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Red Dwarf’s Inquisitor and Judgement Day by Ben Zwycky

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Ben Zwycky

The popularity of Red Dwarf lies not only in its irreverent satire of classical science fiction tropes, great banter and interaction between the well-developed characters, but also in the genuine and often strong science fiction narratives that it explores (not only for their comedic possibilities). The failure to appreciate these aspects of the show by the studio executives attempting to create Red Dwarf USA (their preferred writing process instead focusing on creating a series of one-liners) led to that project being intensely unpopular with viewers and ultimately not picked up for production by the studio1.

For many, series five of Red Dwarf is a high water mark, with the three episodes “The Inquisitor”, “Back to Reality” and “Quarantine” being major factors in the series’ popularity. “Quarantine” is an action-packed episode involving some interesting sci-fi ideas played for maximum comedic effect, whereas both Back to Reality and the Inquisitor are much more philosophical. On the surface, “Back to Reality” looks at reality versus delusion (made well before the Matrix series of films turned this into a fashionable sci-fi trope), while its primary focus is actually the basis for self-worth: what makes a life no longer worth living? What defines us so much that its loss would cause us to despair and die? How fragile a foundation have we built our lives upon?

“The Inquisitor” asks a superficially similar question with a very different focus: what is a worthwhile life, a life well lived, and how would we justify it?

In the episode, the crew are captured by a mysterious and powerful entity calling itself The Inquisitor, who takes them back to the mothership to be judged, each individually, beginning each interrogation with the question:

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“You have been granted the greatest gift of all, the gift of life. Tell me, what have you done to deserve this superlative good fortune?”

It is a sobering question, because the honest answer is nothing. Life has been granted to us not out of obligation to us for something we have done, not a reward or wages, but as a gift, the greatest of gifts, perhaps even something, dare I say it, that is worth being grateful for in and of itself.

In context however, that is not really the question that the Inquisitor was asking. Kryten earlier explains who the Inquisitor is and what he does:

“Well, the legend tells of a droid, a self-repairing simulant who survived to the end of eternity, to the end of time itself. After millions of years alone, he finally reaches the conclusion that there is no God, no afterlife, and the only purpose of existence is to lead a worthwhile life. And so the droid constructs a time machine, and roams eternity, visiting every single soul in history and assessing each one. He erases all those who wasted their lives, and replaces them with those that never had a chance at life: the unfertilized eggs, the sperms that never made it. That is the Inquisitor, he prunes away the wastrels, expunges the wretched and deletes the worthless.”

So, the question the Inquisitor asked was far more serious, even terrifying:

You have been given this astounding gift, this incredible range of opportunities. What have you done with them to justify this enormous investment in you? What reasons will you give to dissuade me from erasing you from history and giving your opportunities to someone else?

The worst part is, the judge you have to convince is yourself. There is nothing you can hide. Your every private action, thought and motive is known, your own personal standards are used to measure you. How many of us would pass? May I suggest none?

It reminds me of the start of Matthew 7:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:1-5 (NIV)

So in an ironic twist, the atheist droid uses a Christian method to judge us. In the episode itself, the Cat and Rimmer pass the test by having ridiculously low standards for themselves, while Kryten and Lister escape by tricking the Inquisitor into erasing himself from history and thereby undoing all of his work. While these are funny and even clever from a story point of view, philosophically they are a dodge, a way to avoiding facing up to the true horror of being our own judge.

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In truth, no-one has standards as low as Rimmer and the Cat. Every time you are disappointed with or angry at someone, you are judging the behaviour that disappointed you or made you angry. That is a standard you have agreed to, a measure you have used, which will be used to judge you. Things aren’t looking so rosy, are they?

And yet that is the point, isn’t it? We want the wrongs of this world to be corrected, bad and selfish choices to result in significant negative results for the offender, the people who got away with it in this life to not get away with it in the next.

Won’t it be great to see every arrogant bully being brought down low and getting their comeuppance, to see all those scandals people tried to hide being shouted from the rooftops, all those webs of lies unravelled, those who stirred up needless trouble standing face to face with all the damage they caused, and those with sordid secrets becoming utterly transparent…

Wait, now let’s be reasonable, nobody needs to know about the terrible ways I wanted to lash out when those kids were annoying me, or those selfish plans I made, or especially about that time I…

This is not looking good at all, and it shouldn’t. We object to double standards in this life, how much more should we object to double standards on Judgement Day?

