Reference is Futile: Twentica (Spoilers)

Star Trek marked it’s 50th anniversary this year, and it’s influence throughout Sci-Fi has been wide spread. Very recently, Rob Grant was interviewed by Redshirts Always Die about his interest in the show. On question directly addressed the influence of the show on Red Dwarf:

INTERVIEWER: As a co-creator and writer of British sitcom Red Dwarf, did Star Trek have any influence on you during the early development stages of Red Dwarf?

ROB GRANT: Ha! Only in a negative way: we had to avoid everything Trekish: no transporters, phaser weapons. We made the ship commercial and not military.

However, that’s not entirely true. On Red Dwarf night’s A-Z show, radio host James O’Brien was also keen to suggest otherwise, stating that without Kryten, Data from Star Trek The Next Generation would never have existed. It’s an impressive claim, especially since Kryten first appeared on TV on 6th September 1988 while Data’s first appearance in Trek was nearly a year earlier on 28th September 1987.

However, O’Brien was certainly right about one thing; Star Trek did have an influence on Red Dwarf, even if only in giving them something to mock through the years. There have been myriad incidences throughout the show’s history that perhaps we will come back to another time, but that were perhaps never quite as obvious as when Captain Hollister was renamed Captain Kirk in Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers.

With the start of Series XI, we’ve been greeted with what is perhaps the most Trek referential episode there has ever been of the show, featuring a plot that seems to spoof the film Star Trek: First Contact.

We on this site are perhaps uniquely placed to examine these similarities. Off the back of this site’s Red Dwarf podcast, we have also for the last few years been regularly taking the piss out of Star Trek: The Next Generation on our sister site The Spoilist by working through each epiosde on the podcast First Contact. As such, the similarities of the film of the same name to Twentica present something of a perfect storm.

Some of these similarities are obvious, some are unintentional, and other are tenuous at best. But whether you are familiar with the film or not, here are the ones that stood out.

Resistance is futile

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The Simulants are like The Borg. It’s hardly an original statement, but it seems to make sense to start off with the most obvious. Ever since their original appearance in Series IV, the Simulants have always been rather similar and almost certainly inspired by their Trek counterparts.

The Borg first appeared in The Next Generation on 4th May 1989 in the episode Q Who. The Simulants meanwhile first appeared in Red Dwarf Series IV, in the episode Justice on 28th February 1991. Both presented bio-mechanical foes that were seemingly unstoppable, and both had reasonably similar looks, with red lights in their eyes and a slightly ramshackle mechanical editions to their otherwise humanoid forms.

In Twentica, we see a further development of Red Dwarf’s Simulant design, but one that still retains that iconic red light to the side of the eye from the Borg design. It’s an element that is strongly remembered from TNG when an assimilated Piccard reveals himself to the crew at the end of season three, and when revisitng the assimilation in First Contact, it was something that director Jonathan Frakes made sure to get in.

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And on the subject of the Piccard assimilation, that scene also has something of a probably unintentional  parallel with the green lighting and circular design behind the Expanoids when messaging Starbug:

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Patrick Stewart, there. Pictured during the moments between seeing Twentica and picking up the phone to his lawyer. They’re just behind behind Ian McKellan on his speed dial.

♪Goes far, flies near, to the stars away from here♪

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This’d be one of those tenuous references we mentioned earlier that’s almost certainly just more of a coincidence. In First Contact, the Borg ship that the Enterprise takes on at the start of the film is a Borg Qube; literally a giant metal qube in space with lasers and green bits.

The Expanoid’s ship is Twentica is entirely different from that, but it’s long tubular design with a larger rear end for the engine is slightly reminiscent of the other major ship ship from the film, The Phoenix.

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Frankly, we’re chalking this one up to either absolute coincidence or us reading far too much into things. However, as an in show reference, we do like the fact that the from of the ship appears to have several prongs sticking out ahead of the nose of the ship, which puts us in mind of the Simulant Death Ship from Series X. And with that, we’re looking too hard again. Let’s get back on safer ground shall we?

Attack Earth in the past to assimilate the future

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This is the point at which the First Contact references start to become really apparent. The plot of First Contact revolves around the idea that after a confrontation with the Federation, a group of Borg including the Borg Queen manage to escape an exploding Borg Qube in a Borg Sphere while presumably cacking their Borg slacks.

They time travel into the past to 4th April 2063 and attack the Earth in an attempt to prevent First Contact; the moment in Earth’s history when humanity made contact with alien life after Zefram Cochrane’s historic warp flight.

In Twentica meanwhile, the Exapanoids trick the Dwarfers into giving them the Casket of Chronos to allow them to time jump back in Earth’s history to the 1920s. Once there, they work to hold back the development of technology past that decade to stop mankind developing further and gaining technology that they are ill equip to deal with.

What a hackneyed old cliche.

‘We appear to be caught in a temporal wake’

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As the Enterprise follows the Borg Sphere into the past on it’s temporal wake, they see a the face of the Earth change as a wave passes across it, showing the different timeline that the Borg, slightly ahead of them, are presently creating in the past.

In Twentica, the face of the planet doesn’t change, but the Dwarfers do arrive at a historically altered version of the world. They then immediately get caught in an EMP wave passing across the planet to stop anything electronic approaching.

