In the opening episode of Red Dwarf’s twelfth series, the crew encounter some of history’s most infamous villains who have supposedly been cured of their evil.
This may be the long-running sci-fi sitcom’s fourth series on Dave, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was its second. After the divisive ninth series, i.e. Back to Earth, in 2009 and the minimalist tenth series in 2012, it wasn’t until last year’s eleventh series that it felt like Red Dwarf was truly back and firing on all cylinders, with a decent budget behind it. Big changes in tone and visual style between series have always been commonplace in Red Dwarf, but since XI and XII were written and filmed back-to-back, that isn’t the case here.
‘Cured’ sees the boys from the Dwarf stumble across a scientific research station that was established in the 23rd century to develop a cure for evil. Their arrival awakens Professor Telford (Adrian Lukis) from cryosleep, along with his test subjects – Adolf Hitler (Ryan Gage), Joseph Stalin (Callum Coates), Vlad the Impaler (Philippe Spall) and Valeria Messalina (Chloe Hawkins). They’re not the originals, but clones who were made using their DNA for the purpose of the experiment.
The gang have encountered history’s greatest monsters before, in series IV’s ‘Meltdown’, when they became involved in a battle of good vs. evil in an abandoned wax droid theme park. However, whereas the wax droids of ‘Meltdown’ weren’t given much to do or say that was particularly funny, in ‘Cured’ the villainous figures thankfully get more to work with. In particular, Ryan Gage (The Hobbit, The Musketeers) gives a great performance as the reformed Hitler, who tells the crew to call him Dolphy and “no mein Führers, that’s the old me” before taking a selfie with them. This new version of the dictator is, dare I say it, rather loveable as he bonds with Lister (Craig Charles) over their shared interest in art and responds to his reluctance to join him for a jam session on the guitar with a wounded “it’s because I’m Hitler, isn’t it?” Lister eventually gives in though, resulting in what will likely prove to be one of the episode’s most memorable scenes in years to come.
After having a lot more to do in series XI than ever before, Cat (Danny John-Jules) continues to steal the limelight in series XII’s opener, with a beginning and an ending that are entirely about him, plus plenty of good gags in-between such as “light switches are tricky, I don’t always get them first time.” Another positive is that Kryten (Robert Lewellyn) has some fairly complex information to explain towards the start but doesn’t get stuck in exposition mode for the duration, and he also gets some enjoyable lines around the episode’s theme of psychopathy and the nature of good vs. evil.
One minor complaint about ‘Cured’ is that there is a noticeable lack of Rimmer (Chris Barrie). He has a characteristically petty rant about disabled people, as he isn’t keen on the idea of wheelchair user Professor Telford joining their crew because they’ll have to put ramps all over the ship, but later behaves in a rather un-Rimmer-like way when it comes to Hitler. Given his admiration for tyrants (we once saw him meet Napoleon and gush that he was his “all time favourite fascist dictator”), it just seems a bit out of character that he would make a conscious effort to avoid Hitler and even chastise Lister for spending time with him.
While several instalments in the last series suffered from abrupt ending syndrome, ‘Cured’ has no such problem and in fact feels like a very well structured episode. Moments in the first few scenes that seem inconsequential have payoffs in the end and it also doesn’t feel like writer/director Doug Naylor was trying to cram too much in. Here’s hoping the rest of Red Dwarf XII will follow suit.