After nearly a year, the wait is finally over as Red Dwarf XII hits this coming week. With 2016 fully reinvigorating the long-running sci-fi comedy thanks to solid storylines, stellar comic timing and a back-to-basics approach which saw some of the best episodes of the show in two decades. On such good form after so long, it’s hard, as a lifetime fan of the show, not to fear the worst for another series, but given the XI and XII were filmed back-to-back, there’s good reason to expect more of the same.
Creator: Doug Naylor
Staring: Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn
Run Time: 28 Minutes
One of the great things about Red Dwarf has always been that anything can happen, there is no template for this show and the series opener, Cured, certainly plays on that well. The episode centers around an interesting and very relevant subject, the nature of evil, where it comes from and if it can, or should be, cured.
After finding a derelict research station owned by ‘United America’, a group who once set out to wage a war against war, the crew head down to discover the station’s purpose was to cure evil itself. What’s more, the inhabitants are still there, cryogenically frozen.
Cloned from their descendants’ DNA and genetically ‘cured’ of their evil ways, the test subjects, Vlad the Impaler (Phillipe Spall), Joseph Stalin (Callum Coates), Valeria Messalina (Chloe Hawkins), and Adolf Hilter (Ryan Gage) all awaken along with the last remaining scientist, Professor Telford (Adrian Lukis).
Right off the bat, the back to basics approach kicks in. Some of the best episodes of the past have started so simply; a research station, new tech to salvage, Back to Reality and Legion started in much the same way. It’s also very clear early on that we’re in for a story meant to remind us of the real-world woes with cleverly orchestrated quips centered around American foreign policy, as well as the traits bankers and a certain media mogul share with psychopaths.
It’s when meeting history’s worst reincarnated with the missing evil gene that the throwbacks to Dwarf of old really become apparent. The cast of oddballs from history is reminiscent of series four’s Meltdown and the morality of the underlying theme certainly has ties to Justice. Naylor’s recent efforts have made a point of tipping their hats to the classic series’, something that certainly pushed XI above some of its predecessors. If Cured is any indication of what’s coming then XII will continue to do that just as brilliantly.
Despite the fairly large collection of guest actors, one in particular gets most of the screen time, something of a recurring character from the show’s history, Hilter. Some may consider it slightly inappropriate that the Nazis get a mention here given recent political issues in news stateside of late, but in true Red Dwarf fashion, the comedy side-steps any potential for offense, focusing primarily on how the cast react to someone with a personality the polar-opposite of what one would expect.
While bordering on the absurd in places, some of the funniest moments from the episode come from Lister’s unlikely bromance with the dictator as they bond over their love of guitar which culminates in a slightly cringe-worthy rendition of The Happy Wanderer with the rest of the crew watching on, clearly in disgust.
Of course, anyone remotely familiar with history will be questioning Hitler’s return given he died without any descendants, but Naylor cleverly utilises one of the many conspiracy theories surrounding the dictators demise to allow the character’s unlikely return. Inevitably, though, this is merely a cover-up to throw viewers off the twist that all of the historical figures are nothing more than droids, reprogrammed by the real psychopath, Telford.
It’s only as the story’s twist is revealed that the rest of the cast finally have something to do. Despite the Lister-heavy screentime and the real villain only getting a few minutes to shine, the story never suffers. What little time the rest of the cast get on-screen they deliver perfectly, with visual gags brilliantly executed, including a headless Kryton impaled on a mop, as well as well-performed quips such as Vlad’s response to said impaling, it’s hard to find fault for the most part.
Much like most of XI, though, it’s Danny John Jules who once again steals the show. Looking back over my reviews for the last series and episode after episode I said the same thing, Jules nails it, the finale Can of Worms being a perfect example. From the opening credits, he’s at it again, a simple Poker game gag reaches it’s fruition at the finale as the now diagnosed psychopath saves the day.
Overall, Cured is a fantastic series opener, a story with near-perfect pace, a strange real-world relevance and the same enthusiasm from the main cast that we saw in the great revival last year. It’s not entirely perfect, as mentioned before, there are a few moments that the silliness levels exceed even what Red Dwarf can get away with, but for every misstep, there’s something that redeems it fairly swiftly.
If Cured is the bar by which Red Dwarf XII will meet or excel, then we’re certainly in for a treat over the next six weeks.
Red Dwarf officially returns to the small screen on Thursday, October 12 on Dave TV in the UK. You can, however, watch the show early via UKTV Play. You can also keep up to date on all things Read Dwarf on our Red Dwarf page.
- Solid story, once again drawing on the success of the show’s past to produce something unique
- A number of real laugh out loud moments, both visual gags and well-delivered quips
- Danny John Jules once again steals the show despite minimal screentime
- A couple of gags that border on the absurd (even by Red Dwarf standards) make for a couple of cringe-worthy moments.