Week 4 of 6 on Series XII and the show had it’s earliest finish so far. But was that a good thing or a bad thing? Was it just that the cast remembered their lines? Did the crew remember to press both play and record on each take? Did anyone catch fire? All questions to address (maybe), but the far more pertinent question is was it any good?
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 4 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.]
Over the course of the recent recordings for both Series XII and XI, we’ve seen a whole variety of different episodes, from expansive ensemble adventures to smaller character driven affairs. This week we may have expected to see something similar when entering the studio, given the knowledge that the crew were filming on location just the night before and given that on entering the studio, it was quickly apparent that there was a large but completely enclosed guest set to the side of the audience.
It was quickly suggested that this may not be the case however, as Ray Peacock gave his welcome to the audience, and advised that the expectation of the crew was that this episode would be far more simple to shoot than previous ones. As the episode played out, it was apparent that this was to all intents and purposes a bottle episode set entirely on Red Dwarf, and making use of the standing sets, including a return of the science room for the first time in Series XII after being seen in multiple episodes in XI. However, just as our expectations on entering the studio were different from the final result, it is reasonably unlikely that your expectations of a bottle episode would lead you down the road this episode travels.
Opening on a scene with two of the main characters, it feels like a slightly slow build, but fortunately this transpires to be entirely on purpose and is used to play a joke for greater effect, leading to the first scene ending in applause. This is followed by a couple of reasonably exposition led scenes to set up the episode, though not without some good gags along the way. The strongest of these however, is a routine that will be familiar to people in attendance of a previous episode’s recording. Indeed, one whole interchange has been lifted from another episode and seemingly moved into this one instead, presumably on the basis that the other episode was over length and the dialogue and gags worked better in this episode than the other.
Aside from this obvious similarity to one of the recent recordings, the fact that the episode is confined to the ship will likely cast many of your minds back to Dear Dave, being as it is the most recent episode of that design. It’s also a parallel that many in the audience were also drawing at this point in the episode, though with the caveat that this episode seemed to be approaching this confined edition of the show better than that episode did, and was more tonally consistent.
It’s still a feeling that lingers into the following scene, but one that starts to change as the actual plot the episode will be dealing with starts to reveal itself a lot more clearly. In terms of which character it seems to revolve around, at this point in the episode in is most definitely Rimmer, though as more of the episode plays out, the other cast become more important. Because of this, we start to get a sense of where the plot may be headed and can draw certain tonal parallels to an episode in Series I and another in Series IV.
However, rather than retread any of these previous episodes, the script turns to presently highly topical social commentary and occasional almost parody of how this has been covered in other programs. It works surprisingly well, even though it’s not something you may expect to see in the show. One line in particular managed to deal with an issue that is often controversial in the setting being subverted, but managed to do so here without any potential for offence and instead showed a mocking of the the way the issue is discussed rather than the individual issue in question.
One highlight of this part of the episode has some of the most biting parody, and interestingly allows for the rare use of footage from other episodes to be played in, from a range of different series including other episodes in XII. A common sight on a show like Doctor Who when scenes from years gone by may be shown in a hologram or on a monitor, but in no way a common occurrence for Red Dwarf. Don’t mistake this for the likes of a clip show however, as it’s usage is brief, entirely justified and the certain usage of some footage garnered big laughs. It also contained a line that could generate a lot of discussion with regards to continuity, but that’ll be a debate for much further down the line…
It was clear at this point that he energy of the audience had noticeably gotten behind the episode, and the footage being played in on VT here generated some of the biggest laughs through the night. It was surprising then that at this point, the episode pulls an ace out of it’s sleeve and brings back something unexpected. When things are brought back for the sake of it, this can often be disappointing with a feeling of being forced and shoehorned in. Fortunately this is not the case here, and aside from complete justification for the inclusion in the plot, the way that the return is presented is very pleasing for more than one reason that are too spoiler ridden to go into any further depth on. Needless to say however that as this VT was played in, the laughter and applause was at points loud enough that it was difficult to pick up on all of the dialogue in the scene.
From here, the episode moves swiftly to a conclusion, but not in a sense that it feels unresolved, and the final two scenes both have a couple of good big laugh moments. Most importantly, the show ended on one of the big laughs of the night, which is exactly how you want a recording to go. In some ways it finishes in a way that is expected, but the course to get there is not what I would have predicted, and if I had tried to second guess the plot early on I would have envisaged a far less interesting episode than the fun affair that we were instead presented with.
Of course we should mention the main cast in this regard, as while the episode may have been fun in it’s own right, it was helped greatly by all of the cast being on good form, and despite several scenes having a few sticking points that resulted in repeating fluffs, the atmosphere between them on set generated a good mood off set with the audience and Robert’s interactions with Ray only further served to heighten this. While the episode was often focused on Rimmer, Danny’s performance was particularly good for this episode, and in a few scenes he displayed a very good restraint in playing scenes with a small reaction, but one perfectly suited to the moment that earned him some particularly big laughs through the night.
Overall then, my main feeling of this recording is one of a sheer sense of fun. This applies both to the record itself which was less stained and ended earlier than normal due to this, and to the nature of the script and the way it is presented. Will it be the stand out episode of the series? I wouldn’t expect anyone to list it as such, but I would certainly describe it as one where the overall experience is as enjoyable as other episodes that might be considered more stand out, while this one is overlooked due to it’s bottle nature. It’s not the first time that the show has suprised in it’s direction in these two back to back series, but it’s always nice when it does happen, and doubly so when it’s on a more limited scale as in this episode.