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.

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