Red Dwarf XI

reddwarfxi

CONTAINS SPOILERS

Red Dwarf was back on Dave for it’s 11th series, and it was filmed back to back with the 12th series, which will be broadcast sometime next year. Chris Barrie quit The Spitting Image because it clashed with recording Red Dwarf V, and for these two series Craig Charles quit his role on Coronation Street to work on them.

The new logo harked back to the one used in series III and IV, giving the show an even more of a retro or nostalgic feel.

The first episode broadcast was ‘Twentica’, which was actually the last one to be recorded, but it was decided to go out first as a way of showing off the increased budget they had after the successful 10th series.

In ‘Twentica’, the crew end up back in the past, New York in 1952 to be exact. However, a new form of Simulant called the Expenoids have gone back in time to mess with history so they can take over the world. As Kryten points out, these psychotic mechanoids have no shame when it comes to using hackneyed old cliches. Because of the Expenoids, New York hasn’t advanced since the 1920s and all technology is outlawed.

The crew go to an underground club, which is like a speakeasy during prohibition, but in this case they are scientists who secretly conduct experiments and discuss outlawed theories. A film noir femme fatale-esque professor named Harmony tells them the only person who knows how to fix the technology needed for the crew to get back is Albert Einstein, who in this reality is a tramp. They think they’ve found him, but it turns out to be a tramp who looks like him called Bob! But they encourage him to try to fix the device anyway, which he does.

Writing it down, it all sounds funnier that it came across onscreen, but I didn’t find it that funny to watch. I don’t seem all that keen on Red Dwarf episodes where they travel to the past. I wasn’t keen on ‘Lemons’ last series either. ‘Twentica’ was a surreal mix of ideas. It was almost dream-like in a way, not so much in structure, but what you might dream of if you’d watched a sci-fi film, then a film set in the 1920s New York, then thought would life be better without so much technology before you went to sleep. I’m not sure it was the best choice for an opener really, as it didn’t feel like a Red Dwarf episode. Not that I think it was bad, there were a lot of funny lines.

My favourite was when a cop asks Harmony “How dense do you think I am?” and she replies “You really wanna know? Just divide your mass by your volume”.

The second episode ‘Samsara’ sees Red Dwarf picking up an escape pod which disintegrated the two people using it. They trace it back to the ship it came from, the S.S. Samsara, and find skeletons which look like they were taking part in an orgy! A lot of strange things go on while on the ship, such as Cat stealing money from a charity box and winning the jackpot, and then getting a knife in the foot after saving Lister’s life.

It all unravels over the course of the episode, with the action for our crew intercepted with flashbacks of a couple who were having an affair on the Samsara. The Samsara uses a Karma Drive, which is similar technology to the Justice Field in ‘Justice’ from series IV. While the Justice Field punished criminal behaviour, the Karma Drive takes the idea further, in that it rewards good behaviour as well as punishing bad behaviour. But what is considered moral is a more contentious issue than what is considered illegal, indeed in general what is considered bad is easier to agree on than what is considered good. The couple were constantly being punished by the Karma Drive for their affair, so they decided to reprogramme it to punish good behaviour and reward bad, which led to chaos.

The most memorable joke in this was probably Lister putting glowsticks in the skeletons so that he would be able to see in the dark, but I think my favourite line was when Lister and Cat were discussing the evolutions of their species. Lister wonders why Cat can’t see in the dark, when ordinary cats can. Cat then counters that why did humans evolve to not be able to swing from trees using only their arms like monkeys can. That’s the thing about evolution, it can lose some abilities and traits which are very useful, but are no longer essential for the survival of the species. Yet we still have an appendix! As brilliant as evolution is, it’s far from perfect. Unfortunately, there were a lot of Lister/Cat conversations in this episode, and most of weren’t very funny, such as Cat thinking Archimedes was called R. Kermedees, which isn’t that funny to begin with, but the joke was stretched out for far too long.

‘Samsara’ was my least favourite episode. It was a drag to watch, partly because it was so dialogue heavy. A lot of it was exposition. There was a lot of telling rather than showing, but the long flashback scenes didn’t help either, as the couple weren’t really interesting enough to care about. The main idea behind the episode had potential, how imposing morals on people can go drastically wrong, but it wasn’t executed very well.

‘Give And Take’ was the first episode recorded, and I think would have worked better as a series opener myself as it showed the feel of this new series more.

The crew find a space station which has advanced medical technology, and a brilliant medibot named Asclepius. Unfortunately, he has gone completely mad and performs
unneccessary surgery on Lister, removing his kidneys. The crew manage to escape, and they can temporarily keep Lister alive, but he needs new kidneys. Cat is the only other person on board who has kidneys of any sort, and he is much too selfish to donate them. In fact, he doesn’t even understand the concept.

CAT – “Let me get this straight. I give you one of my kidneys, what do I get?”
LISTER – “A hole. Where your kidney used to be”.
CAT – “So I give you a kidney, you give me a hole?!”

