Red Dwarf XII: M-Corp Review

The following article is intended for those watching at UKTV Play pace. Dave viewers be warned that the content and comments could contain spoilers. More info.

There’s a moment, very early on in M-Corp, which set my mood for the entire episode. It’s a very small exchange, I’ve got to admit.

KRYTEN: Now, eat up. It’s time for your present.
LISTER: Ah, I don’t need a present, Krytes. I’ve got everything I need.
KRYTEN: Sir. You’ve got nothing.

And with this single joke – with its bleak matter-of-factness – I relaxed. I relaxed in the same way Back to Earth made me tense up, with its tedious ironed sneezes and unearned graveside pathos. Unfairly or not, I’ve had enough problems with post-1993 Dwarf that each episode needs to win me round anew. Many never manage it. Just make me laugh, dammit.

M-Corp not only won me round. It’s my favourite Dave-era episode, by a considerable margin.

First broadcast: 2nd November 2017, 10:25pm(ish), UKTV Play

Written by: Doug Naylor

Directed by: Doug Naylor

Main Cast:
Chris Barrie (Rimmer)
Craig Charles (Lister)
Danny John-Jules (Cat)
Robert Llewellyn (Kryten)

Guest Cast:
Helen George (Aniter)
Ian Boldsworth (Steve)
Oliver Maltman (Chippy)
Phil Adele (Jim)

Synopsis:
When the Dwarfers upload the latest software update they discover the Jupiter Mining Corporation, owners of Red Dwarf, have been bought by M Corp – a company that only allows products made by them to be visible to their employees.

Set Report | Let’s Talk About | Live DwarfCast

Red Dwarf does Black Mirror is the obvious hook for this episode, of course: a satire on modern life and technology. Although I would describe it slightly differently. I’d say this episode was Black Mirror… with a studio audience. And that gives the show a whole different texture than Black Mirror has. It’s doing what so many of my favourite TV programmes have done – grabbing genres, formats, or mediums, and smashing them together to see what happens. Knightmare combines computer games and television. Deal or No Deal combines game shows and soap opera. And Red Dwarf, of course, combines science fiction and audience sitcom. So: a Black Mirror episode done as audience sitcom? I’ll very much take that, thank you. That’s something new.

And it gives the episode a fascinating tone. The key scene is where Lister sees the rest of the crew disappearing. We go from vibrator jokes, to the crew disappearing in the most amusingly timed manner possible, to Lister… alone. There is light and shade here – sometimes at the same time. In many ways, it’s the bleakest Red Dwarf has ever got. And yet the audience reaction not only stops us tipping into complete despair, but creates the most delightful sparks in allowing us to laugh at one of the worst things which you could ever imagine happening to a human being.

LISTER: Cat? You stealing my food? Get the hell out of here… I didn’t mean that. You can have the food, just come back. Cat? Cat?

Not for the first time this episode, I found myself wanting more. I’m reminded of Linehan and Mathews having fun in Father Ted with everyone simply sitting around having a thoroughly miserable time with Father Stone – to the point that they were annoyed they actually had to start the plot. I think I could probably have watched Lister moping around the ship for half the show.

Lister in distress

Still, I’m glad Dwarf bothered with a plot this week. Though to be brutally honest, the fact that this episode ended up being so interesting surprised me. From the teasers we were getting, with items not created by M-Corp becoming invisible, it seemed like we might be getting something akin to “grumpy old man complains about DRM”, which gave me awful flashbacks of “grumpy old man complains about health and safety”, or “grumpy old man complains about phone support lines and also shopping channels and gets everything a little confused”. What we got was far more interesting, and far more expansive.

Admittedly, I don’t think the episode was interesting necessarily because of what it said. I’m not especially sure there was a huge amount of insight about the nature of big corporations here. But then, what insight is there in an episode like Meltdown? It’s a brilliant episode, but the anti-war sentiments are surface at best, and not especially useful. Lister’s anti-war speech is great, but the episode is somewhat lacking in the “here’s what the crew should have done instead” stakes.

Here, we have much the same. A satire of big corporations and consumerism… but the fun here isn’t really in what the episode says about it. In fact, all it really says is “hey, be careful, big corporations haven’t always got your best interests at heart”. Yeah, no shit. But it’s the way the episode says this which makes it fun. And Doug is at his absolute best when riffing off ideas like this. Take our first introduction to Lister’s artificial assistant:

ANITER: There are five life packages. Platinum, Gold, Silver, Basic, and Basic Lite. With the credits available to you Dave, you are eligible to purchase Basic Lite.
LISTER: The worst one? I’m on that life package already.

