Shiny Shelf

Red Dwarf I

By Jim Smith on 08 February 2003

Travel back in time to when it was all still funny and fresh; three million years in the future and a dead man, a Rasta and a semi-sentient cat are squabbling with a balding computer.

It’s a sobering thought just how long ago these episodes of ‘Red Dwarf’ were made and shown. Before the umpteen re-vamps the series endured, before its creative meltdown and the horrific ‘re-mastering’ process earlier instalments were forced to undergo to make them somehow fall into line with later, inferior material. Most the time it didn’t even work and when it did it looked rubbish.

This DVD fortunately contains the first six episodes of the show as originally transmitted. They’ve been cleaned up a touch, natch, but there’s no shoddy CGI or ‘treat-video-to-make-it-look-like-film’ nonsense in evidence.

In these six episodes a startlingly young looking cast throw barbed comments at one another in a combative, yet relaxed way that meshes perfectly with the episodes’ peculiar yet simple plots. The cliche description of the first two years of ‘Red Dwarf’ as ‘Steptoe and Son in space’ is as over worn a summary of a TV show as there has ever been. Worse, it isn’t even accurate. There’s far more of Clement and La Frenais’ work than Galton and Simpson’s about the enraged affection and closeted comic hatred that’s demonstrated across these three hours of characterful comic space nonsense.

‘The End’ is a terrific set up, and while it ends inconclusively it has that great ‘Everybody’s dead Dave’ sequence, some spine-tingling music and a bit about exams that everyone over 11 can identify with. ‘Future Echoes’ is concept heavy and offers the immortal ‘I gave you ample bracing time’ to the English language. ‘Balance of Power’ is a tightly scripted battle between the two protagonists which contains some of the series’ most twisted ever material and Lister’s observation that ‘I’m revising buns’. ‘Confidence & Paranoia’ is another crazed, sub-’Star Trek’ plot treated with exactly the right lack of reverence, and ‘Waiting for God’ is an impressively framed pop at organised religion disguised as some nonsense about a hat and the Cat’s investigating feet. ‘Me2′ is arguably the best of the bunch though, as Chris Barrie goes all out in demonstrating Rimmer’s brilliantly caustic sociopathy to its fullest extent, ‘I said, “‘Mr Gaaaaaazzzpaaachoo!” deafie!’. It also proves that – what ever ‘Westlife’ may have told us since – when the going gets tough, the tough go and have a little cry in the corner.

This isn’t the peak of the series, that would come the following year, but it’s still great stuff all the same. Do you know why? It’s because it isn’t desperate to be liked, it isn’t looking to build an empire or a franchise and it’s content to be simply very, very funny. It’s a sitcom and that was, and indeed should have remained, its calling.

It becomes increasingly obvious as time goes on that when ‘Red Dwarf’ was good it was good despite, rather than because, of the wishes of its creators. Or rather, that the series we all liked back in the day wasn’t the series they wanted to make. When they finally did get around to making the series they way they’d always wanted it to be, it wasn’t something it was easy for those of us who’d laughed along at the beginning to continue to love. How sad.

The DVD extras are nicely done. There’s a cast commentary on the episodes, a writers and directors commentary on ‘The End’, a documentary on the making of the first season, and the BBC’s original, vintage trailer for the show. Deleted scenes are nice, but nothing special and there’s a gag reel (OK, if you insist, ‘Smeg-ups’), and much more besides.

The ‘Red Dwarf’ film, currently in production will apparently re-tell the story of these early episodes in a new form. With Kochanski and Kryten and some action sequences no doubt. No point, though.

Pick this up and see the way it was. That, as you might have guessed from the above, is funny by the way.

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