“Selfie!” – Adolf Hitler. Um…
Airdate: 12 October 2017
Written By: Doug Naylor
Plot: While looking for new thrusters for Starbug, the Red Dwarf crew come across a base operated by America dedicated to curing evil. Stored there is Professor Telford, who seems to have dedicated his life to rescuing the world’s most infamous and insidious figures – Hitler, Stalin, Messilina, and Vlad the Impaler.
Well, feels like nothing changed, right?
As I mentioned in my preview, Series XI and XII were written and filmed in one go. This could’ve proven a dual-edged sword – the chances of burnout and a decline in quality go hand-in-hand with a general drive for a more consistent series, visually and in terms of script. In this regard, Series XII’s first episode – “Cured” – doesn’t feel too much different from Series XI’s first episode, “Twentica”.
Indeed, the two debuts are vaguely similar – using a science fiction trope, mixing the presence of America inside of it, and combining that with a bit of social commentary. Last time it was prohibition and the underground market. This time, it raises the question of whether evil is innate or a learned behavior.
So does it answer that question well? Or, at least, does it make me laugh?
To get to that question, though, we must first flashback to “Timeslides”, an episode that contains a special guest star, Adolf Hitler as Himself. While most will remember Lister slagging off Hitler as “a complete and total nutter” and getting mixed in with his attempted assassination, what I found most fascinating about that scene was Rimmer’s somewhat unnerving attitude…
Rimmer: “That’s Adolf Hitler. He was leader of the runners-up in World War II!”
Kryten: “I copied the photographs from one of your magazines.”
Rimmer: “Which magazine?”
Kryten: “Fascist Dictator Monthly. He was Mr. October!”
Rimmer: “What’s he doing now? He’s scuffling with Adolf Hitler! You can’t just stick one on the leader of the Third Reich.”
Now, Rimmer is not a Nazi. Obviously. What he finds fascinating is the military structure innate in war, especially the power of military dictators, to the point where he is willing to overlook their odious elements. He got an army in “Meltdown”, abused them (ironically to defeat an army led by Wax Hitler), and took pride in what was ultimately a pyrrhic victory. The show doesn’t portray Rimmer, though, as necessarily evil – more that he’s emotionally warped, self-loathing, and tries to delude himself into greatness when it’s his neuroses that keep him held back.
So that begs the question – can one isolate evil inside the human psyche? Is it innate and are people damned to callousness, or have they been led astray by various vices? And are our darker traits more likely to be found in our everyday occurrences, compared to the prime examples?
Strangely enough, this results in a relative focus on the Cat in this episode – relative being the operative word. “Can of Worms” was one of only a few Cat-centered episodes, and even then, it served somewhat more as an ensemble piece than anything. This episode goes the opposite direction – initially focusing on the ensemble, the third act puts something of a spotlight on the Cat.
Rimmer put it best in “DNA” – he’s totally egocentric, flees at the first sign of trouble, only looks after number one, vain, selfish, narcissistic, and self-obsessed. (“You just listed all my best features!”) For the most part, these traits have been used as something of a comic relief – whether it’s his ignorance of Lister’s illness in “Confidence and Paranoia”, his unplugging of the monitors in “DNA”, or the sheer shallowness of many of his actions in “Back to Reality” as demonstrated by Duane Dibbley, the most comic of the four “reality” characters.
Here, though, there’s a very slightly more dramatic portrayal of the Cat’s character. Here, his selfishness and narcissism is used as a plot point – comparing him, in effect, to the forces of evil that have been “cured” within the compound. Kind of a damning indictment of humanity, and this from a show that has showcased it with a mixed record (hey, Lister is probably the best example of a human presented in this show, and he’s an unmotivated slob!)
Contrast, now, with the rehabilitated antagonists – Messilina rejects her former inhibitions in front of the Cat. Hitler winds up in a jam session with Lister (who, again, once stuck on on him) Vlad does little impaling, and Stalin… well, honestly, the episode doesn’t focus too much on them.
In fact, Rimmer and Kryten are somewhat overlooked. Rimmer retains his cautious attitude, which works given his character, but even Kryten gets put on the back burner here. A strange reversal of events, given how Cat is often reduced to joke fodder yet has a sizable role in the plot, at least in the third act.
Speaking of which, the third act is honestly sort of weak in its concept. Big shock, Professor Telford is evil himself. Actually a big a shock, the figures were all droids created by Telford, and that Telford was himself a patient. And up against this act of evil – manipulating the Dwarfers to try and kill them – he then tries to hold the Dwarfers hostage, asking for one of them to try and start the ship (which has a busted thruster). Hence, he manages to get Cat to side with him… albeit briefly, as the Crew try and bribe him to save their butts.
In a strange way, I think that Cat’s character here was held quite well, all things considered. I mean, as a character who (again) has served as comic relief, they managed to make his moral dilemma funny while ultimately adding a small level of believable tension to it. (As much tension as a Red Dwarf episode would be expected to have.) I mean, to think the lives of the crew now hinge on the decisions of the Cat, kind of mind-boggling after all this time. Damn it, I still laughed.
Still, getting back to the theme that was brought up in the episode, the answer is ultimately… well, left up to the viewer. Cat isn’t evil – he’s just a selfish, flamboyant nutjob. Telford is also selfish and manipulative. The difference here is simple – Cat ultimately is apathetic to everything but his own well-being, but he’s more of a nuisance than anything else for the most part. Telford, in contrast, is far more manipulative, far more insidious in his psychopathy.
As far as the ending goes… The Cat is more useful than he seems, as per his piloting skills, his brilliant reflexes, etc. I wonder if he really was messing with Telford’s mind before he shot him… or if the lure of a “special secret surprise” was enough to cement him on the side of the Boys from the Dwarf. Just make of that what you will.
All in all, “Cured” is a rather intriguing intro to Series XII of Red Dwarf. There’s rather great comedy, some thought-provoking social commentary, and one of the funniest portrayals of the world’s most infamous dictator ever written. It’s certainly not the best episode of Red Dwarf, and certainly would be more memorable with another polished draft, but it ain’t a bad start.
- Kind of ironic that the crew dine with figures that are considered the “cream of evil”. Remember “Out of Time”, when the reveal that the future crew did just that (even eating with Hitler and downplaying Hermann Goering as “a bit dodgy) was enough to get a staggered Lister to force them off Starbug at bazookoid-point? The more things stay the same, right?
- Say what you will about Lister’s guitar playing, but shoot me if Craig Charles isn’t having fun there. To think, he’s playing guitar with the visage of a man who Lister wound up punting his briefcase bomb to.
- The idea of Starbug being busted is a concept that never fails to make me giggle. I mean, this show is the anti-Star Trek. If technology is one of Star Trek‘s virtues, then it is a vice as shown in Red Dwarf.
Favorite Scene: The Cat going back and forth between the Dwarfers and Telford like a football.
Least Favorite Scene: I guess the utter lack of time spent on Rimmer and Kryten with Stalin and Vlad the Impaler is a misfire. I mean, imagine how those scenes would’ve played out.