The beautiful thing about the above, of course, is that you get to do your parody of a consumer society… and then Lister’s line drags it right back to a joke about his situation. At every turn, this episode still manages to be about character. For all that Twentica and Cured were about big ideas, I often felt those episodes fell short in this regard. Not here. I don’t think Craig’s had better material to play throughout this episode since 1993, and his performance is raised accordingly. I felt more invested in Lister as a character than for years.

Still, while we’re on this section of the episode, I guess we’d better talk about… that moment.

ANITER: The average man speaks 7000 words per day. The average woman speaks 20,000.

I think the frustrating thing about the line is that it fails to work in so many different ways. For a start, it isn’t true. It perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes, without even being the saving grace of being funny. It has unfortunate echoes of past unpleasantness in modern-day Dwarf that at least some of us are thoroughly sick of. And perhaps most of all, it’s tired, lazy, “lol, men and women are so different!!!1111” comedy, where the episode is doing so much more of interest elsewhere. And when Lister cocks his head, in that oh-so-irritating “yeah, figures” expression, I want to punch him in the face.

Lister being a dick

It’s not the only false note in the episode. I can only assume Rimmer did a holo-shit in Cat’s Krispies first thing that morning, as the two constantly snipe at each other throughout the episode. Sadly, none of the jokes especially land, and all they do is remind me of past episodes when they did. It’s the single most frustrating thing about Dave-era Red Dwarf, and nothing makes me want to switch off more. There’s a thin line between seeing our characters behave like how we expect, and seeing them perform a faded facsimile of past glories, and this material just feels like the latter to me.

Enough moaning. Far, far more about this episode is delightful. Moreover, nearly all of it is linked thematically. Chippy is, of course, MED-I-BOT done correctly (and witness his extremely amusing movements when trying to get down Lister’s arteries – a comic performance in itself) – but is also a neat parody of fitness trackers and the like. We have M-Corp’s bland promotional video. We have the beautiful visage of the M-Corp’s virtual integrated environment suddenly being overrun by Apple Geniuses. And best of all, we have the ultimate development of Lister paying for everything he needs in time – “it’s the most valuable commodity in the universe”. Everything feels just right – every idea leads on logically from the previous one. In a series which has had its fair share of bizarre logical leaps – I’m still trying to figure out the last 10 minutes of Siliconia – the episode just feels immensely satisfying.

Well, up to a point. As we get to the crew’s escape from the clutches of the evil M-Corp, maybe we do begin to slip into one of the recurring problems with XI and XII – slightly unsatisfying endings. Kryten purchasing a virus to shut the company down is a clever idea, and perhaps comes the closest to the episode making an interesting point: how raw capitalism can end up harming itself. Sadly, it’s done so ludicrously quickly that it just feels a little disappointing. Moreover, it’s perhaps a little hard to believe that the company would leave such a huge security hole open. But – for once – I’ll let it pass, if only because the episode doesn’t waste much time anywhere else. The episode doesn’t fail here because it’s dicking around with stuff which doesn’t matter. It fails because it’s pushing at the very limits of what you can do in half an hour.

Kryten in smug mode, though thank fuck he doesn't actually say that

Which is ironic. I will defend audience sitcom with my dying breath… but here, M-Corp feels like it’s straining at the boundaries of the traditional half-hour format. Red Dwarf doesn’t have a good record with multi-part episodes… but dare I suggest the show these days might end up working better as a 45 minute episode, filling a commercial hour-long slot? There are easily enough things you could do with an episode like M-Corp which might not suit a two-parter, but could comfortably fill 45 minutes. Who knows, perhaps the additional time could have helped Mechocracy and Siliconia have endings which, well, actually work.

And as for our final moments with a 23-year old Lister… all I can think of is a certain scene in Back in the Red, with Lister aghast at the newly-recreated Rimmer: “It’s you like you used to be.” But unlike repeated jokes with Cat and his various hair styling implements, this feels like Doug has taken an idea which was fudged in the past, and done it right. What the joke needs is clarity, and the exact Rimmer we got in VIII was never made especially clear. In M-Corp, the version of Lister we’re seeing is never in any doubt.

Lister acting like a cunt

Which really sums the episode up. All too often, Dave-era Red Dwarf feels to me like a pale imitation of what has come before. Repeated jokes, repeated ideas, repeated character beats, all done with less panache than they were originally. Tired Cat/Rimmer dynamic aside, M-Corp did stuff the show has never done before, did it well, and finished up by rescuing an idea they did badly the first time round.

