For one final time in 2015, an audience has come dangerously close to Slough in search of new Red Dwarf. But with a final episode for Series XI, was the episode they came to see a big bang of a finale or a damp squib?
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 6 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.]
With the spoiler free nature of these set reports, it can be hard to find something different to say each time without just repeating the same points over and over. This week however, the episode in question has necessitated a slight change to our usual format. This is because while we’d normally end with our general summations, this week it seems important to get one out of the way right from the start.
Given the extensive use of guest sets it’s perhaps unsurprising that the episode featured what seemed to be the largest guest cast of the series. There were multiple performers that stood out, but for the sake keeping things brief, we’ll just refer to a few favourites. Two of these were actors that I wasn’t previously familiar with, but whose comic timing got each of them some big belly laughs more than once, and in any other episode could have been the standout performances. The episode also saw the the breif return of one guest cast member from a prior series in a completely unrelated role, and though their time was short in this episode, they got one of the bigger laughs of the night for some interplay with one of the crew.
But while all of these were enjoyable, there was one particular member of the guest cast that was particularly noteworthy. The actor in question will likely be familiar to a lot of comedy fans, and to see them involved in Red Dwarf is a joy. The casting of them in their role is perfect, and they play it with exactly the right tone required for the part, without making it too over the top, but still managing to get laughs where you might not necessarily expect them. While I would normally single out one of the main cast for their performance, this week I would feel wrong to not apply this to the guest cast instead, as the epsiode is as much theirs as the main cast’s.
They also bring a joy to the recording process, deliberately messing up a scene for a laugh twice towards the end of the night to a huge reaction from the audience just at the point when tiredness should be setting in. Their contributions will definitely be something to keep an eye out for in the Smeg Ups, and looking back on Series XI objectively, I would say that this was easily my favourite guest star of the series.
But what of the plot? Well given the large guest cast, it is as you may expect once again an ensemble piece. When the episode starts off, it bears some striking resemblance to a film from another Sci-Fi franchise, and given the way that this is played out, it immediately seems that we might be headed for a parody as with the end of Camile, but this time with a totally different and fitting, if surprising, choice of film to spoof.
These expectations are quickly dispensed with however as we veer into entirely different territory that is unlike anything else in Series XI. The central conceit of the episode doesn’t feel like something we’ve ever really dealt wth before, and its a pretty solid one that provides a good plot to explore. Unlike with other episodes this series, to hint much more than this would potentially be to give too much away.
However, mention can be made to the overall script and how Doug has approached this episode in terms of humour. In prior set reports, we’ve applauded the use of visual humour in this series as being particularly good, but aside from a couple of very small moments, this isn’t really the territory this episode deals in. Instead, the laughs are heavily based in the dialogue, and often arise from exploring the episodes premise. There are also at least a couple of jokes that feel like they may have been circulating in Doug’s mind for a while, waiting for a natural home. It that is indeed the case, they found it here.
There are also several occasions where it would have been all too easy to go down the route of call back humour or to try and resurrect a running gag, yet the temptation is never abused. Very early on in the episode, we are presented with a line that seems like a direct set up for a running gag, that is instead left alone to allow another gag to flourish. And you know what? It feels so much fresher for this.
Of other note for the episode, there were two surprising parts to the recording. The first of these was an aforementioned visual gag. It was highly difficult to tell if this was included purely for the audience on the night (as per the reference to Shepperton in Lemons), or if it was intended for inclusion in the broadcast episode. It’s a used for a joke that perhaps takes you out of the belief in the world for a moment, but it’s reasons for inclusion are sound and it makes total sense why such a scene would occur in the type of episode at play.
Aside from this, in the rush to film the final few scenes, the sudden end came as a surprise to even Ray Peacock, who had assumed we were carrying on until the theme music started to play for the cast to come and take their bows. In hindsight though, this isn’t as much of an issue as you may believe, and by the time the final edit of the show is released, I can take a fairly good guess at a missing piece that would be fed in, and give it a similar ending note to at least one prior episode.
On the usual note of trying to compare it to past shows, it feels easy to pick out a couple and yet hard at the same time as this is heavily removed from both. However, to try and plump for some reference points, I would point to a tone that is a mixture between a specific episode in Series VI and another in V. Some people may also point to an episode in X for a certain similarity, but to be honest, it’s so far removed from the way that was handled to the point of being unrecognisable.
To sum up my feelings on the episode overall though, the best indicator I can give is that when Ray announced that we only had a couple more scenes to film, lots of people around me were sad it was finishing and surprised how quickly we had reached the end. Part of the reason for this will doubtless be that one stretch of VT alone was 9 minutes long, meaning that between this and the other pre filmed scenes, a vast share of the episode was filmed in advance and played in. However, even more of a reason was that the audience were having so much fun with the episode and in particular the story it presented that they just didn’t want it to end yet. There was no feeling that the plot was unresolved, and it was purely a sense of when it is this good, it sad it can’t go on longer. It’s a high achievement in an already strong series, and episode 6 feels like a proper end of series affair, with something the show hasn’t done before mixed with a strong script, an excellent guest cast and a solid collection of gags
And with that, Series XI draws to a close. It’s still not beyond the bounds of possibility that we might yet see episodes in XI switched out for ones in XII, but if left as it currently is, the series is an absolute winner and one to be reckoned with. While I have preferred some episodes to others, I have never felt that the quality of this series has dipped below being good, and has purely come down to the fact that some episodes have been particularly standout.
Certainly, we are worlds away from X for example, where an episode could have two strands, where one would be good and the other could bring the quality of the other down. Fathers and Suns was a prime example of this, with the excellent Pree and Lister stories on one side, and the Chinese Whispers one on the other. Consistency seems to be the byword for XI, and on the basis of what we have seen filmed, I cannot see why these episodes would do anything other than improve when put through the edit and tightened. Having XIIs recording on the horizon remains no less an exciting prospect, but what I did expect was that the prospect of getting to see the final versions of the episodes in XI would be something to look forward to in completely equal measure.
It’s going to be a long wait, but if we can give you any take away from these set reports, it’s that it won’t be anything less than worth it.