Red Dwarf X: Fathers And Suns review
The second of Red Dwarf's new episodes may be something of a mixed bag, but the tenth series is still on great form...
This review contains spoilers.
10.2 Fathers And Suns
Ask a random group of Red Dwarf fans which series is their least favourite, and there’s a good chance that more than one of them will reply “Series seven”. Fathers and Suns takes what could be seen as a bit of a risky move, then, as it revisits the issue of Lister’s parentage from Red Dwarf VII’s Ouroboros. Fortunately, as with last week’s Trojan, this episode has at its core a tight, character-focused story which makes you wonder why the plot wasn’t picked up on much earlier.
The idea that Lister is his own dad was always one filled with comic potential, and that’s perfectly realised here as he starts to think about what this actually means. In last week’s review I suggested that Craig Charles had been under-utilised in the series opener; that’s absolutely not a complaint that could be levelled at this instalment. And while Chris Barrie didn’t necessarily get the lion’s share of the jokes in that Rimmer-centric episode, Charles absolutely does here; the “There’s a whiny noise”/“You’re still talking” scene could in other hands have been a big misfire, but it’s played so well that each one of Lister’s interjections becomes a solid ‘woofer’, almost in spite of the repetition.
The scene in which Lister Jr plays back the series of video messages left for him by his drunk father is probably one of the finest Lister scenes in the show’s history, and it’s a testament to Charles that the father-son dynamic really works, rather than just seeming a bit daft.
The writing for Lister in this episode is spot-on too, as evidenced by the fact that even when drunk he comes up with the perfect plan to force himself into enrolling on the engineers’ course... But makes one crucial oversight. As with last week, it’s reassuring to get a sense that the writers and actors know precisely who these characters are again. (And the idea of Lister trying to force himself to improve ties in neatly with the idea introduced in Back to Earth that Lister had got himself into something of a rut).
It was Rimmer and Kryten’s turn to handle the main subplot this week, with the installation of a new ship’s computer. The Rimmer/Kryten dynamic has always been a strong one, and it’s no exception here, although there’s something unsettling about Rimmer’s persistence in the avatar-selection scene; perhaps it goes on for slightly too long, but the usually pent-up Rimmer seems just a little too overtly lecherous for my liking. It’s nice to get a mention of Holly, but it’s interesting that Doug Naylor decided not to give an explanation for the character’s continued absence from the show. One for the deleted scenes, perhaps?
Once booted up, Rebecca Blackstone plays Pree, the beautiful-but-deadly computer, who seems to be a bit of a melding of series two’s Queeg, and Cassandra, the future-predicting computer from series eight. Blackstone plays the role well, managing not to fall into the trap of having Pree come across as malicious. There’s some very funny stuff here, such as Pree’s ‘fixing’ of B-deck in the way that Rimmer would have done it (Which was, strangely, given away in the trailer at the end of Trojan), and it manages to tie in well to the Lister plot, but it’s hard not to draw comparisons to Queeg, which handled the replacement-computer idea brilliantly - here, it feels like something which was done purely to satisfy the fans who wanted the ship’s computer situation to be addressed.
My main problem with Fathers and Suns was in its C-plot (Yes, we’re doing C-plots now), with the Chinese whispers between the vending machines and the Dwarfers. At best, it was a pretty obvious joke which lacked any big payoff at the end of the episode. At worst... None of the characters come out of it particularly well, do they? Both Rimmer’s mentions of Chinese laundry and little yellow hats and Lister’s line about Taiwan being “a bit Chinese-y” are clearly reflections of the characters’ ignorance and stupidity rather than anything malicious, but it seems anachronistic to have characters in a post-1980 sitcom saying these lines - and that’s before you get to Canadian actor Kerry Shale’s thickly-accented portrayal of ‘Taiwan Tony’, the less said about which, the better. The whole thing seemed ill-judged and inconsequential, which is a shame given the excellent material elsewhere in the episode.
As with last week’s episode, Fathers and Suns both looked and sounded stunning; there was very little in the way of model work in this one, but Lister entering the ship via the ram scoop was a very nice visual, and Howard Goodall once again proves what a valuable asset he is to the show during the episode’s climactic scenes.
Fathers and Suns was a far more uneven instalment than last week’s opener, but some strong comedic moments and a sterling central performance from Craig Charles prevent it from being too big a bump on the road for Red Dwarf X.
Read Pete's review of the previous episode, Trojan, here.
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