Red Dwarf I, episode 2: “Future Echoes”

Red Dwarf I, episode 2: “Future Echoes”

Written by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor; originally aired 22nd February 1988.

So now that we’re just about familiar with the premise of the show, thanks to “The End,” how does “Future Echoes” keep the Red Dwarf ball rolling? By threatening to kill off the one remaining human onboard and, possibly, in existence. Fair enough…?

Here’s the gist of it: travelling at light speed through an asteroid field, the crew begin to see ‘echoes’ of events  that have kinda-sorta already happened, although they haven’t really, with no chance of altering them because although they haven’t happened yet, they have. That whole ‘no chance of altering future events’ proves problematic when Rimmer allegedly views Lister being blown up and the latter, frankly not too keen on dying in a horrible explosion, begins to panic. Meanwhile, Cat eats some fish and gets a stomach-ache, while Rimmer revels in Lister’s misery, because it’s hard to write a substantial B-plot when your show only has four characters.

Comedy-wise “Future Echoes” is a huge step forward from “The End,” largely because the premise and principle (read: only) characters have effectively been established, so now they’re free to rattle about the ship and get on each other’s nerves. Without so much focus on setting up a story it opens up room for the little pockets of comedy that open up every now and then, adding warmth and colour to the weight of the themes of mortality explored in the episode, from Rimmer’s mention of his father’s “rather unusual suicide business” to his complaints about being dead to his thinly-disguised glee at seeing Lister genuinely scared – though being dead himself perhaps it makes sense that he should be the central figure of this theme. I’d actually argue that a large part of Red Dwarf‘s appeal comes not from the ideas it comes up with, but how it treats them with offbeat flippancy, particularly its light-hearted attitude towards death. On another show Rimmer’s schadenfreude would probably be condemned and he would be forced to learn a valuable lesson about the importance of life. But who’s going to teach him that lesson here? Lister’s busy trying to avoid death; Holly is fully focused on navigating the ship at light speed; and Cat’s only concerned with himself. No lesson learned there, then.

As for the sci-fi, for a creaky, low-budget studio sitcom, Red Dwarf sure plays with some pretty interesting concepts, although the future echoes do take a while to wrap your head around: because they’re travelling at the speed of light, the image of the event appears to them before the actual event. Is that right? Or do they only see an image of the event occurring before it occurs? Or maybe the image of the event and the event are the same thing? Maybe it’s like a plane travelling faster than the speed of sound, where you hear the plane after it’s already passed, except here the plane is the event in time and the speed of sound is the speed of light… except you can’t travel faster than the speed of light, can you? Okay, the plane having passed is the event occurring and the sound of the plane is also the event occurring… no, that doesn’t work either. Maybe the plane is the image of the event and the sound is the actual image.. you know what, I brought the plane analogy into all this; maybe I deserve to be confused.

Now for something else I’m trying out: the BULLET TRAIN OF THOUGHT, where I run through a bunch of stuff that came into my head whilst re-watching the episode, along with a few choice lines that I particularly enjoyed…

  • Is that a Shining reference with Dave’s bike in the opening scene? Doesn’t make much sense if it is.
  • The dispenser with the lisp. I shouldn’t enjoy that as much as I do.
  • I still struggle to wrap my head around Rimmer’s logic as to how he’s beaten the world record.
  • Holly gets some pretty decent lines in this episode, doesn’t he?
  • The smug, self-satisfied look on Rimmer’s face, coupled with that hairstyle… just priceless.
  • Robot goldfish seem like quite a good idea, provided you can make them watertight.
  • Lister’s reaction to Rimmer’s hairstyle… equally priceless.
  • “It’s gonna take 4,000 years just to turn around. You can’t do a three-point turn when you’re this close to light speed, you know.”
  • Some really nice comedy acting with Lister trying to chat with Future Echo Rimmer, weaved well into the actual chat moments later.
  • The future echo of Lister’s photograph seems a little contrived, but it adds a layer of intrigue to the story, so I’m okay with it.
  • “How old did I look?” “How old are you now?” “Twenty-five. How old did I look?” “Mmm… mid-twenties.”
  • Twisting your head around Lister and Rimmer discussing the future echo in the drive-room is always a good way to wake up your brain.
  • “I’m gonna eat you, little fishy!”
  • Anyone else hear a slight ‘ooh’ of realisation when Cat chips his tooth? I love realistic reactions from studio audiences.
  • Hindsight’s a funny thing: in a later episode (I forget which) Rimmer is informed that as his only function as a hologram is to keep Lister company, if Lister dies then he gets switched off. Wonder how smug he’d be if he knew that at this point?
  • “Emergency. Emergency. There’s an emergency going on.” Norman Lovett’s deadpan delivery really can’t be matched, can it?
  • Wonderfully subtle call-back with Rimmer’s hair at the end.

So all in all, “Future Echoes” is a marked improvement over “The End,” doing what all good sitcoms should do by putting the sit- in the background and letting the -com do the heavy lifting. Some great lines and some interesting ideas – not bad stuff for a daft little sitcom. If I cared for giving these sorts of things numerical ratings, I’d give this episode a 7.5 out of 10. But I don’t, so I won’t.

Thanks for reading again. I’m currently trying out a few different formats to see which one works. I don’t want to go full-on AV Club-style thesis write-ups, but I don’t want them to be too sparse either. Some day I might find a happy medium. Until then…

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