With the third recording for Series XI, the series has now reached it’s half way point. But has it maintained the quality of the previous two episodes? For our thoughts and opinions from the recording, you can find our spoiler free set report below. If you would rather listen to an audio version, you can find one on the latest edition of Channel 27 News on our own podcast, The Garbage Podcast.
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[DISCLAIMER: This is a spoiler free set report on the recording for episode 3 of Series XI. As per our spoiler policy, it will not mention any details on plot or dialogue, and no elaborate descriptions of any sets will be provided. Only where sets or other details details have been revealed publicly by Doug, the cast or the production will any details in included in this report.]
On arriving at Pinewood, it was all change for the audience of the third of the recordings for Series XI. Whereas previously we had shared half a marquee with the audience for Still Open All Hours, the Red Dwarf audience this time took over the whole tent as production on David Jason’s show had already wrapped. We were then led in a slightly different way (past the now empty stage for that show with a few distinctly Red Dwarf-ish looking items within it), and took our seats to then be introduced to James on warm up, taking over from Ray Peacock. This was followed by a brief introduction by Doug and then things got underway following the cast introductions, complete with some interesting costume variations for the opening scene.
The start of the episode began with a two hander that gradually introduced more characters into the scene that felt in the realms of Series IV. However, as it progressed and seemingly set up the plot for the episode, it became clear that the sort of central idea was more akin to something that would be explored in Series X, but this time done with the greater scope that this series has afforded in lighting, sets and other areas.
While this would largely remain the case throughout the episode, it at several times took surprising lurches into other areas which led to the direction that I expected the episode to be taking to be entirely removed from what we were presented with. Shortly after the scene previously described for example, a visual gag signals a shift in tone that both surprised and amused the audience in equal measure. Later on meanwhile, just when we believed we knew where the show was headed, it took a swing into the territory of an episode in Series VI to the extent that some lines could be lifted from this script and fit in there with no adjustment required.
This all occurred on a pre recorded section, and while it wasn’t the only one of the night, it was perhaps the longest at around four and a half minutes. The main reason for this seems to be based in the fact that these scenes were filmed on a guest set, that, while we can’t be certain, seems like it may have utilised the free space created by the departure of Still Open All Hours. While a further small set was filmed live in studio and further work was pre-recorded with a green screen, the size of the previously mentioned set and the space available in the studio would certainly mean that fitting bulky wooden sets in would have been a tight squeeze if the production did manage to fit everything into one studio.
Moving on quickly from talk of anything wooden, it’s worth addressing the acting performances in the episode, and the stand out performance this time around came from Robert. The episode largely revolved around his character and gave him the chance for some highly enjoyable and very physical comedy acting. With an audience recording, the need to re-record scenes to gain the sufficient coverage of both shots and best performances can cause the laughs to dry up on multiple takes, and it is therefore to Robert’s credit that one particular scene earlier one for which he was the focal point still remained funny through to the end.
Once again, one particular guest actor put in a fantastic performance that was perfectly judged to the role and was indeed one of the highlights of the episode. Given that I am aware of various projects they have previously been involved with, I was particularly impressed that I wasn’t able to place who the actor was until the end of the recording, such was the degree that they took to the role.
As the recording moved towards the episodes home stretch, the show once again took a shift in tone to something that was both typical sitcom material, and yet simultaneously the sort of thing that one might expect from Star Trek The Next Generation. In fact, the combination of the part of the episodes plot, one particular visual effects shot and the performance of one of the guest actors had such a strong feeling of TNG overall that you’d half expect Patrick Stewart to be the phone to his lawyer. Again.
With the previous two weeks, we were able to compare the episodes to ones in previous Series. With this third recording that is a much more difficult affair as it’s tone carries a lot more. Series X is certainly the closest match for the start of the episode, but it soon shifts through VI and at points takes a tone of IV/V. Elements also draw from or are reminiscent of an episode in Series II, an episode in IV and an episode in Series VII.
Overall, this was again a solid piece of work, and even if perhaps not quite the equal of 1 and 2, it was still a very strong episode. Part of what makes this difficult to judge is the visual gag previously mentioned, as sometimes these have the potential to lose effectiveness over multiple viewings. This said, such concerns are perhaps to nitpick for the sake of review and I feel fairly confident that this likely won’t be the case, and there is still more than enough excellent material in the episode even if it did. The fundamental concern really should be with consistence of quality, and in terms of that, Series XI has so far done everything that we would reasonably ask.