Red Dwarf: ‘The Promised Land’

CONTAINS SPOILERS

For Easter, rather than a thirteenth series, Red Dwarf has given us a feature length special!

I don’t think they ever quite let go of the hope of making a Red Dwarf movie, so this might be them finally crossing that off their bucket list!

The title refers to a line from the very first episode, ‘The End’, where Cat says the religion of his species told of “Fuchal, the promised land”. “Fuchal” was in fact Fiji, where Lister hoped to open a hot dog and doughtnut diner. He told this to his pregnant pet cat Frankenstein, who he smuggled on board Red Dwarf. When this was discovered, in order to save Frankenstein’s life Lister didn’t tell the captain where she was, which meant Lister would have to go into stasis for the rest of the trip. He ended up being in stasis for three million years, as an accident killed all the rest of the crew, though Frankenstein was sealed in the hold and survived it. She had kittens, and over those three million years the descendants of those kittens evolved into a humanoid form, and developed a religion based on Lister, who ended up being known as Cloister.

The series one episode ‘Waiting For God’ went into some further detail. There were Holy Wars over what the colour of the hats at the diner were supposed to be. One side thought the hats were meant to be red, the other side thought the hats were meant to be blue. In fact, both sides were wrong, as the hats were meant to be green! Eventually the two sides split into two Arks, and both left Red Dwarf in search of Fuchal. Technically, I suppose the blue hats were closer to the proper colour, but they made the fatal mistake of thinking one of Lister’s old laundry lists was a star chart, which led them to crash directly into an asteroid. But the fate of the red hats remained a mystery, and was deliberately left open for future use. Now that is finally addressed!

The Cat species has grown even more, and has fleets of ships. But those still faithful to Cloister have been pushed to the fringes, as the ruler is a tyrant Feral King named Rodon (Ray Fearon), who thinks he should be worshipped as the Cat God! Members of the cat clergy Brother Sol (Tom Bennett), Sister Luna (Mandeep Dhillon), and the mute Sister Peanut (Lucy Pearman) escape and find a space shuttle, setting course for “the ship of our birth” – i.e., Red Dwarf!

On Red Dwarf, Lister is eating and drinking a lot (more than usual!) and has is collecting junk. Among the old junk, Lister finds Holly’s back-up disc. The crew decide it’s worth a shot trying to bring him back. It still works! Holly is back, but this version is the factory settings, so he has no memory of anything that has gone on, and notes that Cat and Kryten aren’t official crew members. With almost all the original crew no longer on board, and the planned course and mission of Red Dwarf as a mining ship long since abandoned, Holly elects to retire Red Dwarf from active service, which includes decommissioning and destroying the whole ship.

Rimmer, Lister and Cat plan to uninstall Holly again, but he can hear them plotting that – and the insults about him being a “bald git” too! Which they then repeat to his face! The reason for that is they think Kryten has already put the plan in action, as Lister told him to do it at 12am. However, Lister thought that 12am meant noon – Kryten tells him that would be 12pm – 12am refers to midnight!

Rimmer, Lister, Cat and Kryten decide it’s another time where they have to get in Starbug and leave Red Dwarf. Red Dwarf had earlier got a distress signal from the cat clerics, but Rimmer thought they shouldn’t respond to it, thinking they will probably end up being chased by “giant, genetically modified man-eating cheese!”, or similar. Now, however, it seems like they might as well.

The signal takes them to an abandoned ship called the Iron Star. There they find advanced technology that can give holograms “Diamond Light”. Rimmer wants to upgrade to it right away, and skip safety tests. The Diamond Light technology gives Rimmer a shiny silver superhero outfit, a hairstyle like Superman’s, and a deep voice. He also now has power over light and the ability to fly… for a few minutes, then it overloads and fries his light bee, so he is switched off, leaving the damaged light bee on the floor!

Rimmer is revived, but he has to be plugged in! He needs lots of extension leads and plug sockets to move about any further.

