Review for Red Dwarf: Complete Series 5 (2 Discs)
“Smoke me a kipper”, Ace Rimmer said. Well it must be breakfast, as I get around to giving Series 5 of Red Dwarf a watch. Not being one for Dave (the channel), with its endless repeats, SD broadcast quality video, and annoying adverts, I haven’t watched Red Dwarf through in years. Yet watching the show now I still feel as if I know most of the episodes by heart. It’s a good thing that it’s so funny then, and its absence from my viewing life has made my heart grow fonder. Even if I’m totally familiar with the episodes, I’m watching them now with older eyes, which does offer a new perspective to the stories. Series 4 took the new dynamic established in series 3 with the addition of Kryten and gave it a real boost, with a visible increase in production values, and a wider scope in the stories. Not a lot has changed for Series 5, and hopefully it will entertain me just as much as the last collection. Who am I kidding! Of course it will. It’s got Mr Flibble after all...
3 million years in deep space, Dave Lister, the last human in the universe is trying to make his way back to Earth on the mining ship Red Dwarf, along with a hologram of his dead bunkmate Arnold Rimmer, a creature evolved from the ship’s cat, the service android Kryten, and Holly, the ship’s computer that’s crossed over the line into senility.
The six episodes of Red Dwarf Series 5 are presented on one disc, with a whole extra disc devoted to bonus features.
Rimmer doesn’t believe in true love, certainly not the kind of love that results in self sacrifice at the end of the kind of sappy movies that Lister likes. All of which makes it perfect when the holoship appears, a ship exploring the universe with a purely holographic crew, where emotional attachment is disdained, and where sex is practically compulsory. Shame for Rimmer they only recruit the best of the best.
2. The Inquisitor
The Inquisitor is an android simulant from the end of the universe, a being that has through long contemplation decided that there is no god, that the purpose of existence is to lead a worthwhile life. He now travels through time and space, judging everyone to see if they are worthy of existence, and erasing those unworthy, replacing them with someone better. He’s now arrived on Red Dwarf... The crew is smegged!
Trapped on a psi-moon that’s fashioned itself after Rimmer’s psyche, threatened by the personification of his self-loathing, and various other unsavoury aspects of his personality, could you possibly in this situation find yourself jealous of Arnold Judas Rimmer? There are one or two reasons as to why you just might.
No one listens to Rimmer. They’ve found a long abandoned research laboratory, and they want to look for survivors. Rimmer thinks it’s a bad idea, but Kryten quotes the Space Corps Directives at him. Of course the lab turns out to be a viral research laboratory, and the survivor is a crazed infected psycho. When they get back to the Dwarf, it turns out that Rimmer’s been reading the Space Corp Directives too, especially the bit about quarantines.
5. Demons & Angels
An experiment in multiplying strawberries goes disastrously wrong, creating an evil Red Dwarf and a good Red Dwarf, while destroying the original in the process. The only way to get the original ship back is to somehow reverse the experiment and rejoin the two new ships. The problem is that the evil Red Dwarf crew are sadistic, murderous, and backstabbing bastards, while the good Red Dwarf crew are such... dorks!
6. Back to Reality
Half brothers Billy and Sebastian Doyle, cyborg cop Jake Bullet, and Duane Dibbley exit the Red Dwarf role playing game after four years of being hooked up to a computer. Not only do they have to come to terms with only scoring 4% in the game, but they also find themselves in a world that is even less appealing than being lost in space, 3 million years into the future...
Red Dwarf V gets a 4:3 regular aspect ratio, and it comes from a tape source. Hence the image quality is never going to challenge the limits of the DVD format, and what we get here is just as watchable as it was when it was first shown on TV. Another season means another bump up in production values, with some of the episodes looking positively cinematic at times. Shepperton Studios still offer the facilities to make the show look great value, while Sunbury Pumping Station fills in for loads of interesting interiors. In the extras it’s revealed that the show actually got a budget increase this series, and that does show in all the extra effects work that appears on screen.
The sole audio track is a DD 2.0 Stereo affair which once again reflects the television of the period. The all-important dialogue is clear throughout, and subtitles are provided for the show if you need them as well as all the extras on disc 2. Unfortunately there are no subtitles for the audio commentaries.
