Set Report: Series XII – Recording 3 (12th February 2016)

After a difficult recording last week with a late finish and few of the scenes being shot within sight of the audience, it was generally expected that this weeks recording would be a different affair. While this was indeed correct, I think it’s safe to say that few would have expected the direction that the episode took, and it’s one that even fewer are likely to forget.

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 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.]

What a difference a week can make. In our last set report for episode two of Series XII, I left you with my honest opinion that my feelings on the episode were 50/50 due to the nature of the recording, and could be swayed either way in the final edit. This week had no such qualms however, and I have no hesitation in relaying that this episode is one of, if not the best episode so far from Series XII or indeed XI. There are a variety of reasons for this, so let’s look through the episode’s make up and try and highlight some of the elements that were particularly noteworthy.

Firstly, the subject of the overall feel of the episode. I come to this first because interestingly, where many other episodes so far have generally seemed to fit in a Series IV territory, this episode feels to me far more akin to Series V. This may seem like a small point, but it’s of particular note to the plot. While I’m sure other reviews will make a shorthand reference to an episode in IV for parallels, that would be on somewhat of a superficial level. In terms of the nature of the plot conceit, the resolution and indeed the way that certain elements are played, V seems closer in tone. That’s not to say that this carries throughout the episode, but then that has been the case with all of the prior recordings too. There are certainly jokes and scenes that wouldn’t have appeared in those series, but then such is the result of it being made over 20 years later, and this is only to be expected.

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However, the word expected is one that doesn’t play into descriptions of this episode to any large degree from here on in. In advance of the episode airing, Andrew Ellard tweeted to say that the episode was ‘pretty out there’ and ‘akin to a previously devisive episode’, and having seen the episode recorded, I can support both of these claims. Whatever I may have expected to see take place in this recording was far removed from the surprising episode that took place, and even when the audience sensed where it may be headed, the actual realisation of this drew huge laughs throughout.

On the note of divisiveness, there is certainly a possibility that the episode could prove to be so, but I think those that do take issue with it will likely be few and far between and it will be down to a issue of subject matter rather than quality of writing. In terms of the way it is handled, similar plot elements in the past have been treated in a similar way and drew little to no objections to their inclusion or justification in the plot, and so I see no reason for that not to be the case this time as well. It even allows for some discussion of morality which provided a nice moment of seriousness that helped to underpin the episode, and made it feel even more like it covered all bases.

It may be harder to justify of course if the episode wasn’t funny, but thankfully in this regard the episode more than delivers. The opening scene features some nice interactions between the cast, but there is a particularly noticeable moment in the second scene (with some dialogue delivered by Chris) where it becomes very apparent that the show is firing on all cylinders, and some of these make so some of my favourite jokes of this overall run so far. One particular joke shortly afterwards was only visible in storyboard form, but the concept of what it was showing was already amusing for it’s idea, and so even without seeing the execution I feel very confident that this small gag will be hugely amusing.

Of course, while the script is strong, it would be nothing without good performances from the regular cast and the guest cast. With regards to the former, there seemed to be a much greater energy between them than last week, and the interplay between them both when going for a take and in-between seemed far stronger. This stretched into their interactions with the audience as well, and was especially noticeable with Danny, who began treating the keyboards on a guest set like a piano keyboard and started taking requests from the audience. All of this increased energy fed back into the performances and made it a strong episode for the leads.

The guest cast meanwhile also turned in some fantastic work between it’s five members. The majority of the episode revolved around two of them, one of whom will be familiar to fans of a recent critically acclaimed sitcom as a regular returning charecter, and another who will be familiar from having appeared in a comedic role in two of the three instalments of a recent major blockbuster movie series. However, while the focus may have been with these two, all of the guest performances were strong all round and are perhaps the biggest make or break element of the episode.It’s a relief therefore that they all manage to pull them off so well as it truly would be a lesser episode if they didn’t. There are certainly moments with them that will surprise, and I’m sure that a least a few of the lines that they have will go on to be oft quoted among fans.

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While on the subject of elements brought in for just the episode, it’s worth taking a few words to talk about the sets. As has been the case for the previous three episodes recorded, the science room was once again redressed this week to create an entirely new space, but this also extended out further and encompassed the corridor sets, with part of this even being used to create a small set for one scene on VT as well. Perhaps a seemingly small point, but it was an interesting reuse of much more of the standing set than we had seen previously, and really helped to expand the location of this episode, all in less than a week to change it around from what had been there for the last episode.

In one case however it wasn’t possible to record a scene live, and this resulted in a similar situation to the recording for The Beginning with the cast reading in their lines from a script, but this time instead of doing it on set, it was done standing directly in front of the audience like a radio play. It certainly went some way to proving that it’s a medium that Red Dwarf could potentially work in, much to the potential interest of Big Finish who previously included the show in lists of franchises that their listeners may like them to deal with. In a night of surprising turns, it was an extra unusual element that made the recording a special one, and just made the overall experience much more enjoyable than the often out of view recording last week, even with the need for various retakes and resets this week once again leading to a late finish.

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Overall then, what is it that makes this episode so particularly stand out? I think fundamentally that a large part of it is balance. The plot never feels like it will overtake the jokes and the performances aren’t so big as to overshadow exploration of thoughtful ideas. With a solid ground work here, the episode then adds in some particularly strong jokes, some very strong guest and main cast performances and also manages to surprise, if not at times shock.

In the twelfth series of a show, surprise can be a valuable commodity, and when Ray Peacock told the audience to ‘just wait until you see where this is going’, he summed up the audible shock that followed that the show was dealing in the territory that it was. I hesitate to call it a brave move, as in honesty, I think it’s no more shocking than some other episodes that focuses on an area that might be considered divisive. However, I do think it’s worth praising the fact both that Doug took the script where he did, and also that he managed to combine it with justification and just the right amount of introspection to stop it from being purely frivilous. But boy oh boy, I can’t wait to see the reactions to this episode when it airs on TV. It may not be what you expect, but you’l have a damn good time once you’re there.

If you enjoyed this spoiler free set report and would like to read more from Series XII or XI, then you can find one for every episode in our features section.