If Christianity is true, then the Red Dwarf crew’s escape route is not available to us. There is no way to trick God, and his standards are infinitely higher than ours. Even our own standards, if we are honest, are far beyond our ability to meet. So what would this process look like?

Our every judgement is played back to us and our every offence against those values displayed for all to see. Our own moral outrage passionately condemns us to an inescapable fate and demands the ultimate punishment, a greater despair than we can imagine.

We are guilty, lost, helpless.

And then a man quietly comes up besides us and calmly states:

“Do not punish them, I am the guilty one.”

Before we can react, the judges we embody forcefully decree, “Let the punishment begin!”

We watch in horror as he is taken back to a brutal period in history, where he is betrayed by one of his closest friends and abandoned by the rest, seized by an oppressive regime and shuttled from one sham trial to another, like a pawn in a cynical power play. His own people, whom he came to help, disown him and scream for his death. He is mocked, ridiculed and sneered at while being beaten and then flogged, gouging deep bloody furrows in his body. All of this agony and shame he accepts without protest, making no attempt to defend himself or his reputation.

The judges we embody approve of each blow, cheering each new humiliation and applauding each new trickle of blood down his increasingly disfigured form.

In his weakened state he is forced to carry a load he cannot bear up a slope he cannot climb, insulted all the way by the crowds and our judges.

He is finally publicly tortured to death in the most degrading way possible in front of his own mother, so he can see the pain in her eyes as his own life ebbs away. His Father looks away, the skies darken and he is left utterly alone.

With his dying breath he declares “It is finished.”

Our judges concur. “It is finished, justice is served.”

The broken corpse is taken away and sealed inside a tomb. There is silence as you process what just occurred. Lost in thought, you lose track of time until great doors open in front of you and a warm, beautiful and living light streams into the room from the other side. A man steps through the doors and approaches you.

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It is the same man, only different. The light seems to be emanating directly from him, causing the air itself to come alive and fill the room with an otherworldly aroma. You look back at the tomb; it is open, empty. Your list of offences has also disappeared.

“What happened? How is this possible?”

“Death could not hold me. I took your place and bore the wrath you earned. If you wish to accept this exchange, then follow me, change the way you think and live, and you too will overcome death’s greatest sting.”

“And if I don’t?”

“Then nothing has been paid for you, your original sentence stands and you carry on as you were.” He gestures towards the judge. “Being your own boss. Setting your own rules.”

About the Author

Ben Zwycky is an English ex-pat now living in the Czech Republic. Before, during and after obtaining a master’s degree in chemical engineering, he worked as a hospital porter, cleaner and server in a community centre, research assistant, EFL teacher and currently works as a freelance proof-reader and translator together with his Czech wife, who literally fell into his arms in the year 2000 and with whom he now has five children.

His first novel, Nobility Among Us, is inspired in part by the country he now lives in, its many perfectly preserved medieval castles and chateaux standing side by side with modern constructions and technology. His first poetry collection, Selected Verse: Faith and Family, tells the story of how he met his wife, among other things.

Ben’s website is

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Meet the contributor – Ben Zwycky

Today we meet Sci Phi Contributor Ben Zwycky. Ben is the author of our ongoing serial “Beyond the Mist” and he blogs regularly at The Zwyckyverse. Apart from blogging and contributing to Sci Phi and SuperversiveSF, Ben also has a novel out Nobility Among Us

Friday Excerpt – Beyond the Mist Chapter 1 by Ben Zwycky

I thought I would try something new, so on Fridays from now on I will be published excerpts from Sci Phi. For this inaugural one I thought I would post the first Chapter of our new Serial, Beyond the Mist by Ben Zwycky. If you enjoy this excert, check out the first three Chapters in Issue #2 and more to come!

