“Twentica” is the first episode of Red Dwarf XI, also known as Red Dwarf season 11. It’s available on DVD in both region 1 and 2.
The series eleven premier of sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf opens in the cockpit of Starbug, outer space’s answer to the Mini Cooper. The “surviving” crew members of the mining spaceship Red Dwarf are immediately under threat by simulants. Simulants are killer robots created for a war that never happened. With their artificial intelligence, they now roam the galaxy looking for things and people to use their warrior skills on. “Twentica” is far from the first episode that the boys from the Dwarf face these killing machines. We first meet a simulant in the episode “Justice,” where one is being held captive by a prison ship with a Justice Drive, an almost magical field that harms you every time you try to harm someone else. Lister is able to use the Drive to trick the simulant prisoner into destroying himself. The scariest of all the simulants is the immortal one who calls himself The Inquisitor. He travels through time erasing people who he believes are not worthy of existing. There are simulants in a handful of other episodes, but in season 10, we start to see variations on simulants. In “The Beginning,” we are introduced to bio-mechanical simulants, mechanoids that are bred with humans. The war general and his lacky who mistakenly tries to seek honor by falling on his own sword shift away from the terrifying Inquisitor image of a simulant and show a more silly side to these creatures. The “Twentica” simulants, yet another new breed called expanoids, follow this silly lead.
The Actor Kevin Eldon plays an expanoid named 4 of 27, who is ultimately destroyed by getting into an emotional spat with his colleague. Despite being under the weather during shooting, Eldon nails the role and got the audience on his side by throwing in a different punchline each take. During his first appearance on set, they had to stop his first take because members of the audience were audibly whispering, “Is that Kevin Eldon?”
Eldon isn’t the only familiar face in the episode. David Sterne (Detectorists) plays Bob the Bum, who the boys mistake for Albert Einstein almost in the exact way they mistook Jesus for the Jesus in the episode “Lemons.” At least this time they didn’t have to cure “Einstein” of his kidney stones! The real Einstein is mentioned casually in just about every episode for the rest of the season.
After a shaky start to the season that relied a little too heavily on overused joke setups from prior seasons, “Twentica” burns bright when the boys land (i.e. crash) on an alternative Earth where the expanoids are keeping the 1950s stuck in the 1920s by banning scientific progress. They now walk the streets of a world that is not only a mashup of the 20s and 50s but also a mashup of the U.S. and U.K. (with American accents but steering wheels on the right side of the car and men in tan coats dragging dead bodies off the street). With a ban on tech as minor as a toaster, both Kryten the robot and Rimmer the hologram are outlawed. They’ll have to find a way to blend in. Not dissimilar to the other times the boys have dressed up to fit in, like in “Backwards” or “Back to Reality,” the Red Dwarf crew dons swanky new 20s suits, and as you can guess, Cat looks amazing.
In a secret bar, we meet Harmony (Lucie Pohl) who rattles off more physics jokes in one minute than you’ve heard in your life. This is where the episode really comes into its own, reminding us how brilliant the dialogue writers are on this show.
The episode ends abruptly, feeling as though we’ve missed the third act, but it gives us faith in the next five episodes of season 11.
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