Red Dwarf XI “Twentica” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Dave
Writer: Doug Naylor
Director: Doug Naylor
Essential Plot Points:
- The Dwarfers are on Starbug when they’re intercepted by a ship crewed by a bunch of simulant off-shoots known as Expanoids, who double in processing capacity every two years.
- The Expanoids trick the Dwarfers into handing over a time travel device, then head back to Earth to change history.
- The Dwarfers follow them back but “land” a few years after the Expanoids.
- They find themselves in a 1950s America that looks like the 1920s. The Expanoids have halted scientific advance and made technology illegal.
- The Dwarfers find an illegal science club. With the help of an old German bum they mistake for Einstein they put together a machine that will destroy all the Expanoids…
- …but since it will shut down Kryten and Rimmer too they have to hotfoot it off the planet and back to the future.
With the BBC resurrecting lots of classic comedies at the moment, it’s a good time to compare Dave’s own resurrection of a BBC classic comedy with some of those other golden oldies. And you know what? Red Dwarf XI – this first episode at least – looks a lot fresher than many of the BBC’s own efforts. It’s certainly streets ahead of Are You Being Served?, with only the new episode of Goodnight Sweetheart (interestingly another SF show that had its original cast) on the same level.
Sure there’s a certain creakiness, and we’re not just talking the casts’ joints or the leather of their belts straining. Red Dwarf has proven remarkably resistant to advances in TV production and as attempts to prove otherwise (“Back To Earth”, series seven’s attempt at a filmed look with no laugh track) and, as Red Dwarf X proved, seems to thrive on looking like it’s stuck in a time warp. Maybe Doug Naylor’s verbose mode of gag writing, which at times requires more of a stand-up’s skill to deliver rather than an actor’s, is more at home in front of a live studio audience with light entertainment lighting.
Whatever the case, bottom line is, Red Dwarf lives or dies on its gag hit rate and the appeal of its bizarre concepts, and “Twentica” scores well on both counts. There are plenty of great, laugh-out loud lines (just check out the “Good” section below) and the central idea of a planet with the prohibition on scientific advance is delightfully bat’s-arse and well mined for geeky zingers.
Where the episode falls down slightly is in the way the lead characters come across as mere collections of comfortably familiar traits and tropes. The best Red Dwarf episodes have a little bit of humanity, or melancholy to them, but here they just go through the motions. Sure, Cat hates Rimmer, but it’d be nice if he was given something to do other than just insult him endlessly. And after the rather sweet ending to series X, it’s shame that Rimmer is still just Rimmer, only with a promotion. Red Dwarf doesn’t necessarily need Dickensian character progression, but some progression would be nice.
But it’s great to see the old team back again, and they give every impression they’re having a whale of a time, which kinda rubs off on you. “Twentica” isn’t classic Red Dwarf, but it’s still perfectly entertaining Red Dwarf, better than anything in Red Dwarf VII, VII and IX, and better than a most of the sitcoms on at primetime on the main channels.
- Lister using hostage bargaining techniques he’s learned from the movies is classic: “Okay, Arn, we’re working on the pad, but in return we’re going to need something from you.”
- The conceit of a world where scientific advancement is illegal works brilliantly and leads to some great geeky gags:
• “Hey, I don’t do the big bang.”
• “He’s walking round the park pushing a pram full of string. He’s got some theory about it but no one will listen.” “Pram theory?”
• “How dense do you think I am?” “You really wanna know? Just divide your mass by your volume.”
• “So do you want to grab a drink first, or do you want to go somewhere quiet and discuss relativity? For an extra ten bucks I’ll do both – general and special.”
- The running gag about the expanoids having no hesitation in using hackneyed old clichés is a peach. “We’re not so difference you and I.” “Now you’re taking the smeg.”
- “Kryten couldn’t be more fried if he was a Mars Bar living in Scotland.”
- “Pizza delivery. You want a pizza now?” “Oh, wrong pocket.”
- How come no one on prohibition Earth was pointing and staring at the clearly very illegal Kryten when he was strolling through the city, pre-disguise?
- The Cat constantly ribbing Rimmer gets a bit tiring after a while.
- The Einstein lookalike gag never really works. It’s stretching the comedy logic too far (he looks like Eisnstein, he’s German like Einstein, he has a pram of string like Einstein) for a not-funny-enough punchline.
- The sequence with the club members at the speakeasy giving it an instant makeover to look like a drinking den when the police turn up is funnier in theory than it ends up on screen. It’s okay, but it could have been one of the visual highlights of the episode with some tightening up.
- The concept of the Expanoids is never really explored.
And The Random:
- The Expanoids adhere to Moore’s Law which posits that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years.
- In 1952, Joseph Lister could have feasibly been Dave Lister’s Uncle… just. He died in 1912.
- Did you notice the new “NOT ALERT” sign in Starbug, which seems to be a reference to the infamous, “needing to change the bulb to go to red alert” gag.
- Lucy Pohl (Harmony) is a German born American actress who gre up in New York, who’s appeared in two films by The Sopranos creator David Chase, Not Fade Away and Must Love Death. She will soon be seen in a small role as “secretary” in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Review by Dave Golder