This review contains spoilers.
11.6 Can Of Worms
Anyone who’s ever owned a cat will tell you that a lot of what they get up to, particularly when they’re outside the house, is a mystery. So in some ways, it’s fitting that Red Dwarf’s Cat is easily the character we know the least about. He’s only had one true focus episode, back in the very first series, and mostly exists to make scenes funnier. But on a ship with three other sort-of men, he’s had very little opportunity to indulge in one particular feline pastime – until now.
Die-hard Dwarfers will know that the issue of Cat’s virginity has been on the table ever since Red Dwarf VII, when the episode Identity Within was commissioned and then shelved for budgetary reasons. Doug Naylor has been talking about revisiting the idea of Cat’s proverbial cherry for some time, and now, nearly twenty years after the first ditched attempt, the moment has arrived. Is it time for everyone’s favourite felix sapien to finally get his end away?
Well, yes and no. Not for the first time this series, Can Of Worms takes a concept familiar to fans of the show – in this case the shapeshifting, emotion-sucking Polymorph – and uses it to try and tell a different story, as Cat manages to fall pregnant to a Polymorph posing as a female from his own species. It’s a shame we don’t get more of a look at how Cat would interact with another member of his race; in their two scenes together, Cat and his love match regress to the character as seen in the very first episode (and hardly ever since), screaming ‘Owww!’ at each other and claiming things are theirs, and then the next time we see the lady Cat she’s a dead Polymorph.
That aside, this is definitely Danny John-Jules’s episode, and he has a lot of great material to get his teeth into. From the beginning, his terrified reaction to the virginity-sniffing Gelfs elevates an otherwise turgid Starbug scene; it’s always funny when Cat’s smooth bravado falls, and this is a memorable highlight – second only to the scene in which a newly deflowered Cat has his moment of post-coital cool shattered by his colleagues. I noted in my review of Give And Take that something seemed off about his performance in the Cat-centric scenes, but he absolutely nails the character here.
It’s surprising and disappointing, then, that Cat all but sits the final third of the episode out. The idea of such a selfish character being compelled to care for his offspring is a compelling one, as are the mechanics of Polymorph infancy – the intentional cuteness overload the newborns use as a form of defence is yet another wonderful, imaginative idea introduced by Naylor this year. But instead, the action focuses on another all-too familiar lower decks runaround which can’t help but feel like the less interesting path to follow. And the lack of Cat makes his sudden reappearance to first abandon and then save the crew feel like it comes from nowhere in order to wrap up the story in time for the credits.
Fortunately, the story does wrap up, and there’s time for a final scene involving Lister and Cat which ends the series on a decent note – though I can’t be the only one who would’ve preferred for it to not be revealed as a dream, both ending on a strong joke and prompting enough fan discussion and argument to take us through to Red Dwarf XII next year. Can Of Worms isn’t the best episode of this series – it’d be interesting to view reactions in the parallel universe where the episodes followed the filming order and the ambitious Twentica was shown last – but it’s a solid episode with some good gags and a strong central performance.
And in a way, that sums up Red Dwarf XI as a whole. Whilst it hasn’t been the best run the show has ever aired – though I’m sure there are those who would debate the issue – it’s definitely been a solid series of Red Dwarf, with some fantastic jokes and memorable moments along the way and a cast on top of their game and a writer who clearly learned many of the right lessons from Red Dwarf X. These six episodes were filmed back-to-back with next year’s series and, some niggling issues with rushed or abrupt endings aside, they bode well for a show which has a promising future ahead of it.
Read Pete’s review of the previous episode, Kysis, here.