So here we are, the final episode of Red Dwarf XI and what a treat the series has been. The show, which is now entertaining the third generation of fans in my family, has been a monumental success story this year, taking to the age of social media and instant critique with joyous ease. It’s been no easy feat, with the show losing some of the early magic in later series’, expectations were far lower than the show deserves, but then they delivered in the best smegging way possible.
Creator: Doug Naylor
Staring: Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn
Run Time: 28 Minutes
Now in week six, we’ve reached the last episode of the series and it is clear within five minutes of the opening credits that Naylor and co have saved one of the best for last. Diving into the archives of Dwarf and bringing back to life one of the shows most beloved bad guys, the Polymorph.
It’s a daring move choosing such a beast to revive, the series III episode which introduced the shapeshifters and its later sequel still have me in fits of laughter, the killer kebab and shrinking pants are some of the funniest visual gags that Dwarf has ever created, nobody wants to see a memory like that sullied by a sub-standard follow-up. Luckily this is Red Dwarf XI, the revival of classic smeg (sub-title trademark pending), which has been setting a new standard for the show since episode one’s opening theme tune.
On their way back to the large crimson one, the crew comes across a ship on the verge of destruction with life signs onboard. Despite all indications that one of the beings on the ship is a droid missing his sanity chip and the other is a prisoner, Lister and co embark on a rescue mission. Being no match for a boobytrapped dictaphone, the droid is quickly taken down and a shocking discovery is made which might see the Cat finally get lucky, the prisoner is a female felix sapien.
Returning to the ship and while Cat prepares for the night of his life (no time for romance when you’re a horny cat), the rest of the crew unearth a rather startling revelation that has them running for the bazookiods, she’s actually a shapeshifting polymorph who’s looking to breed. By the time they catch up with Cat, he’s already done the dirty and the femme fatale has died, leaving everyone’s favourite fish-fanatic carrying her offspring. As you can probably imagine, the second half of the episode is Red Dwarf gold, with some of the best physical gags that you can do with a litter of shapeshifting babes looking to survive.
There’s no denying that drawing on past Dwarf for inspiration has helped make this series as successful as it has been, and the return of the polymorph turns out to be a stroke of genius as we learn far more about their bedroom antics than any of us ever really needed to know. It’s how the story manages to use this familiar setting to tell a different story which is the true mark of superb writing. The episode could have so easily delved into the emotion-eating side of things and gone sideways with another Duane Dibbley cameo. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a massive fan of Dibbley, but there was just no need to revisit that here.
Instead, we get a story with Danny John-Jules’ Cat at the heart of it, a selfish creature whose only goal in life is to get his end away finds himself in an oddly maternal situation (not the first time that one of the guys has been there either, surely Lister can relate). This is John-Jules’ time to shine in the spotlight, not to say that he hasn’t already delivered some of the best lines of the series, but he’s spent far too much of XI on the sidelines. Given the stage to himself, he delivers the perfect Red Dwarf performance, from the early digs at his lack of action and the beautiful “this is mine” nod to the first series, through to a great pregnancy montage. With the support of the rest of the cast, especially some great work from Craig Charles yet again, the Cat’s time on top is brought to life brilliantly.
This is one of those episodes that will make you laugh out loud throughout, the gags come thick and fast with a nice variety of great writing, perfect delivery, and great physical aspects. The birthing scene is one of the highlights, a hilarious sketch which sees each baby polymorph shapeshift into more and more obscure objects, concluding with a playpen filled with adorable baby animals. The entire crew must have had fun coming up with these ideas and it shows on-screen.
The episode isn’t without its flaws, though. The story tries to tell a lot in the half hour run-time and as a result, a number of elements do suffer from pacing issues. One particular side-plot featuring a machine able to do surgery on personalities is disappointingly underused. Given the whole emotion-sucking nature of the Polymorphs last appearance, there was a really good opportunity to turn the tables on the shapeshifter, which sadly didn’t deliver what the early scenes promised. It’s also disappointing that we don’t get a little more time to explore Cat’s relationship with another of his kind, it’s something that many Dwarf fans have been wanting to see since Waiting for God and could have added more depth to the character as a whole.
Luckily, the flaws are more than made up for by the superb cast, some brilliant gags (both written and physical), and an overall story that sees the Red Dwarf XI end of a high…..and an imaginary Cat threesome.
- Danny John-Jules shines in the spotlight, supported by the rest of the crew perfectly
- More nods to classic Dwarf without retelling the same story
- Some of the funniest gags, both written and physical, from the series as a whole
- The story suffered in places because of the runtime restrictions, pacing was an issue with one particularly superb gag set-up hitting an anticlimax
- A bit more time dedicated to certain elements of the story would have enhanced Cat’s character moving forward