This is the year they lost Ed Bye. He'd come back eventually, but this year he'd be directing his wife Ruby Wax's TV show, The Full Wax. Juliet May, his replacement as director, struggled and eventually left halfway through, leaving the remaining episodes to be directed by Grant and Naylor.
What's more, I'm not surprised. Last year I thought they were occasionally beginning to lose their grip on the premise of the show, but this year just feels wrong. It's not the scripts. I like the ideas, I like the gags and oddly enough I'd say that the only weak script of the bunch is one of their more successful productions and was chosen to open the season. Unfortunately the emphasis feels off. They've got a bit more money and the show looks less obviously cheap, but it feels as if they've lost the ability to shoot their actors. Look at the episode endings, for instance. Not the credits sequence, but the last shot or two that's meant to be the punchline of the whole episode. Grant and Naylor have written some perfectly good gags for these, but somehow they fall flat.
Meanwhile Chris Barrie has lost it in half the episodes as Rimmer. I never saw him in The Brittas Empire, but maybe his role in that might have been affecting his performance? It's possible that he's trying to turn Rimmer into less of a weasel and more of a human being, I suppose, but unfortunately a prerequisite to either of those is to be convincing.
It's a shame, because these should have been good episodes. Furthermore I have to admit that these complaints are so subjective that I'm basically trying to nail fog to a wall here. I can imagine lots of people loving this season, since I'm tempted to call this the strongest bunch of scripts since Norman Lovett left. They've officially abandoned any connection with those early seasons and sorted out the structural problems that plagued them last year with trying to cram in too many ideas without doing justice to any of them. The ideas are still strong and the show's even still evolving. They've all but abandoned Red Dwarf itself, oddly enough. Every episode sees them jaunting around in Starbug, with Red Dwarf being somewhere they only pop back to from time to time. Hattie Hayridge is so underused that I was once startled to hear her contribute to a conversation. It's no surprise that next year is the one in which they'd officially ditch the main ship and turn the crew into Starbug beatniks.
My summary of the season is that it starts with three disappointing episodes and ends with three good'uns. Notice the way they've saved a particularly strong episode for the season finale again, by the way.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. When hanging out with Lister, Cat and Kryten, we're getting some truly classic scenes. The scene with Lister and Don Warrington is terrific, while their interviewing of replacement holograms is a scream. Unfortunately those are just the twiddly bits bolted on to what's basically a Rimmer episode and his plot doesn't work.
This is the episode in which Rimmer goes aboard a holoship crewed by superintelligent holograms who are willing to have sex with him. Okay so far. Chris Barrie seems off his game to me, but I can live with that. However the episode loses it when Jane Horrocks falls in love with Rimmer, which I suppose isn't completely implausible on an "ooooh, a caveman" level but still takes the episode to a finale that's just ludicrous. Yes, I can see that they're deliberately playing with schmaltz. However it's unfortunate that everything this episode fails at was pulled off successfully in the previous year
's season opener, "Camille".
It also doesn't help that life aboard the holoship doesn't look very interesting. The crew are boring, the ship is boring and frankly it doesn't seem as if Rimmer's losing very much at the end. Would you like to spend eternity with that lot? I mean, really?
Continuity note: Don Warrington recognises the Cat as felis sapiens, so maybe the Holoship had run into the second Cat Ark? Why didn't the show do more with its Cats, eh? An entire species had evolved on Red Dwarf over millions of years and it's never even mentioned after Waiting for God
. On the contrary, later this year the Cat even uses "Frankenstein" as a term of abuse despite the fact that that should theoretically be blasphemy, being the name Lister gave to the original mother of all of Red Dwarf's cats. That annoyed me, you know.
26. THE INQUISITOR
It's a reset button episode. I like the way they're so openly embracing the absurdities of time travel and deliberately pushing it as far as they are, but it's obvious far in advance that this will be a reset button episode. Sigh. However there's plenty of good stuff en route, with some interesting causality and the Inquisitor's trials being completely different to the superficially similar material in "Justice" last year.
Why does Lister get replaced with a near-identical Lister, though? Doing anything else might have overloaded an already complicated story, I suppose.
Another Rimmer-centric episode, so it really doesn't help that Chris Barrie's still lost it. This should have been an excellent episode, but in practice it irritates me. It's what I was talking about the show not taking seriously its characters or scenarios. Look at the opening, for instance. Starbug's crashed, Rimmer's missing and Kryten's been cut in half and is having to cannibalise his own parts in order to make something that can call for help. That could have had weight. However what hits the screen has all the impact of a Tesco's Value facial tissue, with Kryten doing his usual chirpy gurning and the audience never being encouraged to believe even for a moment that any of this in any way matters.
That said, there's still good stuff here. I adore the scene with Lister's boxer shorts and the taranchula (sic) and I like where they take the idea of the psi-moon, i.e. the entire final act, even if the very end fell flat again for me. One good thing about Red Dwarf is the way they'll push standard SF concepts further than usual.
How does Kryten know it's a psi-moon in the first place, though? I realise he's now practically the show's narrator, but even so...
A good one at last! This was written as the cheap episode of the year, but the result as far as the audience are concerned is that the story has much more focus than usual. I like the fact that it's the only episode of the year not to throw something huge and wacky from space at our heroes. Instead it's closed and claustrophobic. There's quite a long scene which involves nothing more than Lister, Cat and Kryten getting on each other's nerves. Rimmer gets to wear a gingham dress and talk to a glove puppet. The cast are being written properly, in other words, with enough room for the performances to breathe.
Chris Barrie also seems to have recovered, which is nice. Yet again the very end underwhelmed me, though. Why? It's starting to mess with my head.
29. DEMONS AND ANGELS
It's one of those story ideas that works. Good and evil versions of the crew. It's a simple idea played to the hilt and a lot of fun. Rocky Horror Picture Rimmer are his friends are funny and that's all there is to it.
However note that this is the only story this year to begin with the crew on Red Dwarf rather than Starbug and even here it only takes Grant and Naylor three minutes to get everyone back into the latter and blast them off.
30. BACK TO REALITY
One of the most memorable episodes of the entire show, not just this 1992 season. It's a Phil K. Dick mindfuck, played with the kind of conviction I've been complaining about a lack of in other episodes. We start with the crew finding a bunch of corpses, continue with them fleeing for their lives and then only get nastier. It's both funny and strong. Duane Dibbley is one of those gags that everyone remembers, but I'm just as fond of things like the bit about Lister and Rimmer being half-brothers. They've even brought in Timothy Spall! For the space of these thirty minutes, I take back everything bad I've ever said about Red Dwarf.
Apparently this was expected at the time to be Red Dwarf's final year, due to cast availability. Robert Llewellyn was shooting the American Red Dwarf pilot
, although in the end that never became a series. The Brittas Empire was also going strong for Chris Barrie. Of course Red Dwarf did come back and I refuse to be disappointed because I don't believe in saying things like "Doctor Who should have ended in 1979", but I will say that this year felt more frustrating than its predecessor. Even its title sequence feels messy. This is still a rich, rewarding show with some unmissable scenes and episodes, but it's also clearly on a downward trajectory. For the first time I'm not entirely looking forward to the next season.