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.
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 & Angels, Only 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)