Red Dwarf XII: Mechocracy 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.

Despite drawing on so much from the show’s past, Mechocracy feels like a very different sort of episode. It ends up in a ridiculous place in a way that I might not’ve been so receptive of had this been part of a hypothetical series IX in 2000. But as it happens, this represents the most sheer fun I’ve had watching the show in a while, and a great example of how to fold in references from the show’s past.

Modern Dwarf has certainly settled into a storytelling pattern, and as we’ve seen in pretty much the last 10 episodes we reliably start the episode with ‘life on board ship’ sequence to set the tone. The sight of Kryten sitting in perfect silence to open the episode was highly amusing and brought to mind the stories told of Norman Lovett’s old set where he would stand completely silent for its entirety, gaining bigger and bigger laughs from odd looks and movements. Exactly the same vein of comedy is mined here, to the point where I would’ve loved the scene to have gone on longer. It felt like such a fresh way to start the episode that I would almost sacrifice the funny mopping scene and payoff to have Kryten literally sit there in silence for two minutes straight with the ‘patience’ line acting as the punchline to the whole scene.

First broadcast: 26th October 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:
Daniel Barker (Dispensing Machine 402 & Other Voices)
Penelope Freeman (Dispensing Machine 403)
Olivier Maltman (Other Dispensing Machines)
David Ross (Talkie Toaster)

Synopsis:
The crew return to make television great again. When the machines on Red Dwarf go on strike, a presidential election is held between Rimmer and Kryten.

Set Report | Let’s Talk About | Live DwarfCast

But enough about what I wanted, because what we get was very pleasing. The echoes of Camille set the tone for an episode that will be full of nicely executed callbacks and the reveal that Kryten was practicing his manipulation training. It you let me skip forward a bit, I actually spent the entirety of my first watch through expecting this scene to pay off in a big way at the end, specifically with a reveal that the whole situation was planned by Kryten as a power grab as part of his manipulation training but that never transpired. That said, he does partake in plenty of manipulation as the story goes on so maybe the setup and payoff for this scene is more subtle than we’re accustomed to.

The ‘Yellow Alert’ scene that follows continues the great opening pace of the episode. Rimmer’s delight in yellow alerts is a pretty great bit of character comedy, and definitely an attitude some may recognise in themselves (admit it) but what stands out here is an exchange that wasn’t even originally written for this episode. The fabled swapped scene from Officer Rimmer where Rimmer promotes, goads and then demotes Lister is such a good exchange that absolutely could’ve come straight from a deleted series 1 scene. This is writing that has a complete grasp on both characters, right down to Lister’s relationship with his grandma, and the pace of the build up and delivery of the demoted punchline is spot on. I’ll be honest, this is a relatively rare case of a scene flowing at a perfect pace in the new series, but actually along with the earlier ‘patience’ exchange between Rimmer and Kryten and one that will follow in the bunkroom, it’s not even the only example in this episode of a snappy and confidently written and performed exchange.

To finish out part one, the SOS virus is something that I think is very well setup. Firstly, the concept of the virus itself is very solid, and the Cat and Lister blindly letting it onto the ship is amusingly done. But what I like about this as a plot point is that it wasn’t entirely predictable how it would turn out. Episodes like Demons & AngelsOnly The Good… and the whole of series VI and VII have taught us that Red Dwarf isn’t ever 100% safe so when the threat of destruction turns up you can never be sure how it’s going turn out. Of course, here it eventually is resolved, but used sparingly this is a threat that will always be an effective source of drama and it’s executed really well here. What perhaps sticks out a little bit is the setup of the Rimmer and Cat dynamic as the former discovers the latter needs glasses. It’s a little too obvious that it’s there for a functional reason and the comedy that’s there to justify its existence is quite cheap. I’m not sure glasses have been a valid source for this sort of mocking humour for a while, but I might be out of touch…

The show’s had, let’s say, a chequered history with on-ship appliances. For every Tony Hawks there’s a Kerry Shale but here the performances of the band of machines is really well done. As with last year’s Officer Rimmer, the performances are more believable as actually useful appliances, but they still have some character and eccentricity without completely and utterly going off the deep end with cartoonish bollocks. It’s perhaps necessary that these machines should be believable as real characters as they’re given a lot of agency here, both with their genius inclusion as part of the virus cleansing solution and then with their strike having such a massive impact on the ship and crew.