To be fair, Cat can’t really be judged by human standards, as he is a humanoid cat. Lister and Kryten lie that things are reversed, so Cat thinks HE needs the kidney, not Lister, so Cat signs the donor consent form. However, it turns out none of this really matters, as they still need Asclepius to re-write Cat’s kidney’s DNA, and they thought the real Asclepius was some rogue robot. What they thought was Asclepius that they rescued from the ship is actually Snacky, a snack dispensing robot.

It’s resolved in a clever, pardox timey-wimey way. They go back in time to take kidneys from past Lister and put them into present Lister’s body. This also explains why Lister was blacked out for two days at the beginning of the episode.

‘Give And Take’ was an interesting episode, I especially loved the designs of the two robots introduced here.

reddwarfsnacky

Snacky looks very like the robot from Lost In Space, and has bleeps and bloops, four colourful light up buttons more like a fruit machine and ladles and an egg flipper on his head. It’s adorable how Zeerusty he is, and similar to Einstein Bob in ‘Twentica’ they give someone fairly low down in society a chance to save the day even though initially think they aren’t qualified to.

reddwardasclepius

Asclepius on the other hand, would be a brilliant Doctor Who villain. He is genuinely quite scary. Hissing voice, piranha-like teeth, mad scientist white coat and all sorts of sharp, pointed surgical equipment. He’s certified himself as not insane by a note… written in someone’s blood! It’s a pity he’s underused really.

My favourite line in this episode came from the Lift, who lied about the delays because he “didn’t want to lose your custom sir. […] to our main rivals, the stairs”.

In ‘Officer Rimmer’ the crew encounter a ship with a “bio-printer”. It’s basically like a giant paper printer, but prints out copies of a crew based on DNA stored in their database. It jams just like an ordinary printer too, leaving the newly printed Captain Herring with his eyes and nose on top of his head!

Both Starbug and Herring’s ship are between an asteroid field, and the closer the new ship gets the more danger the crew will be in. Rimmer decides to fire a torpedo at Herring’s ship, intending to destroy it! It turns out to knock it out of the asteroid field, so accidentally Rimmer ended up saving it. Captain Herring promotes Rimmer as an officer.

Rimmer of course lords it over everyone and smugs it up that he is an officer, and indeed the only officer. He wears the pompous, grand white officers uniform with medals he wore in ‘Kryten’ in series II. He gives himself luxury and forces the others to live in poverty. He has a lavishly furnished lift, they have to make do with a cramped, clapped out one. He
even goes as far to split the corridors, one for him, one for the “grunts” – and on his side, Rimmer has travelator, so he doesn’t even have to walk!

Rimmer chooses to make copies of himself to serve as officers. Seen as how this backfired spectacularly on him in ‘Me2’ and ‘Rimmerworld’, he should know better, Kryten even points this out to him, but Rimmer goes ahead anyway. We then have an officers club filled with Rimmers, including a barbershop quartet!

Lister and Cat don’t really care to indulge this, and go in the officers club anyway. Rimmer tries to create some more Rimmers to serve as bouncers, but they all get mashed together in the printing process to become a twisted multi-headed multi-limbed Rimmer Monster. It begins absorbing the clone Rimmers (shown on a monitor as like a game of Pac-Man!). The only safe place left is in the “grunts” part of the corridor, so Rimmer has to beg the others to let in, which they do on condition he resign immediately as officer. They destroy the Rimmer Monster.

‘Officer Rimmer’ has been seen as a weak episode by some fans, perhaps because it’s an idea that has been done a few times before on the show, and that it ends very abruptly, cutting quickly to the end credits as Lister blasts the Rimmer Monster. But it was also one of the funniest episodes of series XI.

‘Krysis’ is about Kryten’s midlife crisis. It is the anniversary of his creation and the mid-point in his runtime. He’s losing his love of servitude and thinks what’s the point of anything when the universe is going to die and nothing will mean anything.

A human in a midlife crisis might buy a sportscar, but Kryten as an android can make himself almost BE a sportscar. He gets a new look like a Ferrari – red and gold, gaudy and flashy and starts going faster. Cat states “Next thing he’ll be leaving us for a younger crew!”.

The crew try to find a similar mechanoid so that Kryten can feel better about how much he has evolved in comparison. Rimmer compares it to finding out people you went to school with are doing worse than you now.

This doesn’t work out though. The mechanoid they find, Butler, is an earlier model than Kryten, and he makes fine works of art, composes concertos, comes up with breakthrough medical cures in his spare time. He also fix Starbug and gets the crew out of trouble with a GELF fleet. It doesn’t help that he’s rather smug about it all either.

The crew end up in a space station that believed the universe to be a living entity, and were sending out calls to it. It turns out to be true! Also, The Universe sounds a bit like Morgan Freeman. Kryten asks The Universe what the point of anything is if The Universe is going to die in a few million years. This distresses The Universe, and sends him into mid-life crisis! Luckily, Kryten has learnt how to cope with a midlife crisis in this, and they manage to reassure the universe to be happy as he is. Which is good. The Universe in a mid-life crisis would probably mean carnage as he tries to show he can still create explosions, bigger planets, more fearsome black holes and more sparkly galaxies.

