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Recap / Red Dwarf Season III Polymorph

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The Polymorph, ready for seconds.

"This week's Red Dwarf contains scenes which are unsuitable for younger viewers and people of a nervous disposition. You have been warned!"

Airdate: 28 November 1989.

A weird life-form is able to slip upon the ship. The life form is able to change shape into anything to deceive its enemies, targeting the emotionally unstable.

It starts out as an average day aboard the Dwarf. Lister is preparing a meal that is being served with medical utensils. The Cat is disgusted by it. Rimmer is watching some old home movies, and Kryten feels incredible guilt over calling Rimmer's mother a trout. Their peace is shattered by Holly declaring that a non-human has been found aboard Red Dwarf.

Said life form winds up messing around with Lister. The shape-shifter turns into a kebab, and attacks Lister, before squirming away. It then suddenly changes into his boxers, and begins shrinking. Kryten has to use his new vacuum attachment to pull the boxers off. Rimmer comes in to see Kryten pull rapidly to try and get Lister's boxers off. Because of his vantage angle, Rimmer remarks that Lister has finally surrendered all standards. The shape-shifter turns into a snake, and then a monster, eventually sucking an emotion out of Lister.


As it turns out, the creature, a Polymorph, was a shape-changing genetic mutant that went wrong, the 'Ultimate Warrior' that leeches off negative emotions like fear, guilt, anger, paranoia and drains them out of its prey. There was just one problem though. "It's INSANE!" They discuss their options and decide to run off rather than take it on. They seal Lister (who, due to having no fear, is all too eager to take on the Polymorph and "twat it") in the medical unit and go off to prepare Starbug, deciding not to tangle with anything that has "more teeth than the Osmond family".

As they travel through the cargo decks, Rimmer nervously points out what he believes to be the polymorph. The Cat and Kryten quickly let off a couple of heat-seeking bazookoid bolts down the corridor. As the bolts head down and turn back, Rimmer apologises for the false alarm. However, the bolts are now homing in on Cat (he is the only one who can produce heat), and he makes a run for it. He manages to trap the bolts behind a door, and on his way back, he is joined by a woman who goes on to flatter the Cat on his good looks, but she then turns out to be the polymorph and drains the Cat's vanity. Kryten rushes around the corner, followed by Rimmer. Rimmer tells Kryten that this is his fault, then changes into the polymorph and drains out Kryten's guilt, transforming him into a colossally snarky Jerkass. On their arrival back at the medical unit, Rimmer finds his mother lying down with Lister. Rimmer tries to suppress his anger, but eventually fails when he learns about the fact that Lister's sex life with her involved Alphabetti Spaghetti. Rimmer's mother quickly changes into the polymorph and drains Rimmer's anger.


In the sleeping quarters, the emotionally crippled crew try to work out their next move.

  • Rimmer plans to hit the polymorph with a major leaflet campaign followed up by a series of charity drives. His biggest problem is deciding on what acronym to use: one of his favourites is the same as the name of a certain body part it's not polite to mention out loud.
  • Lister is determined that whatever plan they think up must be as violent as possible, and would hopefully involve him killing himself.
  • The Cat, now a vagrant, declares himself to be a nobody, with any possible opinion he has to be worthless.
  • Kryten turns into a cowardly slimeball like the old Rimmer, wanting to sacrifice the others and acting like a Jerkass along the way.

Despite the disadvantage, the four head down to the cargo decks to confront the creature. Although things don't start well, the two heat-seeking bazookoid bolts are released and finally find the Polymorph, destroying it. The four are then restored to normal, with the Cat desperate to clean himself up, Kryten ready to commit suicide to make up for his bad behaviour, and Rimmer confused.

The pod that floats by near Red Dwarf reveals a sign that states "Contents 2". Back on the cargo bay, the group walk in line, first Cat appears, then Kryten, Rimmer, Lister - and finally a second Lister, who looks into the screen, turning into another Polymorph.

"Polymorph" contains examples of:

