IN REVIEW: Red Dwarf – The Promised Land

Boys from the Dwarf . . .

Synopsis: The crew is in danger after they manage to restore Holly, but in doing so bring about a different version of him than the one they know, that decides the ship must be destroyed, As it is well overdue to be decommissioned. He decides to dump it in a local black-hole, including all those who are on board. Lister argues that as he is a living, human crew-member, Holly can’t. Because of his rule-breaking (a refusal to give up his pet cat, Frankenstein), Holly states his rank, and therefore privileges are revoked. Their only hope is to characteristically “leg it” in a Star-bug. They manage to track a ship that is much superior to Red Dwarf, technologically. When they catch up with it, they find onboard a race of people that sees Lister’s past finally catches up to him . . .

Story

As a central premise, the story in these two episodes isn’t problematic. It’s the continuation, or natural evolution of a story began way back in series one of the then-new show. In “Waiting for God”, Lister is shown a book by The Cat, which shows him as being a god named “Cloister”. As he is the one who is responsible for their existence, he is therefore deemed to be a genuine deity. The silly, children’s picture book is the Cat Peoples’ version of a Bible. Of course, detail got skewed over the ages. The Cat People took a similar turn to their human counterparts and took to fighting about trivial things. It’s worth re-visiting this episode, to see why the story in the new two-parter just didn’t add up.

Fast forward to now. Lister and the crew discover one of the ships that the Cat People are now running, and in particular, evil would be the overlord of the species, Rodon. Rodon rejects the idea of a deity and believes that any such ideas are only going to bring suffering and war. He decides he will impose a new order, according to his rule. Three of the race rebel, and are sentenced to death. They escape, in a typical comedy fashion. They distract the guard with a laser pointer. They set off to find their “God”, who they now seem to refer to as The Holy Poppadom. The problem is, they are in it, as more than cameos, but don’t really earn their place. That’s where things start to go wrong.

The wonderful Danny John Jules isn’t used anywhere near as much as he should be, in this. really, it should be his show. It would have been more fun to have given him a hero arc, or at least made him some sort of special version of the cats, and have him have to face off against Rodon. As things are, he is little more than a bit part. He doesn’t even get to finally experience what he’s always wanted with a female cat. That isn’t even mentioned, which seems so off as that has long been his greatest motivation and aspiration for existing. This really was an opportunity for The cat to have the hot-seat and shine. That doesn’t happen, and instead, he hardly plays any part at all in the story, and that’s a real shame, for the fans.

What used to make the show work so well is simplicity. Focus on the jokes and the daft scenarios. Here, there’s just too much going on, too many people and the real reason you watch the show gets a little lost. None of the cat people offer up anything to bring about much real change in the way of the regular lot, which is all we’re really going for. The final battle ends with a funny result, which just about ends things on a high note. Fortunately, the cast manages to rescue things by simply being them. Talking of which . . .

Acting

What has to be said is that for actors to be able to continue to play roles that are over thirty years old is impressive. This lot proves that. They make it look simple. Whilst some of the viewing of any new Red Dwarf will always be a nostalgia fest, true enough for any show, especially for those with fond memories of it in their formative years, viewers see the characters as they are now. They have changed. Lister is still Lister but has been adrift with his three crew-members/makeshift family, for a long time. Craig Charles shows this in the character, by allowing the human side to come through. He doesn’t want to be Cloister, the God of the cat people, and has no problem in accepting that he is just an ordinary guy and things have gotten out of hand. He does a great job of playing a god, just by being the (almost) normal hum-drum space bum that is Dave Lister. That’s Lister’s super-power. He just doesn’t really care about stuff; as long as he knows where the next lager and vindaloo is coming from, then all is good in his universe. Maintaining that isn’t easy, for an actor.

Chris Barrie’s Rimmer finally coming to terms with being artificial does the job of showing how time can bear down on us. Among the comedy, there’s a sense of poignancy and a feeling that he has eventually accepted that he lived, failed, and now should just let go. All great characters are flawed, but Rimmer takes it to the next level. It’s his gift to the world, to be the very best at failing, again and again, with often hilarious results. Barrie knows how conceited Rimmer is, and that is why he should always be thought of as one of the greatest comedy-roles ever. That’s ever-present here. Again, Barrie shows that some people really were born to play some roles. He’s lost none of his pomposity, desperation and deeply buried self-revulsion. His scorn is there too. The writers can only do so much. The actors truly bring the characters to life. Rimmer is very much alive and remains the greatest pedant, before Alan Partridge or David Brent. Rimmer did it first and best, and he still is doing.

Robert Llewellyn shows once more how physical comedy should be done. His bumbling and expressions of human foibles is every bit the same as it always has been. Even his voice is funny. Again, because you’re so used to it you forget that so much effort’s going in, all the time. You can only really judge him on being amusing. Kryten rarely fails to raise a smile, even if it’s just a smirk. In some ways, he has the toughest role of the lot. He has to work to constantly convince you he isn’t just a guy in a silly costume. Ultimately, the only way to really test out if he’s any good at it is to see what happens when he is put off-line. Only in the threat of never seeing him on screen again do you really value what you get when he is on-screen.

