Note: This is our spoiler-filled review of episode 3 of Red Dwarf XI, currently available on the UKTV Play app. It will air on Dave at 9pm on Thursday the 13th of October.
11.4 Officer Rimmer
Many people believe that science fiction is at its best when it reflects real world issues. Officer Rimmer, the fourth episode of Red Dwarf’s eleventh series, is a prime example of this, tackling the matter of 3D printing as the Starbug crew encounter a ship with bio-printing technology. It’s another example of writer-director Doug Naylor striving to stay current and tell stories that could only be told in 2016.
Easily the best riff on the 3D printing concept comes very early in the episode, as a ‘paper’ jam causes the captain of the other ship to come out wrong, with his eyes stretched to the top of his head. It’s a relatable gag for just about anyone who’s ever had to print something, and it’s also an effective bit of body horror, with a simple but unnerving bit of makeup that’s good for a few cruel gags.
There’s a sense of a road not travelled here; the idea of printing out sentient crewmembers who effectively die the moment they’ve completed their mission opens a whopping can of morality worms; a different episode might have lingered for a moment on what it meant for the captain to complete his mission, but perhaps by now the Dwarfers are so used to coming across other humans (in various forms) and having them die that it’s not a big deal to them anymore. Of course, this is Red Dwarf rather than Star Trek, so we can give them a pass for not presenting a full-on morality play.
It’s also revealed that Lister has sold his likeness rights, which is another episode in itself, and feels oddly tossed away here – though the joke that all call centres are manned by Lister clones is a strong one. Instead, the meat of the episode comes from an idea that springs back to the show’s origins, as Rimmer has an extraordinary stroke of luck when a callous act leads to him being promoted, first to officer and then flight technician.
Though the show has flirted with the idea of Rimmer becoming an officer on a number of occasions, this is the first time he’s been given the actual real-life promotion, and it’s a hoot. Chris Barrie is clearly having a ball as Rimmer explores his new-found authority, playing it with a dictatorial glee perhaps not seen since his days as leisure centre manager Gordon Brittas. Barrie milks every moment of the promotion just as much as Rimmer himself does, as he orders Kryten about, talks down to just about everyone and generally has a fantastic time.
The comedic highlight of the episode is, of course, the trip to Rimmer’s Officers Club. One Rimmer drunk on power is funny, so it makes sense that putting dozens of them in one room is hilarious. The idea of multiple Rimmers was initially a bit of a warning flag – as Kryten suggests, it’s a plot that’s been done before, and it’s always ended badly for him. It’s refreshing, then, that Doug Naylor sidesteps the conflict and has all of the Rimmers getting on pretty flipping swimmingly, even throwing in a brilliant barbershop quartet. Not only is it a great comedy scene, but it’s also an impressive technical feat and you’d have to look pretty hard to find any of the seams involved in stitching it all together.
It’s likely that, rather than being the most harmonious Rimmers ever, they simply don’t have time to fall out, as Rimmer’s desperate determination to keep Lister and Cat out of his private club leads to him accidentally creating the monster that takes them all out and causes him to fall back to second technician (You didn’t think he’d keep the promotion, did you?). It’s not as impressive a visual as before, but it’s an effective monster for a tense chase sequence, and “We always have a pen” is a cracker of a joke.
And then there’s the ending, if you can call it that. Regular readers will be familiar with my growing frustration at the way this series’ episodes so far have finished quite abruptly, but nothing could have prepared me for this, to the point where I had to double check that the copy of the episode I was watching wasn’t broken. Never mind being unsatisfying from a televisual perspective – this one’s barely functional from a plot perspective, as we don’t even see the Rimmer Monster destroyed (presumably for budgetary reasons); just a single bazookoid shot and then the end credits. It’s sudden and it leaves the audience with a sour taste, which is a shame given the previous half hour.
Even without the ending, Officer Rimmer isn’t a perfect episode of Red Dwarf, and it’s both a good and a bad thing that the ideas Doug Naylor throws in and casually tosses away are more interesting than a lot of shows muster. But Rimmer has always been the richest character on the show, and this one mines him and Chris Barrie for all they’re worth, leading to some fantastically funny moments.
Read Pete’s review of the previous episode, Give And Take, here.