and out. Lister is the lowest ranking guy on the ship, and a total slacker. His main goal is to simply collect a paycheck until he can retire to Fiji and start a farm. He’s all about having fun, and has no interest in his work. To foil this, his direct superior Rimmer (the second lowest ranking guy on the ship) is a self-righteous know-it-all with a severe inferiority complex. He always strives to become an officer on Red Dwarf, but ruins his chances with his manic nature, poor people skills, and sheer arrogance. This “odd couple” motif has been done countless times, but rarely is it done in such a humorous way as we see it here.

The thing that truly stands out with this show is the characters themselves. We might be used to seeing the exploits of all the highest ranking officers on serious shows such as Star Trek, but imagine an entire program consisting of “red shirts”. And not just plain “red shirts” but the ones that aren’t even cool enough to go on away missions and get their faces eaten by aliens. Focusing on characters that are destined to fight, screw around, and do nothing of any real importance whilst trying to get back to Earth basically writes itself. We see other characters in the beginning like Captain Hollister, but they won’t matter for too long, as they all die within minutes of the opening credits.

This is where the show gets fun. Lister gets in trouble for smuggling a pregnant cat named Frankenstein into his sleeping quarters on the ship. This is against regulation, and he is sentenced to stasis – a choice he made rather than giving up his pet. Lister’s job was to work on food replicators, and ironically, one messed up royally while he was unable to fix it. Rimmer tried to fix it, but Rimmer is Rimmer, and he messes it up even more. The entire ship went through a huge dose of nuclear radiation – killing everyone on board except Lister and Frankenstein, who was safe in the cargo bay. Three million years later, Holly (the ship’s computer system) informs Dave of some shocking news:

“They’re Dead, Dave….Everybody is dead, Dave.”

To fill this cast out, Lister is joined by other rejects, we have a holographic version of Rimmer, the person that the ships computer feels was Lister’s closest friend, a human-like creature that evolved from his stow-away cat simply named “The Cat”, and the ship’s computer itself, driven mad for the last few million years. Credits roll, and that’s why we kick off history folks! If you haven’t seen this show, and don’t mind special effects that are 2 decades old, I would definitely recommend checking it out. Currently you can watch it for free on Amazon Instant Video, if you happen to have an Amazon Prime subscription, or you can rent it on Netflix. The episodes used to be available on Netflix streaming, but they let the videos lapse for some reason.

Join me soon, for a look at episode 2!

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Survivors (2008) Episode 4

As is the norm with this show for a while, we have the episode split into a few separate story strands to keep everything rolling nicely and to give each character something to do. There are actually three main segments to follow: one with Abby, one with just about everyone else, and one with Greg and Anya. Mysteriously, we don’t really hear from the scientists that have been popping up in the last few episodes. You’d think that their search for the cure to the virus would get some mention here.

Abby found out about a group of kids occupying a large mansion from the eco-commune last episode, and has gone out to find out if her son is there. These kids have gone into full-on Lord of the Flies mode without any parental supervision, and are causing havoc around the grounds of the mansion, much to the dismay of the original owner of the mansion, a man that is hiding in the woods while his belongings get ransacked. She’s caught between these kids that “couldn’t make it outside” and said owner. She realizes that she could maybe get them to form an alliance of some sort, an option that seems easier said than done.

The second segment involves a familiar setting from last week. Here I thought the previous episode was the last time we’d see Samantha Willis and her creepy eco-commune, a place that gets worse by the second. How wrong I was, as we only had to wait one mere episode! The previous episode saw the former Health Minister becoming more and more of a ruthless despot as she clings to power. Abby was completely unnerved by the way the members of this commune handled “law” in their new community, and opted to leave despite all the good things such a community could offer.

The problem is that Willis is definitely making the hard choices that any leader should make, and as the sole authority from the government left, she’s bound to start making a few bad choices sooner than later. We saw her do things like punishing would-be supply thieves by public execution to send a message, thus continuing her fall. In episode 4 we have the arrival of Tom, Sarah, Najid, and Al in this community – possibly to stay for the long haul. It seems that despite the bad stuff going on, Abby let everyone else know about the place, and wants to move on to find her son. As one would imagine this lasts about three seconds before bad stuff goes down.

The weakest story in this episode has to be one involving Greg and Anya at the house. This segment seems to be a situation of trying to find something for these left-out characters to do, and serves little purpose otherwise. Basically, the pair find themselves under siege by a pair of rapists, and spend a few moments fighting them off. Unlike the chicken coop minor-segment in episode three, this piece was not very good.

I’d say this episode was a step down from the last one, but that isn’t a bad thing. This show usually stays pretty interesting, and the weaker episodes are still better than most other shows in the same vein. I am worried that the show will keep having segments for characters left out of the main plot such as tonight’s foray into rape-busting, as these sort of scenarios have seemed sort of half-assed so far. Hopefully we get to see what our bunker-bound lab coat guys are up to, I miss those guys ;)