This article discusses Red Dwarf XI & XII whilst adhering to G&T’s spoiler policy. Please ensure your comments do likewise…
A full episode of Red Dwarf has been recorded in front of a studio audience for the ninth time in thirteen weeks. This time round, a fair number of G&T regulars were amongst the lucky few, so we’re once more doing things a little differently. We present four mini-reviews, each produced independently of each other, courtesy of Aaron Phillips, Curtis Threadgold, Jonathan “Jonsmad” Young, and me, Ian Symes. Will we be able to reach a consensus as to the merits of this episode, or will we have all had completely different experiences? Read on to find out…
“Bizarre and bonkers”
My first, and likely only, ever experience of a Red Dwarf recording absolutely did not disappoint. Immediately, I was very impressed by how the show looked – the main set looks great in the flesh, and the guest set was deliberately quite functional rather than flashy, but even there the attention to detail was impressive. Not that there will be a lot of opportunity to admire the set: the episode is pacey and the story, whilst not especially deep or twisty, has enough going on to keep you occupied throughout.
The fab four’s performances were as good as ever. This was a definite ensemble episode, with each cast member getting a roughly equal proportion of the dialogue and indeed the laughs. Smeg Ups were infrequent enough to be amusing rather than grating, and Robert in particular trotted his way through some complex lines of dialogue without missing too many beats. Pleasingly the vast majority of the episode was recorded this evening – only a handful of scenes were played in via VT and these were reasonably short, although the show-stopper scene of the episode was one on these on VT rather than ‘live’.
This scene involved one of our main cast alongside an extremely strong guest star (one of five in total) and though bizarre and bonkers and an almost Family Guy level of random, its description following the words “the one where” will be the de facto way of describing this episode in the future. There was a small amount of work in the out-of-sight set, but most of the action took place in front of our eyes. There wasn’t much in the way of especially fancy direction, although one particular scene shot from the inside of something ended up being framed really nicely and looking quite artistic.
As mentioned, the story is busy but straightforward enough and whilst they are ultimately quite different stories, there are obvious parallels to be drawn to a specific Series IV episode. The twist near the end doesn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but it wasn’t until the second or third take of the dialogue-heavy explanation that I really ‘got’ how the twist was being justified – a lot can happen in the edit but I’m not sure how well this will work in the final cut where people realistically only get one chance to catch the explanation.
Whilst there were no ‘big names’ amongst the five supporting cast as far as I am aware, they were very good and were given some funny dialogue to work with – two in particular I firmly believe will be viewed and remembered as fondly as Howard, Pree or Jesus from Series X (although one of them is more than likely what Andrew Ellard’s “divisive” comment was referring to – let’s just say I’m definitely on the “loved it” side of that divide!). With an on-form Ray Peacock, some nice musical improv with Danny John-Jules, and some obvious but nice throwbacks to the ghost of Red Dwarf past that felt organic rather than crowbarred in, tonight was a fantastic experience. Do we really have to wait over a year to see the finished product?!
“It’ll generate a fair few arguments”
Divisive? Bloody right it’s divisive – I can’t even figure out my own opinion, let alone what everyone else will think. The best way to deal with it may be to break this dichotomy down into its simplest terms…
BAD: It was a tricky evening, as the majority of scenes took an age to get right, with the main cast sharing out the cock-ups fairly evenly. Ray Peacock, back on warm-up duty, mentioned throughout the evening that the crowd seemed a little quiet and slow.
GOOD: I disagree with Ray – that didn’t seem to be the case from where I was sitting. I think his chiding was perhaps a tactic to keep the energy levels up throughout the myriad re-takes of the same scenes. I enjoyed the atmosphere, as unlike in previous episodes I’ve attended, there wasn’t a hint of frustration amongst the cast when things went wrong – everyone was laughing and joking throughout, and interacting hilariously with Ray and the audience.
BAD: Me and this episode got off on the wrong foot, with a Series X-style opening scene of day-to-day life, which seemed to be a bit of filler to contend with whilst waiting for the story to start. The plot itself relies on several arbitrary contrivances in order to allow the events to happen in the first place.
GOOD: I changed my mind about the opener when I saw the final scene, which neatly weaved elements from the beginning of the episode into the denouement of the plot, in a very Dwarfy way. It’s an episode that will clearly benefit from repeated viewings, thanks to there being a little bit of a twist in the tale – nothing that’s too mind-blowing, but one of those where suddenly a lot of things make more sense.
BAD: The final scene does however contain something that will generate a lot of discussion upon broadcast, and probably a fair few arguments. Something happens that has happened in Red Dwarf a little too frequently in recent years, and it’s not a trend that I’m keen on.
GOOD: I have nothing bad to say about the guest cast, and one of them in particular will surely stand out as one of the highlights of this series. Unlike the glut of household names we’ve heard about in recent weeks, this one is more akin to the Series X style of casting people who you won’t necessarily recognise at first glance, but who will be impossible to forget once the episode has aired.
BAD: Some of the gags felt a little too ordinary for Red Dwarf. There were some rather obvious and out-of-date references, to the extent that one punchline was virtually identical to one from nearly twenty years ago. A couple of comedy clichés were also in attendance, namely the bicycle gag, and a punchline that was mocked in Lee & Herring’s Lazy Comedy Slags feature in 1999.
GOOD: They were very much the exception in what was overall a bloody funny episode. The ensemble was at the heart, as it should be, with a through-thread of character gags with a psychological bent. There were also a couple of outstanding set pieces – one which caused my jaw to drop and my head to shake before the laughter came, but one which is simply amongst the best visual gags the show has ever done.
