Unbelievable. It's quite good. We'd all been expecting a train wreck. Admittedly I'd liked Back to Earth
, but that was just a special. This is a full six-episode season and hence yet another opportunity for Red Dwarf to go ever further off the rails. Compare with every full season since 1992, for instance.
The key is that they're consciously going back to the show's roots. I don't know if Doug Naylor actually realised that he'd gone mad, or merely if the commissioning editors had pulled him into a small room and hit him with sticks. (Hopefully the latter.) Personally I think there's something slightly forced about it, but nonetheless I'm delighted. At last, once again, we have:
1. Character-based episodes that are trying to be funny.
2. No Kochanski. Unfortunately there's also no Holly, but that might be because the production team had pissed off Norman Lovett in 2009 by booking him for Back to Earth
and then never bothering to let him know when he wasn't needed after all.
3. A tighter focus. They've pulled back to our four heroes on the Dwarf in a mostly deserted universe, instead of a never-ending succession of GELFs, simulants, alien planets, etc. They're stuck. It's just four losers in space. Much of the time, in fact, it's just Rimmer and Lister. There will be long dialogue scenes about nothing more than the two of them winding each other up, as in the old days. I thought Kryten got a bit short-changed, to be honest, although the Cat's always been short-changed and so that's the same as always.
4. They've rebooted everyone's backstory and personalities. We're back to the proper versions of Lister, Rimmer, Cat and Kryten, instead of the personality-tweaked annoyances of later seasons. For example, Rimmer's a hologram once more and he died in that radiation leak three million years ago (sorry, Timeslides
) that he'd caused (sorry, Justice
5. Even the ship itself has lost the cavernous, glossy and wrong-looking feel we saw in Back to Earth
, but has reverted even from that. Once more it's just that grotty warren of corridors from the old days.
This is all welcome, but I don't think it smells quite right. I realise that I'm looking a gift horse in the mouth, but I still get the faintest whiff of a stroppy child saying, "Happy now?" I loved those early Red Dwarf seasons, especially the first two. I believed in the world they'd created. I cared about Lister and his desperate predicament, which back in those days was indeed desperate. I loved moments of sincerity like the dying Cat priest in Waiting for God.
Unfortunately over time it became clear that the show's creators weren't taking it particularly seriously and didn't care about consistency of character, backstory or worldbuilding.
Here, to be specific, everyone's been rebooted to the personalities they used to have 25 years ago. The actors are in their fifties! There's no textual acknowledgement of their age or the fact that they've presumably been living in exactly the same slobby way for a quarter of a century. This isn't 50-year-old Lister. It's 25-year-old Lister being played by an actor in his fifties. An additional problem is that you can't just reboot back to the old days, because the Red Dwarf universe has changed. Grant Naylor changed it over several seasons and and we all moaned at the time. The claustrophobic tension's gone. These days the Dwarfers aren't stuck with each other, because we've seen them visiting a million other time zones, planets and parallel universes at the drop of a hat.
That said, all this only bothered me for about an episode and a half. The Jesus episode (Lemons) blew me away and after that I was cheerleading for the show without reservations. However I did notice that Craig Charles and Chris Barrie appear to have settled down together. They're like an old married couple. In the old days, they genuinely hated each other. (That's both the actors and the characters, I believe.) That gave the show its bite. Here though, they're relaxed together and their two-hander scenes are almost comforting. Obviously this weakens the show, but I have to admit that I sort of like this. It's a way in which the show has (unwittingly) allowed the passage of time, instead of mindlessly hauling us back to 1991. It's realistic. Imagine it as a 6th Doctor/Peri thing if you like.
Jumping straight in, this felt wrong. They haven't grown up at all. Rimmer still wants to be an officer and Craig Charles is better than his dialogue. However I'm sure I'd like it better if I returned to it after watching the whole season, while I can't deny that it made me laugh (e.g. Barrie's gerbil face).
Technically speaking, there's also something wrong with the sound.
57. FATHERS AND SUNS
A better episode. It doesn't feel as if it's straining, while I like the way that Naylor's doing something very Red Dwarfish with a very, very stupid idea from season seven
. It's a character-based episode about Lister's strange relationship with himself and apart from the continuity issues, it would have fitted well into season one
. That's high praise.
The Dwarfers go back in time and meet Jesus. Do you need more? It's glorious. I think one of the cast on the Blu-ray documentary was calling it possibly their favourite episode of the entire show since the beginning, which is an understandable point of view. It's everything I'd hoped it would be and more, although there's a plot hole in Jesus's ability to read English but write Aramaic. "In fact, you're a bit of a knob."
Another good one. A lot of the audience will have been wondering why the Lump People died, but it's another character-based story that's all about Lister and Rimmer. I've been waiting decades for another Red Dwarf season like this.
60. DEAR DAVE
Possibly my favourite episode of the year, although Lemons is a fierce contender for the title too. These are the two episodes that are properly good by any Red Dwarf standards, instead of just being entertaining and watchable. I love the fact that it has a theme and it's about something, i.e. girlfriends. Kryten encourages Lister to get over being dumped by his species, there are creepy vending machines and Craig Charles gets some sincere material to play courtesy of some three million year old letters. I love sincere Lister. I've missed him.
What's more, my hero Danny John-Jules gets not one but two good scenes, while a certain scene towards the end made me laugh and laugh.
Doug Naylor thinks it's a cobbled-together underlength episode that was written in a tearing hurry and doesn't really have much of a storyline, despite more or less getting away with this because it has something that does a similar job, in the form of Lister's letters. This is true, but I don't think it matters. In fact, as a change of pace I'm tempted to call it a virtue. It makes the episode almost traditional. "Just hanging out and talking because they're stuck on this ship for eternity" is what life's like on Red Dwarf and that kind of material has provided some of my fondest memories of the show.
61. THE BEGINNING
The show's very first episode back in 1988 was called The End
and this ends with the same line that Lister delivered at the end of that opening. I appreciate awareness of the old days. This is a strong Rimmer episode, which also for once in this show allows some flashy design work. I like the 1950s air to Rimmer's teenage flashbacks, then later there's something of The Ribos Operation about the simulants' goth ship. Black, candles, feathers, etc. (Sorry, Death Ship. Death.) Even the asteroid field looks good.
It's another good episode. I like the apparent casual evil of Cat and Rimmer when the rogue simulant shows up, while the finale is genuinely cool.
Linguistic nitpick: it's "hara kiri", not "harry carry". "Hara" means "belly" and "kiri" means "cut". Or you could just say "seppuku".
I'm astounded. No one in the world would have expected this. It's good again, which are words to make a fan drunk. I hope they go on making this until it's Last of the Summer Wine in space. It's a shame there's no Holly, but I have to admit he's slightly redundant with Kryten around and it's probably better to be without him than to be using him poorly. It's a reboot and not an entirely convincing one, but the important thing is that they're going back to the good stuff. When can we expect season eleven?