  • Accidental Pervert: Rimmer, after losing his anger, suggests they should name themselves: "The Committee for the Liberation and Integration of Terrifying Oganisms, and their Rehabilitation Into Society. Also, when you're writhing on the floor, begging an android with a large tube attached to its crotch to pull off your underwear, it's kind of easy for people to get the wrong idea.
  • Actual Pacifist: Rimmer after losing his anger.
  • Ate His Gun: Lister prevents an incredibly guilty-feeling Kryten from doing this at the end of the episode.
  • Apologizes a Lot: Kryten, before being affected by the polymorph, turning him into a....
    • Jerkass: Kryten loses his ability to feel guilt, and begins insulting everybody that moves. When discussing the plans to take down the polymorph, all of them include killing the others for his own gain.
  • Brain Bleach: Rimmer is increasingly disturbed by his mother's (really the Polymorph's) sexual escapades with Lister. It finally reaches a head when she mentions that, sometime during their fun, Lister did something involving Alphabetti Spaghetti.
  • Content Warnings: The quote at the top of the page. (Note that it was a joking reference to the likes of Alien, rather than a genuine attempt to warn viewers of the content.)
  • Cut a Slice, Take the Rest: Lister is first seen in this episode carefully measuring out a spoonful of curry powder, remarking "Not too much... not too little..." before throwing the rest of contents of the tin into the mix. Shami Kebab Diablo must be about 95% curry powder by weight.
  • Defcon Five: Apparently used correctly when Lister prepares a super-spicy Indian meal and warns Cat to "put your taste buds on Defcon Three."
  • Dirty Coward: See Jerkass above.
  • Driven to Suicide: Kryten attempts to shoot himself for his actions under the Polymorth's influence. Lister stops him.
  • Emotion Eater: The Polymorph.
  • Extreme Doormat: Rimmer, after his anger's been drained. He's too much of a non-confrontational dork to take exception to Kryten's constant insults, and his plan for dealing with the salivating monster is a major leaflet campaign.
  • Fearless Fool: Lister, once he's had his fear removed, does not think going up against an eight-foot-tall armour-plated killing machine is all that dangerous. Nor does he think attacking it while its busy eating him is a bad idea.
  • Flanderization: A temporary example here. The character's more prominent negative emotions are inverted, and their inverted emotions take over their entire character (Lister is borderline suicidal in his attempts to take down the Polymorph, Rimmer is a politically correct CND pacifist, the Cat becomes a slovenly drunk who's dressed like a homeless guy, and Kryten wants everybody but himself dead).
  • Fun with Acronyms: See Accidental Pervert.
  • Gag Penis: The episode introduces Kryten's Groinal Attachment, a power socket located in a place that should be obvious from its name to which he can attach various utensils including a vacuum cleaner hose and an electric egg-whisk. It makes the odd appearance in subsequent episodes.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The episode contains a mention of the female anatomy, use of the word "twat" (as in to smack), and a scene where Kryten has to remove Lister's boxers, which, when viewed from an angle, makes it look awkward. Subverted, however, in that the episode, at least in its original airing, was aired after 9.00. Still, this is stronger then most Red Dwarf episodes. (See Banned Episode above on how strong this was).
    • Rimmer can be seen looking visibly disgusted at the pipe he was smoking during the "We were all a bit whacked out there." "You can say that again." exchange, implying that he wasn't smoking hologrammatic tobacco.
  • Groin Attack: A self-inflicted one on the crazed Lister during their "attack" on the Polymorph.
  • Martyr Without a Cause: Lister, after being drained by the Polymorph, is determined to kill it in as needlessly violent a way as possible.
    Lister: It needs killin'! And if that means I have to sacrifice my life in some stupid, pointless way, so much the better!
  • Mistaken for Gay-Robosexual: As Kryten is trying to pull Lister's shrinking boxers off of him, Rimmer walks in. From Rimmer's vantage point, he believes that Kryten and Lister are doing some rather kinky stuff. "Well, I can't say I'm TOTALLY shocked! You'll BONK anything, won't you, Lister?"
  • More Teeth than the Osmond Family: The trope namer.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Kryten is ready to terminate himself after he regains his conscience and realises all the horrible actions he committed.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The appearance of the angerless Rimmer was based on Rolf Harris.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Blowing up the Polymorph causes the four to immediately revert to their usual personalities, without any additional steps required. Contrast this to the next time the Polymorph shows up, where they have to be careful to freeze it rather than just killing it.
  • Noodle Incident: Rimmer reacts to Holly's warning by asking if its like "last time", where she sent the crew down into the ship's hold fully armed, only to find Lister's sock.
  • Noodle Implements: "The things this boy can do with Alphabetti Spaghetti!"
    Rimmer: (very cross) ALPHABETTI SPAGHETTI?????!!
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: When looking for the Polymorph (the first time), Kryten, instead of speaking with his Canadian Accent, briefly speaks with Robert Llewellyn's British accent.
    • The Cat briefly slips into Danny John-Jules' natural accent with the line "I'm sure I have an opening in my schedule somewhere."
  • The Pig-Pen: Holly once mistook one of Lister's socks for an alien life form.
    Holly: I didn't recognize the genetic structure. Biologically speaking, they were a completely new life-form!
  • Rage Breaking Point: Rimmer tries to resist the Polymorph's taunting. Oh, he tries, even as he's quivering with rage. But then it mentions the Alphabetti Spaghetti.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Lister is knocked out after waking up and wanting to take on the Polymorph himself. The others decide to load up Starbug and flee the ship.
  • Sequel Hook: After the crew defeats the eponymous creature, it is revealed that a second one has made it on board. Subverted in the remastered version, in which on-screen text reveals that this one, much less intelligent than the first, took up residence harmlessly in Lister's underwear drawer and eventually died of old age. Doubly subverted by the episode Emohawk: Polymorph II three series later in which they meet another one.
  • Shout-Out:
    • A parody of Star Trek comes up when Kryten says it is the overriding directive of the Space Corps to seek out new lifeforms "and wherever possible, bring them home".
    • "It's clobberin' time!"
  • Show Stopper: When Rimmer walks in on Kryten trying to remove Lister's shorts, there is a considerable pause before Chris Barrie can deliver his line as he waits for the audience laughter to subside.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Lister after the Polymorph eats his fear.
  • Take That!: "What about the Rimmer Directive, which states 'never tangle with anything that's got more teeth than the entire Osmond family'?"
  • Waving Signs Around: How anger-drained Rimmer confronts the polymorph.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The fate of the second Polymorph. Eventually when the Remastered version of this episode was made, it ended with these subtitles:
    Epilogue: The second Polymorph, not as bright as the first one, hid in Lister's clean sock drawer and died of old age.
  • Whole Plot Reference: The episode was heavily inspired by Alien (which was already an influence on the series).
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Lister states that snakes are his all time second worst fear after the titular mutant takes the form of one. His all time worst fear is a ten foot tall armoured killing machine, which the polymorph turns into.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


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