Red Dwarf Series 5’s two discs are presented in an Amaray case with the second disc held on a hinged panel. Inside the front of the case, you’ll find a twelve page collector’s booklet with a list of disc contents, although Easter Eggs are just alluded to, rather than listed in detail. There is an overview of the fifth series, and each episode gets a page worth of making of. There are also items of note and points of trivia, and finally a chapter listing.
Disc 1 presents the episodes with an animated menu. There are a couple of Easter Eggs here, a flatulent look behind the scenes of the commentary, and an animated Ed Bye, Rob Grant, and Doug Naylor chatting about Back to Reality.
There are cast commentaries on all six episodes, as Danny-John Jules, and Chris Barrie get together with Robert Llewellyn and Hattie Hayridge, and several facsimiles of Craig Charles to talk about the shows. When the shows get funny, don’t be surprised if they wind up watching the gags with you instead of talking. They are still great fun to listen to, recorded as they are after sufficient time for critical appraisal to sink in, with some less than diplomatic anecdotes.
There’s also a fan commentary on Back to Reality, with competition winners Ruth, Jason, Claire and Simon invited into the booth to yak about an episode. It’s good to hear that amateurs can be just as good (or inane) as the professionals at this sort of thing.
The rest of the extra features are on disc 2, beginning with the Heavy Science Documentary, which lasts 77 minutes. In it the cast and crew get interviewed about the fifth season, the advent of a new director with the departure of Ed Bye, and the difficulties that entailed. Once again it begins with an overview of the season, followed by chapters on each episode individually.
Everything else gets pushed into the Bonus Features, which this time are accessible through an animated menu (no text only alternative), but it is more conveniently designed.
Once again we get Smeg Ups and Deleted Scenes. 7 minutes of goofs and mistakes are pretty much par for the course for a Red Dwarf release, but 49 minutes of Deleted Scenes is to this point unprecedented. There are a whole lot of deleted, extended and alternate scenes to examine, down to long scripts that needed tightening, and director problems prompting reshoots.
There are 4 trailers, rescued from some fan home video recordings, resulting in less than stellar quality, there’s the best ever episode intro, and the Skutter Channel Idents that were used during Red Dwarf Night way back when.
Raw Effects footage offers 18 minutes of model shots, including some footage that wasn’t used in the final episodes.
The SFX of Red Dwarf offers more of this, as Mike Tucker narrates some behind the scenes footage of the Red Dwarf effects crew at work, making models, puppets and props, as well blowing them up. This lasts 31 minutes.
Bad Guys is a montage of the various villains that plagued the Red Dwarf Crew. This lasts 2½ minutes.
Dwarfing USA lasts 28 minutes, and is a documentary that looks at the attempts to make a US version of Red Dwarf, which in reality never got further than a couple of pilots. We get clips from the first pilot here, but rights to the second (featuring DS9’s Terry Farrell as Cat weren’t available). It’s an interesting look at how US studios treat UK properties that get translated for the local audience, and how they are gutted, rebuilt by committee, neutered, and inevitably destined to fail. Or you could watch the Episodes comedy series.
You get an image gallery that offers Behind the Scenes snaps, FX Designs, Production Stills x3, and Video Sleeves.
There is a Dave Hollins Space Cadet Radio Sketch from 1983 which lasts around 5 minutes, and is a forerunner for Red Dwarf.
Finally there’s plenty of Howard Goodall goodness to appreciate in the bountiful Music Cues taken from the fifth season. No Elvis this year though.
I have some small criticisms about season 5, and indeed beyond. It’s at this point in Red Dwarf that the initial premise seems to become lost. The whole lost in space, 3 million years into the future gets put on the backburner from this point forward, and Kochanski doesn’t even get a mention in this series, except obliquely in the final episode. Instead the show spends a whole lot of time hopping through various sci-fi concepts and putting a comedy spin on proceedings. There is something to be said for moving on from the original set-up; after all, in Star Trek Voyager it took less than ten episodes to get tired of Captain Janeway ordering a course for home at the end of each one. Still somehow it doesn’t feel as if Red Dwarf is complete without Lister pining away for Kochanski at some point in a series.
