Out of Time: or, Alternate Personalities

Alternate personalities constitute a wide-ranging subgenre of SF – there can be many variations on this theme, including electronic creation of alternate personalities (The Terminal Experiment (1995), Robert J. Sawyer), to drug-induced split personality (A Scanner Darkly (1977), Philip K. Dick). In fact, “alternate personalities” is such a wide-ranging term that it could be used to mean almost anything, from alternate history to Multiple Personality Disorder to time travel. However, when I use the term, I would not include any such disorders unless absolutely necessary – and since we’ve already covered time travel, I will not examine it too deeply, even though Out of Time involves time travel. It seems as though “alternate personalities” is as hard a term to successfully pigeonhole as science fiction itself. I suppose Damon Knight’s famous saying would be apt in this case: “Science fiction is what I point to when I say it.”[1]

Basically, the definition of alternate personalities varies on a case-by-case basis. There can be, I suppose, a detached form of the subgenre – for example, a futuristic human setting in which character traits are brought out and expanded to a national and global level. While being extremely popular when it was originally published, Slan (1940) by A.E. van Vogt, has been ridiculed for years as being a silly fanboy dream in which genetically bred superhumans are despised by “normal” humans for, well, being superhuman. However, there is much to be said for silly fanboy dreams, as Slan has stayed in print for over sixty years; these “superhumans,” however, were merely caricatures of the way SF fans of the day felt – ignored, alone, and yet feeling that they knew far more than the average person because of their hobby.[2] For years, the battlecry of SF fans was “Fans are slans!”

The unreality bubbles have much to do with the following twenty-or-so minutes. When it’s discovered that Lister is not human after all, but rather an android, there’s very little in the way of disbelief among the other crew members, at least the kind of disbelief that would imply distrust of his authenticity. The only real disbelief comes from Rimmer and Cat:

RIMMER: I’m sorry, I’m not buying this. I mean, who created him and why? And what’s his mission? To rid the universe of chicken vindaloo?
CAT: This doesn’t tie up. If he wasn’t human, I’d have known by his scent.

Everyone then proceeds to simply believe that Lister is an android and has always been an android. This has to do with changed perceptions; the unreality bubble changed the crew’s perception forcefully by some unknown and magical power that’s never really explained. Nor does it have to be – it merely is.

It is true that the Space Corps test ships are mentioned, and provide an explanation as to why the unreality bubbles are needed, but the minor details of how they actually work is largely ignored. Once Kryten had stumbled across the information as to the unreality bubbles, the situation aboard Starbug went back to normal. Lister was once again human, and Kryten was once again subordinate to everyone else aboard. Again, changed perceptions.

This also fits into the alternate personalities niche, as well. While Lister himself might not have changed, the unreality bubble created an entirely different Lister that the rest of the crew knew nothing about. Kryten’s comment about Lister erasing his memory to escape detection probably only scratches the surface of what sort of life this version of Lister might have led.

Later on in the episode, Kryten confronts Lister with a strange request:

KRYTEN: Mr. Lister, sir…I love you! You know that, don’t you? I’d hate you to…go anywhere not knowing that, sir.

At this point, the information Kryten learned from their future selves is unknown to the audience, but whatever it may have been, it has clearly changed Kryten’s perception of Lister to some degree. This perception is brought to fruition with:

LISTER: So what if you’re fat and bald? That’s what happens when you get older. Look at me — I’m a brain in a jar!

This shows that the main focus of the entire episode lies with Lister and Rimmer, but primarily Rimmer – more on Rimmer later, though. Lister has to deal with two incredible changes in the space of one episode. Even if the first (android Lister) was false, it’s the sort of thing that would put a crimp in your day.

Grant Naylor have consciously or subconsciously put in various smaller perception shifts; the android Lister, and the future of the crew members. They end the episode with yet another, but a slightly different one. Every other change of perception had to do with how the individual characters viewed each other. Now, with the end in sight, it’s time for a bit of old-fashioned character study.

RIMMER: Then I say fight!

Rimmer’s change of heart at the end of the episode is an interesting twist. It shows that he is willing to look inside himself and, despite his previous failures, be willing to fight for his own future. It’s a change of perception within a single character. With that line, he realizes he is willing to look past all his previous parental disappointments and sibling jealousy and fight for his future. He may not be fighting for the other crew members, but it is a start.

Addendum: Cliffhanger Resolution

The plot has been carried through to its more-or-less natural conclusion: conflict between the two crews. Through the midst of it, we’ve seen characters develop beyond any point we’ve seen them go, Rimmer in particular but to a certain extent everyone. Kryten, for example, even though he’s attempting to break his programming, took a large step in agreeing to fight against their future selves. And the Cat’s depth, while extending little beyond agreeing with what everyone else has already said, was refreshing. Particularly since for the entirety of Series VI and much of V, the Cat had done little.

Grant Naylor set us up the bomb when they stated at the beginning of the episode that morale was low and everyone was bored and fed up with each other. That’s not to say that that was not set up in the other episodes, but merely that it was a key factor in this episode. A “Morale Meeting” is more explicit than the odd line. And over six series’, something had to be done about the basic premise of the show to keep it fresh. VI was formulaic, but no less funny for it, so it could be postulated that a few more series could have been squeezed from the show, but Grant Naylor was never one to rest on his/its laurels. This setup early on explains the end, in a sense: there has to be some sort of cause-and-effect reaction by the end of the episode, or else it will not resonate with viewers as much as it could.

