Back in 2016, I took a look at the placing of ad breaks in Red Dwarf X, and how so many of them were a wasted opportunity to add an effective cliffhanger to the programme. (I highly suggest you read that piece before this one if you haven’t done so; otherwise, this article will come across as entirely ridiculous rather than just mostly ridiculous.)
With publicity for Red Dwarf XII having just kicked off properly, it’s time to tie up one last loose thread from Red Dwarf XI. How did XI fare when it came to ad breaks on the broadcast and UKTV Play version? Did they seem like an afterthought, like much of X, with the DVD feeling like the “real” version? Or was the chance taken to actually do something with them – to add a lovely punctuation point to the episode, and make viewers want to come back after the break?
I’ll be honest… the answer surprised me. Let’s take a look.
WHERE: (14:28 / 28:10) After Lister’s line “I’ve been on the straight and narrow since I was nine. Ten. Alright, eleven”, as our crew nick the car.
DOES IT WORK?: A bit of a weak joke to go into the break with, and not really much of a cliffhanger – though placing it at other points in the episode have their own issues. (It’s tempting to want to place it after the shooting, but it would interrupt the flow a little too much, and frankly it’s not like it’s our crew being shot.) At this point, I was expecting the whole series to end up being a bunch of X-style ad breaks.
WHERE: (14:59 / 29:31) Just after the power cut on the Samsara, where Lister says “The door’s locking!” But here we get to something fascinating, and I don’t think anybody has noticed this until now.
On the broadcast version with the ad break, Lister simply says “The door’s locking!” But on the DVD with no ad break, Lister says “What’s that? The door’s locking!” The only way to interpret this is that the production team thought the simpler line worked better as a cliffhanger. This is excellent attention to detail.
DOES IT WORK?: An emphatic yes. Exactly the right point in the episode to go to a break, and a proper cliffhanger. But: WHICH VERSION OF LISTER’S LINE IS CANON?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!
Give & Take
WHERE: (13:56 / 29:29) Off Rimmer’s line “Didn’t I tell you he’d look like that?”, after Lister’s been informed he’ll need Cat’s kidney.
DOES IT WORK?: Absolutely. Both an actual cliffhanger with severe implications for Lister, and with a strong line from Rimmer, this is great. Also, Craig Charles pulls a face.
WHERE: (14:03 / 28:17) Straight after Rimmer’s reply to the Cat wondering how they were going to get him demoted: “How indeed?” The broadcast version with the ad break also adds an extra, short version of the next music cue going into the break.
DOES IT WORK?: Absolutely indeedy-do. This is as perfect as it gets – not only is it a decent cliffhanger, but it ACTUALLY sets up the plot for the whole rest of the episode. Hooray!
WHERE: (14:37 / 26:49) Right after Rimmer starts scheming to get rid of Kryten: “We’ll keep him for the cleaning. Let Butler take care of the science.” On the broadcast version, the Starbug model shot after the break has had the strains of the music cue which ended the previous scene removed.
DOES IT WORK?: It certainly does in the moment. It’s worth pointing out, however, that unlike some of the examples above, the episode doesn’t really end up being about the cliffhanger per se, but spins off into a whole other direction. How much of that is unexpected fun, and how much is odd plotting, I will leave at the reader’s discretion.
Can of Worms
WHERE: (14:07 / 28:55) Just after the crew run off once they realise Cat is “on his date with the Polymorph”.
Oddly enough, the two edits here differ in a couple of different ways. Firstly, the DVD version with no break has an extra line from the nature documentary as the crew run out: “Weeks later, and the morphling burst into the world…”. Presumably this was removed in the broadcast version to get into the break faster and in a cleaner way, as the shot of the crew running out is shortened slightly. After the ad break, the broadcast version has a music cue over the shot of Red Dwarf; the DVD version does not. (Which makes the DVD version feel a little peculiar; shots of Red Dwarf with no music cue over them are a rarity.)
DOES IT WORK?: It is the very best thing about Can of Worms.
Let’s do some number-crunching, then. With Red Dwarf X, I thought only two out of the six episodes had ad break placings which really worked (Entangled and The Beginning). This time round, I think every single one of them works aside from Twentica.
Even better, take a look at this complaint from my Red Dwarf X piece:
“To be honest, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that the production didn’t really care about the ad breaks, and would rather that they weren’t there. That feeling is enforced by the static, silent, almost apologetic Red Dwarf X slide which starts and ends each break. There is precisely zero ceremony involved. Even with the episodes which have the break placed nicely, the presentation of the break itself is weak. The show just… falls off air.”
This is entirely rectified with Red Dwarf XI – just the addition of some static noises on the break bumper works miracles. The whole affair is infinitely classier than X managed. Combined with some actual, proper cliffhangers, and… not even I can whinge too much. The show simply works far better on broadcast and UKTV Play than X did. And while the DVD/Blu-ray version still feels like the “proper” version, you certainly don’t get the feeling that the ad breaks were as much of an afterthought this time round.
So, I think we can safely say one of the following two things occurred with Red Dwarf XI:
a) The makers of the show hang on my every word, or
b) The makers of the show have got far better at crafting it for commercial television now that they’ve had more experience.
And I think we all know which it is, don’t we?