Spoilers: in the penultimate episode of Red Dwarf’s twelfth series, the crew discover that their ship is now owned by M-Corp and Lister can no longer see products that aren’t also owned by the corporation.
Although its first three episodes were a bit of a mixed bag (please don’t mention ‘Timewave’ to me ever again), Red Dwarf XII appears to have upped its game in its second half. I said last week that the fourth episode ‘Mechocracy’ was the best of the series so far, and I’m happy to report that ‘M-Corp’ might be even better.
We begin with Kryten wishing Lister a happy birthday – apparently a big one that’s higher than both 30 and 40 – and cheerfully telling him that he’s easy to buy presents for because he’s got “nothing…no life, no partner, no future”. The plot then kicks in, much quicker than usual, as Lister has a suspected heart attack. It turns out to be nothing more than indigestion and Kryten ponders what could have caused it, while serving Lister an enormous platter of chips, before deciding to implant a different kind of chip inside Lister to monitor his health.
AI characters tend to be rather hit-and-miss in Red Dwarf, but Chippy, voiced by Oliver Maltman, has some great gags as he gets to grips with the sorry state of Lister’s body. A big laugh-out-loud moment also comes when Rimmer sneakily responds to Chippy’s request to provide daily death updates with a heavily Liverpudlian “yes please man”.
The unexpected failure of Chippy leads to a discovery that none of Red Dwarf’s system updates have been automatically installing for several years, and in that time JMC has been bought out by M-Corp – a company so powerful that it gained ownership of Earth and introduced a tax on thinking (Rimmer informs Cat “you’d have got a rebate every year”).
Once the overdue updates are complete, the ship is immediately stocked with M-Corp products, while some sort of perception filter causes non-M-Corp products to become invisible to Lister, and also to the viewer. This results in a memorable scene where Cat handles an invisible can of lager, quickly followed by another in which Kryten tests Lister’s perception by waving around a mysterious vibrating object.
Kryten, Rimmer and Cat soon begin to disappear from Lister’s vision too, leaving him seemingly alone on the ship. The situation gives rise to plenty of good sight gags, with Lister shaving, brushing his teeth and making breakfast using invisible items, while a combination of the music and Craig Charles’ performance in this sequence also manages to make us feel sad for him.
Helen George (Call the Midwife) delivers a strong guest performance as Aniter, the virtual face of M-Corp, who appears firstly via video and later in person, when Lister pays M-Corp a visit in the hope they will remove his perception filter. With wide eyes and a fixed grin, she comes across as a genuine threat when she essentially imprisons Lister because he can’t afford to leave and starts charging him in time because he has run out of credits. Unfortunately, she does get the hands down worst line of the episode though – a dated, out-of-nowhere comment about how women supposedly do more talking than men. At M-Corp headquarters there’s also an enjoyable cameo from comedian Ian Boldsworth, aka Ray Peacock, who will be familiar to diehard fans as the warm-up act for live recordings.
Red Dwarf episodes are sometimes guilty of not living up to the concepts at the core of them, but this isn’t true of ‘M-Corp’. An interesting idea is well executed, and it also avoids the fairly common Red Dwarf pitfall of feeling rushed. The episode moves along at a pace that doesn’t feel too fast or too slow, and the ending, which features a callback to the show’s very first episode ‘The End’, rounds things off very nicely indeed.