The alternate endings (covered admirably by G&T in this particular article) do not satisfy as the cliffhanger does. The cliffhanger is one of the older tricks in the book, but its age does not detract from its aesthetic beauty. The cliffhanger is used to hold on to the current audience for further stories, if done properly. If the cliffhanger is handled poorly, the chances are far greater that you will lose more of your current audience and will probably draw in fewer new audience members because of word of mouth alone. A good story needs to be told, with a gripping cliffhanger at the end in order for it to work properly. This is one of the reasons why including a knee, a bad story, and death balls in a cliffhanger is bad for business.

It is interesting to note that the entire cliffhanger sequence takes place entirely in an enclosed space, with no outside shots of the battle going on. Either Grant Naylor knew that by keeping the battle within that room, they would make Rimmer’s personal tragedy at the end both more heartfelt and triumphant, or the model budget ran out suddenly. Either of these could be the case, but the deaths of three of the crew is an emotional tragedy for Rimmer. It spurs him into action, stretching his character past anything else previous.

Out of Time may reference The End to a certain extent, and particularly Rimmer’s failure to seal the drive plate, resulting in the deaths of all aboard. One thousand, one hundred and sixty-seven people died at his hands, and even though he may not have appeared outwardly worried or regretful about any of their deaths, it surely affected him. Here in Out of Time, it is he who first suggests the possibility of fighting back, a suggestion which ultimately cost Lister, the Cat, and Kryten their lives. All of this has certainly affected him, and when he finally realizes that he could simply destroy the Time Drive, he feels courage and defiance in the face of such adversity.

He destroys the Time Drive. “To Be Continued” appears on the screen, smug in the knowledge that a resolution is just around the corner. No doubt as exciting and pulse-pounding as the first segment. The end credits roll.

And then we have Tikka to Ride.

It opens with Lister trying to pass himself off as a 28-year-old. Indeed. So far, so decent. Then Lister launches into a crap explanation about future selves and paradoxes that is only confusing because of the way the writer (DOUG NAYLOR) phrased it. A camera proceeds to blow up. No doubt it had been planning suicide for months before the episode was aired, and it was only by accident that its self-destructive behavior was caught on film.

Then Kryten proceeds to tell us what to think:

KRYTEN: Garbled, confusing, and quite frankly duller than an in-flight
magazine produced by ‘Air Belgium’! Now just state our position and explain we’re down on supplies.

What’s that? Mm, I smell a cop-out! There’ll be good eatin’ tonight. Doug Naylor apparently didn’t want to bother with a perfectly interesting idea about paradoxes and future selves and timelines, which is quite clearly rife with potential for excellent storytelling, and instead regaled us with a tale of how the Dwarf boys killed Kennedy. Good times.

And for another thing, how exactly could the crew even know about their future selves? According to Lister:

LISTER: But I’m only trying to explain why Starbug’s damaged, despite the
timeline being erased; ‘cos this reality’s unstable, and anomalies have
merged from both dimensions to cope with the paradox.

This means that the crew would no longer know of the encounter, as it had never happened.

Let us reexamine the events so far: Doug Naylor passed on a story that involved unstable realities, paradoxes, future selves, murder/suicide, a Time Drive, and anomalies merging together from both dimensions to create a new reality to tell us who was really on the grassy knoll. I’m not necessarily knocking the current Tikka to Ride plot, but quite honestly it should have come later on in the series. That way much of the rest of VII could have been trimmed.

Approximately two minutes and forty-four seconds were spent resolving the cliffhanger. 2:44. I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

Sufficiently stunned? Very well, let’s continue.

Rob Grant left between VI and VII, leaving Doug Naylor alone to write much of VII, although he did have “help” from Paul Alexander. Grant and Naylor were a team, quite honestly. The whole becomes far greater than the sum of its parts, and all that. Naylor’s talented, Grant’s talented, but for their entire professional career, they worked together. To break up after having worked with another person for so many years is extremely difficult, due to the fact that they have both been used to the other doing much of the work. When one is working alone, there is no one to look to for advice and help. Orson Scott Card once said:

“Writing is lonely. It starts lonely and it only gets lonelier. And at the beginning you don’t know if you’re any good. You need an audience. You need advice from somebody who knows what he’s doing. Heck, you need somebody to look at your work, nod his head, and say, ‘Yup, you’re a writer.'”[3]

Rob Grant and Doug Naylor have struggled to find their own unique voice. Grant has worked almost solely on novels, while Naylor has continued with Red Dwarf. With time and practice, they could almost certainly rival what they both created in the past.

But Doug Naylor is practicing on Red Dwarf, a much-beloved and longstanding show that’s set a standard for excellence. He did not trust himself to write it alone, so he hired others to help him in his quest. Their collaboration proved to be mostly unfruitful. This is, I believe, why he opted out of writing a true follow-up episode to Out of Time, and instead started with something smaller. It takes quite a bit of skill to juggle so many story elements, and while Grant Naylor may have managed it, Doug Naylor either felt that he could not handle such a large-scale episode so early on into his solo career, or no longer cared of the plight he had put the Dwarf crew in those many years ago.

References

1. FAQ – rec.arts.sf.written
2. David G. Hartwell, Age of Wonders. Tor Books, 1996.
3. Orson Scott Card, How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. Writer’s Digest Books, 1990.

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