As we get into part 2 the episode takes a pretty big turn into nonsense. But it’s really, really funny nonsense. The setup of the election situation is a bit of a stretch as we’re not really given any reason why any of the machines would accept anyone other than Kryten as a representative but it’s necessary to give us the premise for what is a hugely entertaining 15 minutes. It’s here that we see the Cat’s glasses plot brought up as a way to allow Rimmer to co-opt him to be a running mate, complete with a veritable suite of speccy jokes. It’s an inherent problem the show has as Lister and Kryten are the only characters we could really count as a comfortable sub-group so obviously we needed this plot to justify the pairing of two characters that actually hate each other, but it doesn’t stop it feeling out of place. But the election campaign itself is comfortably one of the most ridiculous plotlines the show has dared to do. It’s completely silly and unrealistic but the amount of good laughs that’s wrung out of it more than makes up for the nonsense situation. Why they’ve made up seemingly irrelevant party names and had a whole lot of campaign material printed and attack ads produced barely matters when it’s so much fun to watch. This is the first time this series that the much vaunted ‘weird’ tone has really come good, and it feels like everyone cutting loose and having fun with a concept.

A potentially awkward immigration conversation between Rimmer and a vending machine is thankfully interrupted by one of my favourite parts of the whole episode: the attack ads. Seeing clips and stills from previous series in both videos gave me the same thrill as seeing the faces of past Doctors in episodes like The Eleventh Hour, and they serve as a way to slip in more very well done nods to the past, the most intriguing of which is definitely the claim that Rimmer has killed himself twice. I’ve been completely separate from the discussion of the episode this week (including not even listening to our own DwarfCast) so I have no idea what the consensus is, but I take this to be a reference to Timeslides rather than it being yet another way to troll people about the ending of Only the Good… but either option pleases me.

The plot pretty much pushes the election concept as far as our suspension of disbelief can go with the (still very amusing) debate scene but fortunately this is about as far as it goes before everything gets pulled back for the last few minutes. At this point I could definitely express some thoughts about the abortion analogy and I’ve been debating whether there was any point since I found the joke itself to be funny and decently clever. Whether or not I think Red Dwarf is the place I want those sorts of jokes to crop up in is another matter but I won’t let it bother me too much, it’s just something worth pointing out as we’re very much in an era of the show pushing into areas of comedy and topics a lot of us aren’t entirely comfortable with and for me this is another example.

As the election drags on and it becomes apparent that the vote is an exact 50/50 (because why the hell not) Kryten and Lister enlist some extra help. The reveal of Talkie Toaster is very well done here, with the more observant fans probably working out who they’re going to find in the garbage hold long before the reveal occurs. Seeing that old prop and the old boot up voice line again (if I’m not mistaken, an exact sample from White Hole) gave me warm fuzzy feelings only surpassed by hearing brand new lines from the most legit of guest stars, David Ross. In the end it’s a very fleeting cameo and his appearance essentially boils down to a slightly extended and rehashed version of the White Hole scene, but that barely matters when it lifts the climax of the episode so much.

Kryten’s victory in the election is something that took me a little by surprise. If I was to guess halfway through I’d say the election would end up being null and void in some way in order to facilitate a return to the status quo, but here we see a very rare, permanent shift in the crew dynamic. Whether we see this play out in future episodes is another thing entirely, as one thing that most definitely IS shot in the head for the sake of the status quo is Cat’s need to wear glasses, as he ultimately chooses being cool over being well read and that particular sub-plot is most likely gone forever.  Since Kryten has been allowed to have his victory it seems a shame to roll back Cat’s revelation like this, as giving him this new dimension would’ve been a nicer way to justify to inclusion of what ends up feeling like a plot convenience bolted on with a few cheap laughs.

Finally, no episode of new Dwarf would be *quite* complete without a slightly weird and abrupt ending, and Mechocracy doesn’t disappoint with a final scene of Rimmer locked in the garbage hold by Cat (for some reason) along with Talkie who, despite the deal he made with Kryten and Lister, has not been relocated to the bunk room (for some reason). That’s not nearly enough to derail my enjoyment of what is an immensely fun episode, though. It’s basically exactly how I would want the knockabout type episodes to be and it has the additional benefit of many very well done nods to the past all while giving us a very new and fresh style of episode.

