It must be nice to be British. A holiday arrives and there is actually something worthwhile on the TV.
This Easter sci-fi fans rejoiced as both Doctor Who and Red Dwarf took to the screens to cries of ‘squee’ all across the sceptred isle. I had first heard of Red Dwarf way back in my High School days when I was working the convention circuit selling Star Trek memorobilia and bootleg anime. Someone explained the premise to me, the last human alive is stuck on a spaceship in the distant future with a mutated cat, a senile computer and the most obnoxious man he ever met for company and decided I had to see it. Back in the days before the internet, I was left with one option, I called my local PBS station. In no time, Red Dwarf was onm NHPTV. I have no idea if my call had anything to do with it, but I take full credit.
As a fan, I ofcourse have my favorite and least favorite episodes and eras. I very much enjoyed the first two seasons and it took me ages to warm to the jazzed-up more active third season and beyond. The fifth and sixth season remain perfect in my opinion and the latter two are… none of us age gracefully least of all TV programs. With one half of the writing team gone, the last two years never felt right to me. It’s still watchable, but only of you are a real devoted fan.
The series ran for 8 seasons and obtained a dwindling yet feircely loyal fan base that made Dr Who fans look socially mobile. It gets a bad rep from time to time as its humor can get repetitive and the mixture of sci-fi, drama and comedy is not to everyone’s taste, but Red Dwarf was pioneering the genre of sci-fi at a time when no one, not even the aforementioned Dr Who, was. A program that blended comedy and science fiction must have seemed absurd when it initially aired in 1988, but it remains unique today.
Several years later, it has returned.
I had no idea what to expect of this new special and felt something very much like that first viewing of ‘Rose’ from RTD’s Doctor Who series. I was excited and worried in equal parts. Imagine my surprise when it all felt so… familiar. The corny jokes, the drab sets (albeit done up with actual camera angles and CGI) made it seem like the series never stopped. Red Dwarf was back.
A three-parter, Back to Earth can be said to go through several stages. Initially, it appears to be a standard Dwarf episode. Lister is pining after his lost love Kochanski. Kryten is on vacation in a cubpoard. Rimmer is vainly hanging a picture of himself in the bedroom and Cat has narrowly escaped the clutches of a giant squid trapped in the water tank. The arrival of a replacement hologram who berates Rimmer also feels quite normal.
It’s when the crew are transported to ‘actual reality’ where they are fictional characters that things get weird. The crew find that they are taking part in their final adventure. They discover this by finding the DVD box for Back To Earth. Keeping in time with actual reality, the disc isn’t in the case since we the audience are watching it on TV. Enraged that they are being killed off, they decide to confront their creators and demand that they be kept alive. Delving into the only resources of reliable Red Dwarf information available, the crew turn to the fans of the program for help with mixed results and the most innovative prop gag I have ever seen in the form of the Starbug car (‘Carbug’).
It must be said that this special asks a lot of the viewer. There are several Blade Runner gags that run through the story. As a fan of the movie, I was amused but can easily see this concept annoying the Hell out of anyone. There are also several references that will only make sense to a British TV viewer, such as the trip to Coronation Street where they meet the actor Craig Charles. Lister is disgusted with the loser actor who plays him and gets depressed. Only a pair of young Red Dwarf fans cheer him up by reminding him that he may be a slob but he can also be quite brave. Besides, they think that Kochanski is alive after all, so he has to have hope, something that he ends up needing to accept reality and escape the trap that he soon finds himself in the twist ending.
The episode is classic Red Dwarf; heartfelt, absurd and corny all at once. I was very dubious about what I would think about a favorite program of mine getting revived and after the debacle made of Doctor Who I had good reason. However, as the familiar end theme played out I found myself smiling and wanting more. After 8 years of a program and just as long off the air, that’s quite an accomplishment.
No word yet on a US airing, but keep your feelers out there.