Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Red Dwarf X - The Beginning


Wow! What a great episode! In my reviews of the Red Dwarf X episodes, I’ve often commented something along the lines of, “While not the best Red Dwarf ever, it’s still a good episode.” I made a comment like this with the first episode, “Trojan”, and stated that it was a great start to the new series. With the final episode, I have to change the pattern. In this case, I would easily place it as one of the best Red Dwarf episodes ever, and, ironically, “The Beginning” is a great end to this year’s series. It has all the best aspects of Red Dwarf and none of the weaknesses: strong characterization, excellent performances, funny jokes that aren’t forced, and a good story that is excitingly paced. It’s definitely the best of Series X, and as I said, ranks among the best Red Dwarf of all time.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

The Beginning” is very much a Rimmer episode with a quite momentous revelation about Rimmer’s past, one that provides for very interesting character advancement and could provide a profound new direction for the character in any future series (assuming the show doesn’t do a turn-around and contradict itself, which isn’t entirely unknown in Red Dwarf). Rimmer’s relationship to his family, particularly his father, has always been a major part of his character. His inability to live up to his father’s exacting standards has frequently been shown to be the cause for many of his numerous neuroses. While “Trojan” examined his relationship with his brother Howard, “The Beginning” takes on his relationship with his father head on. The opening sequence showing the flashback to his father’s peer pressure test does a great job of illustrating this relationship in a brief and easy-to-understand fashion. It lets long-time viewers see just a little bit more of his oft-talked-about father, while simultaneously informing new viewers of exactly how their relationship works. Best of all, it does this in an entertaining way by showing us the relationship rather than just telling us about it (which is the usual method since his family is three million years dead).

The final revelation that Rimmer’s father is, in fact, not his father after all, is a great touch. I was quite surprised by it, but immediately recognized that it makes perfect sense, both in terms of this episode and what we’ve learned in the past. Previous series have made more than one reference to the fact that Rimmer’s mother slept around quite a lot. The revelation also helps move Rimmer’s character forward, something I think he’s in desperate need of. The peer pressure test from the opening comes back as Rimmer almost succumbs to the pressure of the rest of the crew, but this time he’s able to resist that and have confidence that his plan will work. And it does. For once, Rimmer actually saves the day. His line, “The slime’s coming home,” shows us a Rimmer embracing a new freedom, while also being a great nod to Lister’s exact same line in “The End”, the very first Red Dwarf episode. Assuming there’s a Red Dwarf XI next year or whenever, I hope his character continues to grow in this direction and doesn’t just revert back to old-style Rimmer, which has happened more than once in the past.

There are a number of other brief moments that demonstrate Rimmer’s character and also give a slight nod to the past for long-time viewers. His “Planning Timetable” is one such nod. Way back in Series I, we saw Rimmer make use of just such an item. This is a nice touch for the fans, but also gives an insight into Rimmer’s procrastination: he’ll happily spend more time planning to do something than actually doing it. (If you pause the playback and take a close look at the timetable, you’ll see that that it’s broken up into six hours with only 5 minutes allotted at the very end for coming up with a plan. The rest is all preparation. The titles of the books he plans to read are hilarious, too, particularly How to Defeat an Army of Mutant Russians Whilst Simultaneously Finding Time to be the World’s Greatest Golfer by Kim Jong Il.)

Chris Barrie’s performance this episode should also not go unmentioned. While I haven’t been disappointed with the cast’s performances in Series X, if I had to pick a least favourite, it would be Barrie’s overall. This is due in large part to the frequent over-extension of Rimmer’s jokes and their forced nature, making his own performance somewhat forced at times and at other times a little overly hammed up. However, that’s most definitely not the case for this episode. Barrie holds back from going over the top, and delivers a funny and surprisingly sympathetic performance. Similarly, his exultation at the end is natural and the audience ends up feeling it with him. Barrie is definitely the stand-out performer in this episode.

There are great moments for the rest of the cast, too, and that includes the guest cast. Indeed, I absolutely loved the guest characters, which are all vibrant and beautifully characterized. Hogey is absolutely hilarious. He has clear motivations, which, while silly, are nonetheless believable and make the character much more rounded than guest characters on Red Dwarf often are. The simulant dominator and his chancellor also make a great pair. The dominator could so easily have become a pantomime character, but Gary Cady plays him with a certain casualness that juxtaposes with his cruelty and sadism, ensuring that this doesn’t happen. These are just ordinary, everyday events to the dominator—nothing unusual—leaving his yes-man chancellor in a state of perpetual confusion.

The Beginning” is also an extremely well-paced episode. While I’ve enjoyed Series X, I can’t deny that there have been pacing issues here and there. I’ve commented in previous reviews on the forced or over-extended jokes, for example. Sometimes, scenes play out just a little too long. Indeed, even looking into previous series, this is often the case with episodes directed by Doug Naylor (who directed every episode this series). However, Naylor definitely redeems himself with this episode. The jokes aren’t forced. The scenes don’t play out too long. Each scene segues seamlessly into the next. The tension builds gradually to an exciting climax when Lister uses Hogey’s gun to destabilize Blue Dwarf’s molecular structure, allowing them to escape the missiles and destroy the simulant ships. Few Red Dwarf episodes actually ever manage to build up tension and excitement the way this one does. Red Dwarf is not actually an action series, so it’s perhaps not surprising that this is the case, but this episode might certainly fool the new or casual viewer into thinking it’s an action show.

Looking back on Series X as a whole, I’d say it does a lot of really great things, but it’s also interesting to take a look at what it doesn’t do. Early on, I was expecting more with the “Lister growing up” plot thread. “Fathers and Suns” sets this up and it continues on into “Lemons”, but then sort of vanishes. I’m curious whether the next series (assuming there is one) will pick up on Lister’s robotics course, or if it will just be quietly forgotten about. There were also numerous rumours leading up to “The Beginning” that Kochanski would appear in it or that we would learn what happened to the Red Dwarf crew from Series VIII. Although the Series VIII crew is never mentioned at any time during Series X, there are certainly lots of mentions of Kochanski—just enough to continually remind us of the search for her, and just enough to make us expect her to show up at some point. The post-credits sequence in “The Beginning” plays into these expectations and rumours. Post-credits sequences are not normal for Red Dwarf (indeed, there has never been one before), so the existence of one here comes as a surprise and immediately makes you think something major is about to happen which will then be followed up by a prominent “To Be Continued...” caption. Personally, I fully expected Kochanski to be in the room when Lister opens the door. Of course, this only serves to make it even funnier when Hogey leans out and resumes his “You killed my brother” line. In regards to Series VIII, we get only the rather funny allusions to Rimmer saving the ship from a "corrosive organism", a reference to the final episode of Series VIII and the unresolved cliffhanger that ended the episode. Alas, it remains unresolved here, but all the funnier for it.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing not followed up on in Series X is only first introduced in this final episode: the map Hogey stole from the simulants. It shows the whole galaxy and contains the locations of all the wormholes. A way for Red Dwarf to cross the three millions years of space to get back to Earth, perhaps? Although it’s not confirmed at the moment, a Series XI seems a near certainty, and the map might just be a lead-in to things to come. I hope so.

Overall, “The Beginning” is a great end to Series X. It’s funny, engaging, and just plain exciting. It easily ranks up with some of my favourite Red Dwarf episodes of all time. It makes me eager to see Series XI, if and when it arrives.

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