Lister, Cat, Kryten and Rimmer then find Brother Sol, Sister Luna and Sister Peanut, who see Lister as their god. Sister Peanut also gains the ability to speak! Lister tells them he isn’t a god, but he gets a Life Of Brian-like response, the three clerics think only the true Cloister would be so humble to deny it. They tell them about Rodon, and say he is after a precious artefact, the Anubis stone. Kryten tells the Red Dwarf crew that it’s actually nothing more than varnished beetle dung (after Lister has licked it!).

Lister still thinks he should tell the cat clerics the whole truth. He isn’t a god at all, the whole story of Cloister was a misunderstanding of the facts. But Kryten doesn’t think it would be a good idea – the truth would be heartbreaking for them.

The Red Dwarf crew and the clerics make their way to the Iron Star’s control room – and Rodon has teleported on there, with some of his soldiers. The clerics tell Rodon that Lister is Cloister, but Rodon still doesn’t think much of him even if that is true, saying Cloister caused nothing but war. The clerics say Cloister will wreack vengeance on Rodon if he tries to take the Anubis stone… but Rodon gets possession of it easily! Then he teleports out, leaving two soliders to kill everyone on board. The cat soldiers have Wolverine-like claws (as in like Wolverine from The X-Men, not like the animal wolverine). Lister and Cat try to fight them off with forks, but they are vegan forks, programmed not to stab any meat! Ironically, they are saved by Rodon, who decided to blast the Iron Star (even though two of his soldiers are still on it). The blast kills the two soldiers, and everyone else manages to escape on Starbug. The clerics are convinced this was Cloister’s doing!

Part of the debris from the Iron Star hits Starbug, making the back section catch fire. Lister detatches the back section of Starbug, so the fire won’t spread to them. The only problem is, all the engines were in the back section, so now, they’re going to crash! Rimmer points out it would have been better to just use a fire extinguisher- which they end up having to use anyway when they crash land!

What’s left of Starbug is heading for a desert moon. Starbug has an emergency parachute… but a while ago Cat used it to make the suit he’s wearing now – along with some matching mittens! Luckily he didn’t use the back-up parachute to make an outfit. “I never have two suits the same!”.

They manage to land. Lister still thinks that the clerics should know the truth, and be able to think for themselves instead of blindly worshipping him. He tries to get Kryten to tell them, but Kryten just ends up saying how wonderful and amazing he thinks Lister is, due to his genuine admiration for Lister. Cat, well, doesn’t have admiration for Lister, so he gives it a go. However, the clerics ask him questions. Did Lister save Frankenstein “the mother of our people”? Did he refuse to give her up? Did he go into stasis? Cat admits all of that is true, Lister did all those things. Sister Peanut then tells him she is able to speak now, and she never could before she met Lister. So Cat is converted to their religion!

Rimmer doesn’t think it’ll be any problem at all for him to give a lecture to the clerics on how rubbish Lister is, and he’s probably right, but before he can do it more debris from the Iron Star falls on Starbug. Kryten points out Starbug is an electric hybrid, so they can switch to electric power. That means though to save energy they have to cut back on less essential things which use the electricty, such as seat warmers and Rimmer! Rimmer has to switch to “low power mode”, which changes him from colour to black and white!

Two sandstorms come at Starbug in opposite directions. As Lister puts it, “We’re going to be the filling in a sandstorm sandwich!”. The sandstorm buries Starbug, but everyone on board survives. They are buried too deep to get out, but Kryten puts a spare eye on an extending antenna coming out of his finger to go to the surface and take a look around. Rimmer tells Kryten to use his antenna to make contact with Holly on Red Dwarf. When this is achieved, Rimmer suggests to Holly that he upload the memory files of the original Holly, and gain the knowledge he built up over three million years. “I’ll become as brilliant as he must have been!” Holly says. Ha ha ha.