Visually, there is certainly a similarity between the film and the TV show, and the same applies in reverse at the end of Twentica as Starbug flies away from Earth.

‘Space: the final frontier…’

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The Enterprise’s trip into the past on the temporal wake is further mimicked in the above shot, but there is a further element to tie it to Trek; the music.

As Starbug begins to time-surf  on the Expanoids slipstream, a reflective music cue plays that has a striking resemblance to the opening of the TNG theme tune, over which Patrick Stewart would recite the famous ‘Space…’ something, something, something speech that is so well known, and as would be quoted word for word by Lister in Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers.

Let’s compare them side by side. First of all we have the music cue from Twentica:

 

And here we have the cue from The Next Generation:

 

For the musically minded among you, both pieces are in Bb, and though the tempo of the TNG theme is faster, there is a clear and unquestionably intended similarity to that theme in the choice of cue for Twentica.

For the non-musically minded among you, MAN HIT BLACK BUTTONS ON PIANO AND IT SOUND THE SAME DON’T IT?

‘And you people, you’re all astronauts on… some kind of star trek?’

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Even though the Enterprise manages to destroy the Borg Sphere, it’s not before it has first had  chance to fire on Earth, specifically on a missile complex in Montana. It is here that Zefram Cochrane is constructing the Phoenix. The crew of the Enterprise decide that they must help Cochrane complete the ship and launch it on t’s all important flight to ensure the course of history.

Of course, considering their determination to protect the course of events as they know them, it seems slightly questionable that they then detail the events of the future to Cochrane. Or scare him with tales of the feats history expects him to achieve. Or co-pilot on the ships maiden voyage.

The reason that they find themselves needing to do so however is that the legendary man they expect to meet is in fact a hopeless alcoholic, racked with self doubt, and only interested in conducting the scientific breakthrough for his own financial gain. The shit.

In Twentica, the Dwarfers also appear to meet a legendary figure from history in the form of Albert Einstein. Like Cochrane, he too is far from the man they expect to meet, drinking on the street and pushing a pram full of string. In this case however, he turns out not to be the scientific genius fallen on hard times, but rather a bum named Bob who they’ve mistaken the identity of.

You’d think they’d have learned to double check the identities of all these famous historical figures they meet by now. Jesus.

‘Please state the nature of the medical emergency’

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Not a direct reference as such, but one worth a mention none the less is the inclusion. In First Contact, while half of the crew busy themselves dealing with events on Earth, the other half of the crew is confronting Borg that have stowed away on the Enterprise. While doing this, Beverley Crusher activates the character of The Doctor as a distraction so that they can escape.

Introduced in the first episode of Star Trek Voyager on 16th January 1995, The Doctor was a hologram that was activated when the ship’s CMO was killed. His movements were initially restricted to the ships sickbay and holodeck because those were the only places that his holoemitters were located, but he would later acquire a mobile holographic emitter from the 29th century to allow him to move about more freely.

So far, so Rimmer, and anyone that had the Red Dwarf Six of The Best video set in the 90s may well remember Rob and Doug discussing this fact with Ed Bye on the accompanying CD. It’s slightly amusing therefore that when Red Dwarf does parody a Star Trek film, it’s the only one to feature a character that could potentially have taken some influence from Red Dwarf.

‘Well, well, well. Look what the cat dragged in. What’s shakin’, Dicks?’

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To hide from the Borg, Picard takes Sloane onto the holodeck and loads up chapter twelve of the holographic novel The Big Goodbye. They don appropriate costumes for the 40s bar setting, and try to quietly locate Nicky the Nose, who Picard plans to get hold of a weapon from and kill the Borg with it. He’s able to do this as the safety protocols have been disabled.

Yes, apparently someone deemed it a good idea to give the computer the option to allow it’s holographic program to kill people. Then again, in a  world in which Kinnect was deemed a good idea, anything is possible.

The Dwarfers meanwhile end up in a period bar in America too, though theirs is 20s in appearance and actually in the 50s. In both cases, things escalate with the arrival of their bio-mechanical foes.

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After a short confrontation, the Borg and the Expands are each defeated and our heroes come out on top.

Fortunately though, Twentica resolves the confrontation by having Bob shoot the simulates with the EMP, rather than having Lister uncharacteristically pull out a tommy gun and mow everyone down while screaming before trying to break their skulls with the gun butt.

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With that, Piccard and the Dwarfers quickly leave the holodeck and alternate Earth respectively. Though they both engage in a bit of corpse raiding before legging it.

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And that’s the lot. Well, unless next week in Samsara we see Kryten having Cat’s skin stapled to his face before shedding the flesh off a guest character with toxic green gas. That’s a tad unlikely, but we certainly won’t be surprised to see Trek spoofed again in the future.

tng-introcastThanks for reading. If you enjoyed this article and like taking a ridiculously pedantic look at Star Trek The Next Generation, then why not listen to our podcast First Contact over at our sister site, The Spoilist.

Why did the show spend it’s whole location budget on one horse? What happened when the ships puppies grew up and went feral? And of all the names you could give to an immaculately conceived starchild, why would you choose Ian?

We go through each episode and ask the big questions Trek never wanted you to ask.

And if you haven’t seen TNG, don’t forget our Red Dwarf podcast, The Garbage Podcast, is available to download on this site and will return this Thursday with our review of Twentica.