Tony opens a can of worms. Old, recycled, but still pretty damn funny worms.
Red Dwarf 11 has been something of a Greatest Hits compilation, elements from some of the best of the previous series (particularly series 3-6), revamped, reworked, extended, borrowed and re-tooled for what is pretty much a new generation of Dwarf fans.
That being the case, episode 6 is something of a Best of the Best collection – if you’re going to borrow from your own history, you might as well borrow from the very best, and here, to end Series 11, some of the those all-time classic episodes are pilfered and gene-spliced to deliver something technically, if not intellectually new. But for all the great elements borrowed and re-used, there’s something altogether clunky and unfinished about around the edges of Can of Worms.
The episode begins with a whacking great slab of exposition about a Chekhov’s Gun – a chunk of kit that exists pretty much entirely so it can form part of the action later in the episode. What’s more, as technology goes, there are riffs on Body Swap about it, and Rimmer appears entirely comfortable to volunteer for a personality tuck until the prospect of discomfort raises its head, then he scarpers, leaving nothing but the knowledge that the machine exists and is just waiting for a reason to be used later stuck in our heads.
There are a couple of lazy gags – the Sunday Dinner gag, the screwdriver gag – leading us to the next phase of story-plotting; another ship, about to plunge into a black hole. A mad droid and a prisoner, who turns out to be something that we’ve been wanting to see for eleven series now. Or are they?
Erm…no, they’re really not. They’re something we’ve seen at least twice before, but hey, it’s nice to dream for a while, and there’s some fun to be had for long-term Dwarfers in the Cat’s sudden resurgence of possessive marking – ‘This is mine, that’s mine, pretty much all of this is mine…’ - as he now has a reason to ensure the universe knows exactly what belongs to him.
There’s a twist on some stuff we’ve seen before, with the Cat encountering a medical emergency, and (don’t ask!) giving birth to a litter, all of whom take us straight back to series 3 with their behaviour patterns. Soon enough, we’re back in full on series 3 and 6 mode, with the Dwarfers down in the bowels of Red Dwarf, tracking down a host of hostiles, and, thanks to the personality tuck machine, we get re-acquainted with Dave ‘Let’s Get Out There And Twat It!’ Lister. Sure enough, a good solid twatting is duly delivered, but it leads to an absurd stand-off which is funny, if entirely illogical, and which is brought to a spectacularly sudden and pointless end by the Cat.
All in all, there’s some great material in Can of Worms, and it’s a fun watch, but if you look at it in any depth, there’s a roughness and a sense of rush about some of the construction and the dialogue, and it’s quite a Frankenstepisode, sewn together from lots of re-used parts, and with an overriding sense that ‘we haven’t had a full-on Cat episode for a while’ is its core reason for existing at all. Does it feel like a reasonable end to the series? Actually, yes – we know that Red Dwarf 12 is coming, so it’s not as though Red Dwarf 11 ever carried the burden of building to something, any more than earlier series did. Can of Worms is simply a funny episode filled with the Dwarfers doing things that everyone knows the Dwarfers do well. Danny John-Jules has certainly still ‘got it’ when it comes to strutting his feline stuff, as is shown more in this episode than any other this series. If there’s a criticism to be laid at the door of Series 11, it’s that the episodes were perhaps a little too safe and samey, and that’s certainly something that could be said about episode 6 – but on the other hand, safe and samey inherently makes for better Red Dwarf than ‘What the hell was that?’ as in Back To Earth and, with the best will in the world, some episodes of Series 10. You’ll still be able to watch Series 11 five or ten years from now, because in a sense, that Greatest Hits collection vibe protects it from ageing, and the lack of any coherent thread or theme means each episode in the series can stand alone, just as those episodes that everyone remembers from previous series do. Will Series 11 stand with the classics? Quite possibly – it’s mostly composed of the classics, after all, and the result is an eminently watchable sequence of six fairly random, entertaining, going-for-the-laughs episodes of silliness in space, which is the absolute bottom line of what Red Dwarf has to deliver to be worth its budget. If a couple of episodes have deeper themes in them, as a couple of episodes in Series 11 certainly do, then so much the better.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk