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Up to now Red Dwarf XII has more or less lived up to the claim that this series was more “out there”. Robot Hitlers, hundreds of mechanoids, whatever Timewave was and mechanoid elections have proven to be that little bit more inventive and different to what we had in Series XI. That now pushes into overdrive with M-Corp.
M-Corp provides surreal imagery in droves, massive pieces of character development, gargantuan pieces of character undevelopment, back references by the dozen and flying baked beans. This week truly is “out there”.
The episode opens with the rather monumental moment of Lister waking up on his 50th Birthday. One thing that new Red Dwarf is criticised for is how it deals with the characters ageing, so it is great to see this dealt with head on in exactly the way you would expect Lister to deal with it. By sticking his fingers in his ears and trying to forget he isn’t a fresh faced 25 year old any more.
But the big moments come thick and fast as Lister starts his 50th Birthday with his first ever heart attack. Or at least what he believed was his first heart attack, as it turns out just to have been a bad case of indigestion. We’ve all been there.
We are then introduced to Chippy; the chirpy and far less annoying replacement to Series X’s medi-bot. A great sequence ensues, as Chippy explores Lister’s heart and struggles to progress through his arteries. A malfunction then plunges us into the main plot as Kryten discovers that the ship has been delaying software updates and decides it is time to install them.
The ship updates introduce us to the new owners of Red Dwarf. In a scenario akin to something that could have been from the novels, we are told that M-Corp has not just bought out the Jupiter Mining Corporation, but it has bought the entire earth. This isn’t the only thing this week that is similar to the novels.
Sometimes Lister imagined he’d heard the phone ring, and he’d rush to pick it up.
On the evening of the fifth day as he staggered through the Red Dwarf shopping mall, toasting invisible crowds, he keeled over and blacked out.
Infinity Welcomes Careful Driver, Part 2, Chapter 1 (Pg. 103 – Omnibus Edition)
There are several story beats this week that recall moments from the first two Red Dwarf books. Lister roaming the ship alone harkens back to the memorable section of Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers in which a distraught Lister drunkenly stumbles around an empty ship before Holly decides he needs to resurrect Rimmer to keep him sane. Then we have Lister’s “heart attack” and his ageing, which will doubtless be familiar to all readers of Better Than Life. This isn’t the only sense of familiarity fans have felt watching Series XI/XII too.
‘Lister?’ Rimmer crouched over Lister’s immobile form. ‘Lister?’ he called again.
Kryten hurried over and knelt by his side. He looked down at Lister’s grey face.
‘Is he OK?’
‘He’s had a heart attack.’
Better Than Life, Part 3, Chapter 20 (Pg.535 – Omnibus Edition)
In Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers alone it touches on Helium moons (Part 2, Chapter 26), mechanoid slavery (Part 2, Chapter 24) and Hugo Lovepole’s love ballad Hey Baby, Don’t Be Ovulatin’ Tonight (Part 2, Chapter 23) which was repurposed as a Lister classic. We also see Kryten insist that he is “just a mechanoid” (Part 2, Chapter 23) in the same way Snacky insists he is just a dispensing machine in Give & Take.
Once you push on to Better Than Life, you are met with the concept of a personality surgery which was later used for Can of Worms. That being said, it sits right alongside the “solidgram” which was later repurposed as the hard-light hologram. Later in the book we also have Garbage World, which is reminiscent of Rimmerworld, even down to time dilation leaving a Rimmer/Lister alone for many years alone. So this isn’t the first time that the novels have been plundered for ideas.
But with all this in mind it would be churlish to say that M-Corp was unoriginal. Passing similarity to Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers or Better Than Life can make us forget how many new and inventive ideas M-Corp provides for Red Dwarf. Red Dwarf has a long history of stories based on real science and technology. Concepts such as backwards universes, multi-verses, white holes, virtual reality videogames and nanobots were all very current ideas in science and technology when Red Dwarf tackled them. This week we have, among other concepts, the idea of corporations making technology incompatible with other corporation’s technology, which is something that regularly happens now.
M-Corp is so brimming with great ideas that many of them pass by with little utilisation. Kryten explains that M-Corp introduced a thinking tax which taxes over-thinking, but this doesn’t feed into the plot other than add to the menace of the money grubbing M-Corp. There is also the idea of selling years of your life which could probably be good enough an idea to be made into a film perhaps called In Time, or failing that an episode of The Twilight Zone.
This isn’t to criticise the episode though, as I would much rather an episode be stuffed to the brim with great ideas that inflame the imagination. Just like when you read the novels, you find yourself pausing and considering the ramifications of such ideas in our society.
As we get into the heart of the episode, the M-Corp updates to the ship result in Lister being unable to see anything not produced by the M-Corp brand thanks to a perception filter. In possibly the rudest gag Red Dwarf has ever done, we have Kryten, Cat and Rimmer pretending to hold would could either be an electric toothbrush or a vibrator, and considering the character’s reactions to holding said invisible item, it is clearly hinted to be the latter. We also have the great visual gag of Cat spraying Lister with an invisible can of Leopard Lager.
