Starring Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Robert Llewellyn and Danny John-Jules
Since it’s revival in 2009’s somewhat dreadful but still welcome ‘Back to Earth’ special, Red Dwarf hasn’t quite hit the heights of it’s classic run. Series X was an improvement, and was better than Series 1 and 4 (my personal least favourites) but wasn’t close to the highs of series 2-3 and 5-6. Series XI, happily, is another step closer to the show’s glory days.
The jokes are better and the laughs more frequent than last series, and the plotlines more original and imaginative than we’ve got since the original run back in the 90’s. Red Dwarf has always had a feel of a knock-about, comedy version of star trek and that’s never been more true than this series.The visuals are for the most part amazing, even if they’re predictably well short of the budget other British sci-fi shows like Doctor Who get. There are a few problems – some jokes are so obvious or heavy-handed you can see them coming a mile off – and the episodes have a tendency to end rather abruptly (again, very star trek) rather than with a killer final joke. It’s still not Red Dwarf at it’s best – but it was a better run (or at least a more consistent one) than the often maligned Season 8 and about on par with season 7, so it’s about mid-table on my list. It gives me a lot of hope for the future, with season XII due on Dave next year.
The cast could play their roles in their sleep by now, and for once Series XI gives every cast member a chance to shine. The Cat (John-Jules) gets his own episode for the first time in the series’ history in season finale Can of Worms, Officer Rimmer is an episode you feel Chris Barrie has been eagerly anticipating for years, Krysis is a decent Kryten (Llewellyn) focused episode and Lister (Charles) as usual is the primary focus for much of the series, with his interactions with the Cat in Samsara, Can of Worms and Give and Take his highlights. The direction and soundtrack are both up to scratch, and overall it seems a far more polished product than Dave’s previous efforts on the show.
With spoilers, here’s a quick overview of the actual episodes:
Twentica: Twentica is a classic sci-fi time-travel flick as the Dwarfers get transported back to a version of 1920’s America run by rogue droids (who are such a blatant parody of the Borg that Star Trek fans will piss themselves laughing) who have banned all technology. The highlight is probably when the dwarfers stumble across an illicit bar for scientists where attractive women are illegally discussing the nature of the universe with underground professors (in a cutting satire on both alcohol prohibition and prostitution).
Samsara: This is unique as far as Red Dwarf goes: an episode you need to watch twice to fully appreciate: it plays out like one of Doctor Who or Sherlock’s most complex entries as the crew encounter a spaceship using a Karmic drive – which has been reprogrammed to reward bad behaviour and punish do-gooders by a pair of amorous crewmen having an affair (in another first for the series, there are a lot of flashbacks to these two which don’t feature the main cast). You’ll have to watch this to appreciate the best jokes, describing them here wouldn’t do them justice.
Give and Take: A divisive episode, some reviewers loved it, some hated it, I personally think it’s the weakest episode of the series, but there’s still a lot of good moments here – Rimmer being an unexpected badass with a Bazooka (while of course using Kryten as a human shield) and the crew mistaking a snack dispenser for a top of the line medical droid being two of the most memorable.
Officer Rimmer: An act of supreme cowardice which by chance saves a high ranking officer ends up getting Rimmer promoted. The power immediately goes to his head, as he installs Officer-only corridors, lifts and clubs throughout the ship, then bio-prints (using 3D printers) dozens of copies of himself to act as his subordinates. The bio-printing of actual humans is a classic sci-fi idea (and leads to a lot of great jokes about printer jams and misprinted humans with smudged faces). Some of it is familiar ground and the abrupt ending suggests they ran out of time, but its a fun 30 mins nevertheless.
Krysis: Kryten has a mid-life crisis and loses his love of housework, then turns up in a new, Ferrari red suit, prompting the rest of the crew to hold an intervention. The hilarity of Kryten’s new appearance aside, high points of the episode include another droid teaching Kryten and the crew to speak GELF properly (which sounds like a solid two minutes of bizarre choking noises) and the incredibly surreal, Douglas Adams esque sequence where the crew actually have a conversation with the universe itself… only to give it a mid life crisis. Not the best Kryten episode, but still a good one.
Can of Worms: The cat gets his own episode as the series pokes fun at the coolest character on the show’s deep insecurity (because he’s still a virgin) as he at long last meets another member of his species and prepares to finally get his end away. The good natured teasing from Rimmer and Lister is very amusing, while the second half of the episode, where the situation is complicated by the arrival of 9 polymorphs (shapeshifters who drain emotions who previously menaced the crew in seasons 3 and 6) which lead to 3 sets of Listers, Rimmers and Krytens getting into a stand off, is classic dwarf silliness. Somewhat out of place as a season finale compared to last series’ ‘The Beginning’, it’s still a fine end to the series and a decent enough Cat episode.
I’ve not bothered with ratings because they’re all pretty consistent (and it’s hard to rate 30 min shows/comedies anyway) but they’d all get either 3, 3.5 or 4 stars. So a consistent run, if not an amazing one – no episode would get on a top 10 list (which I may do later this week depending on how much interest this review gets).
Overall, not Red Dwarf’s best, but an improvement over the last series and a very consistent run make it well worth your time.
Series Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Next up: Marvel Week kicks off with my review of Luke Cage, hopefully soon followed by Doctor Strange.