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DVD Review

DVD cover

Red Dwarf
Back to Earth


Starring: Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules and Robert Llewellyn
2 Entertain
RRP: £19.56
Certificate: PG
Available 15 June 2009

Nine years later, the Red Dwarf crew are older but still none the wiser. Lister’s busy day of annoying Rimmer is interrupted by the discovery of a dimension-hopping leviathan in the ship’s mile-deep water tank. Rimmer’s gross incompetence triggers the arrival of his holographic replacement, Katerina, who is determined to guide Lister back to his home planet. But Earth in 2009 is not everything the boys had expected. Discovering that they are all destined to die, the Dwarfers head to a mysterious address to plead for more life...

While nine years have elapsed for the crew of Red Dwarf, it’s been slightly longer - just over a decade - for us in the “real world” since the last episode of Series VIII was broadcast. A few things have changed in the meantime. Holly and Kochanski are absent, for reasons that are only gradually made clear (though Peep Show’s Sophie Winkleman is brought on board to provide glamour and motivation as holographic science officer Katerina Bartikovsky). Rimmer is a hard-light hologram again, for reasons that are never explained (perhaps he didn’t actually manage to escape the Grim Reaper at the end of the last series). The boys have the ship to themselves once again, which more or less takes us back to the set-up of Series VI.

In terms of production, though, the feel of this three-parter is more akin that of Series VII. The visuals are glossy and high in definition (thanks to the 4K resolution of the new Red One cameras). The effects, including numerous virtual sets, are highly impressive, especially considering the budgetary and time restrictions placed upon the production. However, we’ve lost the studio audience again. Moreover, unlike Series VII, there isn’t even a laughter track.

There is some decent character development for Lister (Craig Charles), and a fairly interesting plot with some clever post-modern moments, but if you consider Red Dwarf to be first and foremost a sitcom, and science fiction second, then you’re liable to be disappointed. With the exception of a cutting comment made by Rimmer (Chris Barrie) on the subject of reality TV talent shows, this is pretty much a laughter-free zone. There’s more genuine mirth among the special features (of which more later).

Doug Naylor’s plot recycles ideas from previous episodes, including Me², Queeg and Back to Reality, as well as other narratives. The story’s homage to Blade Runner is explicit and well realised - the unfortunate similarities to The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse, as the characters discover that they are fictional and set out to find their creators in order to avoid annihilation, somewhat less so. In one of the Making of... documentaries, Naylor rather sniffily points out that fourth-wall narratives such as this have been around for far longer than The League of Gentlemen, but nevertheless that movie is what will be freshest in the minds of many viewers.

Ultimately, though, the fourth-wall element of the plot redeems itself by taking a very different turn, which I won’t spoil by disclosing here.

Back to Earth is presented in two formats: its original three-part form, as broadcast on Dave; and an omnibus director’s cut, which also contains a few small tweaks by Naylor. The three-parter can be viewed with an audio commentary by the main cast, Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules and Robert Llewellyn, who are more jovial than informative; while the director’s cut can be viewed with a commentary by writer / director Naylor.

Further extras are to be found on the second of the two discs in this pack, which contains a wealth of documentary and promotional material. This includes a substantially extended version of the Making of... programme than was broadcast on Dave (containing twice as much material again than was transmitted), featurettes, trailers and the specially recorded continuity announcements that were performed by the cast during Dave’s “Red Dwarf Easter weekend”. Smeg-ups and deleted scenes include a bunk scene that really should have stayed in the show, because it’s one of my favourite scenes in the entire production. The packaging even manages to resemble the Digipak seen on screen in the context of the show.

Though Red Dwarf is not exactly back with a bang, this DVD is worth a look, especially for the special features.


Richard McGinlay

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