Red Dwarf XII (... Craig's in it)

"First rule in government spending... Why build one, when you can have two at twice the price?"

Have you seen, Contact? It's brilliant. In other news, already it seems, Red Dwarf XII is finally upon us, despite XI having yet to hit the airwaves. Indirectly taking a leaf from John Hurt's above-quoted, S.R. Hadden (or perhaps more directly, the Superman and Matrix sequels), both new series are filming practically back-to-back. Incidentally, have you seen Superman II? It's brilliant.

Hurtling back to reality for just a brief moment, this week's as-yet unnamed episode (unless it really is going to be called 'S12.E02' - in which case, see above for an 'exclusive' 'screen-grab') followed much the same pattern as the last show we reported from, certainly in terms of setup and general preamble. Just to set the scene for you, before each evening begins, having handed over their tickets, audience members then proceed to gather in a whacking great marquee tent, just a short trek from the recording studio (imagine a zeppelin hangar with cinema seats) where they can pick up a pre-show cup of coffee, soft drink, or similar hydrogen-based beverage. For several hours, tension builds in fevered anticipation. Then, like clockwork, a mass exodus to the on-site portaloos, before further unbearable minutes of queuing outside in the otherwise tepid, arctic breeze.

It is at this point that you realise just how excited everyone is around you, and promptly forget how you've recently lost all feeling in your fingers. The buzz is inexplicably infectious. Put it this way, if Television is the dramatic equivalent of a pre-packaged ready-meal, then studio recording is surely the gentle nudge that reminds you just how wonderfully unique and nourishing the experience of a home-cooked, live performance can truly be.

The recording itself proved to be a rather enjoyable, if unexpectedly eccentric affair. Again, without wanting to give away anything particularly revealing in terms of plot, at its heart, this episode was mostly an ensemble piece for the main crew, however we were also treated to some brand-new, centrifugal guest characters. Performance-wise, all were pretty much spot on as per, not least of all when taking time aside to boost the mostly-patient crowd between scenes, who willingly sat through not only a number of technical breaks, but also a slightly later start and wrap than usual.

For the most part, I can't recall witnessing an edition of Red Dwarf quite like this, before. Now three days on, and I'm still not quite sure what to make of that. At times, the proceedings were surreal to say the least, and tonally-speaking, closer to... well, something else. In the interests of preserving spoilers (and my kneecaps), I'll leave it up to you to ponder what, or indeed who I am (not) referring to. A tad unfair, I know, but post-transmission, you probably won't agree with me, anyway. Who knows, perhaps this may prove to be the narrative equivalent of a Rorschach test.

Once again, dialogue-wise, there were some slight nods to past adventures - odd, when you consider the notoriously fluidic continuity that has dogged the show's albeit fictional history books, over the years - fun, if you happen to be a self-confessed continuity-junkie like yours truly. My personal, all-time favourite touch (to date) being the addition of a simple red stencil to set designer, Mel Bibby's upgraded Series III bunk-room sets, which read, 'Officer's Quarters'. So bloody clever. And symbolic of the kind of imaginative and collaborative production philosophy that back in the day, seemed to encourage as many good ideas being (literally) taken on-board, as possible.

It's been said (by me, here, now) that one of the strongest virtues of Red Dwarf has long-been its chameleonic ability to transmogrify and evolve, series to series. Most fans will tell you that Series II is a slight, but marked improvement over Series I, whilst Series III likewise builds on II, and so on and so forth (though arguably, post-Series VI, this became less of a cast-iron pattern). The trick, I suppose, is to drip-feed enough imperceptible improvements, so that each new block of episodes doesn't feel like a jarring giant leap, but rather progressive small step. Technically speaking, compared to the original BBC run, what I have been most fortunate enough to experience from XI & XII looks and feels very much, Red Dwarf HD, but still jauntily-despondent in its clockwork digs at modern-day life that helped make its inaugural run so perpetually engaging. For me, the central conceit this time around evoked an interesting, objective notion - dare I say, even useful. Only time will tell if in fact these kaleidoscopic brushstrokes are broad enough to register as well on transmission, like say, such classics as Meltdown, Justice or Terrorform.

Last word - when you consider the undoubtedly-sizable investment in producing all these new sets, miniatures and the like, one cannot help but wonder if ultimately, all this exciting momentum may finally be building for a certain, long-gestating, Dwarfian feature film project, or even the long-mooted live tour... Now, that would be a turn-up for the Space Corps Directives manual. Particularly when you consider the irreplaceable principle cast are only continuing to age both in grace and flair, in a manner befitting only the very finest vintage vino (that doesn't leave you with a foam mustache that can only be removed with turps).

So... have you seen Red Dwarf [S12.E02]? It's brilliant. Probably.