DVD
Red Dwarf
Series Four

Starring: Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn and Hattie Hayridge
BBC Worldwide Publishing

RRP: £19.99

BBCDVD1307
Certificate: 12
Available now


As The Jupiter Mining Company's Red Dwarf ventures deeper into space, Ace Rimmer arrives from an alternative dimension, Kryten falls in love and Lister's curry tries to kill him...

Series four of Red Dwarf looks and feels a lot slicker that than series one to three. The model effects look more impressive - with a very obvious Thunderbirds feel to them - and the other visual effects are more convincing.

Also, around this time the writers were trying to sell the show to America, and in retrospect this is really obvious. There are a lot of gags in this series that are aimed specifically at an American audience - including references to Ripley's Believe it or Not, American football and the insistence on using the word "bum" instead of "tramp". Also in the episode Meltdown the majority of the hero wax droids still alive in Wax World are American (Abraham Lincoln, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Stan Laurel).

But possibly the largest crime sees Robert Llewellyn's Kryten being the focus of more episodes at the expense of the other cast members - especially Danny John-Jules's Cat. Both Camille and DNA are Kryten episodes and three of the remaining four episodes (Justice, Dimension Jump and Meltdown) are Rimmer heavy episodes. Sadly, this means that Holly, The Cat and, to a lesser extent, Lister are not used fully. However, fans of the original Kryten (David Ross) will be pleased to see that he makes a vocal appearance as a new Talkie Toaster.

The extras are more impressive than season three's appalling offerings - although they could have been better. Extras include: Cast commentary for each episode; Ace Rimmer documentary presented by Hattie Hayridge; Built To Last documentary; Deleted scenes; Smeg ups; Trailers; Model shots; Isolated music cues; Photo gallery; Design gallery; Can't Smeg, Won't Smeg; Easter Eggs; Talking book chapters and Weblink.

These extras warrant further explanation. Firstly, don't bother with the audio commentary. You won't be able to stomach more than one. What you get (as I mentioned with the season three discs) is five actors sitting around watching episodes they haven't seen in years saying: "Ah! Classic! That's a classic line that." Then long moments of silence and then more of the same dull laughing and unhelpful observations. Occasionally, and it is usually thanks to Chris Barrie or Robert Llewellyn, we get a little bit of background information. But these nuggets are so few and far between as to make them pointless. Possibly the biggest crime is during the commentary of Meltdown when Hattie Hayridge starts to talk, stops herself and then apologises for talking over the episode. She then naively asks whether the viewers can turn the commentary off and watch the episode without them talking.

No, I'd ignore the commentaries and go straight for the Built to Last documentary. At just over an hour and 10 minutes, this looks at every episode and digs out tons of interesting information that will be of interest to Red Dwarf fans. Also worth watching is the Can't Smeg, Won't Smeg spoof of Can't Cook Won't Cook. I really found this amusing. However it should have really been included on a later collection, as ChloŽ Annett (Kochanski) is included and she doesn't appear until series seven.

The only really bad extras are the Ace Rimmer and Lurve "documentaries". They are listed as "documentaries" but are really just clips cobbled together from the shows entire history. Dull doesn't even begin to describe how tedious these are. Oh, and this time around they've tried to make the talking book chapters sound relevant by stating that they show the characters in a new light?!!? Er... no they don't! And anyone who is even remotely familiar with Red Dwarf will know that the books and the TV series constantly contradict one another anyway.

Another annoying feature I'd like to point out is the lengthy menu screens. Why do DVD producers think that we want to sit through really long animated sequences? I just want to watch the episodes, not explore a computer generated interior or Red Dwarf. While this may look cool the first time, it really starts to annoy after repeated viewing. Thankfully though the annoying, difficult to navigate extras menu has now been altered so that you get the option to view this as a simple text menu - which is much easier to control.

Having moaned more than praised this release, this is still an essential purchase - the episodes themselves still stand up as great television. And you'd be a bit of smeg head to turn your nose up at some of the shows best episodes from its entire run.

Darren Rea

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£12.99 (Amazon.co.uk)
   
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£14.99 (Streetsonline.co.uk)

All prices correct at time of going to press.