Red Dwarf XII: 4 “Mechocracy” Review
Reviewed by Ryan Monty.
(This review continues spoilers. Read on if that doesn’t bother you!)
As we jump with earnest into the back-half of Red Dwarf Series XII, you’d be forgiven for expecting the pace to continue in the same vein as Cured and Siliconia, after last week’s more laidback Time Wave. Instead, in the opening moments of Mechocracy, we open on Kryten…just sitting down patiently. This might be one of my favourite Dwarf openings, continuing to prove that sometimes there’s few things funnier than one of the main cast’s expressions towards something (or in this case, nothing). Kryten sits there for a good few minutes before Rimmer bursts in and finds that Kryten is waiting for Lister to teach him about patience as part of his mechanoid development program.
Lister’s forgot of course, and Kryten coaxes Rimmer into mopping a deck for him- as this week’s lesson was manipulation, not patience! This swerve tees us up nicely for the conflict between the two in Mechocracy. Lister and the Cat were busy responding to a ship’s SOS call, downloading its “e-cargo”, something which is extremely not real, and they download an SOS virus which paralyses the ship and sets it on a collision course with a black hole. When the dispensing machines are told by Rimmer that they’re worthless and not counted as essential crew to evacuate, they combine their processing power to defeat the virus- and go on strike demanding equal rights with the Dwarfers and for a fair democratic (or mechocratic, if you’re wanting to keep with the episode title! I’m sorry) vote to decide who will represent them. From there, it’s all in as Kryten’s party takes on Rimmer’s party in an intense battle of wits- or more likely, lies!
I’ve seen a few comments on the fact that there’s been a plethora of guest stars this series so far, diluting the entire premise of the show that Lister is the last human alive, which is a fair point, with some landing (Johnny Vegas) more than others (James Buckley). So, it’s a nice refresher to have an episode contained on the ship, with multiple stretches of Mechocracy feeling like it would fit beautifully into Series I or II, especially with moments such as when the Cat brings his multitude of bags ready for evacuation- despite being told to bring just the essentials, a hark back to his insistence on taking all his suits into stasis in Series I.
Most deliciously though is the dialogue as Rimmer toys with Lister, threatening to promote and promptly demote him back. Lister resists at first, but he’s helplessly pulled it and the gleeful, smug look on the face of Chris Barrie as he does so is perfect. Seeing the two jostle over their (ultimately meaningless) positions on the ship in earlier series was always a highlight, so this was a treat. In fact, Mechocracy is jam-packed full of hilarious character moments, including another instalment of the now legendary “alerts”, with the initial ship-self-destruct classified as a “yellow” alert, welcomed with a light up display, to the delight of Rimmer, as a yellow alert means that “someone’s in danger but it’s not you”.
As the machines take up their strike and go marching down the decks, Skutter hand in dispenser hand (?), the power is cut off trapping the crew on their floor, as in Series IV’s White Hole. Thankfully for Kryten there’s no need for him to be a battering ram this time, as Lister negotiates a peace treaty dependant on a machine representative being selected. Mechocracy from here is Red Dwarf satire at its finest, with the evergreen mocking of the machinations and ludicrous nature of politics ripe for a send-up (especially in a time like now!), allowing for any amount of silliness and farcical images. Seeing Kryten suddenly in a ridiculous suit as the campaign for machine equal rights gears up is just one classic visual moment Mechocracy conjures up.
As soon as the campaign begins in haste, you can just tell who’s going to take to the dog-eat-dog world of politics like a duck to water. This is something Arnold J. Rimmer was born for, and his double-dealing, conniving and slimy ways make him the ideal match, going as far as to parading around greeting Skutters and calling them cute like a real-world politician calls babies. It’s perhaps his true calling after all, and Doug Naylor’s witty and wildly funny script goes all in on the concept, even seeing Rimmer and the Cat driving around in a “tour” buggy as they attempt to garner support. Even though Rimmer might be the most suited to the game of machines, both sides indulge in a smear campaign bringing out the worst in all of them, leading to two mirth-worthy videos where each side slanders the others featuring clips from multiple past episodes as Demons and Angels, Camille and Quarantine as both side strives to win.
Sizeable hilarity comes from the debate- the key part of any election. Rimmer of course comes out on top here, by utilising those time-honoured politician tricks as evading the question and never siding on one topic, summed up fantastically in a far less than subtle but superbly funny fashion regarding “deleting documents” whose real-life analogy is clear. It’s this kind of character driven comedy that makes Red Dwarf so enduring, when the main cast can express themselves through the concept rather than being thrust into a situation (which is equally as funny, but maybe an easier route to the funnies).
The debate isn’t enough however, and to swing the vote Kryten and Lister must gain the vote of a certain older character, and Lister’s arch-nemesis, Talkie Toaster. I’m so happy this wasn’t spoiled in the promotional material, because his appearance (still voiced by original Kryten David Ross!) is a lovely surprise worthy of wrapping up the episode, and it doesn’t feel like cheap fan-service as he naturally fits into the situation as you would expect. And what’s a better indication of how uniquely funny a show Red Dwarf is that’s there’s a crowd-pleasing reveal, and subsequent round of applause, for a talking toaster?
Mechocracy wraps up with Rimmer locked in the garbage hold with Talkie in a seeming toasted purgatory, but the moments beforehand are some of my favourites of this series so far. The initial reason Cat joins Rimmer on the campaign trail is that he was caught with reading glasses (why else would he team up with him?!), and as he tells Lister about it and his new reading hobby, the Cat must make a choice- either losing his cool, or becoming smarter and growing as a person. The Cat naturally puts his glasses in a blender and moves on. It’s moments like this where the Dwarfers are forced to confront their advancing age that I really appreciate, and hope for more of, because it gives us insight into how their character has grown over the long years (or unwillingness to!)
Mechocracy is one of my favourite episodes of the Dave saga of Dwarf, as it acts as a pitch-perfect blend of a wacky but fitting central idea and character-focused humour. It has a satisfying early Dwarf series feel to it, but paired with the growth that the characters have experienced in the many year run, being choc-full of memorable moments with the absurdity of it never halting throughout. Is there anything more satisfying than Rimmer taking up the mantle of the ultimate smug git profession?