Beyond the Mist by Ben Zwycky

Chapter 1 – The Mist

Am I falling or flying? I thought to myself as the endless mist rushed past my face, feeling the buffeting ripples up and down my skin but hearing almost nothing. How long has it been – hours? Days? Months? Is this all there is? I asked myself, unable to remember anything. And who am I?
A small plastic packet of water drifted past, travelling slightly faster than I was, and I caught hold of it. A tube of some sort of food followed shortly afterwards.
Where do these come from? I silently asked as I consumed them, then allowed the empty wrappings to float away.
There was a faint light up ahead and I began to deliberately drift towards it.
“Dive away! Dive away! Avoid them at all costs!” cried out a voice behind me, and I leaned away from it. “That is a ledge placed there by our cruel overlords. If you hit one of those, not only will it hurt you more than you can bear, but it will also rob you of your freedom. Seek refuge in the mist.”
“A ledge? But what are they for?” I asked, turning to see who was speaking, but could see no-one, only a disturbance in the mist that indicated something was there.
“The overlords seek to lure us to our doom with promises of ‘truth’ and ‘life’,” explained the voice, spitting out those two words with disgust. “Do not listen to them, they only seek to hurt and enslave you. Here there is life, here there is freedom! Here they cannot touch us.”
“Reach out for your life, find the truth and save yourself,” called a different voice from the light as it came rapidly closer.
“Don’t listen to him! Dive away! Dive away! Don’t let him reach you!” screamed the first voice as the light flashed past. “That was close, despicable creatures.”
“So you know them?”
“I know what they are,” replied the first voice, full of bitterness, “I have heard the stories, they speak of ‘truth’ and ‘light’, ‘right and wrong’, ‘responsibility and self-control’, it is nothing but lies to ensnare and enslave you. The mist is life, the mist is safety, here we fly! Here there is no failure or shame, duties or consequences, here we are kings!”
“How can there be lies if there is no truth?” called the second voice from a distance. I looked back to see a light approaching.
“It is one of them!” screamed the first voice, “Cover your ears, dive away! Dive away! You will not enslave us!”
The second voice spoke with an authoritative calm as it gained on them. “To lie is to knowingly deny the truth. How can there be lies without a truth to be denied?”
“Stay away from us!” shouted the first voice.
The light was getting much closer now and the second voice no longer needed to be raised. “Do you not have eyes that were made to see? A mind that was made to think? Legs to stand on solid ground? A soul to make a difference? The mist is not life, the mist is a prison.”
“A prison? Ha!” scoffed the first voice. “What do you know of freedom?”
The second voice seemed to grow in weight and vitality as it replied, “I know the freedom to stand and gaze at the beauty of creation, the freedom to love, the freedom to distinguish between right and wrong, the freedom to enjoy the fruits of my labour, know the satisfaction of a job well done and take the consequences of my actions, to find my context and live life to the full.”
“Here there is life, and to more than the full!” said the first voice. “The freedom to create whatever reality you desire!”
“Any such creations are purely in your imagination,” countered the second voice as the light came ever closer and split into two, revealing a human shape with lights attached to both shoulders. “You are merely playing in the mist, nothing real is produced.”
“But that’s the beauty of it!” enthused the first voice. “Total control, none of it lasts any longer than you desire it to – as soon as it no longer interests you, it is gone.”
“To be honest,” I said, “that sounds more like a disadvantage than a selling point.”
“Hmph,” snorted the first voice in disgust. “If you wish to enslave yourself to another man’s reality, then be my guest.”
It was then the second voice’s turn to take on a slightly disapproving tone. “While you play these childish games and entertain yourselves to death, there is a vast real world out there with beauty to discover, genuine adventures to be had and worthy struggles to take part in.”
“How would I leave the mist if I wanted to?” I asked.
“In less than two minutes, we will approach a bridge across the entire chasm. I will provide you with a parachute to land safely on it and then a lamp to help you find your way across, but this will be no easy journey.”
“After all the risks I took to help you,” accused the first voice, “all the ways I opened your eyes, you would willingly serve the overlords? Traitors like you make me sick, you are not worthy of my time.”
“Then begone,” said the second voice, “and let him make his choice.”
“If slavery awaits me, and I am not convinced it does, then I prefer that to this empty swirl of contradictions – the chance to find my place, touch something real and meaningful, it is worth the risk. Give me the parachute and lamp.”
The first voice gave out a disgusted sigh and quickly drifted away.
“Here you are,” announced the second voice, reaching out and grabbing my hand, looped something over my arm and reached round to loop it over the other, then guided my hands to two halves of a large metal clip. “Attach the large clip across your chest, and then there are two smaller ones to attach around your thighs.” I fumbled around with my hands until all three were snapped shut. “The lamp is attached to one of your shoulder straps, I am switching it on now.”
A bright white glow lit up the mist rushing around me and I could see some of my own form for the first time. I seemed to be an adult human, though I was still a lot less visible than the human shape opposite me.
