Series XII is going to be a weird contradiction. As we’re all aware this series was written and filmed back to back with XI so while it’s reasonable to expect a very similar tone and style to the series we’ve already seen and analysed to death, that’s by no means a guarantee. Production efforts have been made to separate the two in subtle ways with changes to the main sets but what I didn’t consider before sitting down to watch Cured is how this double banking has the potential of making this series strangely unique. While we’re not aware of the writing order of the series, we do know that all of XII was filmed after XI had wrapped and a very short break, which means for the first time in actual decades a new series of Red Dwarf was not starting from scratch. We maybe even have to go as far back as the gap between the first two series to draw a proper parallel for this situation.
So what’s my point? Well, I feel like Cured greatly benefits from this. Confidence and general quality in writing, direction and especially in the performances that has produced an episode that despite some issues felt so comfortable and effortless, especially with the characterisation. If this is how things start to go when this team gets some proper momentum, then it’s a shame XIII and XIV aren’t following closely behind.
In the very recent past it’s been no secret that the structuring of episodes have been a little problematic. X often had many, flailing plot strands and while XI rectified this it often left us with odd scenes that felt tacked on and purposeless, or if they were connected it was in a way that did not pay off satisfyingly. With Cured‘s poker scene I immediately thought back to the Mineopoly scene in Samsara and started to worry. They’re both gentle introductions into the episode with a situation that brings out the key characteristics of the characters, and they’re both called back to as part of a rather abrupt ending, but in both cases the poker scene is much, much better. There’s been a lot of talk of the Cat’s portrayal getting too broad, but I don’t see that as an issue here, especially when you have episodes like Can of Worms to compare it against. We’ll see what’s set up here come to greater fruition later on, but even taken on its own the Cat’s interpretation of the rules and blatant attempts to twist them in his favour, as well as being unable to behave in a way that reacts to how others might be viewing him, feels entirely consistent with the character as we know him.
In what will become a little bit of a characteristic of this episode, the plot very quickly lurches into view with the distress call (or ‘SSL’, presumably sent over the https protocol) and before we know it we’re back on Starbug and being treated to a bizarre but amusing startup sequence. How you feel about this will undoubtedly rely on how much disbelief you are comfortable with suspending at this point. I’m pretty relaxed about the fact that this is a process we’ve never, ever seen before and it is so clearly included here as some sort of setup for later. Everything is starting to fall apart and weird quirks are copping up which is something immediately demonstrated with the very funny broken thruster sequence. All together it fits as a nice extra bit of flavour to the setting in general that suits the current tone of the show – everything and everyone is getting a bit older and quirkier, so let’s just get on with it.
Now is as good a time as any to mention the model work in this episode. While we definitely saw our fair share of model ship work last year, it almost seems like things have been stepped up a bit here to the point where we’re seeing whole model sets and environments. It’s not something that’s at all common in the modern era and so it’s really a special thrill seeing Starbug take off from a specially built landing bay and frequent cutaways during the episode to the space station itself, lending more than a little Series V vibe to the proceedings. While in the past the model work can feel like patch work to join up scenes (especially the slapdash ship flybys), here it most certainly feels like an integral part of the structure of the episode and really helps with the sense of place.
Speaking of series V, the opening scenes on the United America space station absolutely scream Quarantine. The atmosphere, the setup and the dialogue all gave me a very warm fuzzy feeling. There’s nothing amazingly funny going on, but this gentle familiar atmosphere coupled with it being part of a brand new episode gave me a certain thrill that strangely enough has been a feeling that’s been relatively rare in the Dave era. Again, the episode kept exuding a confidence – everyone playing their characters well, Doug writing with the confidence he can only have knowing his writing is on form and a production that knows exactly how to make every shot feel like Red Dwarf and reliably give out that famous production value. I’m not going to keep going on about this aspect of the episode as it’s something that’s present all the way through and I swear if I say the word “confidence” one more time I might actually stab myself to death to spare you all.
I did mention that the plot is good, and in general that is definitely true throughout. The central concept of a space station dedicated to curing evil through clones of famous historical psychopaths is great, and definitely good enough to carry it through the issue of being very reminiscent of Meltdown. But, essentially, the premise allows for tonnes of potential for an interesting sci-fi plot but more importantly a load of comedy from the prospect of meeting these ‘good’ versions of historical cunts. On this front, Stalin, Vlad and Messalina are all quite good but obviously the main star of the show here is Ryan Gage’s Hitler.
