This review contains spoilers.
The last few episodes of Red Dwarf have – intentionally or otherwise – skirted the shores of controversy, with Taiwan Tony in Fathers and Suns, and an uncomfortable operation for Jesus (okay, not that one) in Lemons, sailing close to the wind for some viewers. I’m happy to report, then, that Entangled is unlikely to offend anyone – except, perhaps, people who eat garbage, who presumably have bigger problems to worry about than their portrayal here.
In fact, Entangled starts as un-controversially as possible, with a classic Rimmer-Lister scene that feels like it’s wandered in straight out of the first couple of series. Over the years, Rimmer and Lister’s dynamic has evolved to the point where, whilst not treating one another exactly as equals, they at least recognise the fact that they’re both in the same boat. So to have Rimmer pulling rank and insisting that Lister follow regulations again feels like a bit of a strange throwback; I half-expected Rimmer to pull out a notebook and put Lister on report. Fortunately it’s also a very funny throwback, as Lister pricks Rimmer’s pomposity with mentions of the accident that wiped out the crew.
Elsewhere, Cat runs into Kryten and sparks off one of the week’s main plot points, as the pair become ‘quantum-entangled’, giving the episode its name. It’s an interesting science-fiction concept from writer Doug Naylor, as Cat and Kryten find themselves increasingly synchronised and prone to coincidence. It’s an idea that’s also initially quite an amusing one, albeit one which inevitably suffers from a law of diminishing returns – as Rimmer points out later in the episode, it does start to get annoying, and like any joke (or at least, any joke not uttered by Stewart Lee) it’s never as funny as the first time you hear it; it certainly becomes more of a plot device than a running gag as the episode reaches its climax. That said, it’s a very impressive and perfectly-timed performance from Robert Llewellyn and Danny John-Jules, which helps sell the idea.
While Entangled is very much an ensemble piece, it’s nice to see Robert Llewellyn with some proper comedic material for him to get his panel-beaten head around, for perhaps the first time since Trojan. There’s a lot for him to do in the first half in particular, with highlights including the spoon-drying scene and the scene in which he confronts Lister, both of which have been heavily trailed by Dave in the weeks leading up to the series.
Actually, that would be one of my main complaints about the first half of the episode; it feels as though we saw all of the funniest bits months ago. This is, of course, no fault of the episode itself, and it’s likely that the majority of the audience will be coming to these scenes for the first time, but it’s unfortunate that so much of the trailered material came from the same one, though a testament to how strong some of these moments are.
And while we’re on the subject of Dave, is it just me who’s finding some of the ad break positions a tad bizarre? Last week’s Lemons cut out in the middle of a key scene, and this week’s in the middle of an effects shot. Obviously without ad breaks we wouldn’t have a series at all, but some of the choices feel unusual, to say the least.
Going back to the episode itself, the opening scenes feel far less peripheral to the episode than some have in recent weeks, although again the scenes are all two-handers, with the crew not being united until over a third of the way through the episode. Whilst it does allow for some solid jokes and strong character exchanges, at times it does lend the show a slightly empty atmosphere. When the main four are finally together, however, they’re firing on all cylinders, with Cat once again stealing the evolved lion’s share of the laughs.
The main plot of the episode, with Lister losing Rimmer in a card game and having to find a way out of the explosive device around his groin, has shades of the action-adventure plots of series six, and the colony of BEGGs feels straight out of that era, in the best possible way (Indeed, guest star Steven Wickham played Lister’s GELF bride in Emohawk). It’s a short but memorable scene, with some superb costumes for the BEGGS. And once again, the set designers make the most of the small space available to them, combining with some rather pretty CGI to give the impression of a larger world. Although the scene does beg the question: How did Lister manage to lose Starbug and (particularly) Rimmer if he thought there was a language barrier..?
The costuming literally gets hairier as the crew travel to the station and find Professor Edgington, played at first by Peter Elliott, ‘the film industry’s primary primate’, who has made appearances in everything from Congo to The Mighty Boosh. His reveal is an effective and amusing one, and it wasn’t just Lister half-expecting to see Kochanski emerging from stasis. It’s no surprise, given his experience, that Elliott makes a very convincing monkey, which presumably left more than one member of the studio audience wondering if they’d got a real one in.
We do eventually get to see a female human aboard the Dwarf, in the form of Sydney Stevenson, playing the somewhat more visually-pleasing side of Professor Edgington. Stevenson is charmingly ditzy in the role, and brings an innocent sweetness to Irene that almost has you wishing, much like Rimmer, that she’d hang around for a little bit longer; as much of a goit as Rimmer can be, part of me couldn’t help but wish that in this instance he might get the girl (and then hilariously cock it up).
However, it naturally isn’t to be, and while the nature of the character meant she couldn’t exactly become a regular cast member, it’s a shame that she had to meet her end quite so cruelly; for self-professed last human Lister to merely react to her passing by making a glib joke felt a bit jarring.
Before Irene’s untimely demise came the tying up of the episode’s main plot, in a fashion which reminded me of a scene from my favourite Batman film, the 1966 one starring Adam West. Shortly after being attacked by an exploding shark at sea, Batman and Robin return to Commissioner Gordon’s office to try and work out who was behind the plot, and share the following memorable exchange:
Commissioner Gordon: It could be any one of them… But which one? Which ones?
Batman: It was pretty fishy what happened to me on that ladder…
Commissioner Gordon: You mean where there’s a fish there could be a Penguin?
Robin: But wait! It happened at sea… Sea. C for Catwoman!
Batman: That exploding shark was pulling my leg…
Commissioner Gordon: The Joker!
Chief O’Hara: It all adds up to a sinister riddle… Riddle…r. Riddler!
And of course, all four of them are correct. It’s a staggering leap, and one which I was reminded of here, with the crew suddenly abandoning the established absurd logic of the episode to gamble Lister’s gonads on a slightly laboured pun. The fact that they’re actually right in their assumptions is more of a massive coincidence than any actual…
Oh, I see it now. Stand down, commenters! Wacky science saves the day, turning the insane into the just-about-plausible. And it’s actually quite refreshing to see; it’s not the sort of thing that Red Dwarf can pull every week, but here it makes for a satisfyingly absurd conclusion.
Despite a few minor problems this is, to my mind, the best episode since the opener. It may not be as character-focussed, but it does makes for an enjoyable ensemble piece in which all four of the main cast – plus some memorable guest actors – get a chance to shine.
Read Pete’s review of the previous episode, Lemons, here.
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