It certainly gets my vote!!!1one

TINY TEASER: Doncaster (Doug has opinions about having unprotected sex here)
APPROXIMATE SCENE COUNT: 19 (Total so far: 81)
APPROXIMATE SMEG COUNT: 2 (Total so far: 5)

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28 Responses to Red Dwarf XII: Mechocracy Review

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  1. I’m not sure glasses have been a valid source for this sort of mocking humour for a while, but I might be out of touch…

    I had the same thought when it was first brought up in the episode (in fact, it reminded me of that old Men Behaving Badly plot with Tony needing glasses), so I really liked the way the end of the episode made it clear that actually Kryten and Lister would have no problem with Cat wearing glasses, and wouldn’t make fun of him for it – the only issue with it was Cat’s own vanity (which Rimmer cannily exploits).

  2. Not so fast, Spare Hand One.

    Such villainy!

    A Future Echo!

  3. I learned to ‘First!’ from Spare Hand Two, I’m not used to first posts from Spare Hand One

  4. It’s not about glasses being a thing that should be mocked in modern society, it’s about THE CAT’s attitude to glasses and his ideas of what’s cool and what isn’t

  5. I always assumed cats ego was so huge that it wasn’t because he cared what others thought of him but more the opposite, that he didn’t care and still thought he was awesome and better than everyone else.

    Its not until Can of worms where it seemed like the Cat cared what others thought of him and showed insecurity towards his image.

  6. If you don’t get why Kryten leaves the Toaster in the hold, you’re forgetting the now set in stone formula of payback from the first scenes – Kryten was lying to the Toaster to manipulate him.

  7. If you didn’t care what anybody thought of you you wouldn’t put as much effort into your appearance as Cat does.

    If he didn’t care what anyone thought why would he spend 12 hours getting ready in Kryten?

  8. To satisfy the one person whose opinion matters to you, ie yourself?

  9. > The following article is intended for those watching at UKTV Play pace.

    By the skin of its smegging teeth! :D but it was WELL worth it, and I’m glad there’s been so much positivity about the episode.

    I think I’ve realised what feels so different about the promotion/demotion scene. For a split second it makes Lister look stupid, which goes against the ‘righteous hero Lister’ who’s been around for a while now. The whole scene is out of character, for how the characters are now (even if it’s exactly right for the characters of 29 years ago).

    In more recent years, Lister gets the upper hand in these kind of conversations pretty quickly, so it stops Rimmer being so harsh (except now, which was a rarity). Back in the days of series 1 & 2, Lister was more of a happy-go-lucky guy who’s also a bit naive and immature, and Rimmer was a lot more extreme and antagonistic towards, well, everyone, but especially Lister, so the bunkroom banter had a certain flow to it that we haven’t seen in a long while. Now that they’ve both mellowed and grown wiser (the characters AND actors) I guess it hasn’t felt right to make Rimmer quite the piece of work or Lister quite breezy wind-up merchant.

    In any case, I think Rimmer mentioning Lister’s gran is the most bastard-like thing he’s done in a VERY long time (including attempting to blow up Captain Herring in Officer Rimmer).

  10. The setup of the election situation is a bit of a stretch as we’re not really given any reason why any of the machines would accept anyone other than Kryten as a representative

    The election comes about because the machines feel they have no rights or voice. So getting to democratically elect their representative makes sense – in the campaign the candidates then have to make promises about what they will do they’ll then be held to account for.

  11. G&T Admin

    You’re a kinder person than I, El Cappo.

  12. “I think I’ve realised what feels so different about the promotion/demotion scene. For a split second it makes Lister look stupid, which goes against the ‘righteous hero Lister’ who’s been around for a while now. The whole scene is out of character, for how the characters are now (even if it’s exactly right for the characters of 29 years ago).”

    I’ve felt this way about a few things in this series, Lister coming across as uncharacteristically dumb. From the same scene, the SOS Virus … “is that what they taught us in basic training” … and Rimmer, of all people, is the one to remember the specifics correctly.

