Monday, 13 April 2009

Review: Red Dwarf: Back To Earth

Where to be begin? I think I can safely say that they weren't the best Red Dwarf episodes ever.

For me the first episode wasn't that good at all. It just wasn't funny. The most amusing part was the Cat's diving costume. Instead we had what appeared to be quite high end special effects which just looked completely out of place. At times the odd thing looked good, like the rememberance garden, but for the most part it just made everything look too shiny and clean and just not Red Dwarf. I think I'm amongst a number of people who hate the overuse of CGI in programmes - usually cos it attempts to cover up a poor plot.

And thats before we get into them re-using gags from old series too. And I also wonder whether the lack of a studio audience (all but series 7 had one) had any impact on it, I feel that the actors timing might have been better with it and they might have come up with some funny bits too. I felt that the episode wasn't horrible, but I can't think of anything good to say about it.

Fortunately the next two episodes were better. I guess the whole TV characters realising that they are TV characters has been done before, but I thought it wasn't done too badly. More to the point I actually laughed during those episodes. They still weren't as good as classic Red Dwarf shows though, one of the main problems was that everything just seemed a little overdone, amusing things went on so long that they weren't as funny as they would have been if they had ended sooner, either that or they appeared to obviously have been borrowed from earlier series (the main exception I can think of is where Sophia Winklemans character explains how it is ethical to kill holograms like she plans to do to Rimmer and he promptly pushes her in front of a moving vehicle). The episodes weren't like you could hate them, but someone could and should have done something better with them.

But what I do want to address is some of the comments made by Phil at A Very Public Sociologist made in his review (see

Firstly I want to take up the division between the series that he creates, which are

1) Series 1 and 2 (early Red Dwarf)

2) Series 3 to 6 (mid-aged Red Dwarf)

3) Series 7 and 8 (Red Dwarf post Rob Grant)

I think this division is wrong, we need to be more exact about the changes in location for the series, change in writers and change in cast. Instead I think it should be split up as follows,

1) Series 1 and 2 (On Red Dwarf, Grant and Naylor writing, crew-Lister, Rimmer, Cat, Holly)

2) Series 3 to 5 (On Red Dwarf, Grant and Naylor writing, crew-Lister, Rimmer, Cat, Kryten, female Holly)

3) Series 6 (On Starbug, Grant and Naylor writing, crew-Lister, Rimmer, Cat, Kryten, Female-Holly)

4) Series 7 (On an enlraged Starbug, Naylor by himself, crew-Lister, Rimmer(for part of the series), Kochanski(for part of the series), Kryten, Cat)

5) Series 8 (On Red Dwarf (in the tank), Naylor by himself, crew-Lister, Rimmer (alive), Kochanski, Kryten, Cat, Holly, Hollister and others)

The shift from series two to three with two different charcters (one new) changed the shape of the show, but not as much as happened in later series with the set changing each time as well as the cast and also shifting from having a studio audience to a film-like version then back to a studio audience again. Every time you change things it means the programme is going to turn out differently.

Basically, my problem with Phil's version of the development of Red Dwarf is that for him series 1-6 are great and 7-8 (as well as Back to Earth) are bad and it's all Doug Naylor's fault. This is way too simple for my liking and I don't think its completely accurate either.

I think there are good things about series 7 and 8 for a start, for example I really like Tikka To Ride, the first episode of series 7 (the recap at the beginning of that episode from series 6 is excellent, as is the recap at the beginning of series 6 - miles better than Back to Earth). And the bunk scenes in series 8 are rather good (perhaps if Doug Naylor had had at least one of these in Back to Earth the first episode might have been better, I think he writes those really well). But most importantly they are a different kind of Red Dwarf to the earlier series. (and by the way there are some crap bits in some of the earlier series too - using Rhyl as a location for an exotic resort, for example!)

But there is a point to Phil's comments about Doug Naylor writing stuff by himself. When writing comedy its generally advisable to have a partner writing with you. It's almost a necessity as you need to bounce your ideas of someone else to make sure other people find them funny and tease out any humour to it's full potential. If they plan on making further Red Dwarf episodes then the issues I've raised simply have to be addressed.


Phil BC said...

Perhaps I was being unduly harsh with Naylor. After all TV production is a collective effort - there would have been ample opportunity for someone on the production staff to say this Red Dwarf was turning out to be a little bit crap.

Re: my periodisation, this is of course all subjective but my main distinction between the first six series and what followed was that they were funny, and the latter weren't (how it was series VIII became the most rated is beyond me!).

I don't know. I just don't think the conditions are right now for Red Dwarf. The cultural context that gave birth to the first six have long gone. This remember was the point where alternative comedy was starting to pass into the mainstream. With the total mainstreaming of its chief protagonists (who'd have thought Ben Elton could become as unthreatening as Bernie Clifton?) and its exhaustion, post-irony has come to rule the day. Under these circumstances Red Dwarf just looks tired.

PS Cheers for linking - you've sent dozens of people my way today! Reciprocal link going up!

Leftwing Criminologist said...

I posted this on facebook too, and someone commented on something else i was thinking. basically multi-part red dwarfs are generally crap. if you look at any of the decent episodes there is so much stuff crammed into them, whereas the multi-part episodes have so much dead weight.

I still think series 7 and 8 are funny - but it wasn't quite the same kind of show anymore - maybe cos i'm younger than you i have a different perspective on that perhaps? maybe that has something to do with series 8 being the most watched (not sure if it was the most popular)
But i think my point about the shape of the show is true - adding kochanski in series 7 changed the shape of the show, as did writing out holly and red dwarf in series 6 (i was incorrect in the main post).

who is bernie clifton? (probably before my time too)

Phil BC said...

This is Bernie Clifton - he was a staple of 80s kid TV and royal variety shows.

Yes, age does have a lot to do with it (sob). Despite being rather right wing in my young teens I was very into alternative comedy, and Red Dwarf grew out of that scene.

The reason why I lump six in with the previous five is because, despite the change of setting, the production values were the same, it was a Grant Naylor effort and the writing was as sharp as what went before. Series VII on was a more fundamental departure.