You know the old saying, save the best till fourth? Okay, that’s not a saying, but if Mechocracy, the fourth episode in the current series of Red Dwarf, is anything to go by, then it should be.
Lister and Cat download the database of a ship that’s about to be destroyed. Unfortunately, as Rimmer puts it, doing this is about as dangerous as having unprotected sex in Doncaster. And he’s proved right, as Red Dwarf contracts an S.O.S. virus and the boys are forced to abandon ship. Understandably the dispensing machines want to come to, but 2nd technician and acting commanding officers Arnold J. Rimmer says no. The machines then combine their processing power and defeat the virus, leaving the crew of the Small Rouge One facing a rebellion. No more chockie bars, light, heat, or air for that matter. Then a solution is struck upon: one of the boys will be the president of the machines, representing their needs. But will it be Kryten or Rimmer? Only an election can decide the matter.
For several reasons Mechocracy is a damn near perfect episode of Red Dwarf. It takes the long running joke of the crew’s strange relationship with the ships vending machines to a greater comic pitch than ever before. Surpassing even the Series X episode, Dear Dave, which saw Lister getting a tad flirtatious with the dispensers. In fact, rather like other episodes in this series so far, Mechocracy’s central idea of machine rights seems such a blatantly good concept, that one can barely believe it’s taken twelve series to get there. As writer and director Doug Naylor said in our extensive interview, sometimes it’s about finding the bits they missed first time around, which definitely feels the case here.
The set up allows for some surprisingly cutting and relevant political satire. As the election ramps up, Rimmer will promise anything to get himself into power, while the dispensing machines on one floor are worried about machines from lesser floors exploiting the perks they feel only they should enjoy. Sound familiar?
Mechocracy definitely feels like a Rimmer episode. It’s great to see Chris Barrie given the chance to play old Goal-Post Head as the utter smeggingly magnificent bastard we all know he can be when given half a chance. Watching him puffing out his chest, holding up his chin and lying through his teeth will have been pure joy for any Red Dwarf fan. The scene in which he tries to blackmail a totally baffled Cat into being his running mate is undoubtedly one of the high-points of the series so far.
The episode also acts as a way to indulge in a little nostalgia, something the show has never explored to quite this degree. After nearly thirty years and twelve seasons that’s certainly something that the fans can understand and appreciate. Thankfully, for those new to Red Dwarf this is done in a way that is totally seamless, in service of the story, and will not leave them feeling confused, or excluded from the joke – a neat trick indeed.
This is Red Dwarf in classic form. Enjoy!