Dave – 9pm – Thursday 12th October 2017
Available to stream NOW from UKTV Play
Created by: Rob Grant and Doug Naylor
Written and directed by: Doug Naylor
TEA WITH MESSALINA
“Okay, starting her up…”
Having had to endure a ten year gap between 1999’s Series VIII cliffhanger and anniversary mini-series Back to Earth, followed by a further three-and-a-half year wait before the series-proper returned with 2012’s Series X, and another four before XI was commissioned, it’s fair to say that the comparatively sprightly 12-month turnaround between last year’s Red Dwarf XI and today’s UKTV Play online premiere of XII’s opener, “Cured”, feels like a mere blink of an eye – but more Dwarf is always a welcome treat and the sooner the better!
Filmed back-to-back with XI in Pinewood Studios between November 2015 and March 2016, from the evidence presented in this first episode, XII shares an understandably strong aesthetic similarity with its predecessor. Yet “Cured” utilises a multi-roomed guest set and introduces a five-strong guest cast, lending this return a bolder, more envelope-pushing feel than the sci-fi sitcom has felt in many a year.
Interrupted by an alert during a less-than-promising poker lesson, the “boys from the Dwarf” set off in Starbug to investigate a United America Research Centre whose cryo-booths have automatically unlocked, reanimating not only the laboratory’s lead scientist, Professor Telford (Adrian Lukis), but also four surprising test subjects…
The JMC’s ‘finest’ are introduced to cloned resurrections of some of history’s vilest psychopaths, but they are told not to fear, as Stalin (Callum Coates), Hitler (Ryan The Hobbit Gage), Messalina (Chloe Hawkins) and Vlad the Impaler (Phillipe Spall) have all been cured of their evil gene, and now they simply want to take selfies and have guitar jams with their dumbfounded visitors. But when Kryten (Robert Llewelyn), Cat (Danny John-Jules), Lister (Craig Charles) and Rimmer (Chris Barrie) find themselves betrayed and tortured by a mystery assailant, they begin to wonder how successful the cure really was – while devising a test to uncover who they can really trust!
While the historical figures angle made fans anticipate a “Meltdown”-esque escapade, “Cured” actually features a wealth of nifty nods and winks to what has come before, from “Pete”-like jibes about Leeds United, to dinner with famous faces (a la “Lemons”) and a Star Trek tease which sees them all leaning wildly to the left, like they did in “Trojan”. The in-universe combined currency of the future – the dollarpound – also makes its umpteenth return, so too a subtle tip of the chef’s hat to former guest star and “Can’t Smeg, Won’t Smeg” presenter Ainsley Harriot.
Yet, by-and-large, with a paranoia plot which riffs nicely on John Carpenter’s The Thing, a solid structure, vicious antagonists and a well-used off-ship environ, “Cured” most reminded me of XI’s middle instalment “Give and Take” (reviewed HERE). Fittingly, I also found that both episodes were far from Red Dwarf’s most laugh-out-loud hilarious – perhaps the nefarious air and tension between characters somewhat muted the gags?
“It’s because I’m Hitler, isn’t it?”
But that isn’t to suggest I was at all disappointed by the episode, as the tongue-twisting theorising, historically-justifying exposition and final twist explanation was all commendably impressive and suggested the script was well-polished. The crew’s personalities were also well on-point, in particular the Cat’s shock at a woman not fancying him and Lister’s dubious-but-resigned agreement to shred some chords with “Dolphy”.
Most satisfying of all, however, was the 30-minute story’s structure, which come the end credits has fully justified not only the opening poker ‘game’ but also an extended, model-heavy, epically-orchestrated Starbug launch sequence, which proves that not any old Johnny can pilot the emerald green ‘Bug. Every scene in “Cured” has a narrative purpose, XII.1 is all killer, no filler.
CR@B’s Claw Score: