I’ve not been able to contain my excitement about this special since it was first announced. I’ve been a fan of Red Dwarf ever since the first episode The End aired. Red Dwarf spoke to the hearts of many science fiction fans. We saw a trio, initially, of outcast vagabonds and we instantly felt a connection. Red Dwarf is one of those rare programmes that goes beyond its initial concept to create a world where many of us feel at home and enjoy returning to no matter how much time has passed.
Last evening we were treated to the latest special, The Promised Land, and it’s no exception. Continuing on form from Series’ XI and XII The Promised Land provided many moments of hilarity and, at times, deep emotion. I want to say right here, that I loved this special and it was perfect viewing during the terrible Covid-19 pandemic we are currently facing.
Please be aware that this is a somewhat spoilery review.
This special returns to touch upon events from the fourth episode of Red Dwarf, Waiting for God. In that episode we learned that the Cat race lived their lives according to five religious laws of which Cloister is their deity, a corruption of Lister’s name.
The Promised Land centres around the Cat race and King Rodon’s (Ray Fearon) persecution of the followers of Cloister. He sentences three cat clerics Sol (Tom Bennett), Luna (Mandeep Dhillon) and Peanut (Lucy Pearman) to death, but they manage to escape in a wonderful cat-like manner to search for the birthplace of their people, Red Dwarf.
Aboard Red Dwarf the boys are in great form. Lister (Craig Charles), Cat (Danny John-Jules), Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) and Rimmer (Chris Barrie) fall into their roles like well worn shoes. The beginning has a couple of awkward moments, but those are quickly left behind, allowing the cast to do what they do best. Jibe and joke and generally get one over on each other.
Norman Lovett returns as Red Dwarf’s computer, Holly. The massive disc that Holly’s back up is on was a terrific gag, especially for old-timer computers users like myself that remember eight-inch floppies. Reset to factory settings he’s not the Holly we all remember. Yet.
The boys are forced to leave Red Dwarf because of Holly’s factory settings and taking the Starbug stumble upon a derelict ship of superior technology. Aboard this ship they find a way to upgrade Rimmer’s light-bee. Of course Rimmer is warned that it may not work, but he only sees his future power. Suffice to say Chris Barrie plays Rimmer’s upgrade perfectly including the results is creates.
There are many funny interactions between all members of the main cast. The jokes between them are mostly new, but they also recall moments throughout the entire series. Doug Naylor did not write a special aimed only at us die-hard fans. If you’d never seen Red Dwarf before you would be up to speed in short order.
The guest cast doesn’t simply rely on the main cast to create laughs. They hold their own and at moments truly shine. The funniest moment, for me, was when the cat clerics manage to ‘convert’ Cat to their religion. I had to stop the programme I was laughing so hard. And this came after an already gutbusting scene with Kryten and the cat clerics.
More than simply laughs there were also some darker and more touching moments. When Cat goes too far insulting Rimmer leading him to consider suicide. Something you don’t think of associating with Red Dwarf. Then there is a very touching and poignant scene between Lister and Rimmer. Lister brings Rimmer out of his depression by acknowledging his important role in Lister’s life. As the story finishes there are several more chuckles and smiles to be had and the ending is typically twisted for Red Dwarf with just a touch of comeuppance.
There’s always a worry when a series opts for a long form story when the short form is their norm. Will it be funny? Can it sustain the long form? Will it just become a series of badly written gags based on everything that has come before? Yes. Yes. And no it didn’t.
Doug Naylor and the cast, while having regard for their past, don’t dwell on it. The Promised Land is a completely new story and can rely firmly on its own merits. It’s funny, several times hilariously so, and it’s very entertaining. The story is completed without leaving a load of loose ends to wonder about. While I enjoyed The Promised Land immensely for what it is, I do hope that we get at least one more full series (although I’d take many more).
Truthfully, I’ve been hugely disappointed in programmes like Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard and The Orville. Thankfully, Red Dwarf has never tried to please the twitterverse by pandering to what is considered ‘key’ to science fiction at that moment. Red Dwarf has always been the story of a group of outcasts doing the best they can with what they’ve got. The Promised Land maintains that core tenant, succeeding brilliantly where those other programmes failed.
Given the state of play in the world at the moment I can use all the Red Dwarf I can get. I think we all could. I look forward to seeing Chris, Craig, Danny, Robert and Doug getting together once more to regale us with more stories about a three million year old man and the family he’s created. When we have programmes like Red Dwarf maybe it isn’t so cold outside.