Chris BarrieCraig CharlesDanny John-JulesRed Dwarf
Red Dwarf XII
Medium: TV, series
Date: 2017
Writer/director: Doug Naylor
Keywords: SF, comedy
Country: UK
Actor: Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn
Format: Episodes 68-73: Cured, Siliconia, Timewave, Mechocracy, M-Corp, Skipper
Series: << Red Dwarf >>
Website category: SF TV
Review date: 8 January 2018
It's great. It's a Red Dwarf season I'd recommend to people. It made Tomoko laugh. It has no bad episodes, instead containing only good-to-excellent ones. I'm full steam ahead for Season XIII, which I understand is coming. What's more, it feels like Red Dwarf to me, having a good balance of (a) episodes that only star the core cast with (b) others that bring in guest stars and people/droids/whatevers who are still alive after three million years and yet only have three hours before their ship hits a planet. (Personally I prefer the former, but you'd have to be sticking your head in the sand to deny that the latter are valid too. They're often very funny.)
1. CURED
Our heroes find a research centre whose scientists have cured evil. This is "proved" by good-natured versions of Hitler, Stalin, Messalina and Vlad the Impaler. The standout here is Ryan Gage, who's truly brilliant as a funny-creepy-smiley Hitler and one of the year's two stand-up-and-cheer guest actors. I could have watched him all day. Gage is my new hero. He's so eager and puppy-dog, with that enormous toothy smile, while still also being Hitler. He's also Red Dwarf's third Hitler, by the way, after Timeslides (played by historical footage of the real Hitler) and the waxdroid version in Meltdown (played by Kenneth Hadley). That's not counting throwaway references like Out of Time, obviously.
It's also a Cat-centric episode, which is another reason to cheer. The more screen time given to Danny John-Jules, the happier I am.
2. SILICONIA
Great idea, great TV production, slightly under-explored in terms of character work.
There's a ship full of radical liberationist droids. (It takes our heroes a little while to get there, but this happens eventually.) They're full of sympathy for Kryten and take him to "robot slave survivor" encounter groups. They have less sympathy for Rimmer, Lister and Cat, whose subsequent fate is wacky enough to be the cover image for the Red Dwarf XII DVD sleeve.
The droids are funny. I loved their politically correct support groups and their mop-based idea of a tournament deathmatch. What happens to Rimmer, Lister and Cat is the kind of cool idea someone must have been wanting to put on-screen for years. It's a good episode that's full of ideas... but a minor casualty of that is the episode's use of Rimmer. The trap with modern Red Dwarf is that it must be getting ever-harder to say something meaningful about the show's core characters. (Yes, I realise it's a comedy. For me, it's a character-based comedy.) This season does impressively well at avoiding that trap, partly because they've overcome the self-consciousness of when they were trying to be "Red Dwarf In The Good Early Days".
In this episode, though, Rimmer gets changed into something and doesn't want to change back. There's pathos in there. That's saying something about the character... but then they run out of time to re-examine this at the end after (inevitably) everyone's gone to normal.
3. TIMEWAVE
It's another spaceship with only hours until destruction! However I think the timewave is enough of a get-out.
The episode's exploring the concept of criticism being illegal, thus leading to a society where quality judgements are impossible because it's illegal to hold anyone or anything to an objective standard. I loved it. I love episodes that are saying something. I loved Jamie Chapman camping up his role as as Ziggy. Obviously this "everything's okay" society is too absurd to seem to be saying anything about the real world, but it's still a logical extrapolation of Rimmer's stories of his primary school sports days.
This is the last of the season's two guest star episodes, by the way. After this, it's the core cast only, stuck on Red Dwarf. Yay!
4. MECHOCRACY
It takes a roundabout (and funny) route to get there, but eventually the episode turns into a Rimmer vs. Kryten election. They're both colour-coded in blue, by the way, which stops the episode from being a political metaphor, but there's a ton of cynicism and brutally specific skewering of weaselly politician traits. It's a battle between politicians who know they're slime (Rimmer) and their rivals who might be nicer and better intentioned, but are unlikely to be much more effective when it comes to actually making a difference for their constituents. Oh, and some of the ship's vending machines hold anti-immigrant views. They don't want any of those cheap machines from other floors.
It's a great episode, very funny and with a memorable ending. One thing I noticed, by the way, is that the show's quietly come up to date. Scripts will include things like e-cargo, SOS viruses, auto-downloaded software upgrades, etc. It's capable of plugging into technological and cultural references that didn't exist when the BBC was making the show. It feels quite fresh, actually.
5. M-CORP
It starts by exploring something genuinely new with Lister's character. He's getting old. On being told it's his birthday, at first he assumes he's thirty. Noooo, Mr Lister, sir. How long does he have before... well, that?
After that, we move into a vicious comedy skewering of commercialism. It's kind of brilliant, actually. It's using the show's SF flippancy to take its satire to places you couldn't do anywhere else, but at the same time it's very funny. Admittedly the ending felt to me as if it was missing one last chippy twist, but that would have been less funny.
6. SKIPPER
It's a fan-pleasing finale. I was pleased.
I really liked it. It has three funny episodes, followed by three that could reasonably be called "classic". They'd be among the best episodes in any era of the show, I think, and I really like the way the show seems to have rediscovered its focus.
It also pleases me that, incidentally, that the show's still going after all those years. I love its age. It's still plugging along with (mostly) the same cast of losers, idiots and slobs that it had at the beginning. Is there any other show, anywhere, that's done that? It's been very up-and-down, but these days it's back up again. The show will be thirty years old this year and its only genuinely long break is the ten-year one between VIII and Back to Earth. Next year it'll have been on Dave, intermittently, for a decade.
It's good stuff. Watch it.