Between amusing miming and some solid green screen work we see Lister’s half invisible world in full glory, replete with invisible plates, couches and even all of his pictures of Kochanski on his bunk are blanked out. The episode moves at such a fast pace that it leaves you wanting more of Lister’s lonely existence on an empty Red Dwarf.
As Lister finds his way to the M-Corp core, he finds that he is being swindled out of money as he is put into situations where spending money is the only remedy to his immediate peril. It’s a concept that’s familiar to those who play modern video games, which in some instances have been known to make games harder in order to push people to pay for additional in game content. Again, this is Red Dwarf taking a modern concept and twisting it to the extreme in many classic episodes.
The M-Corp core follows the same design as all M-Corp branding; a wash of pale blue and whites. All cool and calming colours which contrast the dystopian idea of M-Corp’s monopoly on everything including thought and words. Unlike in Timewave where the set and costume designs just added to the problems of the episode, M-Corp’s set and costumes provide a simple but effective design which enhance the final episode.
Back in the science room, Kryten, Cat and Rimmer are working on removing M-Corp from the ship, and succeed in doing so by reverting Red Dwarf back to the factory settings. This scene includes a back reference I never expected to see at this point, with a reference to Rimmer’s first kiss which was with his Uncle Frank. The fact that Rimmer voluntarily chooses to use Uncle Frank as the answer to his secret question for his login says an awful lot of deeply disturbing things about Rimmer…
With Red Dwarf restored, Kryten, Cat and Rimmer enter the M-Corp core where the find the aged Lister has spent his life away, and they must confront the face of M-Corp in order to escape with Lister.
Helen George is the main guest cast member this week, playing M-Corp’s representative credited as Aniter. Helen’s performance is pitch perfect as the face of M-Corp, playing the faux happy face whilst fleecing Lister of all his money and then of all his life. Strangely, the killing with kindness style of Aniter representing an evil money hungry monopoly provides even more menace than the emotionless Pree or the deranged Asclepius from recent series. Aniter is tied much closer to reality than either of these example, and leaves us with one of the darkest concepts for a dystopian future that Red Dwarf has ever produced.
Another guest star this week was a rather surprising appearance from Red Dwarf’s current regular warm-up man, Ian Boldsworth. Being a fan of his recent podcast, The Parapod, I am delighted he has taken the step forward in front of the camera much like in the early days when warm-up man Tony Hawks would appear as vending machines or club comperes. Ian Boldsworth’s part isn’t quite as grand as Emperor Caligula. Ian plays Steve. Steve is worth the princely sum of $£300. And he drinks real ale. It’s a fun cameo and elicits some good laughs, and at least Steve can console himself that he is worth a good $£100 more than Talkie Toaster which retails at the bargain price of $£199.99.
The ending is where I feel the episode is to a small extent let down. The idea that M-Corp is such a money grubbing corporation that they will even sell you the method to destroy themselves is both funny and inventive, if similar in logic to how Pree was dispatched from Fathers and Suns. While I enjoyed the ending to that particular plot stran,d it is the Lister thread that is then left open with an additional resolution being required and this is where I found that I wasn’t quite as on-board.
Much like Rimmer losing one month, they now realise as Lister has not made a hologram backup for almost 27 years, and that they will have to revert him to when he was 23 in order to stop M-Corp’s hold on his brain. This means him losing the last 27 years and Kryten hand waving this with the explanation that he can recreate his memories using CCTV footage. CCTV footage will not capture everything.
Gone is Lister’s speech to JFK as he was being driven to Hoover Open Prison. Gone is Lister’s speech to Kochanski in his joy squid hallucination. Gone is his night of passion with his GELF bride. Also just boiling Lister’s memory down to just CCTV footage is a gross oversimplification of what memories are. The only time I’ve seen a worse oversimplification of memories is in Star Trek episode The Changeling, which has Uhura relearning everything she knows in just about two weeks after having it erased.
Whilst I do have a big gripe on this plot point, it doesn’t dampen how happy I am for the little fan service we get in the very final scene. Lister recreating the very first scene of the show is the type of shot that could easily have meant this episode could have went out last. It almost seems like it was designed to do exactly that, and I would be perfectly happy if this were the final shot of the last ever episode. I just hope next week can deliver just as good an ending scene which could possibly stand as the last episode ever.
On balance, I think this is a superb episode of Red Dwarf which is ever so slightly hampered by the resolution to one plot strand. It isn’t enough for me to stop looking on this episode very fondly though, and it right now sits comfortably in my top 5 of the Dave era. M-Corp is brimming with ideas and is packed into a very short run time (it is one of the ten shortest episodes of Red Dwarf). Minor tweaks to the resolution and a little bit more time for the ideas to breath and this would have been a perfect episode of Red Dwarf.
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