Thursday, 29 September 2016

Red Dwarf 11.2: Samsara

Warning: This review is being published before the official Dave broadcast of Series XI, at the pace of the UKTV Play streaming service. It's free, it's there right now and I love Red Dwarf too much to wait. If you want to wait for broadcast, stop reading now.

Usually I'm not sympathetic to adultery, but I kind of like these
Red Dwarf XI continues to be fantastic! This is great news! Samsara continues this series' reverence towards Series IV and V with a fascinating episode with a great concept whose foreshadowing is layered from the moment the episode starts. Apparently this episode has been divisive in the fandom - and that's to be expected, with an episode so driven by a simple concept, and one which pushes Red Dwarf norms. I will admit that there are places where this episode could have been considerably improved, but I was laughing throughout and that's generally a good sign.
     The USS Samsara crashes into an ocean planet, a single escape pod launching into orbit. 3 million years later, and after a particularly unlucky game of "Mineopoly", the crew discover the escape pod, its two inhabitants dust and the ship repeating a broken warning. The crew head down to the ship proper and discover through trial and error that the ship was destroyed by its Karma Drive, an offshoot of "Justice Field" technology that manipulated reality to reward those who abide by its moral code, and punishes those who do not. We find out through flashbacks that this was the fault of a pair of crewman, the two in the escape pod, who were engaging in an adulterous relationship and inverted the Karma Drive to continue their affair, only for everyone else on the ship to be punished and destroyed.
     The episode's pacing starts off ambitious, and the mystery hidden within the comedy worked really well, but after the break it starts to go downhill. By the midpoint of the story the mystery becomes a lot more obvious, and the explanations and flashbacks start to feel a little redundant. Added to this is a long, long sequence between Lister and The Cat in the dark which, despite having a great punchline, felt out of character and unfunny. Together they stall the episode and create an incredibly abrupt ending, making me wish that the format of the show on Dave allowed for the extra 6 minutes it's now missing.
Give me strength.
     As to the controversial flashbacks that run throughout the episode, I have no problem with their actual content. While they seem to be following Doug's "dramedy" stylings from Series VII, it works better without the actual cast present, and I don't mind the performances of the two guest actors (whose names I can't find because IMDB doesn't seem to have been updated). I liked the fluidity of the transitions between the past and present, and until the mystery was revealed later on they added a great deal to the tension of the story. I would have watched more of the flashback rather than sit through that cringe-worthy Cat scene again.
    That said, the episode looked just as good as last week, and I really liked that the pacing wasn't as break-neck - I liked the Lister/Rimmer scene at the beginning and I felt that overall the characters were much more familiar. This episode of the season was the one with the lowest budget - and that makes a existence of a few things make more sense - the length of the talking scenes, the relative lack of special effects. I was impressed that the writers decided to do what you *should* do with a bottle episode and make up for a it with a great concept, and as a result this episode is nowhere as bad as it could have been.


Friday, 16 September 2016

Red Dwarf 11.1: Twentica

Warning: This review is being published before the official Dave premiere of Series XI, at the pace of the UKTV Play streaming service. It's free, it's there right now and I love Red Dwarf too much to wait. If you want to wait for broadcast, stop reading now.

The boys are back in town, and the return is fast-paced goodness.
From Den of Geek
This morning, at about 11am, I sat down on my girlfriend's bed, a tray of eggs and soldiers perched before us as I clicked onto UKTV Play. Compared to the anticipation I felt for the arrival of Red Dwarf X four years ago, I could have been watching Poldark. Twentica definitely benefited from that lack of expectation, but at the same time I felt like it didn't really need it - this episode was much more assuredly Red Dwarf than any episode since Series VI, and four years of work and a higher budget mean that the show is looking more gorgeous than ever before.
     The episode's main conceit is yet another historical farce - this time a bit smarter than Tikka to Ride and Lemons, although borrowing elements from both. After a race of time-bending Simulants steal a piece of tech from Starbug under duress, the Dwarfers go back in time to an Alternate 1952 in which said simulants have prevented humanity from developing, culturally and technologically, beyond the 1920s. Instead of living under a prohibition of booze, however, any technology more advanced than steam is banned, leading to the hilarious idea of speakeasies full of Theoretical Physicists. Eventually the Dwarfers manage to piece enough technology to get home.
     Something which made Series X a little bit weird for me was the amount of time I spent analysing each and every joke and scene in a way that I just wouldn't with the older stuff. Unfortunately I've found myself doing that with this episode, noting in particular the episode length. The Dave episodes are a full five minutes long - as trivial as that may seem, that's a lot of breathing room for jokes and ideas. Twentica blew through its 24 minute runtime so fast that there were always going to be jokes that didn't work. A scene in the scientist speakeasy where a guest character reeled off lots of Physics references as jokes was hilarious to me as a Physics student, but it went on a tad too long for comfort. On the other hand, a minute-long gag about the Dwarfers mistaking a bum for Albert Einstein felt a bit rushed and cheap. The jokes about cliches and quantum mechanics had me tickled, but they might not have been to everyone's tastes.
     A lot of the pre-publicity for the series (which I've been following since filming started for Series XI/XII in December of last year) focused on the technical effects, which usually is just something that appeals to hardcore Red Dwarf fans who can tell the difference between shades of green on Starbug models. The new sets for Starbug were gorgeous, as were the steampunk streets of 1952. I was a little disappointed that our only shot of the new Red Dwarf sets was a brief scene at the end, but I'm glad they focused on story instead of just giving us a set tour to satisfy nerds like me. One thing I think is important is seeing whether Doug Naylor has learnt from the mistakes of Series VII and VIII - that good special effects do not good comedy make. Luckily, I was laughing my ass off.
     Comparing this episode to X's premiere, Trojan, the latter definitely feels like it's trying too hard. Twentica, odd name aside (is it some kind of pun on the Twenties and robotics?), instantly felt like Red Dwarf. The gang were all here, doing the same thing as usual, although with the same character development they carried over from the last series. If Red Dwarf X showed that Red Dwarf as a concept would work with older characters, then this season will hopefully demonstrate that the show can be high-tech and flashy and still be as funny as the "Golden Age" of the early 90s.


P.S. Yes, it's been a while. Also, out goes the "Review" prefix at the beginning of articles. You know what you're reading.