Set Report: Series XII – Skipper (9th March 2016)

For one final time, Red Dwarf fans gathered at Pinewood on Wednesday night for the last recording of Series XII, all be it several days later than originally expected. But did it serve as a satisfying ending to both these recordings and indeed Series XII? Did it surprise along the way? And perhaps most importantly of all, was it funny?

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 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.]


About half way through this final recording of Series XII, Ray Peacock, back again on warm up duties, suggested that anyone with a Red Dwarf fan site would be struggling to work out how to talk about this episode. This followed his comments at the start of the night that if you were in the audience for this episode, you had lucked out on going to a particularly good one. While we’ll go in to some more depth on the reasons for both of these statements, it’s safe to say from the outset that both of these sentiments were entirely accurate.

A large reason for this right from the start is plot based. It’s an episode that has a strong scientific heart, and while it’s perhaps similar to a couple of scientific concepts addressed in the show previously, the way it’s dealt with here feels new. Even more importantly though, it’s just very funny. It’s utilises an idea that’s certainly not exclusive to Red Dwarf, and for many its perhaps one that will be familiar from animated shows. In its presentation, it’s perhaps most akin to the this type of program rather than something repeated from the Red Dwarf’s past, and this is to it’s strength.
This said, the way the idea is dealt with is different depending on whether you are looking at the first half of the episode or the second. It is the first half that is perhaps the most familiar in terms of Dwarf, but once again, the way that the idea is presented allows for some strong visual gags in a way that was simply not done when a comparable plot strand appeared much earlier in the show’s history. For the comedy nerds amongst you, it is also a devise that is a quite literal presentation of a particular joke form, and one that fans of Lee and Herring should be very familiar with.
By the second half however, we delve into what many will doubtless consider the real meat and potatoes of the episode. While hints of it were made in the first half, the second half confirms the not inconsiderable ambition of the episode, which was realised with some quite remarkable skill. There are also several definite surprises in this episode, some of which give a referential warmth while others are just so odd that with one particular example, it could have brought the whole house of cards crashing down if treated wrongly.
Fortunately, the way this was instead presented led to no such problems, and in fact provided one of the funniest moments of the episode, and indeed probably the entire run of 12 shows. A true guffaw moment that had rolling laughs from take to take, and one that had members of the audience convulsing with laughter at the bizarre sight they were presented with. It will certainly be a moment that’s talked about a lot, and puts me immediately in mind of something from a very specific Red Dwarf book, but probably not for a reason that might immediately spring to mind, though certainly one where the parallel should be easy to draw after broadcast.
Turning for a moment to the look of the episode, one point that should be highlighted is the quality of the sets. We have talked previously about the excellent work on redressing sets between shows, and while this episode didn’t require quite as extensive reworking as others, the desired effect was more than adequately met. In other scenes, the attention to detail in the set design was absolutely top notch, making this episode one of the best in terms of set design through all 12 recordings. To facilitate this, there were various scenes that had been pre-recorded, leaving most of the remaining scenes to be filmed in front of the audience on the two main sets.
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As such, while guest actors were featured in this episode, they either appeared in VT or in a scene shot shot mostly out of view of the audience. This certainly didn’t detract from the audience’s enjoyment of their performances however, and there are two particular roles that were both very enjoyable, both of which had some great dialogue to deliver even if they didn’t have a huge amount of screen time.
With regards to the main cast, the atmosphere on set seemed particularly good for this episode, and it doesn’t seem unlikely that the end of term feeling that must have been pervading the final recording will have fed into this. Spirits indeed seemed to be very high, which was surprising to some degree considering that there were dialogue heavy scenes that had apparently been issued to them that morning as a rewrite, and more than one scene required the use of idiot boards to get through complicated passages of dialouge. This resulted in a lot of fluffed lines, but not a rise in irritation, and as such the quality of the smeg ups was better too, as the reaction to the fluffs are often funnier than the fluffs themselves.
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With a note to the final scenes of the episode, following the previous recording we had begun to wonder if we were likely to see that episode bumped up to last place. However, having now viewed both it seems clear that were this episode in anything other than an end of series slot it would be a sad waste. It fundamentally feels like an end of series affair, and definitely has a sense of reward to it’s viewers that wouldn’t feel as applicable in a start of series slot. As with the last recording and indeed The Beginning, were this episode for whatever reason to serve as a final note for the show, it would be entirely fitting, and on the basis of this one initial viewing, I would say probably more so than with The Beginning.
It would be remiss not to mention that this is an episode with an element of nostalgia to it, but it suitably walks the line of justifying this within the story and never feels intrusive. To be clear, this is a million miles away from straight up attempts to replicate something done previously, but is instead an effort to use this pallet to colour the episode, and indeed allows for some good character insight that may have felt ham fisted without being able to use a few past references to illustrate a point. It’s not necessarily the kind of thing that you’d want an entire series of, but as one episode it works astonishingly well in pleasing fans without ever making it the focus, and as such it’s the kind of thing that works wonderfully well as a series closer.
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But whether or not this episode still serves as the final episode of Series XII when it reaches broadcast, with all episodes now recorded, this certainly marks the end of our set reports. The episodes recorded for both Series XI and XII have never been anything short of ambitious, with grand ideas, big laughs and strong performances, all mixed with a genuinely great visual look that has separated the episodes out from the previous series. This episode in particular feels like a highlight in all of these regards, but at the end of this run of set reports, it’s worth restating that the quality of the episodes has been surprisingly high across both series. While the audience recording is only part of the finalised episode and there is a lot of post-production to go through first, what we have seen at the recordings has given a good idea on most episodes of what the final product will be like, and the message we would feedback from this is nothing but positive, especially for this episode.
A huge thanks to all of you that have been reading our set reports each week, especially those that have stayed up into the early hours to read them as soon as they are published. Of course just because the recordings have stopped doesn’t mean that there won’t be anything to report on, and as the air dates draw closer, we’ll be sure to bring you the news as we get it. In the meantime, we’ll be continuing our latest run of Series IV commentaries of The Garbage Podcast, and we’ll be sure to have some new material on there before the new episodes hit your tv screens.

As this is our last set report from this run of recordings, we’d like to thank a few people that have helped us along the way, or have made the recording experiences more interesting. Many thanks firstly to all whose photographs we shamelessly used to illustrate these reports, but especially to Ed Moore, Richard Naylor, Robert Llewellyn, Danny John Jules, Craig Charles, Nathan Cubitt and Matthew Clarke, whose Twitter feeds have been a constant source of interesting information relating to the production without giving away any spoilers.

Also our considerable thanks to the staff of Lost In TV, who as always have been astoundingly helpful throughout and have always gone the extra measure to make sure as many fans don’t go disappointed as possible. Our thanks also go to all of the warm ups whose involvement helped keep the energy up at the recordings; James Farmer, Patrick Monahan, and of course the man with the most XI/XII warm ups under his belt, Ray Peacock. Finally, our congratulations and thanks to all the cast and crew for 12 fantastic recordings of some hugely entertaining episodes of the show.

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.