Red Dwarf
Just The Shows - Series 5 To 8

Starring: Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Hattie Hayridge, ChloŽ Annett and Norman Lovett
RRP: £34.99
Certificate: 12
Available 02 October 2006

Three million years from earth and the mining ship red dwarf and its four remaining crew of Lister, the cat, Kryten and Rimmer continue their endlessly pointless voyage through the universe...

What we have here, oh faithful ones, are series five to eight of Red Dwarf without a single extra, except subtitles. The print is good, given the age of the show and audio is a vanilla stereo. One of the things which I did notice in engaging in this marathon Red Dwarf viewing was just how often the same jokes were made time after time. With little in the way of character development, and with the environment remaining relatively static, the show can become a little repetitive. Of course Red Dwarf was never meant to be watched in this way, with roughly six episodes per season, spread over four years, the length of time between original showings meant that this problem was relatively hidden. That said, I did think that the writing lost some of its spark in the last two series, a feeling I had when the show was originally broadcast, and one which this box set only reinforces.

That is not to say that at its best Red Dwarf is not a 'must see' show of superlative quality, even at its worst it was still a better comedy than most of its competitors. In its defence the show continued to get large audiences right up to the last show.

Series five, which was originally shown in 1992, kicks off with Holoship, where Rimmer encounters a ship full of holograms. Watching it again you can see that Red Dwarf was still on its creative high, though I had forgotten about the irritating laughter track. One of the good things about old shows is the chance to see famous people in parts before they had made it big. In this episode Jane Horrocks plays Commander Nirvana - who Rimmer falls in love with and ultimately gives up everything for.

The Inquisitor opens with Thomas Allman being judged as a worthless human being and eradicated from history. Well, if the Inquisitor is looking for worthless lives you just know it's only a matter of time before he catches up with the crew of the Red Dwarf.

Terrorform gives the show a nice twist, if not its best comedy, by having the crew rescue Rimmer from a planet which has terra-formed itself into a reflection of Rimmer's psyche.

Quarantine, finds the boys discovering the frozen remains of Dr Lanstrom who has contracted a holo-virus which gives her all sort of malevolent powers, which she turns on the hapless crew. To make sure that they don't infect the ship Rimmer puts them in quarantine, though unbeknownst to them he has gone "quite, quite mad".

The penultimate episode of series five is Demons and Angels. Kryten and Lister invent a machine that triples up objects. This being the Red Dwarf, a great idea is about to become a stupendously idiotic one. After a power overload the machine creates two more Ships, one containing the better half of the crews personalities, the other their worst half.

The last episode of series five has every right to award itself the title of a classic - every element that was great about Dwarf is here in this almost perfect comedy. In Back to Reality, the boys wake up and discover that they have been playing a simulation of Red Dwarf for the last five years and have still only scored four percent. Ok, so we know that the writers would use this opportunity to play around with the characters, but the creation of Cat as Dwayne Dibley is nothing short of comic genius.

We skip to 1993 for series six, which kicks off with the crew loosing Red Dwarf and having to pursue the ship in the Starbug. The episode, Psirens, is a reworking of the Odysseus tale as the crew encounter a race that uses its siren song to entrap travellers and suck their brains out.

Legion: Running short of supplies the crew think that their luck has changed when they encounter what they think is an abandoned space station. Instead of an empty station they meet Legion who offers everything that the crew could wish for, his only price is that they stay with him forever.

Gunmen of the Apocalypse is another high point for the show; winner of an Emmy, the episode is a bit of a rerun of Terrorform, except instead of having to travel through Rimmer's mind, the crew have to enter Kryten's, which seems to consist of a very funny and surreal wild west town.

In Emohawk - Polymorph II the law finally catches up with the crew in the form of a Space Corp enforcement probe which has an issue with the boys stealing stuff from abandoned ships. On the run from the law they make the desperate decision to escape into Gelf space, a race that owes more than a passing nod to the Vogons. When Lister reneges on his agreement to marry the chief Gelfs daughter the chief sets his Emohawk on them.

Thematically, a bit of repetition has started to creep into the show with Rimmerworld. The crew are off on another scavenging mission to the Simulant's ship, which predictably goes horribly wrong. Rimmer, in the heat of battle, turns tail and runs abandoning his shipmates. After they have escaped the ship Kryten, the Cat and Lister go looking for Rimmer only to find him trapped in a world made entirely of his own clones.

The last show of series six is another piece of inventive nonsense. Out of Time finds the crew discovering another abandoned ship, this time it has a time travel drive. After a quick jump into fifteenth century deep space they are confronted by their future selves.

Series seven and it's 1997, nearly four years have passed since the previous series. This series is a little longer, at eight episodes, and is spread across two discs. The gap hadn't done the show any favours, for some reason a lot of the spark seemed to have gone out of the show.

