Red Dwarf X: Fathers And Suns review

Review Pete Dillon-Trenchard 11 Oct 2012 - 21:36

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.

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Read Pete's review of the previous episode, Trojan, here.

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it was explained in Back To Earth that Lister had Left a Bath Running for 9 years and several floors had collapsed,the damage had ruined Holly and that the Skutters were " still Drying Him out"

Holly's absence was explained in Back To Earth - Lister left a tap on and damaged his circuits when the flooding caused several levels of the ship to collapse.

I think you missed the point on the chinese whispers front.

I had a feeling some people would disagree with me on that one; what would you say was the point, out of interest?

The point of the Chinese Whispers was to get the vending machine to mention Stasis, thus giving Lister the idea that he is a crewman in waiting, which was the Chekhov's Gun from earlier, thereby forcing the computer to uninstall herself. Pay attention at the back :)

I understood how it tied into the plot! I'm just pretty sure there's other ways Lister could've been reminded about stasis without the bad jokes and borderline-racist caricature...

Thought the idea with the chinese whispers, apart from giving Dave the idea to save the day, was to just make the joke about everyone being massively concerned about being a bit racist, whilst being a bit racist.

The video message scene was terribly good, but much of the rest of the humour was extremely broad and, in some instances, surprisingly regressive and old school. I don't think either episode so far has been particularly special, although I still have faith that some good stuff is coming. The show has a strange feel for me at the moment, due to it's pretty decent attempt to relate back to the feel of the early series, but at the same time somehow glossing over much of the "bigger picture" back-story.

I had forgotten 'Ouroboros' - or however the heck you spell it - was a VII episode, that was an excellent and surprisingly poignant little slice of 'Dwarf... if people go back and actually watch VII (and VIII while you're at it), they'll be pleased and surprised at just how well it stands up now.

'Fathers and Suns' was a definite improvement over 'Trojan'; the jokes were better, the deliveries better, Rebecca Blackstone was great, and the whole thing looked just stunning... if they keep building on this, quality-wise, I think a series XI may not only be a possibility, but actually something to look forward to, and where's Chloe Annett!?

Was better than 'Trojan', but all things considered, I wish Doug Naylor had stuck with the movie, the thought of a 3-D 'Dwarf movie on the big screen is much more exciting than a new series...

I have to disagree with your review. I thought that this was one of the best episodes of Red Dwarf I've seen (and I've seen them all many times). Funny throughout with some clever ideas. Enjoyed it more than Trojan. Very pleasantly surprised and looking forward to the rest of the series! Good work boys!

Nah, the movie supposedly didn't follow on from the series, it was a total reboot with the same cast, so I'm kinda glad they stuck with the canonical timeline for 'Back To Earth' and the new series.

I remember reading somewhere that the last episode of season 8 'Only The Good' wasn't going to be the last episode originally, they had a planned final episode scripted called 'Earth' that had to be scrapped for budgetary reasons and saw Red Dwarf finally make it back to (you guessed it) Earth only to crash through several famous monuments and ended with the crew sharing insurance info with the last surviving resident of the planet; that would have been great, still, if the new series works out well, in ratings and DVD/Blu-Ray sales, let's hope Doug Naylor resurrects this idea at some point, it really is the only proper way to finish the entire Red Dwarf saga whenever that point arrives... but hopefully not for a while, and certainly not before we get a resolution of the season 8 cliffhanger and discover what happened between 8 and 'Back To Earth'!

Thoroughly enjoying the new series, my only question is if Dave can finance this (which I believe is co-owned by the BBC) why couldn't this have been a BBC series.

Pete, if you understood how it tied into the plot, why in the post just below this one are you asking Ryan "what would you say was the point, out of interest?". Don't tell us it's because you wanted another opinion or you were testing him. It's obvious from the review that you needed people on here to explain. Oh, and whilst I remember, if it's "anachronistic to have characters in a post-1980 sitcom saying these lines" how come it works so well in The Office, South Park, Family Guy, Not Going Out................?

