As the first episode after the pilot, Future Echoes had the task of setting the pace for the rest of the series. In fact it was filmed later and slotted in as episode two because it did just that, and did it well; Future Echoes defines ‘sitcom with proper sci-fi bits’. In case we missed The End, the scenario is re-capped in an introductory ‘distress call’ by Holly, and then it’s straight into Lister and Rimmer antagonising each other.
The bickering between Lister and Rimmer is really the heart of this episode, although the Cat does have a couple of amusing moments (following Rimmer into the bunk room, staring at his Helen Shapiro hairdo) and character-defining lines:
Two suits is dead!
We also meet talkie toaster – making his first appearance as a slightly more sarcastic alternative to Holly – and the dispensing machine with a lisp, voiced by Tony Hawks and adding a nice dose of silly humour early on in the episode. These though, like the Cat at this stage, seem to be largely fillers, just there to give us a break from Lister and Rimmer calling each other goits. That doesn’t matter though, because they are funny fillers.
In fact, this is an episode crammed full of classic Red Dwarf lines, put-downs, Rimmer’s fake scouse accent, physical humour (Lister mixing his deodorant and shaving foam cans), and of course Lister’s conversation with a future echo of Rimmer – pure comedy gold.
The science bit – Red Dwarf going faster than the speed of light and causing all sorts of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey issues (and a major headache for Holly) – is the only real occurence of scientific theory as a major plot point in series one.
The science also allows some interesting philosophy to sneak in; first, the ever popular sci-fi question of whether a digital replica of a person (in this case the hologram Rimmer) is that person, a question which appears to be bothering Rimmer at this stage, despite Lister’s assurances that
Death isn’t the handicap it used to be.
And that line comes back to haunt him when Rimmer witnesses a future echo of Lister getting blown to pieces trying to fix the navicomp – something Lister is keen to try and avoid, first by not wearing a hat, and later by rugby tackling the Cat. Trust me, it all makes sense in context…
Which is of course the second piece of sci-fi philosophising: theinteraction of time travel, predestination and free will. And grammar.
Lister: Hey, it hasn’t happened, has it? It has ‘will have going to have happened’ happened, but it hasn’t actually ‘happened’ happened yet, actually.
Rimmer: Poppycock! It will be happened; it shall be going to be happening; it will be was an event that could will have been taken place in the future. Simple as that. Your bucket’s been kicked, baby.
And so it seems when Lister’s first attempt to change the future ends up causing the event he witnessed in echo, so he resigns himself to going out the way he came in: kicking and screaming…
The solution to the overheating navicomp which would have killed Lister is never fully explained, but the technology looks very… 80s, and the use of a polaroid camera in the final scene is similarly anachronistic, but other than those relatively minor things, this episode still works well for science fiction that is, after all, 25 years old.
The changes made during remastering of this episode were fairly unobtrusive, limited to visual effects for the jump to light speed and some incidental music to heighten the tension when Lister is about to die. If you can tolerate the somewhat superfluous CG exterior shots, this is probably one worth watching in remastered form if you can; it’s definitely worth watching though, a classic Dwarf episode.