Holly downloads the files, and is returned to his normal nutty self. He now remembers the Red Dwarf crew, and his plan to save them is to blow up the moon! He completely misses the moon on his first attempt, which doesn’t bode well for the accuracy of his aim, but on the second attempt hits the moon, blows it up, blasting Starbug out. Holly is as surprised as the crew are that it actually worked! He then says he will come and pick them up in Red Dwarf.

But on Red Dwarf, Rodon and his soldiers are on board. (Holly forgot to mention this!). They want the “real” Anubis stone, finding out the one they’ve got is just varnished beetle dung. They throw it back. But they are told that is the real one. Lister then decides to tell the clerics the whole truth. He isn’t a god, he isn’t even a particularly impressive human. He was a chicken soup repairman – actually less than that, he was a chicken soup repairman’s assistant. The “miracles” the clerics saw weren’t performed by him, they were just random chance. Sister Peanut says what about “the gift of speech” he gave her. Lister tells her it wasn’t anything he did. He thinks the causes of her mutism are probably psychological more than anything, she could speak just because she believed she’d met her god, and sadly Lister’s point is proven, as Sister Peanut no longer believes she’s met her god, so she can no longer speak.

It’s also revealed that Rodon is Cat’s brother! Cat was left behind as he was uncool. So Cat vowed he would always be cool from then on! Which suggests he originally may have been closer to being like his alter ego Duane Dibley than he has let on. After all, when the Emohawk stole his cool, it transformed him into Duane Dibley.

Rodon decides to just plant a bomb and teleport out. As if things weren’t bad enough, Kryten has been using himself as a power source to charge Rimmer up, but Kryten himself runs out of power, so Rimmer’s light bee will run out soon too. Which effectively means permanent death for both of them.

Lister discovers though there is more to the Anubis stone than meets the eye – the varnished beetle dung was just to preserve it. It is actually a powerful gold gem! Lister uses it to power up Rimmer, who becomes Diamond Light Super Rimmer. He flies to the bomb, flies out of the ship with it before it explodes, then flies back unharmed. They get in Starbug to chase after Rodon, and use a red laser to distract his soldiers, which means Rodon’s ship crashes into an asteroid.

There’s no way to recharge Kryten, except if Rimmer gives some of his energy back to the Anubis stone, which can then be used to recharge Kryten. Which basically means Rimmer will lose his superpowers! Obviously Rimmer isn’t pleased about that, but agrees to it, and Kryten is revived.

The Red Dwarf crew take the Cat clerics back to the main Cat Ark. They aren’t disappointed with finding out Lister isn’t a god… because, having witnesses his superhero antics, they now worship Rimmer, and wear copies of his letter H on their heads! And Sister Peanut can speak again!

It has been a long time coming for us to see more of the Cat People. Now we finally saw some, and they were well realised! A lot of the stuff with them was cute and funny – like the ships, shaped like two triangles, two circles and a wine glass, grouping together to form a cat-like face. There’s also the doors being giant cat flaps, and that red laser lights distract them just like it does with modern domestic cats. Also the “meow missles”, which actually make a “meow” sound! Rodon also has a giant scratching post, and the three clerics each have a ball of wool.

I really liked the guest stars as the cats. Ray Fearon seemed to be having a lot of fun as megalomaniac bad guy Rodon, as did Al Roberts as Rodon’s toadying sidekick Count Ludo. Tom Bennett, Mandeep Dhillion and Lucy Pearman all did well expressing innocent idealism as the cat clerics, and you did feel sorry for them when they realised that Lister, and therefore Cloister, wasn’t the god they thought he was and that they hadn’t been witnessing miracles, especially when Sister Peanut lost her newly gained ability to speak. It was good at the end that Sister Peanut regained her speech, and that she, Sister Luna and Brother Sol got a happy ending.

