In the end, that was depressing. "Ouroboros" in season 7
gave me a similar feeling as I watched a once-great show degenerating into banality and stupidity, but here the pain went on longer. I was swearing at the elevision by the time I'd fought to the end of "Only the Good..." Ironically this year again has some great stuff and about 50% of it I really like, but unfortunately they've front-loaded all that into the start of the season. I adore "Back in the Red", but after that it's all downhill in ways I'd never even dreamed of.
Oddly enough, Red Dwarf VIII was inspired by the remastering of Red Dwarf I
. The show's tenth anniversary in 1998 saw seasons 1-3 being remastered, re-edited and released on VHS with extra CGI and a filmic look. I remember Doctor Who fans discussing these releases in a thread entitled "What a f***ing remastered joke NEVER DO THIS TO DOCTOR WHO". After seeing the extended edition of "Tikka to Ride
", I agree. I don't know what we expected, though, since by then it was clear that the people making Red Dwarf had no idea what they wanted except that it involved changing their minds every year and they were losing track of what we Earth people call "entertainment". Nevertheless the important bit is that Doug Naylor found himself rewatching series 1
, which he and Rob Grant had thought they didn't like and had in fact asked the BBC not to repeat before the initial broadcast of series 2
for fear of scaring off the audience.
Unsurprisingly Naylor was startled by what he saw, although I don't think he went so far as to realise it pissed all over everything he'd been trying to do for years. He thought it was "gritty". No, don't laugh.
That's why series 8 went back to its roots. We're back aboard Red Dwarf rather than Starbug, while Lister and Rimmer spend some of every episode locked up together in a cell, which in itself is a clear throwback to the early years. Chris Barrie, the godlike Norman Lovett and Mac McDonald as Captain Hollister are all back again. Even people you don't remember from the very first episode like Paul Bradley and David Gillespie get a cameo appearance in "Back in the Red", although they couldn't lure back Robert Bathurst and Mark Williams. They also briefly resurrect the grey-walled cabin that Lister and Rimmer lived in for the first two seasons (hallelulah), which is such a marvel that I can even forgive them for making it blue. Hell, they've even brought back the Skutters! I used to adore them.
Oh, and they've also abandoned the season 7
single camera shooting style. It's back to live studio audiences and a multi-camera set-up, thank goodness. All this is perfect. For three episodes I was in seventh heaven. It feels like proper Red Dwarf again, complete with authentic continuity touches like a rebooted Kryten having his original cut-glass accent instead of the Canadian voice Llewellyn had always been using. It looks right, it feels right, they're shooting it right and I was laughing like I used to in the old days.
Unfortunately the world stops making sense when the regulars go to prison.
I simply don't understand what's happening in these later episodes. What were they trying to do? It's like watching The Young Ones, or something else that isn't even trying to maintain internal reality. I don't believe in the prison, the prisoners or the wardens. These are supposed to be violent hard cases, but they're being played like children's TV presenters. Kill-Crazy makes me want to throw things at the screen. If he got any more cartoonish, he'd be winking at the camera and holding up signs saying "HELLO MUM". (In fact I've just looked him up on the internet to see if he really was a children's TV presenter and it seems he's been a regular in EastEnders for twenty years and counting.)
Similarly it doesn't feel surprising that Mac McDonald is the only bit part actor from ten years earlier to have had any room in his schedule, as opposed to (say) Mark Williams. He's appallingly bad. The scenes where Rimmer and Lister are in trouble with Captain Hollister come across like schoolchildren being cheeky to a teacher. Hollister's effective in the early episodes when he's outwitting our heroes and getting them sent to prison in the first place, but by the end he's degenerated so far that he's nothing but an annoyance.
By that point the whole thing's a waste of time. There's no pleasure in watching it. The performances, the direction and the writing are all on a "don't give a shit" level. Admittedly the regulars are doing their best to hold everything together, but unfortunately that best isn't particularly good. Chris Barrie never was much of an actor, while Craig Charles has one scene in particular that annoys me. This is just one of many annoyingly stupid bits, by the way. In this scene, Lister's watching as Rimmer bad-mouths Captain Hollister, unaware that the man's standing right behind him. Lister's trying to warn Rimmer to shut up, but for some reason he's decided that this needs to be conveyed non-verbally. Why? He's winking, gesturing and otherwise doing nothing to stop Rimmer digging himself into an ever deeper hole, but what was wrong with simply saying "Rimmer, the Captain's behind you"? The scene's catastrophically unfunny, but this should have been obvious while they were shooting it and Craig Charles could have fixed everything by rewriting Lister's motivation so that he's simply being a bastard to Rimmer again for laughs.
That's typical. The show's riddled with that kind of idiocy. Story logic gets thrown overboard. Characters do things that need them to be idiots (and not in a good way), high-tech gadgets behave like magic wands and there's a general tone of "we're being silly, so it doesn't have to make sense"... yet the season was inspired by something that was supposedly "gritty". It doesn't make sense.
45-47. BACK IN THE RED
I adore these three episodes. By the standards of the earlier years they're probably nothing outstanding, but for me they get everything right. So I'm a continuity-aware fanboy. Sue me. They feel true to the show and the characters and they make me laugh. The Rimmer-Lister scenes hit my buttons, Norman Lovett made me laugh more in three minutes than I did at Hattie Hayridge in three years and even poor Danny John-Jules gets a couple of memorable scenes as Cat. More amazingly yet, Kryten made me laugh! It's the psychiatrist scene. The script even makes intelligent use of one of the show's many overused ideas (VR), with self-aware twists along the lines of what Stephen Moffat was up to in Silence in the Library.
