Red Dwarf XI: Twentica

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Ah, Red Dwarf. Once BBC2’s most successful sitcom, later made a bit pants by forgetting what it was supposed to be, abondoned for a while and then, 4 years ago, resurrected by some bloke called Dave who runs a TV channel.

And now it’s back again, for it’s fourth, I think, triumphant return… but will it be as triumphant as the last?

Well, based on the opening episode of Red Dwarf XI compared to series X’s Trojan, I’d probably have to say… maybe. But that’s ok, Trojan had to erase the bad memories of series VIII and Back To Earth, so it needed to be awesome; Twentica is a very different type of Dwarf story, so from here on I’ll review it on its own merits.

Spoiler alert

As this episode doesn’t actually air on TV until next week, there will of course be spoilers.

There is no time wasted introducing the characters; they’re on Starbug, they meet some bad guys, and follow them into some kind of time warp in order to fix the pool table. Then they promptly crashland on the set of an original Star Trek away mission, only to discover they are in a version of 1950s Earth where the aforementioned bad guys enforced a Luddite revolution a few decades earlier, creating a prohibition-style underground where science is practiced in secret.

OK, I’m going to do another series X comparison now. The last series was very much Dwarf-bound. With the series opener boldly going into Star Trek territory, it seems Dave is making a statement of intent here: this is proper science fiction, but with jokes. And although this episode didn’t immediately grab me, Red Dwarf has been at its best when it was doing sci-fi above comedy, so I hope this bodes well for the series.

Twentica borrows it’s premise straight from Star Trek: First Contact, but because it’s a comedy, it can get away with it. Indeed, the fact that it unashamedly hangs a lantern on the hackneyed cliches is part of the fun of the episode. That, and Lister inadvertantly starting a lovers tiff between two simulants.

On the subject of simulants, these were artificial lifeforms – angry mechanoids, basically – created for a war which never happened. Some went rogue and have survived in deep space to provide antagonists in a universe established from the outset to be devoid of alien life. Those we encounter here are a new breed to the Dwarfiverse: Expanoids, a variety able to double their processing power every two years, which presumably has allowed them to stay in hiding for the last 28 years.

It’s an interesting point to ponder that their existence, and that of the other simulants and genetically engineered life forms which have occasionally popped up to add variety to the cast, is entirely due to humankind. Every force opposing the last human’s ultimate goal (returning to Fiji) is man made; there is no external force – no Quagaars – to blame for all the bad things that happen on the way.

And on a related point, this whole episode is about man’s relationship with technology – which has been the core of much sci-fi over the years of course – a relationship which is beautifully summed up by Lister in the closing scene.

Anyway, to summarise: Rimmer’s voices, Cat’s dancing, Kryten’s nipple nuts and Lister philosophising, it’s all here. I think it’s pretty safe to say Red Dwarf is back.

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