Review for Red Dwarf: Complete Series 6 (2 Discs)
I’ve been taking my time with my Red Dwarf re-watch. All the better to savour the comedy with, and where once I could easily have marathoned six episodes of a series in one night, I now find that spreading the series out to one a month or so lets me appreciate each episode more, and on top of that there’s no danger of it going stale. Still, I have been dreading the arrival of Series 6, which in my memory is the last decent series of Red Dwarf until last year’s Series 10 outing. Even while I’m watching this, it isn’t far from my mind that we have series 7 and 8 to go. Still, Series 6 should still be the pinnacle of Red Dwarf humour, right?
3 million years in deep space, Dave Lister, the last human in the universe is trying to make his way back to Earth, along with a hologram of his dead bunkmate Arnold Rimmer, a creature evolved from the ship’s cat, and the service android Kryten. They should be on the mining ship Red Dwarf, along with the ship’s computer Holly, but Lister forgot where he parked it, and it’s been pinched. Now the intrepid threesome, plus Rimmer are trying to track it down in Starbug.
The six episodes of Red Dwarf Series 6 are presented on one disc, with a whole extra disc devoted to bonus features.
After 200 years in cold sleep, Lister is woken up to learn that they finally have a chance to catch up to Red Dwarf. The Dwarf has to take a detour around an asteroid field that Starbug is nimble enough to navigate through. The only problem is that the asteroids are teeming with Psirens. They’re just looking for prey, for brains to suck, and they’ll use their telepathic abilities to present their targets with what they desire most.
24 hours behind Red Dwarf, supplies running dangerously low, and with a reluctance to change light bulbs, it is the worst possible time for a Swirly Thing Alert. But this alert might lead to the salvation of the Red Dwarf crew. The Swirly Thing leads to a space station, where dwells Legion, the creation of the finest minds in the universe, and Legion has gifts to bestow.
3. Gunmen of the Apocalypse
You’re heading into dangerous territory teeming with rogue simulants, who absolutely despise humans. You need to be discreet, run silent, power down and try and sneak through... Only you can’t because Lister’s busy having sex with the virtual reality machine. Not that it will make any difference. The simulants will find Starbug anyway. The crew’s only chance for survival lies in Kryten’s dreams.
4. Emohawk: Polymorph II
Typical! Lost in space, three million years into the future, and you can still get pulled over by the Fuzz. But when the penalty for looting derelicts is death, there’s not a lot of incentive to help the police with their inquiries. Running is almost as bad, and Starbug barely makes it into a Gelf Zone, and even then with significant damage. The crew will have to trade with the Gelfs for spare parts, only Lister may not be willing to pay the price. But the Gelf chief has an Emohawk, and he’s not afraid to use it.
Do they learn? They’re looting derelicts again, only this time they go after the Simulant ship that they fought two episodes ago. Rimmer has had some bad news that amplifies his cowardice beyond normal, which is why he winds up zipping through a wormhole in an escape pod while the others try to escape from a disintegrating ship. Just rewards and all that... he’ll have to wait 600 years to be rescued, with nothing to do but to terraform a planet and play with the DNA chemistry set.
6. Out of Time
You know that you’re going to have a bad day, indeed a whole bad three weeks when Rimmer appoints himself morale officer aboard Starbug. At some point there must be a little voice in the back of your head telling you that this is a bad idea, especially when you hit a reality minefield. Signs like that ought to warn you that finding a time machine is an even worse idea. But no, you have to go through with it and meet your future selves. When it’s Rimmer who advocates being heroic, you’re in deep smeg.
We get a 4:3 transfer, and Red Dwarf once again maintains the quality of its production values at this point, even adding some more in the way of the early CGI effects that were trickling into television productions at this point in time. Unfortunately, the DVD doesn’t maintain the standards set by the previous releases. The first four episodes and the middle chapter of episode six are in the wrong aspect ratio. It should be 4:3 full-screen, but these are letterboxed ever so slightly, with uneven sized black bars top and bottom. I’d say it’s closer to a 13:9 ratio, just by eyeballing it. Also, videotape glitches are apparent from time to time, suggesting that this collection doesn’t come from the original masters. Finally, I saw a smidge of edge-enhancement, most notably on Kryten’s head in the monochrome sequence in Gunmen of the Apocalypse.
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 6’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 sixth 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, Danny John Jules getting his episodes mixed up, some film footage of the Starbug cockpit and a closer look at some of the CGI work, and an animated Ed Bye, Rob Grant, and Doug Naylor chatting about Gunmen of the Apocalypse.
There are cast commentaries on all six episodes, as Danny-John Jules, and Chris Barrie get together with Robert Llewellyn and 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 Gunmen of the Apocalypse, with competition winners Steve, Mandi, Cleo and Kier 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.
Disc 2 also presents its contents with animated menus, with a weblink, subtitles, DVD credits, and the Bonus Material accessible from the main menu screen
Also accessible from the main menu is the big making of documentary, which for season 6 is called The Starbuggers. Once more it begins with an overview of the season, before taking a look at each episode in turn. The new director Andy De Emmony and new producer Justin Judd join the cast and crew to talk about the series. There’s also some interesting behind the scenes footage as well. This lasts 74 minutes.
There are 43 minutes of deleted scenes to go with series 6. There’s no Play All option, just each episode listed separately, but if you choose one, it will play forward from that point anyway without returning to the menu. There are also 18 minutes of Smeg Ups to enjoy.
Three trailers for the series have been rescued from some carefully hoarded fan home tapes. There’s also a gallery with a plethora of images from the production, behind the scenes, and artwork, and of course as usual there are music cues from the series, sorted by episode, and with themes and additional tunes.
Speaking of music, Howard Goodall – Settling the Score lasts 29 minutes, and is an in-depth interview with the composer for Red Dwarf, and he covers everything up to Season 7, with a look at the theme tunes, and the incidental music, and some previously unseen verses for the end song.
There are 14 minutes of Raw Effects footage looking at the Starbug model work, including some unused shots.
Return to Laredo lasts 10 minutes, and Robert Llewellyn revisits the Western location in deepest Kent, some 11 years after the Gunmen of the Apocalypse episode was filmed there.
“Sick” Music featurette is another one of those montage sequences, this time revolving around ill-health, and space mumps.
Radio Sketch – Son of Cliché lasts 4 minutes, and is another Dave Hollins piece that inspired the eventual television series. This was first broadcast in 1984.
There is 6 minutes of Behind the Scenes footage from Psirens, taken from an aborted Making Of project. There is a 4 minute interview with director Andy de Emmony following the Emmy win for Gunmen of the Apocalypse, which serves as a sales pitch for the show, and finally there is some 8mm Model Maker Footage, just under 7 minutes, which takes us back behind the scenes of the model workshop.
It’s been a few years since I’ve watched Red Dwarf in earnest, and it’s been long enough for those rose tinted spectacles to get in the way of my recollections. So far, with Series 1-5, watching them now has largely matched up with my memories. As I remembered it, Red Dwarf hit its peak with Series 4-6, three seasons of absolute perfection, following a brilliant but uneven start. That’s before nose-diving for the final two BBC series. But having just re-watched Series 6, I find that my memories and reality are beginning to diverge. On the bright side, that does mean that maybe Series 7 and 8 won’t be as bad as I remember. The downside of that is that I had certain issues with Series 6.
Red Dwarf is still hilarious at this point. The shows are sharply written, with some great ideas and as usual juicy dense plots. Also, Red Dwarf at this point has never been as quotable, and with lines like “Are you absolutely certain, that does mean changing the bulb”, it’s easy to see why some of the episodes herein are justifiably fan favourites. In many ways, this is the best that Red Dwarf has been, and I do feel a little pernickety in criticising it.
Yet I have to admit that this time around I did sense something of a rot setting in. It’s just the faint sense of mustiness at this point, a little feeling that something is wrong, and something that I only notice in hindsight. I certainly wouldn’t have seen it when it was first broadcast. For the first time, and only in the first few episodes, I found the audience laughter intrusive. That is a point addressed in the commentary on episode 6, but when the laughter drowns out the punchline and you have to go back and switch the subtitles on, that isn’t good.