This episode makes only the second time we have seen more of Cat’s species. In ‘Waiting For God’ there was another one, an elderly dying cat priest. He mentioned that those like himself who were sick or lame were left behind on Red Dwarf while the rest went on the Arks. The priest mentioned that Cat’s parents were “a cripple” (Cat’s mother) and “an idiot” (Cat’s father). The implication was that Cat’s parents were among the cats who were left behind. ‘The Promised Land’ doesn’t contradict that, but it establishes that Cat’s birth must have happened a fair bit of time before the Arks left, not after.

Much as I liked what they did with the cats here, I think they should have done more with Cat himself. He might be self-absorbed, but you’d have thought he’d care a bit more about seeing members on his own species for the first time in ages. He didn’t even care that much about being reunited with his own brother, or the fact that Rodon seems to die. I mean, sure, it looks like Cat and Rodon never got on well, but, still. To be honest, I didn’t like Rodon being Cat’s brother at all, because they did so little with it. If they weren’t going to do anything with that plot twist, they might as well have just left Rodon as a generic tyrannical villain.

There are references to some religions and mythology. Anubis was an Ancient Egyptian god who was associated with the process of embalming, and was said to meet people after they died where he would, with a weighing scale, weigh up their good and bad points to decide their fate in the afterlife. He had the head of a jackal though, which makes him part of the dog family. A dog-headed god is a strange and ironic choice for the cat people to name something after! The Ancient Egyptians did have a cat-headed goddess as it happens, named Bastet. Maybe in the universe seen in ‘Parallel Universe’ the dog people who worship Deb Lister have a Bastet stone!

Brother Sol and Sister Luna are a reference to Sol, the Roman god of the Sun, and Luna, the Roman goddess of the Moon. I don’t think Sister Peanut is named after a deity, but “Peanut” is the sort of name people might give a pet cat.

Series one suggested that “Fuchal, The Promised Land” was akin to the idea of Heaven, but Sister Luna states that the cats no longer believe in it as a literal place, they now see it more as something akin to Nirvana, a state of being and acheiving personal happiness, peace and fulfillment.

There are jokes about old computer technology – Holly’s back up is an enourmous red floppy disc, and when it is loaded up it makes the old internet dial-up sound. Plus
modern technology as well, with Rimmer needing extension leads, having to plug into places to charge up and go on “low power mode”.

A lot of this episode was a treat for long-term fans. Holly coming back, presumably as regular fixture again. Rimmer, Lister, Cat and Kryten flying off in Starbug recalls series 6 (complete with a joke of Rimmer using the wrong Space Corps directive number, and Kryten informing him what that number actually refers to). Plus a lot of callbacks, such as
Lister singing the ‘Om’ song, and Cat talking about Backwards Earth, both from series 3.

Rimmer’s hologram upgrade goes through all his previous stages. In the Red Dwarf uniform (in series 1 and 2), in green (series 3 and 4), in red (series 5, and a bit of series 6), in blue (most of series 6 and 7). Rimmer appearing in black and white was actually something which Rob Grant and Doug Naylor would have liked to have done throughout the series – they wanted all the holograms to be in black and white, but that was too difficult to do back when the show started. They did request that all the holograms in the cartoons in the spin-off magazine The Red Dwarf Smegazine would be coloured in black and white though.

There is what appears to be an E.U./Brexit joke, with Rimmer saying they shouldn’t have to follow checks and regulations recommended by “bureaucrats” at the European Space Agency as he decides to just get the hologram upgrade. Then when that backfires on him,  he complains that they should have done the checks and followed the regulations! But it’s amazing how Brexit jokes/references look slightly dated already – they may become relevant and topical again later of course, but the coronavirus pandemic has completely overshadowed all conversation about Brexit, and indeed everything else!

Red Dwarf: ‘The Promised Land’ was pretty decent, the effects were good, it had action and tied up a loose end which had been dangling since series one, and it was worth doing in lieu of a full series. Where we go from here who knows. In interviews, the cast have acknowledged that at this stage it’s possible this could be the last Red Dwarf ever, though they hope to make more. If they do, great, if they decide to call it a day, well it’d be nice to do something to give Red Dwarf a proper ending. But I suppose we’ll see.

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