The story so far: three million years from Earth, radiation levels on board the Red Dwarf have reduced to a survivable background level, the one surviving crew member has been revived from stasis and ordered the ship turned round to return to his home planet.
Heading back towards Earth, they encounter a mail pod which has been tracking Red Dwarf through the millennia (presumably the last one sent before news of the crew’s demise, as no other such pods ever turn up). In the mail they find that Rimmer’s tax bill is massive and his father is dead; thankfully they also find a total immersion video game ‘Better Than Life’ with which to take his mind off things.
Using the new senso-lock feedback technology, “Better Than Life” is able to detect all your desires and fantasies and then make them come true.
This was, of course, in 1988, when the exciting potential of blocky ‘virtual reality’ worlds presented by goggles and interacted with by gloves was the very pinnacle of computer technology; Red Dwarf extrapolated this into a much simpler, more realistic and immersive experience.
It’s also another handy plot device to break the monotony of all the ship-based episodes – although those episodes, which tend to feature character interaction over sci-fi tropes, are often funnier.
Essentially what we have here is Cat and Lister going off to enjoy themselves in Better Than Life for an hour or two, when Rimmer’s ‘diseased brain’ tags along and fantasises unpleasantness on them all.
The potential consequences of all this – in particular the way Rimmer is using the game to escape the unpleasant realities of tax bills, dad parents, and indeed dead self – are explored more in the Red Dwarf novel of the same name, wherein addiction to the game is as socially and physically harmful as any drug addiction. If you’ve ever tried to hold a conversation with a teenager holding a smartphone, you’ll have some idea how prescient this idea was!
A 30 minute sitcom, however, is not the place to discuss such issues in any detail, so we will come back to that somewhere down the line.
What this episode does bring up is a throwaway line where Rimmer mistakenly refers to Marilyn Monroe as Mary Magdalene, and a news item in which:
Archeologists near mount Sinai have discovered what is believed to be a missing page from the Bible. The page is currently being carbon dated in Bonn. If genuine it belongs at the beginning of the Bible and is believed to read “To my darling Candy. All characters portrayed within this book are fictitous and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.” The page has been universally condemned by church leaders.
This is from the late 22nd Century; since it has taken a computer with an IQ of 6,000 over three million years to conclude that there is (probably) no God, it seems unlikely that the Bible will have faded into sufficient obscurity for a page from an NIV to make the news, so presumably this relates to a page which looks like it could be 2,000 years old.
Yes, I realise it’s a joke and not meant to be analysed in any depth at all; I’m just highlighting the comment because that’s what this blog is about.
If there is a serious point to be drawn from this episode, it is to be careful how we choose to deal with life’s problems; running away and hiding in a computer game (or wherever suits us better) will invariably turn sour. And from the Christian perspective, we already have access to something far better than this life – we just need to allow ourselves to become totally immersed in Him. After all, God knows your true desires better than any senso-lock feedback technology could hope to, and has the ultimate power to make them happen – whilst still being able to see how our diseased minds could corrupt things.
The most significant change to this episode was the addition of some sunshine to the exterior shots inside the game; why would anyone fantasise a beach on a grey, overcast day? We have Rhyl for that. The Berni Inn joke in Holly’s prologue is replaced with something more culturally relevant, and the Cat’s mermaid girlfriend (top half fish, bottom half woman) is edited out entirely.
Watch this episode for Lister remembering his dad’s death; and remember, choose your gaming partners carefully.