More good than bad, overall, but certainly an episode that it’ll take me a while to fully get my head around. And for the record, if you happen to go back and read our old coverage when this episode is broadcast, that mention of Meltdown was just a lucky guess…
“A weird one, but a good one”
As has been mentioned in previous set reports, perhaps the experience of being at the recording makes you see things differently. I have to admit, being right down at the front, surrounded by the cast as they huddle round the monitors and excitedly watch VTs with you, even performing up close mini-plays when scenes could not be shot on the night, well, it can perhaps make it feel more exciting, more special than it really was. So maybe what I’m going to say is a load of rose-tinted nonsense.
People far smarter than me will be able to give detailed accounts of the sets, the costumes, the production and the performances, but for me, Red Dwarf is about the story and the jokes. That’s what keeps me coming back again and again. So, in order to tell you my thoughts on that, I’m going to try and get around the spoiler policy by telling you three things that the episode isn’t.
1. This is not a profound episode, but it’s not dumb fluff either.
The episode has a very simple premise, but it takes a convoluted route through Lamarckian evolution, conspiracy theory and heavy handed political satire to establish itself. There is little subtlety here, and they lay it on thick. But you know what, as a fully paid up lefty, Marxist knobhead, it brought a smile to my face and I was happy that the episode dealt in this area, even if they have done similar things before.
2. It is not a horror or a monster episode.
But the horror lover in me was surprisingly satisfied. Two scenes in particular, if played for scares rather than laughs could be dumped straight into something from Lynch or Cronenberg. As it was, they were both very funny. I wasn’t expecting that.
3. It is not at all like Tongue Tied or the Rimmer Experience.
But in one scene there is an excellent piece of buddy comedy between one of the regular cast and a guest actor. It involved some musical comedy which contained one of the funniest images the show has ever created. I’m dying to describe it, but obviously, I can’t.
The episode is none of the above but it does feature all of the above. From the first few scenes I thought it was slow and meandering but by the end I thought it was much tighter and well plotted than I initially gave it credit for. Before I sign off and let you know what I think the episode actually ‘is’ I want to say a couple more things about the magic of the studio experience itself. The episode overran, we were a strange audience who didn’t always laugh at the same time, it felt weird and awkward at times, and by the end – I just wanted a fag and a piss and to go home. Make of that what you will.
This is undoubtedly a weird one, but I think it’s a good one. This episode is a solid story and it’s well told. It’s proper funny too and a bit scary and creepy in places. I’ve been to three Red Dwarf recordings in total, I’d be astonished if the finished product ranks bottom of the three for me.
“Witty dialogue, ideas and lots of psychology”
Of all the elements I was asked to comment upon, I said to Ian before the recording: “I probably can’t write about lighting”. Apart from Series VI’s famous bulb change gag, I don’t think I care or ever noticed the lights much before in Red Dwarf!
Then we walked into a show tonight where the bunk room and main guest set both had unique reasons for being lit in noticeable, specific ways; the former to create a particular alternative mood for the group as we first join them at the beginning, and the latter a design feature creating a pallet of associated light colours to help establish the setting as we might expect it to look from our experiences of similar themed locations. A simple set but nicely executed, designed for a number of story specific angles and reveals, and at one point a camera within the back of the set was used for further angles, which I’ve not seen done at other recordings I’ve attended.
Tonight’s episode recording was very stop/start-y for the cast. Sometimes this was extra hilarious due to the immediate heavy swearing versions of lines we got instead of the scripted ones. Especially from Robert, who I think made a whole x-rated set of out-takes, sitting alongside the proper executed ones that will be used. Though Craig also threw in a couple of disgusting embellishments into the mix that probably can’t be Smegged Up by any self-respecting DVD!
There were plenty of good shots and coverage from multiple takes with which to edit the episode. While some deliveries were lacking I could see clearly majestic performances of the same lines on other takes, and would rate tonight’s execution likely to match the level of Series X at its best, even heading back to Series IV/V levels of achievements – two series that contains episodes which tonight’s show reminds me of most. There were brief elements of mime and facial reactions involved in some small ways – some that were pure masterclass.
One guest star, featured the least of five, I recognise from comedy supporting roles in other shows but would be none the wiser if you named him to me.
Another guest role took a lot of focus because of the nature of the returning-themed personae. They stole the show with some great delivery, contrast, a bizarre musical interaction, and one particular line that even on take five was sublimely delivered, despite probably being not so much on the original page. All the guests had their moments, strong performances but not necessarily likely to enter the ever-crowded list of favourite guest actors from entire show’s history.
Overall it was a group adventure that manages both a main cast ensemble and a guest cast one too. Witty dialogue, ideas and lots of psychology offer a solid adventure with some great gags linked to themes that perhaps long term fans might find samey compared to the show’s greatest episodes, but should be able to enjoy on broadcast. For me it excels in moments of Cat character focus that, while small, I rate incredibly highly in the shows overall canon, and applaud it.
There was a surreal image, and there was a scene performed in audio only which wasn’t explained, but its my hope for an expansive shot that fits in to this audio, and my best wishes to a future model sequence, but can the DVD please keep the colourful art storyboard version we were shown as an extra?
Jonathan ‘Jonsmad’ Young
TINY TEASER: Gerald The Giraffe
APPROXIMATE SCENE COUNT: 20 (Total so far: 48.5-50.5)
APPROXIMATE SMEG COUNT: 1 (Total so far: 3-4)
A huge thank you to our volunteers for providing such brilliant reviews in such a short space of time. Curtis can be found on Twitter, while Jonsmad is currently Introcasting his way through Lexx. Aaron doesn’t have anything to plug, so he asked us to link to his mate’s photography business instead. Fair enough.
Are YOU going to any Red Dwarf XII recordings? Particularly episode 5? Would YOU be willing to write a full report, a mini review, or even just answer a few questions? If so, do get in touch.