Worst to Best
Red Dwarf
Season XI

The eleventh season of Red Dwarf was produced by the Dave Channel, and aired on the network in September/October 2016.


by
THE ANORAK
OCTOBER 2016


The DVD release of the series can be ordered online from Amazon. In the meantime, please join me as I rank the six episodes from worst to best...

6 Can Of Worms

Back in 1989, Grant-Naylor had planned to open season three with a pregnant Lister story entitled "Dad", but wrote it off as a bad idea, and possibly even sexist. Can Of Worms reprises the idea, having the Cat pregnant by a polymorph, and reintroduces season eight levels of ickiness to the show. All humour is subjective, so a remark that this is, despite it all, one of the funnier episodes of season eleven is meaningless. But the entire plot here (after we're introduced to "Mercanoids", a race of mechanoids that want to kill themselves for a better chance in the afterlife) is based on the Cat sleeping with a polymorph under false pretences and then falling pregnant as a result. "Laughs" are obtained by the Cat realising that he's been, by any other name, raped. "It still counts", he cries, desperate to prove that, despite being essentially the victim of sexual assault, he's at least lost his virginity.
     Such ruminations may appear to take what is a very silly episode seriously, but it's worth remembering that when Red Dwarf began in 1988 it was on the back of the alternative comedy era, where Craig Charles was an edgy, anarchistic poet, and the first few seasons saw him in a regularly preachy mode, bestowing the virtues of women's rights. The phrase "it's just a comedy show" can be used as a defence for any discussion that falls under the perjorative of "political correctness"... but Red Dwarf originally was, despite it all, a generally politically correct show. Fast forward 11 years and Lister is regretting that Kochanski wouldn't sleep with him while under the influence of drugs, or placing a serum on Rimmer that will get him raped in prison, and here, in 2016, we get "jokes" about the polymorph eggs turning into cancer cells rather than be aborted. A "punchline" sees Cat slaughter all the polymorphs - disguised as the crew - with the line "A momma always knows her kids." That's right, Red Dwarf just did a joke about infanticide. The final joke is the Cat, in a dream, asking two women to "pipe me"... because his only real experience of sex is to be penetrated against his will. This is the first time the Cat has had an episode dedicated entirely to himself... what a shame it's such an utter stinker.

5 Give and Take

Red Dwarf isn't always the classiest show in the world - just the third episode had a talking toilet, for example - but having a robot snack dispenser, cheaply made as a parody of Robby the Robot, is beneath the show, more Galloping Galaxies than the show we know. So too is the EDM soundtrack for that matter, while the T-Shirts on sale with the slogan "Captain Bollocks" ably illustrate how far the show can go for cheap laughs.
     Time-travel shenanigans are always something Red Dwarf does well, but they've been done far better elsewhere in many other episodes, to say nothing of the huge plot hole right at the centre of this one... if Lister had his kidneys removed before they went to the space station, how did the insane android remove them in the first place? Defenders on Twitter state that there's nothing suggesting that the kidneys on display are Lister's, and that it could be just an assumption on the part of the crew. Which is a perfectly valid point... but then, if that's the case, why was Lister registering as having no kidneys afterwards? Red Dwarf XI did suffer from being one of the most directionless seasons the show did, and instalments like this sadly do little more than fill time.

4 Twentica

For the second time a season opens with an off-beat story set in a contemporary America. After a clash with Simulants (lead by a wasted Kevin Eldon), the group arrive in a 1952 where time hasn't moved on since the 1920s, and technology is prohibited. While the episode scores relatively highly due to some level of invention and a vague charm, it's the least funny of the six present.
     However, when so much of the humour is stripped down to bare basics and easy lines (Cat does a fashion gag... Rimmer gets immediately contradicted in what he's saying, etc.) it does tend to submerge Lister in the narrative. As he was the lead character in the programme, the others foils to back him up, a lot of early Lister scenes from the 80s involved dialogue that went beyond simplistic punchline/feedline. Placed into a more two-dimensional setting, and there's nothing intrinsically funny about Lister's character that makes it amusing in and of itself, at least in comparison to the others. Add to this Craig Charles not seeming to get a full take on the character this time around and for 2016 Red Dwarf became a series where its ostensible lead character became its least developed.
     Perhaps what's most surprising is that, in a season where every episode save Officer Rimmer was broadcast in a different place to its production order, then Samsara was the last one of season XI to be shot. What made the people behind it think it was good enough to act as a season opener? (For those who care about such things, then the registered TV ratings for this episode were 1.38 million, which is very good for a small channel, and was the most-watched programme for that week not on terrestial television. By the fourth and fifth weeks it had slid to just over a million, though still made the top five of most watched non-terrestial programmes, and the season ended with figures of just below a million. However, these figures - taken from BARB - don't factor in the way in which modern TV viewing habits are assessed, with people watching the programme on "catch up" reputedly more than doubling such figures.

3 Officer Rimmer

It feels almost cruel to cite season eleven as having a couple of decent episodes and four so-so ones. With the cast now a collective age of 224, it's almost impossible not to feel goodwill towards them, and want them to succeed, even with all the odds against them. Although the Dave channel does well with what little resources it has, the budget is way too low for a show of this kind, and the struggles Doug Naylor has writing a season alone (or, in this case, two seasons, as XI and XII were shot back-to-back) is only too clear on screen. It's commendable that the show is as good as it is, and a couple of decent episodes a season is perhaps more than can be expected from a show that's now the best part of thirty years old.
     Season XI is plagued by particularly poor closing punchlines, and much discussion was in evidence on Twitter of the complete non-ending of this particular instalment. After such a decently constructed set-up, the final feeling is that the episode didn't end so much as they ran out of time. It's unfortunate, because, while incredibly broad and derivative of several other episodes, Officer Rimmer is one of the more amusing instalments of the season.

2 Krysis

Almost the best episode of the season, where the jarring "one liner per second" format is dropped in favour of the character-based comedy that the series is so much better at. This said, it's still not averse to the crowd-pleasing "wacky costume" humour, as evidenced every week in the season's painful "opening clips" sequence, and in the image above. Yet there's a more thoughtful story at work here. With Kryten having a mid-life crisis and meeting a superior mechanoid, his insecurities come to the fore, and Rimmer shows his typical lack of compassion.
     Lesser episodes would have considered this enough to fill out the duration, but inspiration manages to hit further when the crew of the Dwarf get to speak to the entire universe. Earlier, more cynical Red Dwarf episodes would have left the universe with the mid-life crisis that meeting the Red Dwarf crew gave it, but even though the universe is helped back with an unusually American platitude, there's still more bitterness from Kryten to come...

1 Samsara

After eleven series, there's naturally going to be some repetition of plots, and the karma field that effects the crew in this episode does bring to mind season four's Justice. Although episodes produced since Grant-Naylor split up (cited by Grant in an episode of Carpool as "musical differences") have been generally inferior to those that came before, it's hard not to feel a little sorry for Doug Naylor, having to craft the show alone.
     Although it'd be curious to see an alternate reality where Rob Grant was the one writing it solo, Red Dwarf was already reaching the end of its natural lifespan during season six, where the ideas began to dry up, and the humour devolved from character comedy to US-style one-liners. Samsara brings back a welcome return of some character comedy between the leads, and although it doesn't all come off – and some of the jokes are far ruder than the original series would have allowed – it manages to tell the best episode of the year, and most importantly feels like an episode of Red Dwarf. These characters have now lived with each other for over twenty years, and deserve to grow old gracefully, not spend out the rest of their days firing off one-liners in each other's direction. Samsara goes some way to bucking this trend.