Red Dwarf XII: 1 “Cured” Review
Reviewed by Ryan Monty.
(This review continues spoilers. Read on if that doesn’t bother you!)
The first time I ever really noticed Red Dwarf was watching Kryten waddle down a hallway after his unfortunate incident with a trash compactor in a repeat of Series VI’s Psirens nearly ten years ago. After quickly devouring the first eight series afterward, I was ecstatic to hear a new special series was on its way! Unfortunately, this was Back to Earth, which, apart from a few scattered nice moments, is probably best to move past. Luckily, we were gifted with top quality returns to form in Series X and the even better Series XI. Now just under a year later from XI we’re delivered Series XII! Truly, it’s Christmas (in October). Filmed back to back with Series XI in 2016, Series XII’s new run of six episodes kicks off with Cured, where the Red Dwarf posse find themselves attracted to a space station that may just be home to some of history’s most infamous villains- but not as we remember them.
Last year’s Series XI was already a terrific effort at getting the Boys from the Dwarf “back to basics”, with both that series and Series X alike having numerous classic opening gambits. Right from the word in Cured, we’re gifted with an all-timer of an opening that could’ve been snipped out and placed directly in the classic era of Dwarf and we’d be none the wiser. It’s a simple but hilarious set-up that not only works as a rib-tickling beginning for the episode, but has payoff by Cured’s closing- as Lister tries (and fails) to get a game of poker with the gang going due to the Cat’s truly awful poker faces. Regardless of your feelings of the new age of the show, which, after all, is absolutely its own era, it can’t be denied that the lead cast still have some of the best comic timing around. The back and forth between the Cat and Lister here got plenty of laughs, enhanced greatly by the exasperated Kryten in the background. For a tone-setter to a new series of Red Dwarf, you could barely ask for more.
After we’ve been comfortably, quickly and very funnily eased back into the situation, the story kicks into gear as the Dwarfers discover a supposedly abandoned research space station owned by a coalition known as United America, who were a group whom so passionately wanted peace that they dedicated themselves to waging a “war against war”. In the 23rd century, they had purportedly created a cure for something wholly unconventional- not an illness, but the very source of evil itself and, looking to find new parts for Starbug, it’s decided to head there. After jumping into Starbug- who sits in a superb looking new hangar, created with a blend of practical and CG effects- they head towards the station in hope- not before having to mash and smash the Starbug console that is, in fantastically funny fashion which ends with a sight gag up there with the greatest as Starbug now isn’t even capable of turning any direction but left. Upon arrival, the Dwarfers find that the station is anything but abandoned- instead filled with ominous cryo-pods with some familiar names on them- that being of Joseph Stalin (Callum Coates), Vlad the Impaler (Phillipe Spall), Messalina (Chloe Hawkins), Rupert Murdoch (who isn’t responding to the treatment) and Adolf Hitler (Ryan Gage).
Head of this station is Professor Telford (Adrian Lukis), whose patients haven’t really been “cured” in the normal sense- rather, they’ve been brought back into existence through reconstitution of their descendants’ DNA. So far, so rather Assassins’ Creed, with discussions abound including the nature of genetic memory and theories about how Hitler’s famous demise could possibly have led to him having descendants at all (and there are plenty, included in works such as Grey Wolf). It turns out that our old friends from the past have indeed been cured of their ills, and are now different individuals. This awkward absurdist humour drives much of Cured’s belly laughs, including a dinner party with the posse as honoured guests. While the show has previous with unusual forms of criminal reparation in Series V’s Justice, when I say the patients here are now different, I mean very different (“Call me Joe, please” insists Joseph Stalin!). It’s a bad day for the Cat as formerly murderous nymphomaniac Messalina bluntly turns him down (“you’re just not my type” she claims) despite Cats obvious attempts to seduce her- a real body blow to him.
It’s Hitler who has seemingly undergone the most sizeable personality change, affecting a brilliantly funny out-going personality that is pretty much the exact opposite that you’d expect from Adolf Hitler– who now enjoys taking selfies. In fact, most perfectly, he and Lister are kindred spirits. After initially rejecting Hitler’s approach to play guitar with him (“It’s because I’m Hitler, isn’t it?”) it turns out that Adolf and Dave share quite a lot in common- from style preferences to art college (or at least a desire, in Hitler’s case- boy, is this strange to type). Most of all is their shared love of guitar- which leads to the highlight of the episode, where Dave Lister and Adolf Hitler have a jam session, belting out The Happy Wanderer. Couldn’t be further from their scuffle back in Series III’s Timeslides (full, tear-inducing marks to their singing- but the guitar playing itself is a bit suspect, no? Surely Hitler is carrying Lister there!)
Despite the budding bromance between one of history’s most evil individuals and David “Cinzano Bianco” Lister, Cured, like preceding episode Can of Worms that closed Series XI belongs to Danny John Jules as the Cat. As Cured reaches its climax, the Dwarfers are drugged and placed into death traps, which upon escaping leads to a Mexican stand-off between our boys and the famous villains from the past about the true psychopath, discovered to be the Cat (at least, he’s the first- Prof. Telford is the real perpetrator!) After all, he’s vain, narcissistic, self-adoring, and narked off when a machine doesn’t regard him as handsome! It’s an interesting new development to the Cat’s character- now that he’s officially understood to be a psychopath, what, if anything will change about his place in the group? After all, as a rule, psychopaths don’t harm anyone, as Kryten divulges in a nice little bit of vintage Dwarf philosophising early on.
The notion of psychopathy isn’t the only topic this episode hangs its hat, as the nature of true evil is nicely skewed during the tipping point upon which Cured approaches its end, as a planet is about to crash into the station- with Rimmer naturally wanting to abandon them in their sleep and dash off back to the Dwarf. Rimmer has form here, looking back to his horrendous handling of the wax droids in their battle against evil in Series IV’s Meltdown, whereupon Rimmer comes out looking probably even more evil than the droids he was fighting against. It’s compelling to see some of the Boys from the Dwarf stepping towards villainy and darker morality in the absence of any amongst the cured patients- who are just reprogrammed androids (“he doesn’t even look like Hitler!” barks Prof. Telford, neatly spinning that obvious point on its head).
A relatively common complaint last series was that some episodes climaxes ramped up too fast and didn’t allow the story to breathe or the comedy to land. Thankfully, Cured lands its ending with perfection, paying off the opening gag with the Cat defeating Telford with his “pokeyface”, continuing the part of his character we’ll always understand- that he’s loyal to his posse, even if he never really learns anything. The exchange that the Dwarfers have with Telford however in teasing the Cat across to their respective sides with treats and surprises much like, well, a real cat, is one of my favourite Cat moments of the whole show, harkening back to Rimmer bargaining for Lister’s cigarettes with Cat way back in Series I. After all, he is a descendant of cats. “It’s in my nature!” he honestly claims. “I have no fidelity!”.
While Twentica was a solid opener for Series XI, Series XII one-ups it with Cured, an opening episode filled with plenty of genuine laughs and solid character development. Between this and last series’ Can of Worms, we’re digging greatly into the Cat’s core character and given the promise that we’ll see more about his race this series, I’m very much looking forward to what the next five weeks have in store for us back aboard the Dwarf!