Red Dwarf XI: 6 “Can of Worms” Review
Reviewed by Ryan Monty.
(NB: Spoiler alert is probably advised for this review. Change the bulb!)
Ever since the Big Red flew across our screens for the first time in 1988, The Cat has always been the least developed character from the main four characters. While there’s been countless classic moments to speak of, mostly due to the consistently brilliant performances of Danny John-Jules, he’s never had many episodes devoted entirely to him. In fact, there’s been only one entirely devoted to everyone’s favourite Felix-sapiens. Back in 1988 in Series 1’s Waiting for God, we were introduced to the entire world of The Cat and his species, and their religion based around their God, who is in fact Lister, and their promised land, which is actually just Fiji on Earth, based around stories Lister told his pet cat Frankenstein before the cat race evolved. And, despite a planned Cat-centric episode in Series VII (Identity Within) that was shelved, further true insights into his character have been few and far between over the years. However, all that changes with the final episode of Series XI, (how is it all over so quickly?!) Can of Worms.
When the Dwarfers come across a ship headed on a suicide dive into an event horizon, they rescue a prisoner held captive by a ruthless Mercinoid (this series has created some truly memorable villains with comeback potential) who turns out to be a lady Cat called Ankita. And not just species wise either, she seems to be the exact female version of The Cat (played hilariously flamboyant by Dominique Moore), harkening back to his earlier Red Dwarf self when The Cat claimed everything was “mine”. Of course, this lady Cat is anything but, and is in fact a Polymorph, a monster returning after a long absence since 1993’s Emohawk: Polymorph II in Series VI. As you might expect when a horrific tentacle abomination comes aboard your ship, this doesn’t turn out well for The Cat who’s soon impregnated with the Polymorph’s sprogs. You could say this isn’t a vintage afternoon for the Dwarfers.
A large amount of the comedy in Can of Worms comes from The Cat’s wonderful naivety and selfishness- the topic of his virginity is at the forefront of the episode (it was set to be the talking point of Identity Within also) and at the beginning of the episode when the Dwarfers discover that The Cat may indeed be a virgin, his uncomfortable demeanour is superb to watch. Some of Danny John-Jules best moments as the character have been when he allows the character behind the character of The Cat to shine through and the confident bravado falls to uncertainty, or when he’s simply too stubborn to have his mind changed (such as in last week’s Krysis when Lister tried, and failed miserably, to explain a mid-life crisis to him). In truth, this is probably Danny John-Jules out and out best performance in years on Red Dwarf, with all sorts of personality traits coming to the forefront throughout The Cat’s ordeal.
The danger with bringing back the Polymorph is of course the fact there’s a fair bit already been covered with them; while it’d be funny to see it going about its usual emotion-taking business, it’d feel more of a re-tread than anything and dangerously close to looking too far backwards in a series that has taken great risks while also retaining a keen respect and admiration for what has gone before. In Can of Worms, we see the Polymorph’s life cycle; it impregnates a host before dying, with the host then birthing a new batch of monstrosities. After we’re treated to a montage of The Cat’s pregnancy, he then gives birth. Yes, you heard that right. To multiple Polymorphlings. In this, we get maybe the most gut-bustlingly, eye wateringly funny sequence of this series, with The Cat giving birth to multiple younglings, which birth from him in multiple forms such as a pineapple and plastic speedboat. The sheer horror and invention in this scene is worth nothing less than full comedic stars, and is a clear hallmarked classic Dwarf moment the likes of that boxers scene from the original Polymorph episode in Series III.
The Polymorph sprogs are kept in a box for safe-keeping, where before they’re flushed out of the airlock they turn into adorable things like a kitten and a hedgehog, which is a terrific visual gag in an episode full of them, with The Cat eventually subverting his selfish nature and releasing the infants amok on the Dwarf, giving in to his newfound motherly instincts. By the sound of this, you can probably imagine this episode is a bit of a romp, which it most certainly is, as the Dwarfers then chase the younglings around the Dwarf in typical dark corridor fashion, which leads to the visual highlight of the episode as the Dwarfers lose trust in each other and, in a Mexican stand-off with each other, see that the Polymorph’s are all doing the exact same stand-off between them, which leads to a comical stand-off in the elevator when all the versions of the Dwarfers point their guns at each other. This sequence shows off just how well Doug Naylor’s direction has advanced this series, with the scenes being smoothly directed in a way that allows the comedy to come naturally and the visual gags to land as intended.
Can of Worms has its flaws, but those flaws simply come from the fact that certain concepts are too superlative to have been used as little as they were, like the lady Cat. But this can’t be any major strike against the episode, which easily gives Danny John-Jules his meatiest performance in years. There are more laugh out loud moments in this episode than perhaps any other this season, with the Dwarfers confrontation with the Mercinoid seeing a failed distraction come about thanks to Rimmer’s self-confidence audio tape playing loudly. which is perhaps exactly as classic a Dwarf moment as the Polymorph birthing scene.
So, with that, Series XI is over. It’s been a rapid six weeks of brilliance, and the wait from Series X has been more than vindicated with a series that has expertly paid homage and brought back elements from past series, but equally looking forward in an exciting, ludicrously funny way that only a show like Red Dwarf could do. There’s no question about it now, the Boys from the Dwarf are back to their finest, and the best part of it all is there’s another series next year! Stoke me a clipper, I’ll be back for breakfast.