Worst to Best
Red Dwarf
Season XII

The twelfth season of Red Dwarf aired on the Dave Channel from October-November 2017.


by
THE ANORAK
NOVEMBER 2017


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 Timewave

Ranking a series like Red Dwarf is difficult as all comedy is, of course, subjective. However, there's every reason to believe that this episode was written purely so Sex Lives of the Potato Men was no longer the unfunniest comedy that Johnny Vegas has appeared in. Featuring a society where criticism is illegal, a potentially interesting concept is stretched to its most unbelievable ends.
     Red Dwarf used to have its roots in something tangible, where the jokes were led by real emotions. Here the entire crew are caricatures delivering call backs to old jokes that only 20% of the audience will understand, along with repetitive set ups where the punchline is long in sight even before the feed is complete. The most notable element of a chronically unamusing instalment is Rimmer referencing Operation Yewtree... a joke that would presumably have been pruned if the series was still being made by the BBC.
     The obvious strain of writing 12 episodes in the same block does show, sadly - Rimmer's line about "spit on her wrist" is a serious contender for Red Dwarf's worst-ever joke; Timewave is almost certainly its worst-ever episode.

5 Siliconia

It's debatable as to whether Red Dwarf was ever truly a "hip" show, but certainly in its first few seasons it had a form of cultural caché, being based around an edgy performance poet and people from an alternate comedy background. Guest stars in the series would include actors from Absolutely, along with Clare Grogan as a semi-regular, and Monty Python member Graham Chapman, who died during pre-production and was replaced by Ruby Wax.
     Sadly, there came a point where the series became too enthralled by its own mythos, and seemed to become more of a marketing tool for T-shirt sales rather than a series in its own right. By the time of filming season XII, Red Dwarf's cast had a collective age of 220, and Craig Charles's dreadlocks were no longer the sole example of a hairpiece being worn by a cast member. The programme, while still having affection extended towards it, was no longer "hip" – if indeed it ever was – and was far lower down in trendiness terms with the current generation than The Inbetweeners.
     Siliconia gets an Inbetweener - almost inarguably the Inbetweener – and forgets to give him a single funny line. Red Dwarf used to amuse because its humour was based on something tangible and real. Lister may have been trapped in deep space, but his sense of loneliness powered the episodes. There's no real emotional connection between the viewer and robots, and Kryten's earliest explorations of identity, religion and loss are gone in favour of non-jokes about the weight of an android and "matt finish". (A trivial irritation is that the Mechanoid Intergalactic Liberation Front who capture Kryten fail to realise that the acronym is MILF, until Kryten points it out... but then it gets used by them multiple times afterwards as if it's their real name – which is it?)
     The idea of parodying the Black Power movement is in questionable taste, but then so is a "joke" about Word documents that parodies abortion (Mechocracy). The majority of the episode was filmed without a studio audience then played to a crowd for reactions, an effects-heavy piece that is one of the more impressive Dave productions, but low on genuine laughs. Many of the "jokes" are what can charitably be described as "call backs" to early seasons, or, for the more cynical, "rehashed old jokes because Doug can't think of any new ones". It all ends with the crushing emptiness of yet more unfunny "Lister isn't a good guitarist" ruminations, despite Cured showing him to be vaguely competent.

4 Mechocracy

There's a commendable attempt to bring back some of the characterisation of old in this episode of Red Dwarf, and moments where Craig Charles appears to be playing Lister again, rather than just having Lloyd from Coronation Street voice the lines. Sadly, what may have been vaguely amusing in the old series, c. season four - Rimmer and Kryten compete to be elected President of Red Dwarf machinery - is buried beneath Doug Naylor's exhausted joke supply, to say nothing of Rimmer once more being the one-dimensional "prat" version.
     It's worth remembering that Red Dwarf used to be a genuinely funny show, and with episodes like Thanks For The Memory, Rimmer also had some form of depth. Yet the last two seasons on Dave have felt like going through the motions, as the crew wander aimlessly without purpose, and reheated gags and situations are the order of the day; the series becoming its own "greatest hits" package, by way of third-rate cover version. There's some promise with Cat getting so old he needs glasses, but it's quickly dispensed with, and really it should be the age of Rimmer and Lister that provides the series its backbone.

3 Cured

Season 12 is, in effect, season 11. All twelve episodes were famously shot in one block from November 2015-March 2016, with just a break during January. While season 11 had all but one of its episodes reordered from its production, season 12 went out as it was shot... except for Cured, which was filmed third on 12th February 2016, and brought forward to launch the "new" season.
     It's understandable why, as it's one of the best efforts from a generally weak, lacklustre run. There's some genuine thought and inspiration, touching on the "war on terror", the nature of evil and Western exploitation of world events. And while a lot of it is a desperate scraping for laughs, typical with the Dave episodes, the plot does hang together reasonably well. Ultimately it's an "okay" episode of Red Dwarf which, in 2017, is, sadly, better than the average.
     The episode was watched by 1.14 million viewers which, while only just over half of the audience for E4's Big Bang Theory, was the second most-watched programme on non-terrestrial UK TV. Follow-up figures maintained this general level, despite falling below the numbers generated by Celebrity Juice, football, a movie and a returning Walking Dead. The second episode fell to fifth place, but the third rose up to fourth. The second episode received 1.08m viewers, while the third achieved a rare feat of being watched by more overnight viewers than the season opener, and almost having as many viewers when catch up was factored in, getting 1.13m. Unfortunately Timewave - at date of writing the lowest-rated episode on the IMDb - has been almost universally loathed by fans, and seems to have had a direct knock-on effect on the ratings. The following week only 0.91 million tuned in, with the programme dropping to ninth place in the non-terrestrial charts, and the week after this slide continued further, with a 0.84m rating (14th position). Further audience details will be updated on this page when the final figures are disclosed by BARB.

