Series XI may have completed filming a few weeks ago in the tail end of last year, but before we get to see it on screens there is still more to record. Step right up therefore, Series XII, with it’s first episode having just been recorded. But does it continue the strong run of episodes started in XI?
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 1 of Series XII. 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.]
That’s not to say that there aren’t some differences from what was seen last year of course. These are noticeable from the moment the audience enter the studio, with the logo we have become familiar with for XI being slightly amended to add an extra I to denote the twelfth series. With the sets themselves, small adjustments have been made here and there on some sets that might not strike you at first glance, but are immediately apparent on further inspection. In the bunk room in particular, the changes are small and in many ways compatible with the change between I and II, and while some people will doubtless prefer the version in XI, I would say that this version is an improvement and feels more quintessentially Red Dwarf.
One element that had most defiantly changed however was one of the normally fixed sets. As with the last episode of Series XI, the science room had been redressed again, and while not as drastically as for that episode, it is still markedly different to the point that only those who had seen it previously would know they were one and the same. This was combined with an extra guest set to the side of the audience to further extend this location, and location filming was also played in on VT, all of which once again worked cohesively to create the impression of a much larger world than the studio space could ever truly allow for.
With these superficial elements aside however, the big question for many in advance of the recording was over the plot and the quality of the script. As such, to those who harboured concerns that twelve episodes back to back might mean that by the time we reached XII the quality might dip, allow me to cast those fears aside; the episode sits alongside the strongest of XI comfortably.
In fact, what we are presented with is an absolutely solid opener that manages, as with the last episode of Series XI, not to simply take the easy route, but rather to find an interesting spin on an idea that at times takes it into realms that the audience likely didn’t expect even 10 minutes into the show.
It’s no secret that back when the two series were announced by Doug at Dimension Jump that he mentioned a few plot ideas that would be cropping up at some point. It will consequently surprise few of you that have been following this or the suggestive tweets we highlighted earlier in the week that this episode relates to one of the ideas Doug mentioned, and if I’m totally honest, of the two main highlighted plots, it was the one that worried me the most in advance. My fear was that it would obstensibly lead to an episode that was heavy based around a gimmick rather than a strong plot idea, and it was certainly a concern that sat on my mind as recording started.
You can therefore imagine the relief to find that this wasn’t the case, and it’s inclusion not only makes good narrative sense, but also is integral to the plot being told. What I expected from the episode was an ensemble adventure affair that was light but solid as per Series XI. What I wasn’t expecting was some strong character analysis for multiple members of the cast to thrive off, all combined with a slice of satire and social commentary.
Because of this, while the episode may be described as being Kryten centric, it’s perhaps a misleading label, as while it could be argued this is the case in terms of plot, the other members of the crew are essential and as the episode develops, it becomes as much about their dynamics between each other as it does about any one characters own perosnallity. It’s a remarkable comfort that even twelve series in, there are still things to be said about this, and in a way that differentiates itself from any vaguely similar examinations before. Because of this, it’s difficult to give our usual ‘man of the match’ to any one of the main cast, but if I had to pick one, I’d probably lean toward Craig as some of his scenes were particularly stand out to my mind and his developing performance through the episode wasn’t the most showy, but it was surprisingly on point.
General thoughts aside, there are also a few points of note specific to this recording. Firstly, the ever enjoyable Ray Peacock continued to keep audiences entertained through what proved to be some particularly long recoding gaps, and while the time the recording finished was around the usual time of 10pm, this was largely due to a lot of scenes being played in on VT. The long breaks and regular filming out of sight of most of the audience meant that the audience were in need of the warm up more than ever, and its fortunate that the person on hand was more than capable of dealing with the situation.
A particularly enjoyable moment came as Ray, having found that nobody in the audience had a Cat t-shirt on, took it upon himself to create one on a willing participant’s t-shirt with a black sharpie, complete with a remarkably good likeness of Danny and his characters name. Well, almost, as joking between him and the owner of the t-shirt about ensuring to get the spelling right resulted in the Cat’s name being spelt without the A, but with a U and an N included in there place.
Equally amusing was a moment when Ray was mobbed by the guest cast for the episode, to his played terror. This particular sight for reasons that will become apparent on broadcast, was a truly bizarre spectacle, and one that I suspect never to see the like of again, but one that will stay in my mind as a truly odd and amusing image.
With regards to the guest cast, after the last two episodes of XI featured large casts, this episode again carried on in this mould. All put in perfect performances for the roles they were required to play, but while various members had their moments to shine, there was no one character that was more prevalent than any other.
This said, while the character may not stand above any other in the plot, on guest actor was a surprising face to see cast in the show. They have previously stated their own love of the show, and as such it’s easy to see how they ended up taking the part, but the actor in question is certainly a known actor in terms of comedy programmes, but not ones fans might immediately jump to. Certainly, in terms of guest actors, this would be the one out of Series XI and XII so far that would be most recognised being a general TV viewing audience. A surprising piece of casting certainly, but one which certainly pays of for the role in question.
One last area to address is the look of the episode. And that look can be summed up in one word; expensive. Not in terms of any one element, but rather the cumulative whole of the episode from the guest sets, to the location work, to the guest actors and various other elements. This also applies to the model work, with a complex sequence at one point being shown in storyboard form, another being done in rough vis-fx, while still others used clips from sci-fi films, one of which elicited a particularly big laugh for the audience and it’s a shame that no one else will ever see this version to see why. Even the storyboards were more elaborate than normal, with more detail and full colour combine with narration from Robert that made the experience more like watching Bodysnatcher. The end result with completed model and visual effects shots should certainly make for an impressive package.
Finally, with regards to the usual question of what sort of series or episode this recording evoked, I almost feel that to name any one particular episode would be to lead expectations in the incorrect direction. Certainly there are parallels with an episode in Series IV and another in Series III, but I would say they are also markedly different in most senses. And while the subject matter at the heart of the episode may have been present in other episodes right throughout the series, it would be remise to suggest it feels directly like another episode as I believe it fundimentally deals with it differently.
So where do we find ourselves at the end of this? Well back again with more quality work from the cast and crew, but with a few differences here and there that remind us we are no longer in Series XI. It’s a relief to be able to confirm the quality of this episode, but in all honesty, with what we had already seen in the XI recordings, it’s no surprise to find that the show is still delivering the goods. By the time the recording ended with a good solid final gag that allowed the show to end on a strong laugh, you’d be hard pressed to not want to see what the show does next, and in that sense, this is of course the perfect way to open this series. Roll on episode two.