‘Krysis’ was a bit of a filler episode, and a bit odd frankly, but it was OK. It reminds me a bit of the Futurama episode ‘Godfellas’ where Bender meets a talking cosmic entity that could be God or The Universe itself. (That episode also has a similar idea of accidentally becoming a God to a society which ends up destroying itself like Lister did with the Cat race).

In the final episode broadcast for this series ‘Can Of Worms’, the crew detect a ship with a mechanoid who has a prisoner. Having killed the threatening mechanoid, they find his prisoner, which is a female Cat! She is named Ankita and is very much like a female version of our Cat, saying everything is hers and how fabulous she is, and she and Cat seem to get along very well, mirroring each other. It’s interesting to see what a female version of Cat would be like. In ‘Parallel Universe’ in series II, the crew met their female counterparts except Cat, who’s opposite was male Dog. Although there is also Terry Farrell who played a female Cat in the second pilot for the American version of Red Dwarf, and arguably Kit in the ‘Tongue Tied’ music video.

Despite all Cat’s boasts of being a great lover, he is in fact a virgin, so he’s very eager to go to bed with Ankita. However, it turns out that Ankita isn’t a Cat at all… she’s a Polymorph! Not only that, but she’s pregnant and like the parastic wasp, is looking for a host to put her eggs into. The morning after, Cat says “she looked a lot better last night” when there is just the shell of the Polymorph in her true form. Like many insect or aquatic species her life cycle is complete after she has laid her eggs. But this leaves her host, Cat to carry them. He is ‘pregnant’ with 8 Polymorphlings! They can’t remove them, as they are able to transform inside the Cat into tumours (or indeed anything), so they have to let be born.

They come out as household objects including wind-up chattering teeth, a pineapple, a Halloween pumpkin, a Rubiks cube, a toy boat and space hopper! The crew having got them in a box are going to ‘flush’ them into deep space. The Polymorphlings transform into cute animals to prevent that happening, including Dalmation puppies, a kitten, a pig with bow and a hedgehog in a little top hat in a mini shopping trolley. Cat says he’ll do it, but the Polymorphlings have already released oxytocin in him so he’ll feel a bond to them until they reach maturity, when they will feed off his emotions.

The Polymorphs have reached maturity very quickly. There is a Chekov’s Gun used as a way of battling them. At the beginning of the episode, we saw that Red Dwarf now has a machine which is like having a nip tuck but for improvements on personality rather than on a physical body. It’s the opening joke in the episode, that Rimmer has many, many character flaws, so it would take a big operation to remove or fix them all, but is used to remove all Lister’s emotions so the Polymorphs won’t see him as prey.

The crew then have to face the Polymorphs, who are assuming the crew’s forms, at one point we get three versions of the crew in a Mexican standoff with nobody trusting anyone! They are despatched, two Polymorphs impersonating Cat by the emotionless Lister who doesn’t care either way if he’s got a Polymorph or the real Cat, and the rest by the real Cat who can tell which are the Polymorphs because of the pseudo-parental connection they have.

They saved the best till last. ‘Can Of Worms was a great end to the series, and very, very funny. It had an interesting expansion of the Polymorph as a species beyond their shapeshifting ability. Of the three Polymorph episodes, this is probably the second best for the creature, after the original ‘Polymorph’. Don’t get me wrong, the other episode, ‘Emohawk: Polymorph II’ from series VI is a good one as a whole, but in that the Polymorph (or Emohawk) is mainly a plot device at the end of the episode.

New fans probably will like it as it is a great episode. But it is very rewarding for long term fans. Although the female Cats we see here aren’t real, one is a Polymorph, and two others who appear at the end turn out to be just a dream of Cat’s at the end, this is the first time we’ve seen a different humanoid Cat since the elderly cat priest way back in series I ‘Waiting For God’.

‘Can Of Worms’ also has echoes of ideas from unmade episodes. One is ‘Identity Within’ which would have been in series VII, where Cat’s virginity may bring his death, so they track down a female cat, who is named Aura, and is being held prisoner. They rescue her, and it’s a one night stand with Cat, but to Cats it counts as a long term relationship. It also has some from ‘Dad’ which would have been the first episode of series III explaining Lister’s pregnancy with his twin sons Jim and Bexley.

It is a little disappointing that Ankita turns out to be a Polymorph rather than another Cat, and again like a lot of the guest characters in this series she is very underused. But I’d certainly like to see more of Cat’s species in future episodes.

Like Tony Hawks playing many different parts in the early series, Daniel Barker provided many voice overs throughout this series, including The Universe

Rebecca Blackstone who played one of the most memorable new characters Pree in series X returned, but not as Pree, playing Big Bang Beryl in ‘Twentica’.

While individual episodes of Red Dwarf XI were a little hit and miss, as a whole it was a very good series. It had a lot of laughs, showed some interesting ideas and expanded a lot of the series mythology (for want of a better word). Series XI was one of the best series for Cat too, maybe even the most time he’s got in any series. With series XII made around the same time, on evidence of series XI it should be another good one.

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