Now, Smasara was a return to form. Less of the Star Trek crap, more of Lister and Rimmer bickering – this time over a game of Mine-opoly, like your family after Boxing Day lunch. When they’re on form, the trading of insults between these two characters is one of the best things on TV.
On this occasion, Lister’s gloating at having finally beaten his nemesis is cut short by Kryten’s announcement that some distant relatives have decided to pay them a visit; unfortunately by the time of their arrival they have mysteriously been vaporised, leaving little more than the opportunity for a predictable but childishly amusing gag about spreading their ashes.
All of which leads our heroes inexorably towards the crashed starship from which the deceased had recently escaped, either to loot it or to figure out why the escape pod decided to nuke them. Or probably both.
I’m not going to review the rest of the series early as I did with the first episode, but if you haven’t seen it, spoilers may follow.
On boarding the crashed ship, they discover that the rest of the crew have also died somewhat abruptly, many of them involved in what, on the balance of probabilities, was unlikely to have been a game of twister. The boys split up, Scooby-style, to investigate, and while Cat is annoying Lister with his comedically fudged (but somewhat forgivable) knowledge of Earth history, Kryten and Rimmer discover that the ship contains a ‘Karma Drive’ – a system based on the Justice field from series 4, but able to reward good behaviour as well as punishing bad.
Part of the story is told in flashback from the point of view of the two escapees, Green and Barker, who we discover had resorted to hacking the Karma drive in order to facilitate an extra-marital hook-up.
And this, of course, brings us to the spiritual and moral crux of the episode: who decides what is moral? Somebody had to program the Karma Drive, and as we see in this story, anything which can be programmed once, can be reprogrammed to do something completely other.
What the Karma Drive concept gives us is a tangible way that humanity – in this case, right down to the Captain of an individual ship – is allowed to dictate morality in the Red Dwarf universe, and has created a means to police this and provide the appropriate response.
And ‘morality’ has become a much more fluid concept in the real world too; in recent years we have seen some branches of Christianity accused of rewriting morality to make the faith more palatable to the modern world, while others insist that morality is, and must remain, fixed as it was when the Bible was written. That’s an interesting debate, of course, and one which I may touch upon during NaNoWriMo (more on that story later), but at the same time, it should probably be considered that ‘morality’ is not really a concept which can easily be boiled down to a few rules, or indeed a computer program.
Jesus didn’t bring rules; he came to set us free from rules, in part by way of a simple moral code: love one another. And not in an extra-marital Twister sort of way, obviously; ultimately, Green and Barker’s plan to reverse the morality of the neutron flow (see what I did there?) came back and bit them – well, in fact it vapourised them – when they attempted the very moral act of warning the Red Dwarf posse what they had done.
All morality aside though, this is a great Red Dwarf episode very much in the ‘classic’ Dwarf mould; some may think there is too much of old stories being recycled here, but Red Dwarf IV was a terrifying 25 years ago now, so I’d argue that a fresh spin on that type of story is long overdue. If Red Dwarf XI carries on in this style, I’ll be a very happy Dwarfer.