Anyway, that’s it. That is my criticism for this fifth series of Red Dwarf. Otherwise it’s pure hilarity from start to finish. I said in my review for Series 4 that rather than hit a peak, Red Dwarf reached a plateau of excellence with that collection of episodes, and that plateau extends through Series 5 as well. Despite the production issues that plagued this series, as explored in the extra features, and despite the production order being switched again (although for reasons far more prosaic than a Gulf War), it still keeps hitting punchline after punchline. It still has me wheezing for breath after making me laugh so hard, and that’s even though after all this time, I still have the episodes burned into my memory.
Series 4 ended with an episode reminding us just how much of a smeghead Rimmer actually is. This 5th series in contrast begins by reminding us that deep down, somewhere in the festering cesspool of his psyche, lies a small smidgen of humanity. In fact, that’s something of a theme in at least half of these episodes. In Holoship, Rimmer learns the meaning of love, after scornfully dismissing it as a waste of time. Poor Lister, the last remaining human in the universe, and the dead guy gets more action than he does. It begins with an appeal to Rimmer’s ambition, with the holoship offering him the one chance of achieving all his dreams, of being an officer, of being someone. That the holoship is a hedonistic paradise with obligatory no-string sex is just a bonus. Rimmer would do anything to get on that ship, and the mind patch sequence is hilarious. Also notable is when Don Warrington’s holographic officer appears on Starbug to ‘scan’ the crew.
The Inquisitor owes much to the Season 3’s The Last Day, which had Kryten doomed by an impending upgrade to the Hudzen model. Here it is Lister and Kryten who face impending replacements, but we get a fair bit of Terminator and time travel shenanigans thrown in as well. It literally is Judgement Day, as an android from the future shows up to judge just who is worthy of existence. As usual for Red Dwarf, it’s the Cat who gets the best of the one-liners, and he’s in fine form in this episode, e.g. “Trans-am Wheel Arch Nostrils!” Terrorform once again brings Rimmer centre stage, as his psyche is made manifest in a psi-moon, a world that adapts to a person’s mind. As mentioned, Rimmer’s is a fetid cesspool, and that is reflected here. Once again, it’s all about finding the humanity and virtues in that cesspool that matter in this story. High points include another Terminator-esque Kryten POV after he’s damaged, along with mood music. This also leads to the funniest non-verbal scene in Red Dwarf, Cat, Lister, a computer keyboard, and a Taranshula (sic). And once again, Rimmer scores with the women.
Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day, and even Rimmer makes sense sometimes. So used are the crew to simply dismissing him as a smeghead, that they fail to heed him when he offers some sage advice prior to exploring an abandoned outpost. Of course for us as an audience, it’s a good thing they did, or we would have missed out on that red gingham dress, and of course, Mr Flibble. This episode is also notable for taking Kryten’s constant quoting of the Space Corp Directives and making it a part of the plot. It happened to Captain Kirk when he went the wrong way through a transporter, and it happens to Red Dwarf as well in Demons & Angels, as they get split into their good and evil halves. And once again, it just goes to show that Rimmer does have a good half. As you would expect, it’s the evil halves that are the more interesting, although good-Cat and Rimmer’s interpretive dance isn’t to be missed. For some odd reason, evil Lister is a Mexican Bandit, but evil Rimmer escaping from the Rocky Horror Picture Show almost one ups Mr Flibble.
You’d think that all this brilliance would be hard to top, but then along comes Back to Reality, often voted the fans’ favourite Red Dwarf episode, and does just that. I could mention the way that it wrong-footed viewers, announcing that Red Dwarf was just a video game, and that the ‘crew’ have just been playing it for the last 4 years, and playing it badly. I could mention Timothy Spall’s memorable appearance berating their poor playing, “Twonks”. I could mention the brilliant way that the characters are subverted, but it all boils down to two words, Duane Dibbley. Back to Reality is just brilliant from beginning to end. The only complaint I have is that it was recycled for the significantly inferior Back to Earth.
It just gets better and better. The writing is sharper in this fifth season, the production values are higher, and the stories are even more ambitious in terms of sci-fi and complexity. That is evidenced by this DVD most certainly, with the image quality slightly improved over the previous season, but also in terms of the amount of extra features on the disc. There’s almost two episodes worth of deleted scenes here alone, and a couple of great featurettes on the failed US version of the show, and on the FX. As always, there is a solid feature length documentary on the making of the series, and with that kind of added material, there’s a whole lot more than just three hours of enjoyment to be had from this release.