BBC Video // 2012 // 178 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // January 20th, 2013
"No species will make me happy like the human race...They were special." -- Dave Lister, the last human
I've read about how Doctor Who and Dallas pretty much picked up where they left off years ago, but Red Dwarf seems to come the closest to exactly as it was in the last century.
Red Dwarf X opens with the curry-loving Lister watching pig racing on TV and then having a discussion with Cat, his catlike humanoid buddy, on what kind of drivers Swedish moose would make. Arnold Rimmer, the ambitious (and officious) hologram crew leader, is once again trying to build confidence, with some dubious help from android Kryten. The actors -- Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Chris Barrie, and Robert Llewellyn -- all look pretty much as they did when we last left them. Reassuringly (if only in Red Dwarf context), the crew is still the same bunch of childlike slackers from the nineties (the last full season was in 1999, although there was a special "Back to Earth" story in 2009, which isn't included here).
I did sense a few signs of change, though. For example? I got the feeling that a disaster with a messy chicken kebab might have been a curry catastrophe in an earlier era of Red Dwarf.
Red Dwarf X features six episodes:
* "Trojan" -- As Rimmer (Chris Barrie, The Brittas Empire) adjusts his "astro-nerves" for another run at the officer test, the Dwarfers find a derelict vessel and get a distress call from Rimmer's brother, who is also a hologram.
* "Fathers & Suns" -- A drunk Lister (Craig Charles, Coronation Street) records some father-son advice to himself on Father's Day. After all, he is his own father, thanks to a convenient time anomaly. Rimmer selects the qualities that the new ship's computer should have.
* "Lemons" -- Kryten (Robert Llewellyn, MirrorMask) discovers a rejuvenation chamber. Assembly is required, which you know means trouble in the hands of the Dwarfers, who end up time-warped back to 23 A.D. to meet Jesus Christ.
* "Entangled" -- A chicken kebab accident starts in motion a chain of events that includes a bad poker bet, Cat (Danny John-Jules, Little Shop of Horrors) and Kryten speaking in sync, a trip to the Erroneous Reasoning Research Academy, and a beautiful scientist falling in love with Rimmer.
* "Dear Dave" -- Lister's letter from an old flame, which has reached the Red Dwarf a couple of million years late, tells him he may have been a father.
* "The Beginning" -- Lister gets awakened by rogue droid who wants a duel, just before the Red Dwarf skirmishes with simulants who want to finish off the human race. Somewhere in there, Rimmer plays a message from his father.
Actually, Doug Naylor did manage to slip a hint of maturity into Lister's personality, as seen in "Fathers & Suns." Lister doesn't remember the things he told himself in a tape of fatherly advice, but the father Lister of the night before has a good idea of what the son Lister will do the next day, as most of the audience does. By the end of the episode, he does take a step toward growing up by starting work toward a robotics degree.
Familiarity with some characters who can be pretty obnoxious is probably what'll make fans want to check out the latest series, not the inevitable "earthquake of a gag" (Danny John-Jules' words for it) that'll turn up in every episode. It's character that makes viewers laugh as Rimmer gives his specifications to Kryten on the new personality for the ship's computer. You know he's going to go for a beautiful, well-endowed woman, with Kryten going along with it despite his android befuddlement about the opposite sex. You also know it's going to be trouble in the end, but that's another story.
As far as themes go, Doug Naylor laced this series with a lot of stuff on living up to parental expections, which he acknowledges in the making-of. There's also a running theme of bureaucracy, whose computerized arm comes after the Dwarfers even after three million years and the near-total collapse of human civilization. In one episode, some paperwork helps save the Dwarfers from a nasty end, and Kryten moves budget around, resulting in a toilet paper shortage, despite the fact that there's no one left to be concerned about such things (expect, of course, the Dwarfers, who'd rather have their toilet paper). As usual, these last beings tend toward the selfish: Cat grabs the last bottle of anaesthetic right before Lister goes in for dental work, and Rimmer wants to pass the officer exam before answering a distress call from his hologram brother. The universe tends to be cruel to the Dwarfers as well, as when Rimmer finds love with that beautiful scientist, only to have his usual bad luck intervene (on Red Dwarf, that's not much of a spoiler).
"Lemons" aims some barbs at religion, which might not be for the devout. However, it winds up reaffirming the value of the faith -- as the Dwarfers try to do for a disheartened Jesus, who's just heard about stuff like the Crusades.
We're Smegged: The Making of Red Dwarf X spends around two hours on the production of this tenth season. It's actually pretty interesting, since the tenth season marked the return to filming before a live audience; Red Dwarf started out that way a long time ago, we're told. The reason it's so interesting is that Doug Naylor, the creator/writer/director who thought they should film before a live audience, must have been mad. The live audience was probably dropped in the first place because the show's effects and action got too complicated. After all, to do a decent sci-fi spoof, you have to do a credible enough sci-fi show, something along the lines of old-line Doctor Who, in the case of Red Dwarf. You'd think doing that before a live studio audience, more or less in real time, would be problematic. Actually, from the documentary, I get the impression that it was.
At the same time, I'd have loved to have been there, since I suspect it will could down in history as the only time a science-fiction series was done before a live audience (although I recall that Quatermass and Doctor Who have been re-created on stage). I'm not sure whether the live audience sharpened the comedy, as Naylor says, but it doesn't seem to have hurt, at least. Plus, it's a nice thing to do for fans, even if it is crazy, which I suspect is what he had in mind. You'll also notice that the actors on Red Dwarf like each other and enjoy doing this stuff, no matter how nasty their characters are to each other.
Despite production difficulties, Red Dwarf X looks like that credible old-line sci-fi show, with lighting effects used well to hide the seams in the production.
In addition to the making-of, there's a collection of deleted scenes -- with enough laughs to prove that Naylor and company do put some stock in telling a story, not just gags -- and smeg-ups ("smeg," of course, is a multipurpose profanity that Red Dwarf introduced into the language).
Sometimes, Red Dwarf can be just tasteless. The most egregious example in this batch was a cliched Asian accent from a Chinese food vending machine. Overall, it's not one to watch with the kids, although teens have likely heard it all.
If you're a fan of Red Dwarf, you'll want to buy this set, as much for the making-of as for the new episodes themselves. It's not a bad set if you're a newcomer, but -- as with many a series -- you might want to track down earlier runs of Red Dwarf.
Its humor is downbeat and scattershot, but you'll find that it hits its marks more than you'd think. Even better, you'll learn how to make a real battery out of lemons.
Not guilty. I'm off for some mango tea; does that count?
Review content copyright © 2013 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 178 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes