Cassandra: or, The Marriage Twixt Myth and Story

The idea of knowing the future has always been a subject that has fascinated science fiction authors. For years, people have written on the subject, from Robert J. Sawyer’s Flashforward (1998), about Earth receiving a signal from the Alpha Centauri system to C.J. Cherryh’s Hugo-winning “Cassandra,” (1978) which deals with an end-of-the-world prophesy, to Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers (1989) by Grant Naylor. And, to bring things full circle, The Stochastic Man (1975) by Robert Silverberg (the S.S.S. Silverberg was more than likely a reference to the famous author) deals with how complete knowledge of the future results in the loss of power. Within the subtext of the novel, he seems to be stating that the more one knows of the future, the fewer choices you inevitably have. This applies to Cassandra, as well; she knew that she would die, and indeed how, and struggled for her survival – failing that, she attempted to make Lister suffer.

Justin Judd, in the Series VI documentary, The Starbuggers, stated that Rob and Doug had been reading a great deal about myths and legends, and that their readings inevitably came through in their scripts. While VIII doesn’t have nearly as many mythical references as VI did, it is clear that Doug Naylor read up on the history of Cassandra, and this mythical reference brings the episode up another notch in my estimation. I’m always fond of people who do research and then turn that research into something original and entertaining, and Cassandra is (except for a few incidents) no exception.

What is the Cassandra myth, then? Well, Wikipedia (for I am too lazy to look elsewhere) states:

“In Greek mythology, Cassandra (“she who entangles men”) […] captured the eye of Apollo and so was given the ability to see the future. However, when she did not return his love, he placed a curse on her so that no one would ever believe her predictions. Thus Cassandra foresees the destruction of Troy (she warns the Trojans about the Trojan Horse, the death of Agamemnon, and her own demise), but is unable to do anything about them.”

The myth doesn’t end there, though.

“The Cassandra Syndrome is a term applied to predictions of doom about the future that are not believed, but upon later reflection turn out to be correct. This denotes a psychological tendency among people to disbelieve inescapably bad news, often through denial. The person making the prediction is caught in the dilemma of knowing what is going to happen but not being able to resolve the problem.”

They both clearly have much to do with the episode, but the Cassandra Syndrome appears to have a more direct impact on the work, although the history of the myth is clearly important to the structure of the episode, inasmuch as Doug put a twist on the well-known story. (As opposed to no one believing a true prophecy, everyone believed Cassandra’s false prophecy.)

Stephen King – I’m no big fan of King’s work, but he can sometimes have good advice – wrote in On Writing (2000), “What you need to remember is that there’s a difference between lecturing about what you know and using it to enrich the story. The latter is good. The former is not.” [2] The script to Cassandra takes an interesting stance on the mythical aspect of the episode – as opposed to having Kryten relay any information as to the Cassandra story, the historical significance of Cassandra is never brought up. I think that an explanation of the myth would have made a good replacement for Kryten’s “moron-mind” speech, but we’ll get to that later on in the review.

On with the actual reviewing, then. Generally, I watch the specific episode that I plan on reviewing with a small notebook in which I record my notes and first impressions, and I’ve noticed that I have a tendency to write short, cryptic sentences in the notebook. One says, bizarrely, “Bra gags are excellent,” while another states, in a style of handwriting where the text appears to be Sanskrit, “Middle finger = good.” Hm.

It is unfortunate that Cassandra starts off so weakly, because much of the rest of it is great. The “roverostomy” is perhaps not the greatest gag in the history of gags, shall we say. The episode probably would have started better with Rimmer’s speech:

RIMMER: What happened to my life? Career, prospects, friends. I had everything and I threw it all away. It’s a tragedy.
LISTER: What are you on about? You had none of that stuff!
RIMMER: You’re right, I had none of that stuff. I had absolutely nothing and I
threw it all away. It’s an even bigger tragedy!

It may not be the best dialogue exchange ever, but it’s amusing and it gets the story moving more quickly than Holly’s speech about dogs. In fact, if I had to pick out one of the things about Series VIII that I find to be the most frustrating, it’s the sense of padding that I get from the episodes. Even with relatively tight scripts like Cassandra, there are moments that could have easily been trimmed without hurting the story or characterization (or, sadly, the humor).

[One small note about the opening scene with Lister and Rimmer; due to differences in accents–that is, my own pitiful American versus the more traditional English baritone of Chris Barrie–I always thought that the word that Rimmer said in reference to Lister’s tennis player query, was an especially odd choice of “color-lingers.” Unsure of whether this was some bizarre English reference or not, I let it slide. It is only just now that I’ve realized what exactly it is that Rimmer said, and the joke actually makes sense now. –Ed.]

I won’t go into a terrific amount of detail regarding the Canaries, as they’re an obvious target and have been covered here and elsewhere. Suffice it to say that I believe the Canaries would have worked better had the organization not been entirely prison-oriented. It seems that the amount of manpower required to keep the inmates in line and stop them from insurrection would make the whole idea useless. (Plus, Lister being able to sign everyone up seems a tad convenient. It might have made for more interesting viewing had someone tricked the five of them to sign up of their own free will.) Had it been an entirely volunteer army/reconnaissance unit, the concept would have worked better. However, this has to do with the entire setting of Series VIII, which is also dealt with in the aforementioned article.

A behind-the-scenes shot of Cassandra, as nicked from TOS. Copyright © Grant Naylor Productions.

Rimmer wearing that specific jacket is also a bit convenient, seeing as it covers up his name and Rimmer is the only one wearing such a jacket. It would stand to reason, as well, that if Rimmer hadn’t been wearing the jacket, it would have been Mr. Knott as opposed to Rimmer who Cassandra said would die. However, the issue isn’t really whether Rimmer should or shouldn’t have been wearing the jacket; he was wearing it, and it sets up the plot well enough. As Chekhov said, “If there are dueling pistols over the mantelpiece in the first act, they should be fired in the third.” Every plot has it’s day, in other words. And today’s the day that, erm, Rimmer’s jacket is the establishment of the fact that there is, in fact, a pair of dueling pistols above the mantelpiece. Or something.

The music of Series VIII is extremely impressive. Assuming TOS mentioned all the incidental pieces not written by Mr. Goodall, it is safe to say that the piano bit when Lister prepares himself to return to the Silverberg is one of my favorite Goodall cues.

[NOTE: John Hoare has pointed out that the VIII music is all “library music from various sources – apart from cues that are from previous series (such as over the CGI RD).” Hm. Well, Goodall still rules, as is evident from series past. -Ed.]

The look of Series VIII has also always impressed me; the sets and lighting of the show are both fantastic in this series. There’s some sort of orangey hue to Cassandra (the episode) particularly that brings joy to my shrivelled, pickled heart, and I’m not entirely sure why. The graphics of Series VIII is another matter, though. Even with the inherent rigid, immobile look of some of the model shots, being able to look at a physical object is more believable than 90s television CGI. Chris Veale could be the loveliest person on the planet, and I’d still prefer model shots. As it is, I think that they would have been better off with just model shots, perhaps being supported by some more subtle CG techniques.

Ahem. Back to the episode.

RIMMER: I just asked how you died.
LISTER: You what? I didn’t want to know that! [He turns to CASSANDRA.] Whose bra?
CAT: A hundred and eighty-one? Probably your own!
LISTER: Come on, no. Taking a bra off with me teeth, aged a hundred an’
eighty-one. That’s a hell of a sexy way to go!
KRYTEN: So long as the teeth are in your mouth at the time, sir.

A photo of Cassandra, as nicked from Total Red Dwarf. Copyright © Grant Naylor Productions.I love this. Really, I do. It works very well, the comedy of the crew complimented by the excellent performance by Geraldine McEwan. The reason Cassandra works is that there’s a center to it. Most of the episodes from Series I through VI had a center to keep the story focused. With Quarantine, the center for the story was the holo/positive viruses (and Rimmer, but the holo-virus was part of that). With Future Echoes, it was, erm, future echoes. Take a look at the episodes from I to VI and find the center of the story. They all have it, except for a few, like Emohawk – Polymorph II, where the center is a weak excuse for Duane Dibbley and Ace Rimmer to return. The first half had a center – the quest for the O/G unit – but that center didn’t carry through the entire story, and the episode subsequently suffered because of it. Several episodes in VIII either didn’t have a strong enough center (Krytie TV), or no real center to begin with (Pete: Parts I and II). Cassandra – the character – keeps the episode focused. VII’s problem is more that the center is often poorly defined – as opposed to having no center – because of the faulty characterization.

LISTER: Future echoes, remember?
CAT: Future echoes, oh right!
KOCHANSKI: What was that?
LISTER: Well, we learned that if the future’s already decided… [LISTER glances at RIMMER, and lowers his voice.] …you can’t change it.
RIMMER: Yeah, but what do you know? You’re a chicken soup machine repairman, not
Hank Handsome, Space Adventurer. Don’t get ideas above your station. And your station is Git Central.
LISTER: Hey, I’ve been surviving in space five, six years. When it comes to
weirdy, paradoxy space stuff, I bought the t-shirt.
KRYTEN: He bought it and I ironed it for him.

This exchange is a bit obvious in its throwback to times past. However, for all its unsubtle technique, it has good intentions, and the scene works. There are some good gags thrown in, as well. I think that the idea of the “weasel gene” was taken perhaps slightly too far, but it is interesting how the Rimmer character comes into his own when his life is in danger. It was true in Me2 (“I never ate at the Captain’s table again.”), it was true in Terrorform (“Just to fill you in, there’s been a gigantic administrative cockup. Some of your staff have somehow mistaken me for a virgin.”), and it’s true in Cassandra. There is some top-notch acting from Chris in this episode. The scene between Knott and Cassandra, particularly. It is a testament to Chris Barrie’s ability as a comedic actor that he managed to make the sub-par gag about Knott’s name funny with his reaction.

The rest of the episode has got a number of excellent comedy moments – when Cat hits Lister in the back of the head with a metal pipe, for example, and some moments with Rimmer and Kochanski. However, the second half of the episode brings a sense of drama to the episode; the hull breach and subsequent flooding, Lister preparing himself to return to the Silverberg, and Cassandra’s prophecy of Rimmer’s death appearing to come true.

Upon watching the episode, I began to think about what exactly it was that kept this episode from classic status: the biggest problem is that the ending is too hasty. (Other, smaller, problems, like gags that don’t work, could have been fixed with better editing.) This led me to thinking, and as a result of this thinking, I developed a Pet Theory, which I shall now debut exclusively on Garbage World. Well, this is what it is – my theory that I have, that is to say, which is mine, is mine. My theory that belongs to me is as follows. The next thing I’m going to say is my theory. Ready? This theory goes as follows and begins now:

Cassandra would have worked insanely well as the cliffhanger. Make Only the Good… a mid-series episode and solve it by the end of the episode, and then have Cassandra end as a cliffhanger. Since material from Only the Good… would have to have been trimmed in order to make it fit in one episode, the episode would have been tremendously streamlined, and would have cut out some of the distracting and unnecessary bits. This would, I believe, have made Only the Good… an excellent episode. Seriously, it would have been fantastic. Cassandra would have to have been slightly rewritten, but it’s dramatic enough to have ended on a definite cliffhanger note. It would have fixed the hasty ending – I’ve always wondered how exactly “Kryten figured it out,” for one. Also, it would have been absolutely superb as an introduction to the ninth series, should there have been one: even if Rimmer and Kochanski didn’t end up making love, Rimmer could have still died in some sort of dramatic way as a result of the flooding, been resurrected, etc.

That is my theory, it is mine, and belongs to me and I own it, and what it is too. In short, Cassandra shows that Doug Naylor has still got It. Which, unfortunately, makes the rest of VIII incredibly frustrating to watch, because even though he’s clearly still got It, he seems to have not used It much.

That is all. Au revoir, mes amis. A bientôt.

Works Cited

1. Wikipedia. “Cassandra,” 2005.
2. King, Stephen. On Writing. Scribner, 2000.

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