2 Skipper

There's an odd start to this episode, with Lister claiming to have found the Captain's remarks on the crew, including himself and Rimmer. Rimmer demands that they shouldn't read them as they're not authorised... which is particularly strange as he had no such compunction in season one episode Waiting For God, where he got Holly to read him completely different Captain's remarks relating to him and Lister. This is the problem with a show that's become as anal and fan-serving as Red Dwarf in 2017... if you're going to base so much of your programme around continuity, you need to get it right.
     Speaking of fan service, there's perhaps never been an episode as navel-gazing as this one. In a year where new Doctor Who can feature the 1966 Cybermen and an actor recreating the William Hartnell Doctor, we get Red Dwarf bringing back the original Holly and Captain Hollister, as well as multiple references to past plots. Granted, this kind of thing isn't exactly new to the show - it formed pretty much the entire backbone of season eight, 18 years earlier - but a recreation of the first bunk set from 1988 brings out an affectionate "ahhhhhhhhhhhh" from the audience. It's a story that references, not for the first time, dialogue from The End, inverting it, and so Red Dwarf completes what was perhaps always its destiny... to be a limited scope series aimed entirely at people who own boxsets and buy t-shirts. (Granted, The Anorak Zone is part of this demographic, but Red Dwarf used to be a programme watched by a wide audience of millions).
     With such criticisms, it may seem odd that this episode is rated so highly, but this speaks more of the low quality of Season XII than any inherent goodness here. The call backs to season one only serve to remind how good the programme used to be, and while Norman Lovett manages to salvage some laughs with his material, the rest of the programme becomes a sketch show, with giant rat costumes and Craig Charles playing alternate versions of himself. Perhaps most surprising is that the crew seem to be as aware of parallel universes as they were the Captain's remarks, despite having encountered them several times before. Ultimately this is a fun albeit insubstantial episode, and one that broadcasts only to its core fanbase.

1 M-Corp

There is the feeling that, although the show was starting to get tired as early as 1993, the end of the Grant-Naylor partnership saw the real end of the series. Everything from season seven has been, while not without its moments, lacking in the same originality, vitality, and... well... jokes. This is not to say that a series written entirely by Rob Grant would have necessarily been better (we're unlikely to ever know), but Doug Naylor has struggled to keep the show afloat by himself.
     There have been 37 episodes of Red Dwarf since Rob Grant left the series, exactly one more than when he co-wrote it. Although Doug tried getting co-writers on board for seven of the episodes, generally he has written it by himself ever since, including all of the Dave episodes, which he also directed. It's a series that requires constant ambition and ideas, and so retreads of previous plots and call backs to jokes 28 years old don't really cut it. In fairness to Doug, then a glance at Rob's last credit for television back in 2000 - the SF "comedy" The Strangerers - also flags up a lack of real direction. Maybe Grant-Naylor really only worked as the gestalt entity they always claimed to be, and couldn't duplicate their success outside of their partnership? Although they have expressed that they were pulling in different directions, maybe this creative conflict was needed to make the show as good as it was back in the first five seasons?
     Thankfully, M-Corp recalls a time when the series still had some sense of purpose in its depiction of purposelessness. Here Lister is revealed to have reached his 50th birthday, and reflects on how he's going nowhere, and has nothing to live for. This isn't quite season one or Timeslides depression, but it's a nice touch that the series is still interested in exploring this kind of material in among the repetitive "Cat hates Rimmer/Rimmer tells Cat he's stupid" one-liners. Things get even better when a genuinely innovative plot sees a new multi-national corporation take over Red Dwarf, making it impossible for Lister to see anything that doesn't belong to M-Corp. The Dave Channel episodes have seen Red Dwarf get subverted from "the last man alive" and into the most populated universe Red Dwarf has ever encountered, making Lister more of a straight loser than a tragic romantic hero, but this is still a clever plot, well delivered.
     Things take an even darker turn when Lister can't see his friends, and must face total isolation. Sadly, this is also where the episode parts company with something containing a bit more substance. Rather than having Lister resolve things for himself in an innovative solo outing, it turns into some knockabout comedy with a bad plot resolution where "M-Corp" is revealed to be evil, and there's a late plot development relating to Lister's age that gets spoilered in the opening credits of every episode of the season. One big problem with the series is that Charles seems unable to really capture the Dave Lister character any more, yet this is put somewhat to rest here, as not only is it one of his better performances of late, but he's also able to recreate the personality of his season one self in the closing moments. This quoting of lines from The End (did Rob get a fee?) causes the fifth burst of applause from the amped-up audience, an example of the series broadcasting to a minority, something solidified with Skipper, the fannish season closer.