Set Report: Series XII – Recording 5 (26th February 2016)

While it isn’t the final episode for Series XII, this week did see the final recording on a Friday night after the last minute changes to the final episode of the series. After a variety of different episode types and a string of interesting guest stars, just what would this penultimate edition hold for the show that would be seen for some considerable time?

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 5 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.]

It seems safe to say that the last week has been interesting on the Red Dwarf front. Aside from thus usual type of pre-recording tidbits like the various Periscope broadcasts from Robert Llewellyn and Ed Moore, the biggest news was of course that the final episode of Series XII was now having it’s recording pushed back to the Wednesday of the following week, with the reason given that illness and the need to align schedules with returning actors required the Friday recording date to be sacrificed. It seemed strange then, that while various people were reassessing whether they could make the final recording, this week a surprising amount of ticket holders either returned or didn’t use their tickets for this recording. Kudos then to the staff at Lost in TV, who managed to turn things around at the last minute and do a great job at filling out the empty seats.

The job of warming up these last minute ticket holders as well as the rest of the audience fell this week to Patrick Monahan. An established stand up, Patrick’s will likely be a name that many readers will be as familiar with as they are with Ray Peacock. In general, the audience seemed slightly quieter than on other weeks during takes, but Patrick’s warm up (which set off with an impromptu swap shop for audience member’s clothes,) was fortunately lively and entertaining enough to stop this from being an issue between scenes.

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Following a curtain malfunction that delayed the start of the recording while half of the set remained completely obscured, things got underway on the sleeping quarters set with a scene that featured all four regulars. It’s been the case on previous episodes in this series and the last that the opening scene seems to set the episode to follow one direction, but then by the end of the following scene, an entirely new course has been set. This was very much the case with last week’s recording, and would indeed once again be the case here.

The opening suggested a focus on at least one very particular plot line centering around one character,  and one that would likely be quite filled with some pathos and a degree of introspection. While however this is never a bad thing for the show, having seen the rest of the episode, I’m glad that this isn’t the direction the episode then develops in, as it would potentially end up becoming too close a retread of an episode in more recent history, rather than something new.

That isn’t for a second to say that the episode we are presented with is devoid of some of these moments however. The plot device at the heart of the episode is directly responsible for this, and while it isn’t really akin to anything that’s been done in the show before, the repercussions of this for the crew create a few moments that, if anything, are bizarrely most reminiscent of a short passage in Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers and around one minute of an episode in Series VI. As the episode progresses, this will further develop to encompass some element of satire as well, all combined with a small degree of backstory beyond the world of the main characters, that paints a picture of the history of the future in a similar way to the novel of Better Than Life.

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Yet, for all this side of the episode, the irreverent tone seen elsewhere in the series is no less present here. As with a couple of episodes in Series XI, there are at least two visual gags that generated a huge response of laughter and applause from the audience, and both of which are perhaps two of the ruder gags the show has done. While other episodes have perhaps been more gag dense, this episode manages to balance it against the unfolding plot, which in truth could potentially have come crashing to an unwarranted stop had a routine been shoehorned in for the sake of inserting an extra gag.

With this is mind then, it’s interesting that there is a sequence where material has been lifted in it’s entirety and place in this episode. Much as with last week’s recording, one whole interchange from XI has now found a new home with this episode, and we can only assume again that either that episode ran over length and the material would go otherwise unused, or it is to be replaced with something else. Fortunately, the sequence ties directly to the particular turn the plot of this episode takes, and in all honesty it does seem a far better home for it.

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As the episode approaches/ passes the half way mark, we begin to truly get the measure of just what direction the story is taking, and despite the episode being largely based on ship, this also brings us to the guest set for the episode and the first visible guest stars, following one appearing earlier in the episode in a voice over role. While this cast contains a few extras, there are two members of the cast in these scenes who are the most prominent. One of these is a face that would be reasonably recognisable to a wider  TV audience for their work on a popular drama as well as their work on a show tangentially linked with Red Dwarf, while the other is someone who by participating in this episode will join a very select club of actors in Red Dwarf, and I am nothing but delighted to see them involved.

The way that this links to the rest of the episode all fits nicely, and stops the episode from feeling too confined, especially after the bottle nature of last week’s recording. A large part of this is down to sheer visual contrast, though in this sense, there are scenes earlier in the episode that allow for a standard set to be used in a different way. In this, the premise of the episode relied on an effect that could in some scenes be easily created live during a take, but in others required a full prerecord and VT played in with rough VisFX shots. While what was played to the audience was incomplete, it was enough to get a sense that the final sequence will be visually interesting and one that will give the episode a highly memorable moment.

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As all of these elements all tie together and the episode comes towards it’s end, the script seems to almost present us with an addendum. As we see the last sequence with the guest set, it appears that the plot we have been following has more or less reached an end, but instead it becomes clear that one element has not yet resolved itself. The result of this was an ending scene that garnered a lot of applause from the audience. While the version filmed on the night won’t be used in the episode as time did not allow for a final change for the shot, the reaction will doubtless be the one thing that does remain.

In many ways, despite not being the final recording, it’s an episode ending that would have been the perfect end to Series XII, even if the rest of the episode doesn’t necessesarily feel like a series closer. As with The Beginning, it’s one that would give the series a perfect note to end on, and as with that episode, should it for any reason have to serve as the final note of the show, even if just between series, it leaves things open ended in a great way.

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Generally, it’s not uncommon for the fifth episode in a six episode run to be a good place to hide a smaller and potentially less exciting affair. While the recording order might not reflect broadcast order, it’s still nice to see that this episode didn’t seem to fit either of these descriptions. Instead, while largely using existing sets, it managed to do some things that haven’t really been seen in the show before, all off the back of a strong central concept. With just one episode left to go, that standard remains excitingly high.

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.