Red Dwarf X (2012)

Red-Dwarf-X-First-Publicity-Shot

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Written and directed by Doug Naylor. Broadcast on Dave.

Regulars: The same as in the 2009 series, so we have Lister, Rimmer, the Cat and Kryten – the John, Paul, George and Ringo of Red Dwarf, if you will.

Episode 1: Trojan (4 October 2012): The team find a derelict spaceship then pretend to be its crew when they get a distress call from Rimmer’s brother Howard… Great fun. An enjoyably old-fashioned episode of Red Dwarf, which pokes specific fun at Star Trek.
Observations: Starbug is seen for the first time since series eight’s Back in the Red. Mark Dexter plays Howard Rimmer, who like his brother is now a hard-light hologram. Susan Earl plays Howard’s android sidekick, Crawford. Lister and Rimmer have seemingly moved into new quarters aboard Red Dwarf – their fourth, at least, since the show began. When trying to con Howard, the regulars adopt new names: Flight Coordinator Kryten Krytenski, Flight Commander David Listerton-Smythe, and – for the Cat – Flight Officer Gerald Hampton.
Best gag: The running joke about moose causing car accidents in Sweden. (It gets applauded by the studio audience and for once you don’t want to kill them.)

Episode 2: Father and Suns (11 October 2012): It’s Father’s Day, so Lister – who’s his own dad – writes a card, gets drunk so he’ll forget what he wrote, and sends it to himself. Meanwhile, the others install a new Red Dwarf computer… The central conceit of Lister being his own father is really well managed: lots of good comedy comes from Lister, in effect, considering himself to be two people. Another very entertaining episode.
Observations: Kerry Shale plays an AI medibot (“MEDIBOT!”). Holly is mentioned when Kryten uploads a new computer programme. Rebecca Blackstone plays Pree, the computer who can predict people’s actions to such a degree that they don’t need to do them.
Best gag: Kryten is installing Pree and asks Rimmer what preferences they should go for. Rimmer affects disinterest while at the same time specifying that the AI’s on-screen image should be female, 25, blonde and 36D. (He then says, “Whatever!” when asked what type of personality she should have.)

Episode 3: Lemons (18 October 2012): A sci-fi gizmo sends Lister, Rimmer, Kryten and the Cat to planet Earth in the year AD 23 – and they have to go to extreme lengths to get home… It has its dodgy moment (jokes about having bits left over from self-assembly flat-pack furniture is not exactly pushing new boundaries), but never mind. Mostly this is great stuff. There are regular hearty laughs, the studio set of the Indian market is terrific, and we even get some considered religious satire.
Observations: The episode begins with a shot of Red Dwarf orbiting a desert planet with a bright star in the distance – ie, setting up the Biblical theme. We get the only scene in series 10 shot on location. There’s a lovely running gag about Shakespeare neologisms. Indira Joshi plays a woman at the market. James Baxter is good fun as a Geordie-accented Jesus.
Best gag: Lister is surprised by something Kryten’s told him, so says, “Jesus!” The man at the next table looks round: “Yes?”

Episode 4: Entangled (25 October 2012): When Kryten experiments with some technology he’d found it leads to a spate of coincidences. Meanwhile, Lister gambles with Rimmer’s freedom and loses… It’s a convoluted episode, but generally amusing.
Observations: Lister mentions that he’s nominally looking for Kochanski (a bigger subplot about the search was planned but then dropped). Starbug is seen again and Blue Midget is used. Steven Wickham from series six’s Emohawk plays the leader of the BEGGs, a race not a million miles away from the GELFs in that earlier episode. Sydney Stephenson plays Professor Irene Edgerton (aka Irene E), the dimwitted head of a research institute.
Best gag: When Rimmer asks who’s in danger, the Cat says, “A guy about your height, your colouring, who goes by the name of you.” He then adds: “We’re all deeply sorry, bud. Apart from me and him and him.

Episode 5: Dear Dave (1 November 2012): A mail pod arrives, bringing news that Lister might have a son… It’s easy to see why this is hidden away in the fifth transmission slot. It’s still likeable, but feels very aimless. It’s a bottle episode with unconnected set-piece discussions and a decidedly slender plot. Aside from a voice artist, it features just the four regulars on familiar sets – and nothing substantial happens for the first half.
Observations: Isla Ure voices two different vending machines. It’s 12 minutes into the episode before the Cat appears. The central idea of the mail catching up with the ship was also used in series two’s Better Than Life. Some scenes seem oddly static – and the DVD’s behind-the-scenes documentary explains why. Due to production issues, the full script wasn’t ready on the studio day – so some scenes were filmed weeks later on greenscreen during a pick-up week. That explains why, in the Rimmer’s-fingers scene for example, the cameras and actors are so stuck in place. (Incidentally, if you ever get the chance to see it, that documentary – We Are Smegged, it’s called – is extraordinary. So many things went wrong during the production of these six episodes. Scripts not being ready, vital things being left off budgets, footage not being broadcast-quality, model shots being unusable, mastertapes going missing… It’s gripping. On the series eight DVD, by contrast, people talk about how smooth it all was. It seems there’s an inverse ratio between behind-the-scenes fun and a successful end result.)
Best gag: Lister reads the letter telling him whether he or another man is the father of his ex-girlfriend’s baby. After a pause, he says, “What an absolute slag.”

Episode 6: The Beginning (8 November 2012): Attacked by a simulant death ship, the gang flee Red Dwarf… A so-so episode to end the run. It’s an attempt at a big-budget adventure on a limited budget, which shows a bit too much. (In fact, this is a watered-down version of an unmade Red Dwarf movie script.)
Observations: The title, of course, is nod towards the first episode of series one: The End. It starts with a flashback to a young Rimmer (Philip Labey, spot on) attending a class given by his lecturer father (Simon Treves). Richard O’Callaghan, who’d played another role in Red Dwarf: Back to Earth, is Hogey the Roguey, a persistent but benign android who keeps challenging the team to duels across time and space. Gary Cady and Alex Hardy play the simulants who are attacking our characters. Blue Midget is used. Rimmer finds out his real father was called Dungo the gardener. There are at least two clear references to The Empire Strikes Back – a sequence set in an asteroid field, and Rimmer’s paternal revelation.
Best gag: The cliffhanger ending to 1999’s series – Red Dwarf being consumed by microscopic bugs; Lister, the Cat, Kryten and Kochanski in a mirror universe; Rimmer coming face to face with Death – is finally acknowledged. But Rimmer is interrupted before he can explain what happened.

Best episode: Lemons. Worst episode: None is terrible, but The Beginning maybe underwhelms a bit.

Review: After the lengthy diversions from the normal format – being stuck on Starbug in series six and seven, the crew being resurrected in series eight, a deliberately surreal special in 2009 – we’ve now returned to the style of Red Dwarf patented in the early 1990s. Four characters ridicule each other while getting involved in sci-fi nonsense with lots of comedy. If this had been the first run of a new sitcom, it maybe wouldn’t be good enough. But after 25 years there’s a build-up of goodwill and that goes a long way. Watching series 10 is like hanging out with old friends. It’s *charming*. And it looks really good indeed, with digital photography and probably the finest interior sets Red Dwarf’s ever had. The studio audience is back and they got to see a lot of stuff being shot: there’s almost no pre-filmed location work. But the most important thing, the comedy, is strong. There’s real craft in the writing. Gags get set up, developed and paid off. Tremendous.

Nine utter twats out of 10

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