Plus, the moment where Lister runs out of words and mimes his request for more is simply one of the funniest pieces of performing Craig Charles has ever done in the series. Not just in the Dave era. But full stop.

Can the show be like this every week, please?

TINY TEASER: Chippy (The “health monitoring mate” injected into Lister’s bloodstream)
ACTUAL SCENE COUNT: 23 (Total so far: 104)
ACTUAL SMEG COUNT: 3 (Total so far: 8)

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32 Responses to Red Dwarf XII: M-Corp Review

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  1. I’d quite happily stack the invisible vibrator scene up there with shrinking boxer-shorts, “So, what is it?, and Mr Flibble’s Magic Carpet. Brilliantly written and acted. Funny and chilling.

    I have a few niggles with certain ideas being under-developed, but I’m not sure they could be amended in the running time without losing some really good stuff.

    Lots of ideas. Comedy that’s true to the characters. Engaging story. Fantastic pace.

    >Can the show be like this every week, please?

    Hear, hear.

  2. Disagree: “The episode doesn’t fail here because it’s dicking around with stuff which doesn’t matter. It fails because it’s pushing at the very limits of what you can do in half an hour.” – Slip an “If it fails it’s because…” in there and I’d agree more. If this episode is an example of Dave-era failed story telling/plot/comedy/episode, then send me more failures (and a walrus polishing kit).

    Agree: A 4 x 45 min season of RD would work a treat for me. Drop the traditional ‘quite shit’ and ‘very shit’ episodes, expand on the interesting concepts, let them breath with some extra time. Yes, I’d buy that for a dollarpound.

    My current XII ranking, in order of preference: M-Corp, Mech’, Cured, Siliconia, the frozen vacuum of space, Timewave.

  3. The question persists: why the hell was this in the ep 5 slot? The fucked steelbook had it down as second, so presumably Doug was contemplating an alternative episode order at some point. Mind you, even the steelbook’s order had Mechocracy down as ep 5 when Timewave is the most ‘episode 5’ episode ever made.

  4. The question persists: why the hell was this in the ep 5 slot? The fucked steelbook had it down as second, so presumably Doug was contemplating an alternative episode order at some point. Mind you, even the steelbook’s order had Mechocracy down as ep 5 when Timewave is the most ‘episode 5’ episode ever made.

    it’s bizarre that M-Corp was even considered as the second episode at some point- lister has his guitar in this episode, yet he doesn’t actually get it back until Siliconia. so the continuity would’ve been bollocked to hell if they’d kept the original order

  5. Isn’t the only time we see the guitar when it’s invisible? They could’ve redubbed the SFX (so it’s the colander guitar instead, or something else completely), or even edited the scene.

  6. expand on the interesting concepts, let them breath with some extra time. Yes, I’d buy that for a dollarpound.

    This is one of the major differences between early Dwarf and New Dwarf and thats if you look at the early episodes felt like they breathed more and felt less rushed

    If i was to picture alot of the classic run made today i could see them being jam packed full of more ideas then what is needed like fore example Dimension jump which is a fairly basic story and doesn’t end on a huge laugh or even a big climatic idea, it just ends with ace talking about his past and then he leaves… now days i don’t think that would be good enough for Doug, there would be way more going on in that episode.

  7. Reading such a joyous and positive review just makes me feel bad for not feeling the same way :(

  8. expand on the interesting concepts, let them breath with some extra time. Yes, I’d buy that for a dollarpound.

    This is one of the major differences between early Dwarf and New Dwarf and thats if you look at the early episodes felt like they breathed more and felt less rushed
    If i was to picture alot of the classic run made today i could see them being jam packed full of more ideas then what is needed like fore example Dimension jump which is a fairly basic story and doesn’t end on a huge laugh or even a big climatic idea, it just ends with ace talking about his past and then he leaves… now days i don’t think that would be good enough for Doug, there would be way more going on in that episode.

    yeah but Dimension Jump has one of the messiest endings ever in a Red Dwarf episode

    it’s almost as bad as Officer Rimmer’s ending

  9. I’m trying to remember how Dimension Jump ends without looking it up… Ace just decided to leave because Rimmer is too much of a git, and then we get some scrawling text after Rimmer doesn’t pour fish all over him(self). Not amazing, but not particularly “messy”, I’d say.

    Rimmerworld has a pretty sudden ending. It is funny, though. Even with the reveal of Lister being fine, it’s still a sudden ending that leaves you feeling a bit weird.

