Red Dwarf XI (2016)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Written and directed by Doug Naylor. Broadcast on Dave.

Regulars: No changes for a third batch of episodes running, so we have Lister, Rimmer, the Cat and Kryten. Kochanski and Holly aren’t even mentioned.

Episode 1: Twentica (22 September 2016): The crew encounter a gang of Expenoids – robots who have stolen some sci-fi gadget or other – and follow them through a wormhole that takes them to 1950s Earth. However, the Expenoids have changed history so technology is strictly regulated… This story suffers from a problem that blights a lot of Red Dwarf episodes: the plot requires so much heavy lifting that early on it’s a bit clunky. However, once we reach the underground speakeasy the comedy flows much better. The central idea of a society stuck in the 1920s is fun and visually interesting, while there are good gags about science being taboo. There’s also a successful running joke about hackneyed old clichés. An okay opener.
Observations: Red Dwarf itself doesn’t appear until a coda scene. Starbug is featured, now with a new cockpit. In fact, in this series the cockpit is the only Starbug interior we ever see. Kevin Eldon plays 4 of 27, the lead Expenoid. Lucie Pohl gets most of the best dialogue as sassy, quick-talking moll Harmony. Rebecca Blackstone (who played a computer in series 10) cameos here as a flapper called Big Bang Beryl. Among the scientists mentioned in dialogue are Pythagoras (570 BC-c495 BC), Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Joseph Lister (1827-1912), Thomas Edison (1847-1931), Albert Einstein (1879-1955) and Edwin Hubble (1889-1953).
Best gag: A cop sarcastically asks Harmony, “How dense do you think I am?” Harmony: “You really wanna know? Just divide your mass by your volume.”

Episode 2: Samsara (29 September 2016): The crew encounter an escape pod containing the remains of two people, which leads them to a ‘karma drive’… There are a few laughs, especially because comedy is being mined from the regulars’ stock characteristics. (It’s going over old ground, but is still amusing.) The plot, however, is another convoluted sci-fi idea that never really takes flight. It needs too much explaining. Directorially speaking, the flashback scenes are busy and alive, and there are some nice crossfades between the two time zones.
Observations: We start with a decidedly old-fashioned Lister-and-Rimmer bickering scene. There are three guest characters in the flashbacks – played by Dan Tetsell, Maggie Service and Eddie Bagayawa – but sadly none of them impresses. The technology seen in 1991 episode Justice is mentioned.
Best gag: Trapped in a room without light, Lister suggests the Cat should be able to see in the dark because he evolved from felines. The Cat, showing remarkable logic, points out that that means Lister should be able to swing from trees.

Episode 3: Give & Take (6 October 2016): The crew encounter a space station, where Lister’s kidneys are seemingly stolen… This has a nice sci-fi plot playing with the circularity of time-travel. There’s also some good comedy for Rimmer and the Cat, while the Snacky robot is funny. The episode also looks more like a movie than a sitcom commissioned by a Freeview channel.
Observations: Starbug features again. It’s the second episode running where the crew find skeltons and try to deduce how they died.
Best gag: The Cat: “So let me get this straight. I give you one of my kidneys. What do I get?” Lister: “A hole. Where your kidney used to be.”

Episode 4: Officer Rimmer (13 October 2016): The crew encounter a deep-space explorer ship, on board which is an artificial officer who promotes Rimmer before expiring… A generally funny episode, showcasing (yet again) Chris Barrie’s talents. It’s quintessential Red Dwarf, really: Rimmer being twatty and the others getting frustrated with him. We get all the same old humour about him being ruthless and arrogant and deluded and ambitious without the slightest bit of justification, but it generates enough chuckles. There’s a strange lurch later on into a horror pastiche, with a monster like something out of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).
Observations: Starbug features again. Stephen Critchlow guests as Captain Herring, a man who’s been generated by a 3D printer and has had his face printed on the top of his head. Despite this, he’s apparently able to give Rimmer a field promotion to first lieutenant. Chris Barrie has a hoot playing lots of 3D-printed versions of Rimmer, and in fact previous multi-Arnold episodes (Me2, Rimmerworld) are alluded to. We also hear a Musaz version of the Rimmer song from series seven’s Blue.
Best gag: The convoluted joke about how every bored Scouser in a call centre is actually a clone of Lister.

Episode 5: Krysis (20 October 2016): The crew encounter… Well, actually, this week they *seek out* the crashed Nova 3, a sister ship to the one Kryten once served with, because Kryten is going through a midlife crisis. There they find Butler, a skilled, intelligent mechanoid, who rubs Kryten up the wrong way… Good fun.
Observations: The episode begins with another refreshingly old-fashioned scene of Lister and Rimmer bickering in a bunkroom. Dominic Coleman is great value as the smarmy mechanoid, Butler. Starbug features again.
Best gag: The crew end up speaking to the personification of the universe, who realises he’s halfway through his life. “No wonder I’m not as hot as I once was. No wonder I’m expanding exponentially.”

Episode 6: Can of Worms (27 October 2016): The crew *have already* encountered a space station and salvaged a personality-altering machine, then the Cat gets nervous when Starbug approaches a tribe of virgin-killing GELFs… A good climax with plenty of laughs if not as much focus as you’d like.
Observations: We get a scene spoofing Aliens (1986), complete with head cameras and motion sensors. Series three’s Polymorph is also being referenced, of course (again). Dominique Moore plays a polymorph posing as Ankita, a female version of the Cat. She’s oddly in just two brief scenes – surely there’s a whole episode in that idea. This is the first Cat-centric episode of Red Dwarf since… well, ever. In fact, this episode has some vague similarities to Identity Within, a Cat-heavy script written for series seven but never made for budget reasons.
Best gag: The naïve Cat’s boast about the sex he’s just had – being inexperienced, he hasn’t twigged that tentacles and egg-laying are not usually involved.

Best episode: Officer Rimmer. Worst episode: Samsara.

Review: What’s first apparent is that the episodes have an amazing sheen to them. It seems there was more money to be spent than in series 10 (perhaps because of the involvement of production company Baby Cow?). We get more location filming than last time, more sets, more special effects, more everything. Red Dwarf has often aimed for a movie-quality look, but if anything this series goes too far in that direction. The moody smoke and film-noir lighting in Twentica, for example, mean you often can’t see people’s faces properly – surely a basic principle of comedy. The show’s colour pallet has also shifted from the rich reds of series 10 to a dogged reliance on blue. Sets, costumes, locations, props – the colour blue is bloody everywhere. It’s apt, I suppose: the previous batch of episodes were warm and domestic, so having red everywhere worked; this series is cold and outer-spacey and more about sci-fi ideas than character comedy, so the blue fits the tone. It’s probably missing the point to criticise Red Dwarf for being obsessed with science, but this series often seems more interested in spelling out convoluted concepts and referencing theories than telling jokes. A large chunk of Kryten’s dialogue is simply regurgitating detailed knowiedge of every technology or scientific concept the gang encounter. Maybe the problem is heightened by the running order, which puts the big sci-fi-heavy episodes up front, and leaves the character-based stories until the second half. But there are laughs to be had, and the cast are good company. There’s even a new running gag based on Rimmer citing his long-winded rank (“I am Stand-in Acting Senior Commanding Officer Arnold J Rimmer of the mining ship Red Dwarf,” and so on). But it’s probably significant that there’s no ‘establishing of the premise’: this series is being made for long-time fans, especially those who apply for studio-recording tickets and applaud references to old episodes.

Seven knighthoods out of 10

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