That's the point though, it works so WELL in other shows. The Office and Extras are pretty much centred on those kind of set-ups. Although the shows you listed are quite different from each other, Red Dwarf is different again, and I don't think it played out very well here. It wasn't done with subtlety, showing the irony of people trying to be PC and digging themselves into a hole; instead it was just a slightly clumsy and throwaway "c-plot". Red Dwarf has chosen to get back to the traditional live audience sitcom, and the feel of the early shows, but some of the humour seems to have wound back to the 80s (or even the 70s) along with it (and not just the possibly mildly dubious jokes, but also the broadness of it too).

I liked the Dave Jr plot but didnt find this episode particulary funny. Bet everyone dislikes this...

But that is the running joke in Red Dwarf the backstory and changes to continuity are all part of the fun.

For example the change from series 2 - 3. Albeit they explain with what happened with listers pregnancy in the opening credits. They gloss over the change in the amount of crew that was on red dwarf and the changes to the ship.

My guess to explain all the errors/changes to continuity is that each series since Parallel Universe and the Holly Hop Drive dimension jumping, that each subsequent series we see are from the different dimensions created.

When he said I'd 'missed the point', I assumed he meant in terms of why they were going where they were going, rather than how it fitted into the plot. The way it tied into the plot was not, *in my opinion*, crucial enough to justify the weak joke and horrible caricature that had come before. Perhaps my wording was unclear, and if so I apologise.

As Bunter points out, this sort of thing can be done very well, but it was not done well here. Again, in my opinion.

It works well in those situations because it's usually a character they need to show up as a racist for comic effect making some horrendously inappropriate comment.

The subplot was ok, it was the simple fact that 'Taiwan Tony' the chinese vending machine was bordering on blackface, and it really took me out of the episode for a moment to wonder, 'did they really just do that?'

The episode was going swimmingly up til then too.

That was horrible. The Chinese Whispers plot was awful. There were no particularly good jokes. The main plot was rushed and incoherent. And what has happened to Rimmer? where's the spite, the smarm, the denial... and while I'm moaning, why are they playing it so broad and acting to the audience so much?

I liked Trojan but this was a huge come-down. A top 5 worst episode

It wasn't even that, yes, the joke was clumsy, but that's ok, it was purely the 'slitty eyes' caricature of the vending machine that was bordering on offensive

borderline racist...i thought it was flat out racist....and you know what, it was refreshing to see. everyone knows its offensive because we have seen it before, making fun of it is just one of the things we have to do. when it comes to TELLING A JOKE you arent going to make any progress if all you try to do is play it safe.

You cant make an omelet with out killing a chicken.

I'm pretty sure you actually can make an omelette without killing a chicken.

someone clearly doesnt know how eggs work....or how analogies work. im not sure which it is.

That's one pretty big egg you're using if the chicken dies laying it ;)

The Beeb turned Dwarf away a few years ago. Silly idea, but there you are. Dave's co-owned by BBC Worldwide, which makes things a little complicated.

I agree with just about everything you pointed out. I thought the chinese joke fell flat, but wasn't offended by it.

It's more that they don't seem to have done anything with it. Series 1 and 2 had quaint charm, and are my favourites, and highlighted the sense of loneliness and loss. Series 3, 4 and 5 were much more adventure-based, and all-in-all I thought they were brilliant. It never bothered me that it was massively inconsistent across the series. Then series 6 came along, and it has some great material in it, but too much reliance on weak jokes like the Cat's sudden smelling ability, or the Space Core Directives. 7, well, it's grown on me but it's still not quite the ticket. And 8, I think they did well with trying to refocus the show on banter. Back to Earth was quite dire, but it was also, for better or for worse, an "event" series. My point is that across the series, no matter how different they were, it always felt like they were driving forward with it, with a new predicament established (e.g. lost Red Dwarf) every now and again. This series though, whilst I applaud the idea of making it character focussed, seems to have little ambition, so far at least. Of course every episode should ultimately be a funny, self-contained slice of sitcom, but it comes across now like Doug Naylor couldn't really be bothered to think anything up. That would be more acceptable if the first two episodes were funnier, but I felt they were just mediocre, and sometimes far too broad. You'd think Naylor would have Red Dwarf gold coming out of this ears, just waiting to be unleased on the audience, after all the time it's been off-screen, but for me it's just not that brilliant at the moment. I still love Red Dwarf, I'll still watch each week, and I'll still buy the DVD, I just wish it was funnier. I seem to remember Back to Earth being much more warmly received when it first came out, whereas now it's soundly trashed. RD X is certainly an improvement, but I wonder if the positive feeling will fade over time, somewhat? Still, 4 episodes still to come.