    Also, I just thought, if the teleporter can (accidentally) time travel, what’s the point of the time drive? Just work out how the teleporter works. Then you could combine the teleporter with the time drive to avoid the whole “deep space in the 14th century” thing. Smh.

  10. I’m trying to remember how Dimension Jump ends without looking it up… Ace just decided to leave because Rimmer is too much of a git, and then we get some scrawling text after Rimmer doesn’t pour fish all over him(self). Not amazing, but not particularly “messy”, I’d say.

    Rimmerworld has a pretty sudden ending. It is funny, though. Even with the reveal of Lister being fine, it’s still a sudden ending that leaves you feeling a bit weird.
    Also, I just thought, if the teleporter can (accidentally) time travel, what’s the point of the time drive? Just work out how the teleporter works. Then you could combine the teleporter with the time drive to avoid the whole “deep space in the 14th century” thing. Smh.

    it’s messy because 1. it’s honestly hard to tell Rimmer is going to pour kippers over Ace. and 2. because after the scrolling text, it cuts to a shot of the ship in space, with Rimmer asking the skutters to play his Hammond Organ, THEN after that cutting away to the end credits. it just feels a rather disjointed ending to what was a pretty decent episode

  11. The original ending was cut because they felt it wasn’t convincing enough.

    Was gonna have Rimmer walking under the kippers to see what went wrong before it falls on him.

  12. > I don’t think Craig’s had better material to play throughout this episode since 1993, and his performance is raised accordingly. I felt more invested in Lister as a character than for years.

    I know you clearly dislike Back to Earth, but it probably features Craig’s best work in anything, ever. :) Yeah yeah the ‘ironing sneezes’ scene is somewhat shit… but the thing as a whole is Craig’s finest hour.

  13. G&T Admin

    I know you clearly dislike Back to Earth, but it probably features Craig’s best work in anything, ever. :) Yeah yeah the ‘ironing sneezes’ scene is somewhat shit… but the thing as a whole is Craig’s finest hour.

    This seems a good time to justify my slagging off of BTE in the first paragraph of this review, and it actually relates to exactly this.

    It wasn’t just a random attack – it’s making the very specific point that whatever stuff BTE does of merit later on, the beginning puts me in the wrong mood at the start. The episode needed to make me laugh first, and then do the other stuff. I rewatched that grave scene to prepare for this review, and words can’t describe how much I despise it… because it’s unearned. Make me laugh, then make me cry. Or make me laugh and cry at the same time. The laughs will make me care. But before the episode has made me laugh, I’m not fucking interested.

    M-Corp, on the other hand, made me laugh pretty much immediately, thus putting me in the right mood to enjoy whatever else the episode has to offer. It made me laugh with a fucking bleak joke, of course. But that’s absolutely fine.

    BTE does a lot of interesting stuff later on… but I don’t really feel it, because it didn’t draw me into the world correctly. M-Corp does.

    In other words: where’s a reason why Spitting Image put Every Bomb You Make as the last sketch in the series.

  14. Now I feel even more irked that M-Corp barely managed to illicit a chuckle out of me on first viewing.

    I liked it more on second viewing when I did not feel obligated to laugh, actually.

  15. Just letting you guys know there is a review for Episode 6 on Radiotimes.com

  16. Just letting you guys know there is a review for Episode 6 on Radiotimes.com

    from the review, it seems like Skipper is certainly going to be an interesting episode. high hopes for it now

  17. Is it a review or a preview?

  18. > I rewatched that grave scene to prepare for this review, and words can’t describe how much I despise it… because it’s unearned.

    You know what, that’s actually a fair point. BtE really could have done with some big laughs at the beginning, especially with it being Dwarf’s first outing in 10 years, it would have helped to be reminded how funny it could be, before getting on to the drama. An audience wouldn’t have helped this aspect much either, I don’t think.

    I guess it’s also unearned because Kochanski…well, she’s not exactly a celebrated character. We can understand why Lister would mourn her, but we as viewers aren’t particularly upset she’s not around anymore. It’s still great acting from Craig. Though it’s later scenes I enjoy more.

  19. Just letting you guys know there is a review for Episode 6 on Radiotimes.com

    where abouts ?? i find the radio times site one of the worst to navigate and so slow and full of adds.

  20. Agree: A 4 x 45 min season of RD would work a treat for me. Drop the traditional ‘quite shit’ and ‘very shit’ episodes, expand on the interesting concepts, let them breath with some extra time. Yes, I’d buy that for a dollarpound.
    My current XII ranking, in order of preference: M-Corp, Mech’, Cured, Siliconia, the frozen vacuum of space, Timewave.

