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A man-made life form, is the ultimate war machine with the ability to change its form into anything and sap the emotions of anyone it finds, escapes from a pod and nibbles its way into Red Dwarf. Creating emotion-spurring situations for each crew member, it slowly steals their emotions and leaves them as twisted caricatures of their former selves. Then it gets blown up by a stray bazookoid blast.


CAT: What is it? Some kind of alien?
HOLLY: No, it's from Earth, man made. I checked out its DNA profile. Some kind of genetic experiment that went wrong.
KRYTEN: Apparently it was an attempt to create the ultimate warrior; a mutant that could change shape to suit its terrain and deceive its enemies.
CAT: So what did go wrong?
KRYTEN: It's insane!

LISTER: I'm gonna stick my fist so far down its gob, I'll be able to pull the label off its underpants!


In yet another demonstration of how brilliantly atmospheric the technologically-primitive model shots can be, the intro sequence of seeing the torn-open pod containing the titular beast, followed by the slow zoom of Red Dwarf and the accompanying narration... it's just great stuff, y'know? It's immediately flipped on its head by the 'mouth cam' of the Polymorph and how cartoonish it really looks, but the episode as a whole makes some great use of atmospheric shots and dramatic camera angles.

It's amusing what ridiculous things Lister gets up to simply to spice up his mundane life, using a variety of inappropriate medical tools as dining utensils, and the ease of futuristic microwave meals are particularly quirky. Kryten gets a lot of highlight in the beginning of this episode, getting a wonderfully long-winded blubbering spiel over accidentally insulting Rimmer's mother, which clearly showed to the producers how talented Robert was when it came to belting out multi-page speeches; the writers Rob and Doug made sure they could dump him a ludicrously long tongue twister whenever possible, which arguably culminates in his defence for Rimmer's release in series 4's Justice.

This episode also introduces us to Kryten's groinal socket, used here to sweep the dirt off Lister's bunk. It's a pretty lowbrow joke (to state the bleeding obvious) and later series would sometimes use it a little gratuitously, but you get all the mileage you need out of it just by its two uses in this episode, first simply describing its uses and then the unfortunate sequence wherein he tries to remove Lister's Polymorph underpants with Rimmer watching. Given how that scene is among one of the most memorable scenes in the whole series, it definitely helps cement Kryten as an entertaining and useful character early on.

Also, unless I missed mention of a gag, this is the first appearance of the later-frequent Space Corp Directive gag, which, of course, is followed up by Rimmer affirming his cowardly behaviour by quoting from his own Rimmer Directive. They're always slightly amusing gags, and although not the best the series has to offer, it's just interesting to note where it started off.

The Polymorph is an interesting concept, obviously a chameleon taken to its logical extreme (well, besides just turning invisible entirely) and its rather outlandish ways of disguising itself are entertaining, from a beach ball to a snake to a sausage on Lister's plate.

You could argue that a Polymorph done properly could easily have finished off the crew in seconds, making better use of dangerous forms when it isn't blending in to the countless barrels and boxes littering the ship. You could also argue that being a serious Polymorph isn't fun, and the fact it chooses incredibly obvious forms and plays up the idiocy of each member is what makes it entertaining. I'd agree, personally. Your mother - who clearly isn't on the ship and was last seen three million years ago - suddenly appears on the ship and is seen having sex with someone you loathe. Are you more surprised at her sudden reappearance or her bedside manner?

Additionally, the reveal afterwards that the Polymorph extracts and feasts on emotions from its prey really spices up the plot - I mean, this is the first proper monster-of-the-week episode, but they don't even encounter the beast that much, so if it were simply "shit, there's a monster on board that can look like anything, what do we do?" the plot would probably have run dry pretty quickly.

Adding further sci-fi danger to it and giving everyone ludicrously exaggerated personalities really adds a lot to the episode, definitely making it that much more memorable. Of the four personalities I feel Kryten's loss of guilt could've been taken further, as he contributes no more than a few snarky comments; series 7 would strip Kryten of his guilt again in Tikka To Ride and although he didn't say anything demeaning, he did some really crazy things ("That's not chicken, sir.") and I personally feel that could've been emphasised, but it's clear that Lister and Rimmer are there to completely steal the show.

The Cat is essentially a one-note character normally or otherwise, so it's a good thing they didn't drag his bum mode into it much more than needed. Rimmer's peacenik activist attitude is just brilliant, and I'd almost dare say it would be amusing to see him that way in more episodes, but they got a good dearth of mileage out of it just by his five minute appearance. I love his short shorts. Lister, of course, would have to be my favourite - unbridled rage and imaginative threats always tickle my fancy.

The cargo deck scene with the Cat and the heatseekers is rather silly, but his completely oblivious encounter with the Polymorph is particularly amusing; it does kinda drag on a little for my liking (I almost feel that time could've been used for more gags, though it's hardly a big deal), but there's some good lines and brief Benny Hill style antics to make up for it, plus, damn, does the Cat have a snazzy outfit. He looks like Luke Cage!

The ending is, of course, a complete cop-out; and it works. I mean, what kind of epic struggle could they really have on a BBC budget? I personally felt some later episodes (particularly series 7) concerned themselves too much with actually fighting their foes rather than supplying gags, and bringing back a throwaway scene as the solution is an amusing twist. Of course, it knows it's a cop-out ending, and adds a final joke with the "contents 2" label on the Polymorph's pod. It's silly and amusing stuff, and although it's probably the first real "monster of the week" episode in Red Dwarf, it's nice that it still keeps its priorities straight as a comedy.

One of the flaws I can't help but notice from this point onwards in Red Dwarf is that, compared to most other sitcoms, the story feels notably thin to fill up 30 minutes; The Thin Blue Line can have a variety of subplots running at once while Red Dwarf focuses all its energy on today's space-age threat, but the fantastic banter between the characters makes it work, especially the alternate personalities of the crew. This may not necessarily be a memorable episode, but it's certainly got some particularly memorable content.

Commentary highlightS

[coming soon!]

Fanbase opinionS

Another fan favourite, the combination of being the first proper monster threat and having lots of silly lines won it over with fans, not to mention the boxer shorts scene. Some aren't so pleased with the wasted opportunity for serious storytelling and the rather abrupt conclusion, but the Japanese poll ranks it at number 3, with 17.6% of the vote.