Red Dwarf Review

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by Simon Crust Apr 1, 2006 at 12:00 AM

    Boys from the Dwarf! After successfully pitching the 'sitcom in space' to a BBC that was dead set against anything science fiction, the fledgling series Red Dwarf aired on BBC2. The writing was there, the acting was not quite and the overall look was one the creators Doug Naylor and Rob Grant hated. So much so that when it came to release Dwarf on VHS series one had its release held back until after series three was released. The problem was, all the budget for the first season went on building the Dwarf and subsequent model shots, leaving precious little for little things like sets. So instead of the Kubrickian brightness that the creators envisage, they were left with drab grey. Thankfully their writing was of such a calibre and the small but loyal fan base grew steadily through out its run and a second series was commissioned. With the model shots already completed this freed up monies for more lavish sets. They were still a way from the ideal, but at least they were getting close; it would take another season to see that vision come to fruit. So, with better and brighter sets, a cast that had got to grips with their characters, Naylor and Grant were able to produce one of the best of the series' eight incarnations. Lister (Craig Charles), Cat (Danny John-Jules), Holly (Norman Lovett ) and Rimmer (Chris Barrie), lead on series two!

    One of the benefits of more money was more sets; this allowed the writers freedom to have the crew leave the ship, which they did in all but one episode. There was a seamless introduction of a new character in the guise of the mechanoid Kryten, but again it would take until series three before he became a regular character. His introduction was in the series opener, Kryten; when Holly detects a distress beacon and changes course to intercept the three Dwarfers take it upon themselves to clean up to impress the ladies on board. One of the greatest reveals in this episode when the fate of the ladies is uncovered. As a season opener this episode is quite strong; the regulars have gelled together very well now and the gags come thick and fast. In amongst the mirth there is an extremely brief moment where Lister expresses his anguish at being the only human being left alive, the first inkling of deeper character studies to come in later episodes. Krytens character rebellion at the end of this episode though never specifically sited again itself became a staple part of many a later episode when he became part of the crew proper.

    The second episode, Better Than Life, is hailed, rightly so, as the fan favourite. Containing some of the best ideas Grant and Naylor have ever put together it works on so many levels from pure comedy to nihilistic character study. Was also the first time location shooting was used, even though the episode was on board the Dwarf the expanse of the game allowed for fervent imagination to run riot. Perhaps sealing once and for all the fact the Rimmer really is a carbuncle on the backside of humanity.

    As if to appease Rimmers own short comings from the last episode Thanks for the Memory is the chance for him to regain some self respect by having one of Lister's memories of his ex-girlfriends. Quite a successful 'whodunnit' in its own right, along with a revelation for both Rimmer and Lister as they are forced to relive a time of contentment soiled by immaturity and arrogance, perhaps the Lister of old and Rimmer have similar traits after all.

    Statis leak allows the crew to go back in time to three weeks before the accident that caused the death of the crew. All the main characters from the very first episode make brief appearances in a wonderful 'time travel' episode. Lister's joy at being reunited with friends that are three million years dead and Rimmers quest to save himself, all the while believing it to be the after effects of mushrooms are priceless. The ending where all the time travel element come together, with hints to future, as yet, unwritten, episodes are a tribute to the skill and understanding Naylor and Grant have on the subject.

    The only episode to be fully set on the Dwarf is Queeg; when Holly inadvertently puts Lister's life in danger a second failsafe computer comes online to replace him. At first the crew are happy about this transition but soon wish Holly back after it becomes obvious that Queeg is far more interested in running a tight ship than the loafing around the crew would rather to do. The final payoff is perhaps one of the best laughs in the programs history, and of the few for Norman Lovett.

    Parallel Universe, the final episode, used the infamous Holly Hop Drive that instead of transporting the Dwarf back to Earth actually materialises them in different universe, one where all their counterparts are female, except the Cat's who is a dog. Once again it gave the writers a chance to let the character have a good long look at themselves, even if they are in female guise. Ties up some threads from Stasis Leak and also introduces Hilly, i.e. Hattie Hayridge who would take over voicing Holly from series three.

    Danny John-Jules says in his commentary that “this is the one where it really got good”, personally I would have phrased “where the writing of the show was raised to a calibre to make it worthy of comedy greatness”, but both have the same effect. Red Dwarf series two really makes the statement that Grant and Naylor have a top class show on their hands. Both writers and actors now understand their characters and all worked together in furthering the scripts to become the best that they could be. In amongst all the comedy there were moments of poignancy and sentimentality, traits that would be exploited to a further extent in later series'. Such sombre attitude juxtaposed with genuine belly laughs satisfies the British need for the underdog making good. As mentioned above, the freedom given to the writers now that the budget problems were no longer such an issue, meant that they could vent their wildest fantasies, never more was this evident than on the Better Than Life episode, with shades of Restaurant at the end of the Universe and an ending straight out of American Werewolf in London, Grant and Naylor leave us in no doubt about their own likes. With a cast that have now bonded in such a way that a decent amount of rivalry re the one liners (or woofers as they call them) kept them all wanted to steal centre stage, yet with a chemistry that allowed their natural talents to come to the front; this is Dwarf at is very best. Later series' might have the better look and the bigger budget, but series two is where its at; everything that Dwarf was to become was already right there on the screen for all to see, little wonder that a further seven seasons were commissioned. Really makes you wonder why the BBC were so reticent to finance it in the first place, but then their scheduling has always been unfathomable, why should their finance department be any different? At any rate commissioned it was, budgeted it was and from strength to strength has the series grown, but for those of us that were there at the start, like me, come and revel in what must be regarded at the finest comedy in space ever invented. Boys from the Dwarf, I salute you.

    The Rundown

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