    It’d be just our luck we’d end up with a series comprised for 4 Timewaves and Can of Worms etc.

    Doug obviously thought they were good enough to film once, those sorts of episodes for whatever reason appeal to him. Give him 4 x 45mins and we could end up with something akin to Back in the Red, Back to Earth, Timewave and Can of Worms as a series. Shudders!

  21. Rewatching M-Corp this morning and I’m again struck by how conspicuously tight the writing is. I wonder if it was made out of one of the two ‘lost’ X scripts.

  22. G&T Admin

    Rewatching M-Corp this morning and I’m again struck by how conspicuously tight the writing is. I wonder if it was made out of one of the two ‘lost’ X scripts.

    Yeah. Every time I watch it, it gets better. It’s exactly the kind of thing I want Red Dwarf to do right now.

    I really liked Lemons, but I didn’t feel any desire to keep rewatching it. I can’t get over how happy this episode has made me.

  23. Rewatching M-Corp this morning and I’m again struck by how conspicuously tight the writing is. I wonder if it was made out of one of the two ‘lost’ X scripts.

    I’m not sure those episodes have been made cause at least one of them was gonna involve Kochanski, right? Give & Take could have been one of them though.

  24. We know both eps involved Kochanski, and one of them was set in a circus. Both required location filming that presumably couldn’t be realised in the studio at such short notice when the location filming got cancelled. I think Doug gave a recent interview where he says he’s cannibalised various bits of them, but the Kochanski bits might yet see the light of day. Way back at Dimension Jump in 2015 he said he wanted to do a Kochanski ep…

  25. We know both eps involved Kochanski, and one of them was set in a circus. Both required location filming that presumably couldn’t be realised in the studio at such short notice when the location filming got cancelled. I think Doug gave a recent interview where he says he’s cannibalised various bits of them, but the Kochanski bits might yet see the light of day. Way back at Dimension Jump in 2015 he said he wanted to do a Kochanski ep…

    I always took the circus comment in We’re Smegged as a bit tongue in cheek. It was just an outlandish example of a location that they didn’t have and thus couldn’t do an episode with.

    It could have just as easily been a pumping station they needed (for Give and Take for example) but were reduced to only filming stuff on the set they could build.

  26. Sounds a bit Greatest Show in the Galaxy, which was in fact made by the skin of John Nathan Turner’s teeth. Maybe a joke because I can’t imagine a Red Dwarf ep being set in a circus.

  27. What about a circus where criticism is illegal.

  28. > I don’t think Craig’s had better material to play throughout this episode since 1993, and his performance is raised accordingly. I felt more invested in Lister as a character than for years.

    I know you clearly dislike Back to Earth, but it probably features Craig’s best work in anything, ever. :) Yeah yeah the ‘ironing sneezes’ scene is somewhat shit… but the thing as a whole is Craig’s finest hour.

    There’s a lot that doesn’t work in Back To Earth and if it was the last Dwarf ever I’d mind the slow start more. But as an atypical one off I don’t mind that it starts off sad. I remember my jaw hitting the floor as the graveyard scene unfolded and it became clear how far Craig had come as an actor since 1999. Plus “pray God there’s some car chases in this” is a wonderful comic line that undercuts the seriousness and lightens that scene before Cat appears.

  29. I watched this being filmed, and there’s very little that was cut from the original performance. I did notice the absence of some quite good jokes about Lister getting older in the scene where Chippy is implanted, that would have created a neat tie in with his real aging later on.
    The other thing that was cut, which I think was the right decision, was some extra exposition about M Corp from Kryten, that Robert kept fluffing during the recording.
    I thought the ending in this one was superb, but that could be because I am unable to view it without my fanboy tinted glasses. I will also admit that I like Cat’s recurring hair appliance and Rimmer-hate jokes. They’re far better than the tired old “deader than” and “smell” jokes from whichever series that was (VI?) I think Doug has made the right decision in making Cat much more like his Series I & II persona.

  30. You’re right, I’ll take Cat being a bitch to Rimmer over him pronouncing the Dwarfers to be deader than various fashion trends.

  31. Great review. I like the episode even more having watched it a second time. Same goes for Mechocracy, but I think M-Corp has maybe just edged it as my favourite of XII so far (haven’t watched Skipper yet). Chippy grew on me a lot on second viewing, and I do like that final scene but was just too nonplussed by the CCTV thing (which I still really don’t like) the first time.

    Apologies if this has already been pointed out, but when Lister’s opening his invisible tin of beans, the cloche from Krysis is hanging up on the wall.

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