It’s Father’s Day aboard Red Dwarf and due to some timey wimey wibbly wobbly, Lister is his own father. Every year he writes himself a Father’s Day card, and then gets so drunk he doesn’t remember what he wrote and it’s a surprise. Rimmer points out that he’s both a lousy father and a lousy son, so Lister decides to do something about it. Meanwhile, Rimmer and Kryten install the new ship’s computer, the predictive AI Pree.
Being your own dad has been a sci fi joke for a long, long time but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show take it to this illogical extreme. It’s hilariously brilliant. Lister having a back and forth with himself at times playing both father and son is just pure gold. Craig Charles handles it really well for a guy who is essentially yelling in an empty room. It’s not quite a split personality, but it definitely skirts the edge. On the advice of the medical program, he uses some tough love on himself, making a videotape from his Dad persona ordering him to turn his life around. So, of course, he then gets drunk on some foul-looking brown stuff and wakes up in a shopping cart with no memory of what he’s done.
The B plot with the new AI, Pree, isn’t quite as good. She can predict what the crew are most likely to do in any given scenario, and so she has a habit of telling them what they’re about to do or what conversations they’re about to have, and that actually doing so is now pointless and they should just move on. This being science fiction, you just know it’s going to go tits-up in record time.
It’s just not as strong as the A story. Pree comes off more irritating than funny, and maybe that’s the point, since the laughs are mostly derived from the crew reacting to her. It’s not until the end of the episode when this story starts to intersect with Lister’s that I began to enjoy what it was doing.
Kryten also has a little story for himself, but it’s not so much a plot as it is a running gag. When telling Rimmer about his night playing a game of Chinese Whispers with some of the other machines, Rimmer comments that the game is racist, implying that Chinese people can’t accurately relay information. Kryten decides to ask around about it, and of course through the chain of people (and appliances) asking one another this question itself becomes a game of Chinese Whispers and ends up completely distorted by the end of the episode.
For those not in the know, Red Dwarf of yore was helmed by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor. Towards the end of the original run of the series, there were some “creative differences” and the partnership split, leaving Naylor all by his lonesome. Conventional wisdom holds that Grant was much better at writing comedy than Naylor, who tended to focus on the sci-fi aspect. Since Grant’s departure, the sci-fi side of Red Dwarf has been played a little more straight, but I think this episode proves that Naylor can pull off some damn fine comedy when he puts his mind to it.
“Fathers and Suns” excels at bringing just about everything from both plots together into a satisfying conclusion. Every element brought into play throughout the episode comes back in ways you might not have expected, and as is common on Red Dwarf, earlier stupidity may hold the key to saving the ship. It’s not a perfect episode, but it’s one hell of a lot stronger than “Trojan” was.