Much bigger an issue, and one that is prevalent through the series, is the sense of a conveyor belt to the scripts. The stories may be sharp, the acting better than ever, and the ideas flying, but there’s a catchphrase mentality to the scripts that wasn’t there in the earlier seasons. Again, it’s addressed in the commentaries, that the way the scripts were written was changed for this season, but when you’re ticking boxes off a checklist, Rimmer and Kryten space corps directive byplay, Cat’s fatalistic deader than ‘insert ancient fashion here’ quip, Lister’s inventive wisecrack about getting real, Cat’s nasal acuity doubted by Kryten, each and every episode, you begin to wonder if the writers are getting tired.
Certainly losing Red Dwarf and Holly was one way of shaking things up, but this recycling of comic dialogue week in and week out may have been behind the more drastic changes in the subsequent series, shifting the show from comedy to comedy-drama. Having seen series 6 and finding it a little wanting, I’m more inclined to give the next two series a chance.
The nitpicks aside, these episodes were still guffaw material for me, and I was happy to sit through them twice back to back, once for the show and once for the fun commentary. Psirens is a bit of classic Dwarf, one which sharply reintroduces us to the cast and gives a quick hit of catch up, as Kryten fills in an amnesiac Dave Lister. Whereas Season 5 saw Rimmer get the female attention, not bad for a dead guy, this time it’s Lister’s turn to lock lips, albeit with a giant bug, and a VR simulation in Gunmen. Psirens was also loaded with guest stars, including Anita Dobson, Jenny Agutter, and Claire Grogan’s final Red Dwarf appearance as Kochanski.
Legion also pays homage to classic tales, this time offering another take on the crazed genius living on a desert island trope. Classic dialogue is uttered as well, including the famous light bulb line, but this episode is notable for giving Rimmer substantiality at last, with his hard light drive making a debut. Being an intangible character isn’t easy, either for actors or for writers, and while nitpickers could delight at the number of times soft light Rimmer touched something (Marooned’s Ascension Sunday scene is a fine example), it would quickly get hard to write around. Series 5 did have several episodes where Rimmer was made tangible for the duration, whether on a holoship, or trapped in his own psyche, so you can see why the change was made for real here.
Of course there is the Emmy Award winning Gunmen of the Apocalypse, for many the finest moment in Red Dwarf, although it isn’t my favourite episode. There’s no denying its brilliance though, beginning with Lister in the VR game, the Vindaloovian ploy to hoodwink the Simulants, or the trip into the Wild West itself. There is just so much packed into 28 minutes that it’s hard to believe that it actually fits. For me, Emohawk is the weakest of the episodes, mostly because it panders to the fans the most, and tries to recapture old glories. We’re talking Ace Rimmer and Duane Dibbley of course, but to its credit, it succeeds, mostly because it doesn’t dwell on the return of these characters, but actually builds the story up impressively to that point, with the Gelf village sequence particularly funny.
With Rimmerworld it becomes clear that continuity plays a greater part in this sixth series, as the show returns to the Simulant ship of two episodes ago. This is also an episode where Rimmer shows his characteristic Rimmer-ness after learning some worrying news about his health. Cowardice in overdrive, this precipitates the Rimmerworld sequence that results when he flees the simulant ship. For once it is Kryten who gets the best punchline in an episode, not the Cat. Continuity also shows with the end of the show foreshadowing the final episode in the series, Out of Time. It also exhibits the biggest continuity goof, given that the main thrust of the episode concerns the discovery of an experimental time machine, yet the previous episode’s matter paddle had already sent the crew through time in two directions. Still it is a hilarious look at the crew’s future, and surprisingly it isn’t Rimmer’s bloated elderly military officer that is the funniest, rather it’s a toss up between the ultra-cool Cat losing his hair and his style, and Kryten’s 1970’s toupee experiment. The show ends on a note of uncharacteristic drama, but one that allows Rimmer to be the hero. That drama would become a more prominent element in the subsequent series.
Series 6 of Red Dwarf is still hilarious, it still has me wheezing with laughter as I watch it, but it isn’t quite as good as I remember it, and this time around, the seams are just beginning to show in its formulaic construction. That isn’t helped by the poor presentation on the DVD. The image quality takes a hit in comparison to previous discs, and it’s one series that could really do with a re-master.