After what seems like no time at all (relatively speaking) Red Dwarf is backed on our screens / digital content platforms for its twelfth series. While there had clearly been some big improvements behind the scenes in terms of budget management and the look of the show between Series X and XI, would there be any more big surprises in store for Series XII? Well, not really and that’s to be expected given they were filmed in the same block. The standing sets are the same with the sleeping quarters, science room, Starbug cockpit and midsection present and correct although there have been some fetching updates to the graphics and set dressing.
There’s also a brand new title sequence featuring lots of intriguing teases for us to spend the next few weeks analysing and the roman numeral comes together in an all new way, which is nice. But none of that matters without some substance to the episode, essentially is this episode any good?
I won’t keep you in suspense – it is good. This is Dave era Red Dwarf firing on all cylinders (insert your own preconceptions here). It’s an interesting concept, fun guest performances, some moments of actual peril, one absolutely huge laugh, but let’s start with the visuals.
From the opening effects sequence in Starbug, this is a show demonstrating its confidence. This is a bit of showboating to show off the new season with CGI and models mixed to create some of the best-looking effects we’ve ever seen in Red Dwarf. While the new landing bay will never be as good as the old Model Unit miniature sets, it’s great to see that part of the ship again, incorporated nicely with the Red Dwarf bigature.
This episode is not nearly as atypical as the Series XI opener ‘Twentica’ and with the station with an experiment gone wrong, feels very much more like vintage Red Dwarf. So this sequence is just there as a reminder that the show still can do a little something different. Not only that, the run down Starbug gags are funny and mined for all they are worth and that’s all before we even get to the main thrust of the plot.
‘Cured’, originally titled ‘Here No Evil’, deals with the idea that the most evil figures from history could be resurrected using their family DNA (some bollocks science for Kryten to explain) and then have their evil removed to become upstanding members of society. It’s hard to get away from the fact that it’s a contrived setup but if you go with it, it’s worth it for the laughs.
It’s a shame that Ryan Gage as Hitler was revealed in the publicity material released earlier this week, because when seen without any foreknowledge, there’s a genuine air of tension. You wonder if Doug Naylor has actually gone too far? Could Red Dwarf be crossing the boundaries of bad taste? Possibly but it works and is very funny.
Gage plays Hitler like a puppy desperate to be liked, and it’s one of the best guest performances in a long time. Because of this, the other characters are significantly less memorable, but that doesn’t really detract from the episode as a whole. Instead, we get the crew’s wrangling with how to deal with how to deal with these cured evil figures mostly played out through Lister’s relationship with Hitler, but given that he is perhaps the most recognisable figure this only makes sense, and helps us speed through the plot when we only have 30 minutes to play with.
The guitar sequence is just a wonderful moment/ Lister jamming with Hitler is somehow made funnier by it being The Happy Wanderer, which Craig Charles revealed had been his idea at the Edinburgh screening after Doug said that not a single artist would clear their song be played by Hitler. Perhaps the gag it goes on just a few seconds too long as the crew walk in on them but it’s essentially the Dave era equivalent of the Polymorph shorts gag. Red Dwarf can still deliver the goods.
The twist reveal at the end may not be a big surprise but it is done with style. The set piece with each of the crew trapped in a diabolical situation is genuinely impressive with Lister caught in a Goldfinger-esque gonad cutter, Rimmer set to be burned alive, Kryten just a head on a stick and Cat in a tank filling with water. It’s a great example of sets and visual effects combining to give a real sense of scale. The base model also looks really nice and absolutely has a classic Red Dwarf model vibe.
In many ways this is a Cat episode, with both the teaser and the conclusion dedicated to his character. As with ‘Give and Take’ it’s a nice exploration of how cat values are different from that of humans, not necessarily better or worse, they just have different priorities. Although perhaps whether he can keep a poker face isn’t really the definitive question it’s set up to be.
The ending itself will be controversial. The Red Dwarf universe has become decidedly more populated with the idea that Lister is the last human alive truly out the window. The decision for the Cat to pull a trigger and kill a guy, albeit one that was going to murder the whole crew, doesn’t feel right. That, along with the sudden, unnecessary deaths of Howard Rimmer (yes, I know he’s a hologram) and Irene Edgington in Series X and Green and Barker in Series XI makes this feel like a pretty cold universe, and the Red Dwarf crew like utter bastards. Is the moment true to the character in the moment? Maybe, but it’s a niggle. Worse, it’s a pattern of niggles. It would be nice if this sort of thing ended there.
Overall though, this is a strong very start to the season. Try and let the science bits wash over you and enjoy the really first class visuals, solid performances and good gags.
For our further in depth thoughts on Cured, listen to the latest edition of The Garbage Podcast where we discuss the episode, the world of the show and behind the scenes information from the recording. You can find it here.