You definitely missed the point re: the chinese whispers joke. The joke is in what isn't said: i.e. characters query whether 'chinese whispers' is racist but are unaware of the latent racism of having a vending machine called Taiwan Tony -from Taiwan which is a 'bit chineeesy', The joke is about the characters' ignorance and not about amusing anachronistic racial stereotypes. The fact that you didn't see this is evidence of exactly the kind of redundant political correctness that the sketch is lampooning. I found this aspect of the episode... comfortably amusing. X

There's definitely some persuasive arguments being made, and it's possible having read them all that I did miss the point to some degree or other. I still think the plot had no good payoff, that RD shouldn't be resorting to 'comedy' Asian voices and that it wasn't very well handled all round, but I do concede that there may have been an ironic intent I didn't entirely pick up on when I wrote the review.

But hey - these things will only ever be one person's opinion; I can only go with what I felt when watching it and then debate it later...

God this was terrible. The chinese whispers gag in particular was woefully unfunny & unnecessary

BBC make some really poor decisions. Don't forget they cancelled Doctor Who and pretty much tried to offload it to American production companies

Everyone who LOVES this episode: are you seriously saying this is up there with Polymorph, Thanks for the Memory, Gunmen, Back to Reality... Hell, *anything* from the first 6 years of the show?

This was incredibly weak. There was one standout scene (Lister talking to himself) but a severe lack of decent jokes and the Chinese whispers plot... Awful. On top of that we had pantomime performances from the medi-bot guy that belonged in series VIII.

Trojan was a solid start to the series but this was woefully under-par. I adore this show when it's on form, but I find it painful to watch when it's faltering.

I think a new series is far more exciting than a film.

That god awful laugh track, I know it's supposed to have been filmed in front of an audience but I doubt they're were laughing that annoyingly at some of the unfunny bits so loudly. But even the slightest joke is met with howls of fake laughs. Old RD didn't need to TELL you when to laugh, it had jokes in it so you'd laugh automatically.

So far, Red Dwarf X hasn't done anything to convince me that it's anywhere even close to being near to where the show used to be. It's not as bad as Back to Earth, but it still resembles a fan made production that just tries too hard.

I agree with you sir, except regarding Gunmen, which I thought was also quite poor and hugely overrated. I do think some fans are kidding themselves about this series. I also think it happened with Back to Earth more than people would like to admit now.

Do you really, honestly, not find it a lot broader than past series? The video message was good, but the rest was just so weak. Compared to Better Than Life or Back To Reality, it seems very poor to me.


love the new series so far (only seen first 2 tho), but have to say dissapointed with sudden use of swear words.

We actually have the children's game "Chinese Whispers" here in the US, except here we call it "Telephone, Telephone". And yes I agree that Taiwan was a bit racist, even if the running gag was the crew were worried about being p.c.. The rest of the episode was passable (and Rebecca Blackstone was hot as Pree); but the whole subplot with the message getting distorted like a game of Chinese Whispers/Telephone, Telephone and coming around to "stasis" seemed a bit belaboured. Overall while the new series has been an improvement over Back To Earth, I'm still not knocked out by it. Maybe the remaining three episodes will change my mind.

The most subtle racism in the chinese whispers scene is that 'Chinese Tony' had the chinese for 'Cat' on the machine in a little lantern. Implying it was cat meat maybe? Hm.

I'm glad they addressed the computer situation, and Pree (Cassandra + Queeg = Wholesome goodness of evil) almost steals the show. Each additional revelation is made more poignant by the events of the previous, starting with how she reveals she "fixed" B-deck in the way Rimmer would.

The Chinese Whispers joke started out as a shocker, but as the episode moved forward, so did the joke and the handling was pretty much terrific. And if the joke had misfired, there would be a LOT more vitriol from people aimed against it.

I've seen 4 of the 6 episodes so far.

Every ep so far is far better than just about everything in series 7-9. The only series 6 episodes that are hard to top would be "Psirens" and "Out of Time". The middle four have two good episodes and two turkeys, but even the "good" episodes ("Legion", "Rimmerworld") have enough problems that it doesn't take much for me to say "just about everything in series 6-9" instead.)

Yes, it is universal that the "Lister talking to himself while drunk so he doesn't remember" is sheer genius, especially (and ironically) as this builds on that series 7 episode where Lister finds out he's his own dad... (Oroborous?)

Series 5, 3, and 2 are pretty much THE best, but some of RDX's episodes are remarkably solid, and as - despite series 6 being such a clunkersuck, I can't remember much of any of series 4's stories right now. Apart from shooting planets with pool, but I don't recall it being the best of the bunch ("White Hole"?). "Camille" was the best, but that was just reflecting on the characters themselves and little more. Series 6 blows most of series 4 out of the sky, with ease.

While demanding an opening credits reference AND having it written by a Brit, so why Americans get scapegoated for it all is shameless, especially as Americans didn't write it and that's what most people had been whinging on about... ;-(

'slitty eyes'? I saw the machine head on and didn't perceive anything like that. I recall the red LEDs comprising the 'mouth' that lit up when the machine spoke, but that was it. Thankfully I loved the episode, so I'll pay attention to anthropomorphized eyes instead of mouths next time. :)

Agreed. I think I fathomed it, but reading Ryan's response might ensure we're all on the same page...

I'm ambivalent, since I thought the constant one-upping on the miscommunication became more witty, but at the same time to try to re-use cliched racial stereotype comedy is VERY risky. Reusing any old humor is risky enough as people might denounce it as being "worn out" and redoing the same jokes, but taking something racial is even more risky... I think they pulled it off, but I too was shocked by the first scene incorporating the line. "What the hel..." but as the episode went on...

Maybe if I rewatch it, I won't like it as much...

Or the writers are lazy, or any of 500 possibilities.

RD rarely had any real continuity to begin with, and - with their separate novelizations - Grant and Naylor only made things even more difficult. I gave up on the continuity and just opted to enjoy the show. This isn't "Star Trek TNG" and its spinoffs, where the only reason for their goofs truly is "laziness"... That and Trek isn't a comedy, for a comedy I don't think adherence to continuity is that important, unless the show deliberately creates and tries to maintain one, at which point to deviate from it will only create just due scorn from viewers. :)

A couple of times did reveal a laugh track - it's easy enough to pick up on, but a lot of the laughing clearly is based on a real studio audience...

RD X, to me, is on par with series 4 - overall. It's definitely better than almost all of series 7-9, and it's definitely better than the bulk of series 6 as well...

That season 7 ep stunk, both then and now. It's flat, tries to feel like an epic movie (in 30 minutes), and has Red Dwarf characters poorly grafted on.

It's ironic that a clunker episode with a stupid denouement ends up being the progenitor to "Fathers and Suns", one of RD's finer outings as a story. But then, Star Trek TNG had an android bonking a depressed security chief in "The Naked Now", and yet "The Measure of a Man", "Legacy", and a couple other episodes refer back to that season 1 travesty and manage to elevate its status in the process...

For me, Tikka to Ride and Stoke Me a Clipper best everything in XI, even the high-points of Trojan and The Beginning. Dear Dave and Entangled, IMHO, are worse than pretty much everything in Red Dwarf's history, aside from the absolute stinkers like "Pete" and "Krytie TV".

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