Just as Lister starts to really run from his responsibilities as the last human, the boys from the Dwarf do what they always do; stumble on to something vital that forces them to ask serious questions. Also, to run away a lot.
This first ever feature-length Red Dwarf special shows off everything the show does very well including several things it’s not done for a while. Diving deep into continuity to show us what became of the people who abandoned Cat, it feels less like the reset button the show has been fond of in the past and more like an evolution. For the first time, the Dwarf crew are drawing on their experience in a manner that’s mature and grounded. Don’t worry, it’s also still panicky and charmingly incompetent, but hey, it wouldn’t be Red Dwarf without frantic consulting of the manual, last minute saves and the Cat being an endearing sociopath.
But this isn’t just Red Dwarf. It’s, mostly, Red Dwarf as it should be in 2020. There are moments of real character and poignancy for everyone here, especially Rimmer whose relationship with Lister is front and centre in the third act in a way that balances script and special effects with surprising grace and wit. That being said, everyone gets a moment to shine, including the guest stars. Ray Fearon is a great, intimidating villain and Tom Bennett, Mandeep Dhillon and Lucy Pearman are instantly endearing as ‘Cloister’s’ secret disciples. Plus the special effects and increased budget really are all on the screen.
It doesn’t all work. There is a tone deaf extended joke in the opening five minutes that’s going to offend and bore more audience members than it amuses. If you can get past that single bum note though, what follows it is one of the best outings for the small red one in years. The show suits this format well and hopefully will be back here soon.
Red Dwarf: The Promised Land is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.