There's one continuity glitch, oddly enough... Kochanski's hair. I watched this episode back-to-back with Nanarchy and didn't recognise Chloe Annett. I even love the claymation cutaway, even though it isn't funny. The stretched egghead look on non-senile Holly I'm not so sure about, but I suppose they felt they needed something visual there.
Then there's the punchline, which is evil. Lister, you complete bastard. You've got to admire a story that gets laughs out of what's looking likely to be a prison gang rape.
It's being dragged down by Kill-Crazy and all that stupid prison stuff, but it's basically a good episode with flaws rather than the other way around. I like what canaries stand for, even if it's blatantly a long-winded way of setting up what's basically a bog-standard episode. I like the basic idea of the story, but its two central story beats (Rimmer getting Knott killed and being about to sleep with Kochanski) are being cramped for story space and would have worked much better with more room to breathe. You'd have a stronger story if you cut the first 5-10 minutes and gave over the script time to a more honest exploration of the situation. A particularly damaging consequence of this is that the script never even tries to justify Cassandra's prophetic powers, despite the fact that they're bloody ridiculous. It wouldn't have been impossible to come up with some technobabble, but they don't even go that far. As a result I never really bought the episode's premise, although it became a lot more interesting after the twist we get late in the day from Lister.
Despite these grumbles, though, it's a strong central idea, their treatment of it is more thoughtful than I'd expected and the Rimmer-Kochanski scenes in particular are outstanding. The dialogue also made me laugh. "Like your underpants, the chance of change is remote."
49. KRYTIE TV
This episode is an insult to the audience. Kryten's running a scam to film the female convicts in the shower, yet he provides a running commentary aloud to the camera while in there with them. Are they deaf? Kochanski getting angry with Lister is a sitcom character's reaction, not that of a real human being. The "twist" of Kryten still being evil is only noteworthy in the insulting way in which we're supposed to believe that he's been reprogrammed back on the basis of a single line of throwaway dialogue. Lister's suddenly claiming to be crazy about Kochanski because... um, because the script says so, even though Craig Charles blatantly hasn't played such emotions even once since Chloe Annett turned up last year and even now isn't managing to do so.
I didn't believe a word of it, basically. This is a shame, since there's a lot of good business here and the episode's punchline is a killer. The "sabotaging the bedroom" scene is amusingly gross, especially the gag with Lister's pubic hair, while Kryten's shower conversation is funny too. You could probably make a brilliant episode out of this story... but this isn't it.
The nadir of the season. "Krytie TV" is bad enough to make you angry, but at least there you can see the seeds of a strong episode. "Pete" has nothing. Again it puts its worst foot forward with Kill-Crazy and all the other losers, none of which works in any way. The stupidity of the baseball game is insulting. Similarly the "join the dots" gag shows contempt for the characters and the line about a sneezing dinner is too stupid for me to be able to believe that I was expected to take it seriously. After twelve minutes of hell, the plot starts... only to resort to one of the show's laziest, most handwaved technobabble McGuffins ever. The time wand I didn't believe for a moment, while the (ahem) special effects on its time-freezing would have looked embarrassing in 1960s Doctor Who. The actors try to stand still, basically. The music in the virus-stripping scene is annoying too. Admittedly the dinosaur makes for a good cliffhanger, but by that point it's far, far too late.
Part two has one brilliant idea (Kryten's penis), but the script's not even trying. No one else knows how to operate the time wand? Eh? Why? The dinosaur vomits "pieces of carrot the size of tree trunks", presumably on the grounds that being big will have caused the perfectly normal food it ate to have blown up to a similar size. Why doesn't Kryten zap the dinosaur with the time wand the moment it appears? Why does he instead choose to throw the time wand across the room to a Skutter, for the dinosaur to eat? (Answer: because that would be too intelligent and the second episode would be over before it had started.) I didn't believe the scene where they destroy the time wand at the end either.
There are a few laughs. The conversation about a burping dinosaur is funny, as is "a bit like the French in that respect". Nevertheless the main thing I took away from this episode was a renewed hatred for Kill-Crazy and a brand-new hatred for Captain Hollister. Wow, he's bad here.
52. ONLY THE GOOD...
The best episode of the second half of the season. In other words, it's not actually insulting but merely a 50-50 split of good scenes and lazy, weak stuff that's just going through the motions. What's interesting is that Doug Naylor seems to have learned from the likes of Duct Soup
and decided that "aimless random shit" is a valid story goal in itself. In fairness, in the context of Red Dwarf, he might even have a point. The good stuff here is indeed the scenes of the regulars just being themselves. Kochanski's menstruation is an unlikely source of comedy, Holly gets some good gags and Lister drinking the hooch is funny too.
However on the downside, the metal-eating virus doesn't belong in the story, David Verrey from Aliens of London is nearly as annoying as Kill-Crazy and the chocolate dispensing machine is one of those Red Dwarf black holes of anti-comedy like Talkie Toaster. Furthermore the appearance of a parallel universe is now officially a cry for help ("we have no ideas and we suck"). Apparently this episode is notorious for having gone through lots of rewrites and reshoots, the final result of which is an incomprehensible mess of an ending in which I still don't know what happened to the ship and all the other Dwarfers. Admittedly Rimmer vs. Death is cool, but it's a sticking plaster over what's plotwise a gaping wound.
In summary, I don't understand this show any more. The only thing I can think of is that Doug Naylor has been trying to second-guess himself, or else for each of the last few seasons has been overreacting to criticisms of the previous one. Season 8 suffers from putting its good three-parter at the beginning, then blasting over this good impression with horrors. Thank goodness ten years later they eventually went Back to Earth
. As comedies go, I found season 8 to be a feel-bad.