Red Dwarf XI: 1 “Twentica” Review
Reviewed by Ryan Monty.
For a long while, it didn’t seem there would ever be a follow up to Arnold Judas Rimmer quite literally kicking Death in the nuts in 1999. There was all of the talk of a film, sure, but the whole situation regarding beloved sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf would remain altogether very cloudy. It began to seem like the end title card of Only the Good… would be forever nothing more than a tease from our favourite slob, hologram, evolved cat-person and mechanoid.
While the less said about Back to Earth the better, when the Boys from the Dwarf finally returned with a fully-fledged 6-episode series in 2012, the future began to look a lot brighter. Series X felt like classic Dwarf, with all the ingredients needed for top quality Dwarf returning, including a live studio audience. I can happily state that, for this writer at least, that bright future continues to shine with Series XI’s first episode, Twentica. And almost instantly from the moment the Dwarf theme crashes in, it’s like nothing ever changed- although there are certain departures from Series X.
While Series X was mainly interested in telling its stories revolving around the main Dwarf crew, the premiere of Series XI jolts you right into the action with a Simulant ship and a hostage negotiation. It’s instantly high stakes, and a statement of intent about how Doug Naylor wants this series to go. While Series X shared plenty of DNA with the very earliest of Dwarf series, within its desire to keep things mostly on-ship, Twentica feels very much like it should belong in, say, a Series III, IV or V episode- a high-concept sci-fi idea where the comedy comes mostly from the situation. You can tell almost instantly that now Dave (alongside new production company Baby Cow) have let the show settle in on the channel, they can throw more money at it and let Naylor bring more of his ambitions to life. While the episode certainly has a lot to owe to earlier Dwarf series as a whole, there are a few particular episodes Twentica owes debts to.
In the episode, after the Simulant trade goes sour fast (I mean, how else would it go?) timey-wimey shenanigans occur and the Dwarfers end up back on Earth (again) in an alternate timeline (again) where all technology has been outlawed so the Simulants could enslave humanity. The episode has echoes of its other dystopian alternate Earth featuring episode from Series VII, Tikka to Ride, and there are key influences felt from episodes such as Back to Reality from Series V as well. It’s a well realised world- more money in the coffers for the Dwarf team means more location shooting, and the sets for the dreary dystopian 20s America (actually 50s era America, but so backwards since the technology ban that society has not progressed) help bring us into the world well.
Doug Naylor plays with the concept very well, and gets consistent laughs from the absurd observational humour that comes from the situation the Dwarfers find themselves in. Particular highlights include an officer assaulting a toaster with his truncheon (no doubt giving Lister flashbacks to Talkie Toaster and his unfortunate run-in with a mallet) and a secret society prohibition club where scientists conduct secret experiments as outlaws, in a sleazy saloon. Lucie Pohl has a blast here as Harmony De Gauthier, a call girl-cum-brilliant scientist spewing scientific phrases in sultry tones. It’s so hilariously absurd that it could only be classic Dwarf.
The cast all slip back into their roles pretty effortlessly. Other than the natural ageing process taking its toll, its business as usual for the Dwarfers, with Danny John-Jules stealing the show especially in this episode with his usual charismatic stylings. You can tell that the cast are all still in love with the show and there’s no ring-rust between the four of them. They’re old pros at this now, and bringing consistent laughs is their business. Craig Charles gets a killer line about a Mars bar that will easily become part of the classic Dwarf quote library, and right from the start there are killer visual gags that will ease you right back on board the Dwarf just like you’d hope (although technically not on the Dwarf, as Starbug makes its welcome return looking better than ever with some tremendous model shots and a lovely new blue hue inside!)
Twentica isn’t going to go down as instant classic Dwarf, but as a series opener it couldn’t do much better at its job. It firmly re-establishes the characters and throws them almost instantly into the chaos of a typical Dwarf scenario, and does it all the while with a massive grin on its face. It really has been an un-smegging-bearable wait, but finally, we can change the bulb and sound the red alert that Red Dwarf is back with a bang.