This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
This review contains spoilers.
Red Dwarf XII Episode 5
“Welcome to M-Corp. We love looking after you.”
At the end of last week’s episode “Mechocracy”, Lister told Cat that you can’t help getting older, but you can help getting old. It’s something he might have wanted to keep in mind in this week’s episode, “M-Corp”, in which he has an unfortunate brush with terrifying outer space capitalism on his birthday.
At the turn of another year – not his 30th, not his 40th, but somewhere beyond that – Lister suffers a heart scare that turns out to be chronic indigestion. Upon discovering that the ship’s outdated medical computer is utterly fit for purpose because the Cat unplugged the automatic update machine years ago, the Dwarfers update the ship’s software to find that they’ve missed out on quite a bit.
Courtesy of beaming customer service rep Aniter, (Call The Midwife‘s Helen George) they learn that the Jupiter Mining Corporation was bought out by intergalactic giant M-Corp, as part of the corporation’s acquisition of Earth. The software update includes a perception filter that makes their sole customer, Lister, unable to see or hear anything manufactured by anyone else, from Leopard Lager to Rimmer, Kryten and Cat.
We were big fans of last week’s episode, but here’s one that’s more about its science fiction ideas than it is about using genre concepts to get to the comedy. In spirit, it can be compared to the earliest storylines of Series I and II, or the spin-off novels written by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, but taking on a more modern technological bugbear – in-app purchases.
It’s George’s unnervingly smiley avatar that really swings the creep factor, after Lister enters M-Corp’s virtual integrated environment. He’s confronted with Aniter as both assistant and jailer, who maliciously cleans out his bank balance and then starts charging him in time off his life, with just a few basic amenities like painkillers, water and even speech. Despite Rimmer’s mock-Scouse effort to find out Lister’s date of death here, previous adventures have told us he lives to either 94 or 181, so he’s got years to burn, but that’s not really the point.
In portraying these purchases as vital to his survival inside the simulation, Naylor’s satire of capitalism in space is reminiscent of, but distinct from this year’s Doctor Who episode “Oxygen”, in which air was charged by the breath. The notion of Earth being bought out has come up surprisingly late in the series, but what we learn about M-Corp’s ruthless taxation of electrical signals in the brain paints a suitably dystopian picture.
Happily, the additional interest in the sci-fi situation doesn’t mean that it’s not also a very funny episode. Other than the spectacle of Lister miserably making breakfast or brushing his teeth using implements we can’t see, there’s some hilarious physical comedy, particularly where it involves Kryten, Cat and Rimmer passing some unidentifiable vibrating object to one another.
In the background of Naylor’s script, Kryten does his science officer thing and Rimmer and Cat trade insults, but as with last week, it feels like a novelty just to see the script drawing laughs from character rather than situation, and a lot of the one liners are sharper here than in previous scripts in XII. The revisitation of Rimmer’s Uncle Frank story from “The Last Day” is a bit laboured in its recap for those who don’t remember, but it still gets a chortle as the answer to his secret security question.
Ultimately, the episode doesn’t quite fulfil the promise of the early scenes in making Lister come to terms with his advancing years. That potential angle was worked over thoroughly by last year’s “Krysis”, but it does build to an irresistible punchline when his crewmates realise it’s not Red Dwarf that needs its original settings restored, but his mind.
Temporarily using a previous JMC recording of his personality from when he was 23 years old, the episode closes on a reprise of the very first scene from “The End”, in which his singing, humming and popping vexes Rimmer. It’s not the first big callback of this series and it won’t be the last, but this makes a neater and more natural ending than we’ve come to expect from the Dave era.
“M-Corp” takes aim at capitalism, by taking it out into deep space and finding its most horrible extreme, but peppers its satire with wicked laughs and spot-on sight gags. It doesn’t have a wholly original idea behind it, but with fine work from the regulars and a memorable guest turn by George, this Red Dwarf spin on big business gone bad is thoroughly entertaining.