    I know Lister has had some stupid moments in the past, “what’s an iguana?” – but I think that has generally be written off as Doug and Rob still trying to find Lister’s character. From S03 onwards he has generally been quite smart and, when he applies himself he is capable of doing anything. Rebuilding Kryten for example … he is clearly an accomplished engineer/mechanic/electrician etc. He has generally been portrayed as been better than Rimmer (recognising a 14B for example) just that he doesn’t care enough to aim higher prior to the accident and thus remained as a third technician.

    I can forgive Lister downloading the SOS Virus because he was distracted playing a video game … but it doesn’t sit right that he doesn’t know what it is.

    Especially after nearly 30 years in deep space fending for himself – more or less. It’s even a point made in Series 8 that he is better, more knowledgeable and generally better suited to dealing with situations because they’ve been in deep space alone for “5-6 years, not counting stasis”.

    Anyway … that’s my little rant over.

    Carry on.

  13. I can forgive Lister downloading the SOS Virus because he was distracted playing a video game … but it doesn’t sit right that he doesn’t know what it is.

    I think you are being too harsh. He does know what it is, he specifically remembers it from basic training. So he does a dumb thing, but not because he’s dumb – there’s a huge difference.

  14. Great review, it chimes pretty much with my own thoughts on the episode. Best one of XII so far for me, actually. The promotion/demotion scene, for my money, isn’t just one of the best Dwarf scenes in years, it’s one of the best Dwarf scenes full stop.

  15. I do love to read a nice positive review. My immediate reaction to the episode was fairly lukewarm, but the G&T hype has pushed that up a bit more.

    As for Lister’s intelligence, I think he’s bright in the things he’s interested in (mechatronics etc), but I totally buy the idea that he’d not know about something taught in training. In fact -especially- things taught in training, as you know he’d be the one messing around at the back of class and not paying attention.

  16. Rimmer locked in the garbage hold by Cat (for some reason)

    I assumed it was payback for the blackmail…

  17. G&T Admin

    I do love to read a nice positive review. My immediate reaction to the episode was fairly lukewarm, but the G&T hype has pushed that up a bit more.

    Same here! Chatting it through on the podcast, and reading Cappsy’s review, has made me more positive than I was on first and second viewing. There were bits I wasn’t sure about, but I’ve since been convinced.

  18. My immediate reaction to the episode was fairly lukewarm, but the G&T hype has pushed that up a bit more.

    The opposite of what happened with me and Timewave, which I loved the first time I watched it, then G&T pointed out everything that’s wrong with it, and I was edged towards the majority opinion.

    Not that I’ve bowed to peer pressure, I just realised how much shitter certain bits are than I initially thought.

  19. Lister’s intelligence levels have to fluctuate somewhat for the show to work, I think. There needs to be a plausible reason why he wouldn’t just keep trying to take exams to gain a higher rank than Rimmer (even if he couldn’t pass the Chef’s exam, surely he could have a pretty good stab at something in engineering?), so he needs to be believably dumb, or at least unmotivated.

    But at the same time, he needs to be smart enough to be an effective protagonist, and to reflect his wealth of experiences over the course of the show.

    So they have to be able to play it both ways to serve the various needs of the stories.

  20. Red Dwarf definitely runs on an “if it’s funny, fuck continuity” mentality, which I largely agree with. As long as the Cat isn’t suddenly a dog and Rimmer isn’t suddenly black, you can forgive a lot of these little foibles.

  21. I really don’t like seeing Kryten in human-style clothes. Strangely unsettling.

    Hats are permitted.

    Maybe a pinafore.

  22. Lister’s intelligence levels have to fluctuate somewhat for the show to work, I think.

    I’m satisfied that he generally only exercises that intelligence when he gives the slightest shit. Or isn’t distracted by video games.

  23. I’m satisfied that he generally only exercises that intelligence when he gives the slightest shit. Or isn’t distracted by video games.

    That’s what I do, so it’s believable.

  24. I spent three of four minutes typing variants of that before I decided I didn’t need to broadcast my ineptitude.

    Wait.

    Shit.

  25. I love seeing Kryten in suits like this. Reminds me of Herman Munster. And the original Munsters was a superb show.

    And this was a very Munsters type of episode. They never did an election one but it is the type of thing they did alot on The Munsters. Take a generic sitcom story and put their ill-fitting characters in it.

  26. Al Lewis is a treasure.

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