It may have been delayed by a fire alarm, but the fifth episode of Red Dwarf XI has now gone before cameras and a live audience. But after several weeks of character centric episodes, what direction would the penultimate episode for this series take? 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 XI. 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.]
At the end of the recording, Craig Charles pointed to the skeleton prop shown in the picture Robert Llewellyn tweeted earlier on this week, and told the audience that it came to a viewing of a Red Dwarf recording. This episode was by far the longest recording so far on Series XI, and while there were line fluffs and a delay to the start of recording caused by a fire alarm going off, this largely seemed to be due to the technical side rather than the performances.
The guest set for this episode was a further example of making as much use as possible out of a small set, and managed to reutilise elements to create a far bigger expanse than was available in the limited studio space. One scene played in on VT in particular when the set is first shown made brilliant use of its elements, combined with low lighting and other effects to create an eerie atmosphere that provided a good jumping off point for both plot and gags.
With this episode containing a larger guest set than some of the ones prior, a lot of time was required to get all the necessary shots throughout the set. This often involved moving between two sections, separated only by a thin wall, but which required the moving of the whole camera and sound set up each time. This stretched the recording time out to a 22:55 finish, and stretched bladders to the point that they resembled a damp football
Kudos then to Ray Peacock, whose task of keeping the audience entertained between takes must have felt at points like pulling a lorry uphill using only your ill fitting dentures. Thankfully, the audience in general were more keen than in the first 3 weeks, and while their tiredness was kicking in by the final hour, he managed to deal with this with aplomb and keep energy up enough until the final shot was in the can.
Following a few weeks of episodes that tended to focus on particular members of the core four Red Dwarf cast, this episode was back to the ensemble nature of the first episode. That said, there is perhaps more pairing off in this particular instalment, and the two hander scenes that feature Craig (two of which with Chris and one with Danny) were some particular highlights to the episode, and all of which managed to play to character strengths.
Also, while the first episode largely still revolved around the four leads, this episode made much more use of the guest cast, including Maggie Service who this week maintained the tradition of Red Dwarf guest stars revealing their involvement on the show before it’s officially revealed by tweeting about it. She and the rest of the guest cast were paradoxically both hugely important to the core story, and yet also removed from it, with all of their scenes having been prerecorded and played in on VT. This is partly due to the narrative structure of the episode, that while having been used in the show previously, has perhaps not been used quite to the extent it is here.
This element aside, the episode largely deals in the realms of an adventure episode typical of Series IV-VI, with an interesting idea at its heart which again feels atypical of those series. While for example the conceit of episode 3 was very much the sort of thing you might expect from a script by Doug, this particular idea seemed more akin to the sort of concepts that occurred when the show was penned jointly by Naylor and Grant.
At the same time, there are also a couple of references to the past. While one is a throwaway reference that will perhaps only be picked up on by regular viewers, another is elaborated on a bit further, and it has to be said that of all potential subjects to come up, it wasn’t one that I think anybody was really expecting to hear referred to. It seems an odd thing to harken back to, but thankfully this is saved but some good dialogue which allows a good back and fourth between the cast which keeps the scene flowing and moving on to the actual story.
In terms of gags, the episode felt fairly consistent with the other episodes so far in Series XI, and contained one particularly good visual gag that is both ridiculous and bordering on the edge of what might be considered by some as being too rude, but was a highlight of the series for me. Equally, two scenes featuring physical gags got as big a laugh as anything this series. The later also manages a good job of covering the fact that it is the sillier of the two by tying into the plot in a logical way that manages to completely justify it’s inclusion.
If any criticism is to be drawn on the episode, it’s that the final scene feels that it’s perhaps one gag away from being perfect. This is perhaps due though to us being so interested to see the resolution of the story for the guest cast that the resolution for the Dwarfers was always likely to feel like a coda rather than an end, and while no threads are left dangling, it seems that there was perhaps one more laugh to be gained out of them before closing.
It’s not make or break however, and in many ways it finishes on a similar note to an episode in V that doesn’t tend to be criticised for the same reasons, and as such this ending may be accepted just as well. Equally, as previously stated, the extended length of the recording could have coloured the perception of this scene, as audience tiredness became more of an issue by this point. It will likely be hard to judge until the final edit of the episode airs and can have its plot and gags viewed from their starting points to their resolutions.
Ultimatly however, this episode had the strong selling point of being fundamentally different to the prior episodes this series. Aside from it’s use of the guest cast which already marked it apart, the episode allowed for some quieter moments than we’ve had this series that marked a welcome change of pace. In this respect it makes it hard to compare to other episodes. On a surface level, definite parallels can be drawn with an episode in IV and later parts of the episode share a similar idea with something from V, but overall the way the elements mesh together make for something that seems familiar but different to what we’ve had so far.