Monday, 22 June 2009

Red Dwarf: Meltdown

'Meltdown' is a pastiche of Westworld (which I haven't seen), in which our heroes are trapped on a planet entirely populated by wax-droids - robotic waxworks of various famous historical and literary figures. The wax-droids have run amok in the millenia since humanity became extinct and are reaching the climax of an epic battle between Good and Evil (as the entertainment complex was originally divided into areas for Heroes and Villains). The Heroes are losing, since the Villains have all the more accomplished military strategists.

One the side of Good, along with Stan Laurel, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein, is Pythagoras, who is convinced that there must be a solution, probably involving triangles. Pythagoras' obsession with triangles, and Einstein's frustration with it, are hilarious, and accurately rest upon the fact that the only thing most of us remember about Pythagoras is that he came up with a theory about triangles (maths not being my strong point, I can't even remember what it is...).

Fun facts about Pythagoras that don't involve triangles: He was a late 6th century BC philosopher who really did think that mathematics was the key to life, the universe and everything (urgh!). Josephus claims that Pythagoras used to communicate, both at night and during the day, with the soul of a dead friend, who gave him instructions. He refused to eat beans, and some say that he thought that the souls of the dead were in beans (unlikely - but he does seem to have supported the idea of reincarnation, which is probably the source of this rumour). It is more likely that he refused them because beans cause indigestion, and indigestion disturbs the sleep and prevents truthful dreams while creating false ones.

On the side of Evil is the Emperor Caligula, everyone's second favourite mad emperor (after Nero). There'll be a lot more on him in future posts on I, Claudius. Caligula's funniest trait in the episode is his habit of slapping Lister every time the Cat annoys him. He seems to have acquired a silent Rasputin as a sidekick, and he has some great ideas for punishments:

Two men enter the cell.

CALIGULA: On your feet, pigs!
CAT: Hey, buddy, we just {something}.
CALIGULA: Silence, scum! (Wack -- he hits LISTER in the face.) Do you not sink to your knees and bow in the presence of the emperor, Caligula?
CAT: Who is this guy?
LISTER: I think he was a famous Roman Emperor. He slept with his mother, both his sisters, and ended up eating his son.
CAT: Hey, a little advice, bud: we all feel peckish after making love but most of us settle for pizza.
CALIGULA: You are an impudent fool! (Wack -- he slaps LISTER again.)
LISTER: Dunno who the other one is.
LINCOLN: That's Rasputin, the most hated, loathed and despised man of his era.
CALIGULA: This machine -- how does it work?
LISTER: Don't know. If I did, I wouldn't be here.
CALIGULA: Very well, if that's the way you want to play it. Rasputin, bring in the bucket of soapy frogs and remove his trousers!
LISTER: Hang on, it's got something to do with travelling across sub space.
CALIGULA: Demonstrate.
LISTER: Well, like I said, I don't really know.
CALIGULA: Very well. Rasputin, bring hither the skin-diving suit with the bottom cut out and unleash the rampant wildebeest.
LISTER: Hang on, I'll try my best! I'll try my best! Just give it here.
CALIGULA: Aah, you think I'm insane?
CAT: Shall we take a quick vote?
CALIGULA: Silence, scum! (Wack -- he slaps LISTER, not CAT.)
LISTER: (To CAT) Shut up!
CALIGULA: We will all hold on to it.Everyone holds on to the paddle.

LISTER, CAT and LINCOLN look at eachother -- when LISTER speaks the three of them let go.


Buzzzt -- only CALIGULA vanishes.

LISTER: Come on, let's get out of here.

They leave the cell. Just after they go, the door to the metal cabinetopens and CALIGULA and Rasputin exit.

CALIGULA: Rasputin, I'm very cross indeed! Guards!

Lister and the Cat in their cell

As far as we know, Caligula did not sleep with his mother, who was a very well respected Roman matron. He may have slept with his sisters - in fact, he probably did sleep with his sisters (all three of them). He did not eat his son - Lister (who is remarkably well educated for someone who's 'never read... a book', 'Future Echoes') has been watching the BBC I, Claudius, which is where this little gem appears, so it'll be covered when I get that far with the I, Claudius re-caps/reviews.

I really like 'Meltdown', if only for the fun of watching a wide variety of historical and literary characters interact, and for Lister's expression after he witnesses the death by firing squad of Winnie the Pooh ('That is something no-one should ever have to see!'). The rest of the episode concerns Rimmer's entry into the war and subsequent destruction of all the remaining wax-droids, and the theme song is sung by Elvis Presley (well, an Elvis Presley impersonator). It's also an anti-war statement, as Rimmer takes a ridiculous amount of satisfaction in the deaths of every single droid (he feels he still won). Lister takes revenge by swallowing his light bee.


  1. I never drew the connection between "Meltdown" and "Westworld". I probably should have, but you can't have everything. I love the scene you quote here.

    Lister's claim never to have read... a book, probably just means a book without pictures. We know he's read comics and at the very least the pop-up Kama Sutra. I'll assume he never finished sniffing the cat primer. And, hey, he did attend art college. Part of the humor here and in the Aeneid references in your first RD post is that not only Lister, but Rimmer and even Kryten get their information so wrong. He was probably channel surfing and came across I, Claudius at just the right time to see some skin and it held his attention for a few moments.

    Pythagoras, of course, told us that the square of the hypotenuse in a right angle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. He proved it by drawing boxes. I think the only place I've ever seen the business about beans containing the souls of the dead was in Robert Graves and, well, you know, consider the source.

  2. The bit about the beans and the dead is from Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 18.30 - but even Pliny only says that this is what 'some say', so it's highly unlikely to be true.

    It *was* right-angled triangles - I thought so, but couldn't remember. This is what 10 years of ignoring maths will do to you!

  3. You've never seen Westworld?! Dear, oh dear.

  4. "who really did think that mathematics was the key to life, the universe and everything (urgh!)"

    You've got to admit he was right with respect to at least one out of three ;)

  5. Good point! I wonder if the Ultimate Question involves triangles...

  6. Actually, you could justify watching Westworld. Although the main action takes place in the Old West section of the theme park, there is also an Ancient Rome section that we get to see briefly in the video brochure and when the robots revolt.


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