Dave Lister has been stranded a million years from Earth on the mining ship Red Dwarf since the late Eighties. But being the last human in the universe hasn’t been without its perks; whether being waited on hand and foot by a robot butler, or hanging out with his stylish wing man who just happens to be a Cat, he’s never been bored. Having to put up with a hologram of his bunk mate from hell, Arnold Rimmer, is as bad as Dave has had to put with over the years. So, in many respects, M-Corp is the first time our curry-loving hero finds himself truly alone in space…
The story really kicks off when the crew discover that Red Dwarf has missed a number of important updates over the years; most importantly, the ship is no longer the property of JMC. This means big changes, as the ominous M-Corp takes possession of the small rouge one. Lister is affected the most, as he watches his friends (and Rimmer) disappear in front of his eyes, along with any products not owned by M-Corp. What follows is the first example of a troupe from the early days of Series I and II, as the full sorrow of Lister’s position comes to bear; he is finally all alone (more or less).
With a few exceptions, the modern Dave-era of the show has shifted the previous primary focus away from Lister, instead often having him caught up in a Kyten or Rimmer-based plot, so it was good to see “the last human alive” back again; a lone lager guzzler in deep space in deep trouble. Reminiscent of being all alone on Garbage World in the 1990 spin-off novel “Better than Life” , Lister’s isolation in this case is saved by M-Corp’s persuasive and threatening interactive avatar (chillingly played by Helen George). Via a convenient teleport, Lister is taken to a zone fully controlled by that company, and he quickly becomes dependant on M-Corp and its services, via a variety of ‘accidents’.
There is a rare darkness here. Echoing the dark sci-fi show “Black Mirror”, the story engages similar paranoia, showing just how much we allow corporation-led technology to rule our lives and use up our time – literally in Lister’s case. When he is eventually rescued by the crew, Lister has had most of his life sucked from him, and is surrounded by fake friends and products he doesn’t need and will never use. For the first time in the series since Series V’s “Back to Reality” or Series VI’s “Out of Time”, the series is being less than optimistic – chilling but also funny, a difficult balance to find, but this episode succeeded in finding it. However, the resolution is a tad too easy – I was hoping for a twist; once they all got back to the ship, no-one can see Lister, as he had been bought up by a non-existent corporation – but no.
Outside M-Corp’s influence, Rimmer, Kryten and Cat have little to do in this episode but argue, but that is always fun. I would have liked there to have been a scene showing Kryten losing himself as he fought against M-Corp software updates; in my mind, having Diva Droid International not part of the JMC buy-out rid the story of a potential parallel drama, with both Lister and Kryten raging against the man and the machine. That said, the opening scenes involving Lister’s near-death experience and Rimmer imitating him to find out the exact date – a joke that has been used twice throughout the series’ run – was fantastically funny. It’s also the second time Chris Barrie has snuck his ability to perfectly imitate the cast. How long until we have an episode where everybody’s Rimmer? “Rimmerconia” anyone?
The recent return of talking tech aboard the ship is a reminder that after 30 years of this show, we are still not quite in the future yet – Amazon’s Alexa doesn’t have the charm of Talkie Toaster. This episode thoroughly reminds us that whoever controls the tech can effectively control the world; hidden in the slapstick of Cat spraying Lister from a lager can he can’t see, the moral of the episode is very much this: don’t trust anything you can’t see, including faceless corporations.