I find myself, for the first time in my life, pondering the similarities between Hitler and Jesus. James Baxter’s portrayal in Lemons was popular but felt distinctly off for me, and I never got on with the cheeky Mackham style. Of course, this is then explained in a way when it’s revealed he’s not the *actual* Jesus, but if anything that makes things even less satisfying as it seems like a cop-out. It feels like the portrayal of Hitler suffers from an almost identical problem. Gage is incredibly funny, with a range of faces that would make Tim Curry envious, but it’s clear at no point is his job to play a convincing Hitler. Instead he’s far closer to The League of Gentleman’s Herr Lipp than anything else, and it ends up feeling like the cliché of there being two types of German: angry or camp. So really, my issue isn’t so much that he’s not convincingly Hitler it’s just that the alternative take chosen feels like it it lessens the impact of having the character in the first place, which might’ve been kept if he was played just a *little* closer to the subject. Of course this is all turned into a joke when we find out the truth, but again that does not make for a satisfying plot point.
That all said, the scene up to and including the guitar duet is incredibly enjoyable (the choice of song was marvelous) and there are lines from Hitler that were genuinely very funny with “it’s because I’m Hitler, isn’t it?” being a particular stand out. In fact, it’s a shame there wasn’t more time given over to Lister and Hitler’s budding friendship before the final act started to get in the way. As it stands, Lister is against leaving them all to die once the ultimate peril is revealed, but it doesn’t really come with any weight as it does in, say, Confidence & Paranoia where a bond between Lister and Confidence is far more convincingly built up over a very short period of time. This scene also highlights another missed opportunity which would be to have the Cat and Rimmer both befriend one of the others. If Cat and Messalina had got along better and Rimmer had actually acted like Rimmer and immediately tried to befriend Stalin or Vlad then we would’ve ended up with a much more interesting dilemma where perhaps Kryten is the only one advocating their deaths and the others are all too attached to go along. As it stands, though, it feels like things are being left a little unfinished as everything is rushed towards the finale, especially the incredibly throwaway nature of the crew’s capture and subsequent escape. In the case of Kryten’s situation, even Red Dwarf USA got a good gag out of his disembodied head, but here there was nothing.
What the escape leads to and really starts to be bring to the surface, however, is the Cat’s behaviour. When the crew are about to rescue Rimmer, the Cat is his normal self and advocates for just leaving him in there. Earlier on he was also incredibly insensitive and egotistical with Messalina. None of this particularly sticks out because it’s perfectly standard and consistent behaviour for the Cat, so the reveal that he is a psychopath during the final scene really works as a result, because of *course* he’s a psychopath and his flip flopping between the crew and Professor Telford is arguably the comedic highlight of the episode. The final act with the Cat shooting the Professor in the head without hesitation only causes an issue with me because I don’t really believe the gun would’ve been handed over to him in the first place, but the act itself feels consistent to me, despite how harsh it feels.
So, we’re left with a curious episode, really. The central concept of the episode is strong and while the guest characters didn’t particularly connect that well with me, they still do a good job of bringing in the laughs. Our core cast, while underused in places, are well written and extremely well played in a way that I’ve already suggested could well be due to the fact at this point they’d had so long to get into the rhythm. The problems, then, mainly reside in how the plot progressed and eventually fizzled out into somewhat of a confusing jumble. It took me two goes to fully catch why he’s reprogrammed the droids and this whole reveal still feels weird, but at that point the details weren’t really being given much consideration as things were being quickly being brought to a close. It’s a shame because everything was very close to coming together so nicely, and even the very abrupt punchline ending hit the right note for me. We’re still not used to senseless death in Red Dwarf but then I have no problem with the Cat behaving in this way, which is more than I can say for some of the similarly sharp endings we’ve had in the past.
TINY TEASER: Gerald The Giraffe (This is from a scene that ended up in Officer Rimmer, so nothing to see here please move along)
ACTUAL SCENE COUNT: 17 (Series total: 17)
ACTUAL SMEG COUNT: 0 (Series total: 0)