Red Dwarf
Series 7

Starring: Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, ChloŽ Annett and Chris Barrie
RRP: £22.99
Certificate: 12
Available 07 November 2005

The crew of
Starbug bid a surprisingly fond farewell to that smeghead Rimmer and welcome aboard an alternate version of Lister's ex-girlfriend, Kristine Kochanski (complete with in-and-out bits). However, as the crew encounter spatial rifts, vengeful GELFs and Simulants, Kryten's "brother" mechanoid, an intelligent virus and naughty nanobots, Kris proves to be almost as neurotic as Rimmer was...

This series is widely regarded as Red Dwarf's weakest. I won't argue with that. There's also a commonly held view that the main reason why this series is the weakest is the lack of Chris Barrie's Rimmer, who departs in the second episode, Stoke Me a Clipper. Here, however, I must disagree.

The best episode of the eight in this series is the Rimmer-less Duct Soup. As well as being a character study on a par with Series 3's Marooned, it boasts loads of great lines. There's Kryten's (Robert Llewellyn): "It's because, ma'am, he can't wait to get the wrapper off and taste the salty goodness," Lister (Craig Charles) with: "I'm too mature for this, I'm just gonna sit here and read me comic," and Cat (Danny John-Jules), trying - and failing - to take Lister's mind off his claustrophobia: "Boy, is it cramped! Whoo-ee!" Admittedly, ChloŽ Annett as Kochanski tends to have memorable one-liners spoken about her (such as Kryten's, "Oh my goodness, it's Princess Leia!") rather than delivering them herself, but even she has good character moments, bashing a noisy water pipe and discussing gay friends with Lister.

My second favourite instalment is Ouroboros, the one that introduces Annett. Though admittedly it also features Barrie, he is only in a brief flashback. And this flashback demonstrates why it was actually a good time for Rimmer to move on. As a character, he had long since grown beyond the cowardly gimboid he once was. In episodes such as Series 5's Holoship and Series 6's Out of Time he proved to be selfless and brave, so by the time Stoke Me a Clipper comes along, he isn't really the inveterate coward he is claimed to be. The Rimmer we see in the flashback reminds us how much he has changed: in terms of dialogue, this could have been a deleted scene from Series 1 or 2. Evidently writer/executive producer Doug Naylor realised that the trick was to press the reset button, and when the character returned in Series 8 it was as a re-creation of his pre-Series 1 self. Ouroboros also contains a great central concept and impressive model and CGI effects (which are much better than some of the dire CG seen elsewhere), though it is let down by the fact that Annett is clearly still finding her feet.

A general problem with Series 7 is that the emphasis of the show, which started out as a sci-fi sitcom, veers away from sitcom towards straight science fiction. In particular, Tikka to Ride and Stoke Me a Clipper both start well, respectively offering laughs involving Lister's need for curry and the return of Ace Rimmer (Chris Barrie), but then after that they seem to forget to be comedies. Tikka to Ride morphs into a surprisingly serious time paradox/"what if JFK had survived" scenario that wouldn't have seemed out of place in an episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, while Stoke Me a Clipper embarks upon a Jedi-style training mission. The final plot twist of Tikka to Ride is a largely pointless contrivance that doesn't even fit within the laws of time travel established earlier on in the episode: since the future Starbug crew were unable to kill their past selves, how come the future Kennedy (Michael J Shannon) can kill his past self?

In the documentary Back From the Dead, which is included on Disc 3, Craig Charles claims that the aim had been to make the series more of a comedy drama than a sitcom. However, if that's the case, then maybe the production team should have reverted to the show's moody original theme tune, rather than a title sequence that promises the type of knockabout fun that fans had come to expect. Series 8 would see a return to the sitcom format, complete with studio audiences (which are absent here).

Blue and Beyond a Joke each boast a couple of classic, attention-grabbing moments. In Blue, they are that kiss and the unforgettable Munchkin Song at the end; in Beyond a Joke, they are a couple of explosions. Unfortunately, in the case of Beyond a Joke, these moments are pretty much all that the episode has going for it. The episode also features Don Henderson in a special guest role as a whispering Simulant, but sadly it's impossible to tell what he is saying most of the time.