Episode one, Tikka to Ride, and having been killed in the last episode the crew are revived due to a temporal paradox and discover that not all things have remained the same. On the plus side Starbug is bigger, though at the cost of the destruction of all the curry and lager onboard. To avert a personal catastrophe Lister uses the time device to travel back in time to order five hundred curries to replenish stocks. Sounds easy doesn't it? Everything seems to be going to plan until the crew gets involved with the assassination of JFK.

This level of inventiveness unfortunately starts to slip away from the show, a decline which is not helped by the departure of Rimmer in Stoke me a Clipper, where the brave 'Ace' Rimmer is mortally wounded after rescuing Princess Bonjella. With his time running out he seeks out Red Dwarf's Rimmer to replace him, trouble is Rimmer has a yellow streak the size of a custard tsunami.

Ouroboro, sees the introduction of Rimmer's replacement in the form of Lister's lost love Kristine Kochanski. Now it's not Chloe Annett's fault, her performance was everything that the producers could have ask of her, but the introduction of a female completely changed the tenor of the show - from a sort of Men behaving Badly, to a slightly odd romantic sitcom.

Duct Soup, a reference to an old Marx's brothers film, carries on the idea of a love triangle between Kryten the jealous one; Lister, the lusty one; and Kochanski, the rather disgusted one. This is the 'getting to know you' episode where the crew get stuck in a room and have to climb through endless ducts to get out. It's a pretty so so episode with a very nice twist in the ending.

Blue revolves around the central theme of Lister missing Rimmer. The show does have one really nice highlight in the form of the Rimmer Ride. When Lister starts to miss Rimmer Kryten makes up a fairground attraction which extols the virtues of Arnold Judas Rimmer.

With the new crew now settled in, it's time to start the usual nonsense. Beyond a Joke sees Kryten trying to celebrate the day that they rescued him from the Nova 5. Unfortunately, due to a little problem with the lobster and Lister's desire for brown sauce, Kryten's head explodes and the crew have to go in search of a new one.

With Epideme, the show is back to treading water and rehashing old ideas. The crew find another abandoned ship, this time containing one of Lister's old girlfriends - who infects him with an intelligent virus, which the crew must go to extreme conditions to get rid of.

So we reach the last episode of series seven with Nanarchy. Having had his arm lopped off in the last episode, Lister must rely on Kryten to use his nanobots to rebuild Lister's arm, with unpredictable results.

It couldn't have passed the notice of the writers that series seven wasn't as well received as the previous series' and it would be a further two years (1999) before they would revisit the Red Dwarf universe. A re-imagining of the show was offered, with the everything going back to the show's original roots. But instead of the grey and claustrophobic sets of the first series, which added to the sense of a slow decline into madness, the mining ship Red Dwarf has been recreated with all its personnel present and correct.

Series eight was another relatively long run, so like series seven the shows are spread across two discs. The show also took another change in direction. Instead of the loosely strung together stories, the last series of Red Dwarf went straight for a continuing interconnected narrative, and as such the first three episodes are Back in the Red parts One, Two and Three.

The crew discover that the ship and crew, including Rimmer, have been resurrected by the nanobots. Although it's a nice return for Chris Barrie, you get the feeling that all of the actors are just going through the motions. Robert Llewellyn gets the lion's share of the one-liners, but they are too few and far between to keep the show going.

You would think that finding the ship and crew in one piece would be a godsend; well it is until the crew are arrested and jailed. The interconnected first three episodes look at their attempts to extradited themselves from this unfortunate position, but given how utterly ineffectual they are in every aspect of their lives, you just know that this is a non-starter.

The last episode on disc one is Cassandra, wherein Lister signs the crew up to a suicide squad. The squad are set to investigate an abandoned ship - haven't we been here before - only to discover a computer that can predict the future - including Rimmer's death in the following twenty minutes.

So, we come to the very last disc in the set. Krytie TV finds the crew with a real chance of freedom; unfortunately Kryten has decided to become the star of his own reality program, which mostly involves filming people in the shower, not a thing that is going to go down well with the captain.

Next up is the two-parter, Pete, which could have been condensed to a much better single episode. In Pete the crew are in their usual trouble, this time with the guards. As punishment they are sent to investigate a derelict (I'm sick of using the word abandoned) ship in which they find a time wand which turns Pete the bird into a Tyrannosaurus rex.

And so we come to the last episode. Only the Good... and the show comes full circle with the ship being destroyed by a virus. Although the show had declined in its last season there were still some good elements. Red Dwarf ended in exactly the way it should do with Rimmer, partly out of courage, but mostly out of stupidity kicking Death in the nuts.

It's a shame that Red Dwarf didn't learn a lesson from Fawlty Towers and end on a high. That said I still think that at its worst it was much better than most shows, and at its best it was a comedic wonder to behold.

Charles Packer

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