“Next to your left breast is a handle that when pulled will release your parachute. That will slow you down abruptly, and then two handles will appear above you, one above each shoulder. Pull on the left one to turn left, and on the right one to turn right. Are you ready?”
“Yes, I have the handle.”
“Good. I will count from three and then you will pull. Three, two, one, pull!”
The straps around my thighs seemed to dig deep into my legs as the violent change in direction wrenched the air out of my lungs and tossed me around like a rag doll for a second or two, the flapping canopy lacerating the air around my ears. Gasping for breath, I looked up to see what looked like a network of glowing green veins in the mist a couple of metres above me, and two green ovals dancing just above my face. I grabbed at the ovals with each hand, assuming they were the handles I was told about, coughed and recovered my breath as the pain became bearable.
“Ow, that hurt.”
Once the canopy was stable, I had the bizarre feeling of my body now having weight, and the background noise I had perceived as almost nothing was glaring in its absence. I looked down and saw the green glow of the second voice’s canopy below me and to my left, with his two lights having now merged into one again with the distance.
“Now you are closer to flying than you have ever been in here. Practise turning left and right until you get the hang of it. Pulling both handles at once will swing you upwards and slow your forward speed, we will be doing that when we come in to land. Try it a little now to get the idea, but not too much or you may lose all forward speed and begin falling out of control.”
I tried several manoeuvres and began to grow in confidence.
“Look below us,” called the voice from the light, “you will see a large orange light approaching. That is where the bridge is at its widest, aim to land at that point.”
The mist made it difficult to judge how far I was from the orange light, which separated into a large glowing ring as I approached, and before I could judge how much to pull on both handles I hit the platform hard, pain shot up my left leg and I slid across the perforated metallic surface, finishing my slide clinging to a very low rail with half of my body hanging over the precipice. I lay there motionless, panting and groaning as the other man made a much more controlled touchdown.
“Let go, you fool!” called a voice falling past.
“Fly and be free!” called another.
“No more pain!” cried a third.
“Not the smoothest of landings,” said my parachute provider, now standing over me. “If you wish to fall, then simply let go. If you wish to stand, say so and I will help you up.”
“Help me, please, but my left leg, my ankle, it hurts.”
I felt a pair of strong hands pull me carefully back from the edge, then the illuminated human shape methodically examined the injured limb. “A mild sprain, nothing more. Some discomfort, but with a little strapping you should be perfectly mobile.”
I felt some sort of footwear and a layer of fabric removed from my injured joint, then the cool of some sort of gel or liquid being applied, then a length of elastic fabric wrapped tightly around the tender area and the footwear replaced. As this was being done, I caressed the perforated metal platform I sat on, so solid and regular.
“There, now try to stand.”
I made an attempt at standing, but fell back down before reaching a half-upright position.
“It may take some time for your sense of balance to adjust, and your muscles and bones may have lost some of their strength, depending on how long you have been here. With time and practise, that will all return,” explained the voice as he removed my parachute and hung the cylindrical light around my neck. I could see the glint of the metal floor for a few metres in every direction before the mist blurred all things into one. The parachute canopies were criss-crossed with rapidly fading fluorescent green lines, and the illuminated human appeared to be stuffing their billowing silks in turn into a hole in what I assumed was the centre of the platform.
After a brief buzzing, he retrieved each parachute as a small and compact bundle that he slotted back into its pack.
“They are now ready to reuse?”
“No, they are just compressed to make them easier to carry out of here, they will need to be refolded later.” He took both parachutes over his shoulders, pressed something on the floor that switched off the ring of lights and stood to leave.
“The way out of here is narrow, but straight. Some walk their way out, some crawl, others give up and fall back into the mist – that choice is yours – but if you do make it out, then I will meet you on the other side,” and with that he turned and walked away, his light and footsteps quickly fading to a vague background impression.
The mist seemed to close in on me, threatening to overwhelm my little white light as I sat there on the platform, alone and isolated. A distant voice screamed, “Dive away! Dive away!” as it fell past with a low rush of air.
I watched the discernible ripples in the mist from the falling body quickly fade to nothing, then attempted to stand again. After two more abortive efforts, I was finally able to rise and maintain my balance on two ponderous limbs. I stepped forward and back and from side to side to regain the feel of bipedal motion, and despite the polite protests from my left ankle, started to think that I could do this.
“Leave us alone, you monster!” shouted another voice as it fell past, and I sighed, looking down at the platform on which I stood and peering into the greyness in the direction the illuminated man had disappeared.
“I’ve made my choice,” I thought aloud, and began slowly walking forwards

To be Continued …