The series concludes with Epideme and Nanarchy, which, though neither are great, contain elements that should prove pleasing to fans who have been with the show since the beginning. Following a gory, zombie-themed beginning (in which Lister has to snog a hideous monster - again), there's a distinct Series 1 flavour to Epideme. It is particularly reminiscent of Confidence and Paranoia, since it deals with a talking disease. Nanarchy marks a return that so thrilled me when I first saw it that I won't even say who or what returns, just in case you don't already know! By this point in the series' production, Annett had evidently settled into role (as she had in Duct Soup, which was recorded last) and delivers some funny lines, including, in Nanarchy: "Not here, it's too sandy."

As well as the regular half-hour episodes, this three-disc set also contains the "Xtended" versions of Tikka to Ride, Ouroboros and Duct Soup. You can also view either edition of Tikka to Ride with remastered CGI effects. It's a pity there isn't also a remastered version of Stoke Me a Clipper, because the light bee sequence at the end is certainly in need of improvement, particularly when the light bees are seen, totally out of scale, through Starbug's cockpit windows.

In addition, there are more than four hours of special features, including a couple of competition-winning fan films, raw effects footage, smeg-ups and over 40 minutes of deleted scenes (not counting the stuff in the Xtended episodes). The effects footage and deleted scenes reveal that a crucial difference between Kochanski's version of the crew and "our" universe's would have been that her team never lost their version of Red Dwarf. However it's something of a relief, from a continuity point-of-view, that this element never made it into the finished episodes, because it would have been hard to explain why Kochanski and her version of Cat were still alive, given that the Starbug crew spent 200 years in deep sleep between Series 5 and 6 owing to their loss of Red Dwarf.

The best features of all are the 90-minute documentary Back From the Dead and a reading of the "lost" episode Identity Within. Back From the Dead makes riveting viewing, as the cast and crew discuss the difficult circumstances under which the seventh series was made. What with the bust-up between Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, and the problems that arose when model work was completed before principal shooting was scheduled to finish (which meant that the effects requirements of certain episodes deviated from the model shots that had actually been produced), it's amazing that this series made it to the screen at all. There's also a particularly amusing anecdote from producer/director Ed Bye, who recalls being confronted by a fan at a convention - well, it's amusing unless, I suppose, you happen to be the fan in question!

The original script of Identity Within, which was written but never produced, is performed by Chris Barrie and illustrated with storyboards by movie artist Neil Maguire. With Barrie's convincing impersonations of the rest of the cast, this is as close as you can get to watching a proper episode.

As with previous releases, there are audio-only features of isolated music cues, including material that was recorded but never used in the finished programmes, and a couple of (not especially funny) Dave Hollins - Space Cadet sketches from the Son of Clichť radio show.

ChloŽ Annett joins the cast commentaries for the episodes in which she stars, though curiously Chris Barrie sticks around during instalments in which he does not appear. This seems strange, especially since the actor has little to say about the Rimmer-less shows. The rest of the male cast continually goad him into making derogatory remarks about these episodes, which makes for rather uncomfortable listening.

Despite the wealth of special features, I have a few issues regarding the way some of them are presented. For instance, if you select "Play All" on Discs 1 and 2, there's a good chance you'll fail to notice presence of the Xtended episodes. The Trailers listing in fact contains only one trailer, plus Robert Llewellyn's original links for this season's smeg-ups. Wouldn't it have been more sensible to list these links under the Smeg-Ups menu, with a choice to "Play All With Intros" or similar? Finally, you'd expect an extra entitled Music Featurette to be a featurette about the series' music, wouldn't you? No such luck: it's a montage of clips set to music.

Though not without its funny moments, Series VII on DVD is, more than any other Red Dwarf release, a case of "nice extras, shame about the episodes".

Richard McGinlay

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