Danny John Jules as The Cat does what he always has, like the others. It’s a shame he wasn’t given more of a leading role in this story, given that it was all about his species. Accepting that you’re not the star of a show can’t be easy; making something truly special from it anyway is even harder. That’s what Jules does. It’s no different in this episode. Cat adds to the others, by having great timing, and knowing the other characters so well, as well as his own. He shows development here, of an almost truly one-dimensional creature. That’s something to be admired. Like the others his dedication to the immersion has to be admired and given the credit it’s due.

Norman Lovett is the original Holly. Perhaps one of the best dry-humourists of the lot. Just like the others he has a pressure to deliver, to still be the Holly we remember. Job done with seemingly minimal effort. How does someone respond to be being asked to be capable of genius, gormless and dopey, but to do it with an innocence that means it simply isn’t possible to stay angry at him? Only Lovett knows, and we should thankful he does. Again, he proves that the show just isn’t the same without him.

 

CGI&Action

A massive part of the fun of the original show was the cheaply done effects and the awful, rubber monsters. Red Dwarf has never been a show that relied on anything other than brilliant comedy acting and excellent, sharp writing. To keep the feel of the show, you have to keep the ship and the trappings appearing as they were when the technology to build them was far less capable. Back in the early days it was all boxes painted and cardboard parts. It worked. To carry that on now, when things have come on so much requires true dedication. The huge, over-sized floppy disk of Holly’s back up drives was an absolutely genius move. A microcosm, right there, of all that made the show works, and made it still work.

The cat ships were funny, and the meow-missiles a welcome addition. Again, the make-up department had the job of making the cat-people look like they were hybrids, but still be camp enough to be Red Dwarf creations. Everything had to be understated, consciously, in order for it to work. The false claws had to look like they might drop off at any minute, but not actually drop off. Making everything seem like it was real, but belonged in a silly show about the future of the human race, meant taking the job seriously of not taking things too seriously. They nailed it, it has to be said.

Something else the show has always done well is only have a couple (or a few here, as it’s longer than one of the usual episodes) of big effects. Knowing where to put it and how to spend it, so that the story benefits most requires skill. Making the big-budget effect all about Rimmer was absolutely the right thing to do. The whole diamond light thing was great and gave Rimmer the all-important elevation his arc in this story required. It was never going to last. It;s Rimmer, after all.  Contrasting it with him being in low-power mode was another great move and worked really well. Watching him have to traipse extension cords about was a new way to show his persistent battle to be important.

Overall

For some, the episodes were never going to be any good. They’d decided before-hand they shouldn’t have been made. Despite this, they watched it anyway. Why bother, if you’re not going to watch it on its own merit (or lack thereof if you feel that way, but don’t endlessly compare it. It’s futile — something Rimmer would be proud of). Yes, it’s hard to deal in nostalgia, as we’re all very protective of our child-hood/adolescent T.V. stuff. Fair enough, to some extent. However great Red Dwarf was at its prime (and it was brilliant, make no mistake), it’s a silly show about silliness and written to make you laugh, forget how hard the world is (especially right now). To take things as far as anger, because you love the originals and are convinced the new stuff is being disrespectful or even denigrating your memories, is very silly. Not in a funny way.

Episode one didn’t have too many jokes that really hit the spot. The sorts that you can’t help but expect to hear and see in Red Dwarf. It lacked genuinely rib-tickling moments or some of the sharpness that comes as standard. saying that it was clever to cast Rimmer as a would-be Brexiteer, with his intolerance of European space directives, and a subtle way to make a reference to the modern-day. The visual humour was good, though, in parts. The giant cat-flap was amusing. Talking of cats, it has to be reiterated that it was a shame that The Cat didn’t have a bigger part to play. Having a “cat big bad” did work, and at least gave the plot what it needed, so the eventual showdown could come about. The support-roles in this did what they had to, but don’t get any individual mention as they really made no impression at all, and weren’t meant to. They were largely unnecessary, and won’t go down in Red Dwarf folk-lore with the many other “monster of the weeks”.

Things picked up in episode two, but there was much more dialog-based wide-cracks and pithy insults that you absolutely have to have in this show. It didn’t matter that they were in a tight-spot and you knew you’d see them get out of it. You don’t watch Red Dwarf for the nuanced story-telling. The way they escaped was typical of them, and a nice throw-back to simple plot devices that are designed to make you laugh, and nothing more. Yes, it’s not the stuff of old, but a massive improvement on the last venture of this sort, the much-maligned Red Dwarf: Back to Earth mini-serial. Given the current social climate, we should be lucky that we still have this show, and that this was made. If it made even a few of us laugh, or even only in some bits, then it did its job.

 

7.3
Red Dwarf - The Promised Land
  • Story
    5.5
  • Acting
    8.3
  • CGI & Stunts
    8.1
  • Incidental Music
    7.2
No Comment

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 24 other subscribers

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!