This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
This review contains spoilers.
Red Dwarf XII Episode 1
“Thank you, deep space!”
In recent years, it’s never stopped being remarkable that we’re still getting new episodes of Red Dwarf. The show’s second lease on life got off to a bit of a shaky start with 2009’s Back To Earth, but the back-to-basics approach of subsequent series has got the boys from the Dwarf (waggle your hands appropriately) back on track.
Red Dwarf XII comprises the second batch of six episodes, out of the twelve that were filmed in early 2016, and as such, you might expect that there isn’t much difference in tone between XI and XII. Remarkably, writer and director Doug Naylor has given us “Cured”, a high concept opener which contemplates the nature of evil as only this show can, and we know we’re in for a treat.
It’s particularly surprising given that the episode is rooting around in concepts that the show has explored before. Starbug locates a derelict scientific research station owned by United America, a group that waged a “war against war” in the 23rd century, built to test a cure for evil itself.
The sceptical Dwarfers are shocked to discover that the station is still inhabited by Professor Telford (guest star Adrian Lukis) and his cryogenically frozen test subjects, all of whom have been successfully “cured”. Reconstituted from their descendants’ regressed DNA, the post-op patients are none other than Joseph Stalin, (Callum Coates) Vlad The Impaler, (Phillipe Spall) Valeria Messalina, (Chloe Hawkins) and Adolf Hitler (Ryan Gage.)
The premise strongly recalls two episodes from Series IV – “Justice”, which also featured a sci-fi mode of criminal rehabilitation, and “Meltdown”, which starred historical figures of a similar nature to the ones we see here. Given the comparisons between the previous back to basics series on Dave and the early years of the show, we’re starting to wonder if Naylor is intentionally drawing parallels as the digital TV version of the show enters its fourth year.
The latter of those episodes featured Hitler too, and “Cured” makes him one of the show’s unlikeliest recurring characters. There’s no way Naylor could have anticipated back in 2016 that Nazis would be back in the news as prominently as they have been, but given the potentially problematic use of Hitler as a character, the episode holds up well against what could have been exceptionally poor timing.
And Gage, who you may remember as the snivelling Alfrid from Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies, inevitably gets the most to do as the newly re-sensitised dictator, wearing a smiley face armband, taking selfies and bonding with Lister over their stints in art college. One thing leads to another, and then they’re jamming to The Happy Wanderer on guitar together, while the other Dwarfers look on their awkward bromance, aghast. It’s a long way from their off-screen scrap in Series III’s “Timeslides”.
But anyone who remembers Jesus of Caesarea from Lemons or Albert “Bob The Bum” Einstein from Twentica will be suspicious of these historical celebrities too. In regard to Hitler’s lack of descendants to regress, here’s some lip service paid to conspiracy theory texts like Grey Wolf, but the eventual twist – that they’re actually reprogrammed droids – is telegraphed by previous uses, if not by any fault of the episode itself.
That said, the structure leaves the wheelchair-using Telford sitting around twiddling his thumbs until its time for him to stand up and reveal that he’s the real psychopath. There’s a nice lampshade joke on the obvious dissimilarity between Gage’s character and the actual Hitler, which is crucial, but it’s the only part of the episode that feels especially unoriginal.
But as in pretty much all of XI, it’s Danny John Jules who steals the show over and over again. From the poker game that gets the episode off to such a strong start, to the final setpiece taking advantage of his supremely fickle nature, the show has reaped the comedic rewards of finally giving Cat as prominent a role in stories as Rimmer, Lister and Kryten have always had. You wait ages for one, and then “Can Of Worms” and “Cured” both come along on the bounce. But while there have been lots of one-off jokes about his feline lack of empathy over the years, the official diagnosis of Cat as a psychopath doesn’t feel like something with which the show has anywhere to go.
If “Cured” is anything to go by, Red Dwarf XII has really seized upon whatever little room you think there’d be for it to be different from its back-to-back predecessor. The pacing is much better than most of last year’s episodes and it’s an entertaining bit of whataboutery that revisits the comedic obsession with Hitler more brazenly than ever before, and largely gets away with it. Even with its minor flaws, no episode that has a sight gag as good as that left-leaning Starbug landing could ever be all bad.