Red Dwarf XII: 5 “M-Corp” Review
Reviewed by Ryan Monty.
With just two episodes left of Red Dwarf Series XII, I wondered how the fifth episode, M-Corp, could keep up the zany ambitions already achieved so far in a series featuring everybody becoming like Kryten and a dizzy spaceship where criticism is outlawed. M-Corp manages to top everything we’ve seen so far, in terms of the funnies and of the sheer surrealism that we see on screen, as Lister finds himself fighting capitalism (Muppets voice here) IN SPACEEE, while the others find themselves invisible to him.
It’s Lister’s birthday, and not just any birthday- the big five-o. I’ve made no secret of my love for the little moments this series where the Boys from the Dwarf have had to confront their own ageing process- Cat’s mini-arc in Mechocracy last time out was a treat. As a nice mirror to how Mechocracy closed with Lister trying to get Cat to accept the inevitable, Lister straight up refuses to hear Kryten acknowledge his own mortality, Kryten proceeding to rub it in a bit more as he gets Lister’s birthday present by reminding him that his lack of a life (or a wife) makes him incredibly easy to buy for. It doesn’t help that Cat kindly takes his birthday breakfast off him after swanning in, and even less so as he keels over clutching his heart shortly after. Not that it stops Cat from eating!
A quick trip to the med-bay later in fear of a heart attack and Kryten puts a small medical bot named Chippy into Lister. Following Talkie Toaster’s return last week, another small machine harassing Dave isn’t exactly what he’d have wanted (even if Chippy is less irritating than Series X’s medical bot!), but it’s discovered it was only indigestion, to which Kryten gives him a plate of chips and some lager. Still though, Kryten tries to get Chippy to give a Lister a check-up (which he at least attempts to do as he visually struggles through Dave’s arteries) revealing that he can tell him his death date. Naturally Lister doesn’t want to know this at all- not that he’s given a choice, as Rimmer gives permission for him- another spot-on Chris Barrie impression providing one of M-Corp’s biggest laughs.
After Chippy goes haywire and counts down to his own death, the Dwarfers discover that Chippy’s- and the entirety of Red Dwarf’s- software is out of date (after all, isn’t Dave meant to live till his 180s? Could never kill off the leader of Smeg and the Heads that easily!) Cat’s at fault as, stunningly, he chose keeping his hair fabulous over keeping the ship’s plugs in, and a few updates later the crew are confronted with the (seemingly) friendly face of Aniter (Call the Midwife’s Helen George) with some big news- Red Dwarf’s owners JMC have been bought out by the multi-national corporation M-Corp. Kryten discovers M-Corp also bought Earth itself, even implementing a tax on thinking (Cat’d be due a rebate in Rimmer’s eyes.)
This takeover means very bad news for Lister, as a perception filter turns everything M-Corp didn’t make or own invisible to him, leading to some hilarious testing of what’s going on including the Series XII titles scene of Cat spraying a can of JMC Leopard lager all over Lister, a brilliant interaction between the two seeing Cat shake the can with a certain rude hand gesture as Lister stands there mockingly not expecting anything to happen. That’s not even the rudest joke or visual here, as Kryten brings further things to test such as a vibrating item which Lister really, really hopes is an electric toothbrush. The physical comedy in M-Corp is some of the most memorable the show has ever done, and the reactions in this scene are superb.
It’s not just items which disappear however, as soon Cat, Rimmer and Kryten are first muted and then made invisible to Lister, leaving him helpless and alone. It’s not all comedic visuals present, as the lonely existence Lister now occupies allows for plenty of stark moments both funny and otherwise- simple tasks now made difficult such as not tripping over/damaging his guitar, and brushing his teeth are chuckle some, but other images such as Lister floating in mid-air on his bed where even his Zero-G cut-outs and photos of Kris are gone are striking, lost to the totalitarianism of M-Corp.
While it is consistently funny, M-Corp is Red Dwarf at its scariest and most unsettling, with the reality of M-Corp’s dystopian capitalist state, with even a tax on thinking itself, scarily not the most absurd possibility in our frightening current world. As he enters the M-Corp virtual world, a nightmarish white-walled, white and blue palette hell-scape with eerily calm background music, Lister’s confronted with the fact that everything costs in the M-Corp world, even having to buy water and the glass for it separately. It’s quite moving to see him given the choice to buy perfectly suited friends, yet turning the choice down completely as he just wants the other Dwarfers back (although some justice for Steve please, he seems like a top man!)
The satire of M-Corp covers everything from the choking all-encompassing nature of big business to microtransactions, with M-Corp bleeding Dave dry of everything he owns, and taking years off his life to pay for goods and services. The scenes of Aniter forcing Dave into buying things, including starting a fire so he must buy an extinguisher, are skin-crawling, her expression barely breaking as the soundtrack looms. Charging in life seems like the end goal of capitalism here, making that adage “time is money” literally real, fronted by Helen George’s spooky interface who spends most of her time smiling menacingly at Dave as he trades his life away for utter crap- the real-world parallels plain to see.
By the time the other Dwarfers have rebooted Red Dwarf (with the boot-up noise being the Mac start-up noise, superbly) and find Lister again, he seems lost to the world, paying for life surrounded by bought friends and all the nonsense he could ask for, completely given in to M-Corp’s vice grip. It’s chilling to see him giddily surrounded by his fake-ness and eagerly demanding more. M-Corp has a truly frightening edge, even if its storyline is ended upon a prod of fun at big business as M-Corp sell the virus to remove them from the ship, a fitting conclusion.
For Lister to see the others again though, they must reboot his brain, problematic as his last personality back up (used for holograms) was at 23, meaning that the other Dwarfers must recreate his memory using CCTV footage, leaving us on a fan-pleasing nostalgia moment after spades of gallows humour as Lister and Rimmer recreate the very first scene of the show from Series I’s The End– with a welcome return of the Ganymede and Titan song! It’s my favourite end scene of this series (although if they’re recreating his memories from CCTV, what about some of his off-ship memories?)