RED DWARF: THE PROMISED LAND / WHERE TO WATCH: UKTV DAVE / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 9TH
Never has science fiction worn its concepts and intelligence as lightly as Red Dwarf. On one level, it’s been twelve series of nobodies insulting each other in deep space, eating curry and failing to find sex. But it’s also always been a philosophical petri dish for scientific, theoretical, historical and religious discussion - richly coated in slapstick. On none of these fronts does The Promised Land disappoint.
Fans have always known the cat race was out there: descendants of the pet Third Technician Dave Lister smuggled aboard, for which he was thrown into stasis, surviving the radiation leak that wiped out the rest of the crew while the cats evolved and flew off into the universe searching for their god, ‘Cloister’. But the uninitiated are made just as much at home in Doug Naylor’s script, with every single joke landing as surely for anyone unfamiliar with the ‘Boys from the Dwarf’ as those of us who might have learnt such concepts as DNA and free will through Kryten, the sanitation droid’s best attempts to explain them to Lister, the universe’s last human.
With every plot strand elegantly based on aspects that already exist within personalities and relationships, The Promised Land seems a joy for each actor, and a real rediscovery. There’s a sense of exhilaration and return to form in every scene. Chris Barrie remains astounding as Rimmer, his combination of self-contempt and would-be heroism pathetic and noble as it ever was. His love-hate, or hate-hate, relationship with Lister (Craig Charles) find joyous new avenues, as does Lister’s touching capacity for the best of what it is to be human, along with the grossest. The Cat (Danny John-Jules) is at his sparkling best, in a performance as deep as the character is proudly shallow. There’s similarly excellent comic timing from Kryten (Robert Llewellen), pitch-perfect in his trademark ambivalence and put-upon sarcasm. Holly’s (Norman Lovett) return to the mix completes the sense of homecoming that has nothing to do with whether or not Lister’s followers find their promised land (and you’re getting no spoilers here!).
Fans won’t be disappointed, but nor are they over catered to. Previous adventures never overshadow the current action; this story takes place in its own time and space, with just a little extra fun by association for those who’ll catch the references, and with new allies and enemies you don’t need any back story to enjoy. And the new faces are very much a part of that success. The cats we meet each have funny, clever, and thoughtful traits of their furry ancestors, and each performance is a gem all its own. The sit-com-meets-science recipe holds strong, with gorgeous 1980s/’90s technology jokes sitting comfortably beside allusions to the modern world’s own daftness.