Written and Directed by Doug Naylor
Transmitted 4 October, 2012
Over 5 million years from the planet Earth, a mining craft the size of a city wanders through space with a crew of four; Dave Lister – the last human in existence with nary a goal aside from a larger, curry and a shag, a life form evolved from a household cat, a neurotic hologram based on Lister’s long dead bunk-mate Arnold Rimmer and a mechanoid named Kryten. The red Dwarf plots an aimless course through infinity with random moments of absurdity along the path to the inevitable extinction of all life.
It is frankly criminal that so few people are aware of the genius that is Red Dwarf. In the UK, it rose to prominence during a time when nary a series like it was in sight. Revived just two years ago for Back to Earth, the program is finally back on the air for a full run of two series (at least, I hope). I recall personally calling in to my local PBS station demanding that they transmit Red Dwarf back in the day and quite pleased that it blossomed into a minor phenomenon in my immediate social circle. Such was the way of things before the internet as we know it today (I still recall the day when Robb read the script for Psirens from his book imported from the UK). Sure, the last two years after the departure of Rob Grant were sub-par to say the least, but there was a legacy of brilliance there.
(Personally, I quite like Rob Grant’s solo effort, The Strangerers)
The problem with Red Dwarf after the departure of Rob Grant was that there was definitely something missing. The latter two years lacked the biting wit and the inspired ideas as well as the cynical characters that made Red Dwarf such a success. In short, it felt dumber and less interesting than before. There are some good moments in there, but the best stories were in the past.
Combining the logic of modern science fiction with the inanity of slapstick and absurd humor, Red Dwarf was a program like no other.
This year marks the return of Red Dwarf to TV screens (well, DAVE TV) for the first time since 1999 (barring the three-part special Back to Earth in 2009) and it is a return to the status that once marked it as a cult TV program demanding attention from followers of Star Trek, Doctor Who and more. Given that both Trek and Who are on the tip of cultural acceptance, it is surprising that Red Dwarf, a program that both lampooned and championed both while adding it own unique elements to the newborn genre of sci-fi/comedy, was missed in the mix.
Trojan, the first of a six episode run, is absolute genius. The comedic moments are back, the cast are in peak form and the concepts are insanely out of left field. In short, Red Dwarf is back. Despite evidence to the contrary, the returning cast members of Craig Charles (Lister), Chris Barrie (Rimmer), Danny John-Jules (Cat) and Robert Llewellyn (Kryten) are in their prime. Riffing with the best of them, the crew waste no time at all in jumping right back into action. No time is wasted in bridging the gap from the last episode to this one, it’s just free-wheeling insanity.
In the opening episode, Lister and Cat obsess over the contents of ‘Stupid But True!’ while Rimmer embraces a no-win attitude in his latest attempt to pass the officer’s exam. Lister and Cat are both sucked in by the droid equivalent of the home shopping network. An offer of a Mix Master promising to change their lives ensnares the pair for the remainder of the episode. Lister calls in an order on what appears to be a 1990’s era cordless phone and refuses to hang up, despite the fact that he is put on hold for hours.
When a rogue craft appears and they investigate, it comes as some surprise when a mayday call comes from Rimmer’s brother Howard, acting hologramatic commander aboard an ailing vessel. Despite blaming his parents on his failure to obtain any success in life, Rimmer’s brother is apparently a success. However, only Kryten is aware of the situation, so he just orders the droid to forget the mayday while he once more attempts to pass the exam. This of course results in the hologram equivalent of a nervous collapse. The only option is to reboot and cleanse Rimmer’s light bee of his neuroses so that he can function. When the rest of the crew become aware of Rimmer’s reluctance to face his brother for fear of facing the shameful enormity of his life’s failures, the situation comes into sharp focus.
In order to save Howard Rimmer, the Red Dwarf crew must embark on the shoddiest of shams and pretend to be the top of the space corps along with the craft itself being flight worthy. But what’s the alternative? Admit reality?
I recall the days when Red Dwarf was a series that was suggested to me and one that I would impress upon others. Later, that would turn to a kind of shameful pleasure when Red Dwarf dwindled into embarrassment. Judging by this episode, the days of the brilliance of Red Dwarf are back and thank goodness.
And here’s an alternative review from regular poster Hal:
Red Dwarf was one of the most successful small sf shows of the late eighties/early nineties; launched in 1988 the year before Doctor Who ended its original run, it was by its sixth series in 1993 not only really the last British sf series standing but also an award-winning international hit. Quite amazing when one considers that it began as a small-scale character-based sitcom with a budget that Blake’s 7 would have laughed at.
As you know, creators Rob Grant and Doug Naylor wrote every episode of Red Dwarf I-VI but there relationship disintegrated so when VII aired in 1997 it was without Grant. Although VII and VIII were popular neither were up to the standards of earlier runs with format and cast changes suggesting that Dwarf’s time was past and that Naylor without Grant was like French Fries without Salt. Naylor’s deluded quest for a Dwarf movie kept it off-screens for years, and when it did return as the Back to Earth mini-series, well as you remember, it was fitfully entertaining, under-budgeted, slightly pretentious, and not quite convincing as Dwarf. So, is Red Dwarf X even a worthwhile endeavor. From the evidence of premiere episode “Trojan” very much so! There’s no Holly (boo!), Kochanski (boo! Chloe Annett’s nice), or any of VIII’s crew (yay!) but Rimmer (Chris Barrie), Lister (Craig Charles), the Cat (Danny John-Jules), and Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) are all present and correct, very much in-character and entertaining.
In fact with the possible exception of a rather muted at-times Craig Charles, all four seemed more *in-character* than at any point since perhaps Red Dwarf V. John-Jules’s Cat is hilariously dumb while Llewellyn to inhabit Kryten better than he has in years, and this despite a rather odd make-up job and changes to his physique and costume that lead to a rather porky-looking android (check out his chest-plate!).
Most notable is the fact that – some flaws aside – Doug Naylor’s script feels more like “real” Red Dwarf than *any* of his previous post-Grant material. This show’s Rimmer (who isn’t the *original* hologram Rimmer presumably) may lack the emotional nuances of the II-V version but Naylor writes him very well, Chris Barrie is as usual brilliant (even if broad, mostly), and he is *very* funny. Naylor for the most part nails it with the comedy throughout, the first scene is a little awkward (with some odd-sounding audience laughter – and it *isn’t* a laugh-track) but this serves to set-up a hilariously silly joke later on involving Rimmer, a question on his astro-navigation exam, and an answer involving a moose. Without wishing to spoil anything the episode’s plot – though flawed – ends up delving into Rimmer’s familiar personality problems and resentment of his long-dead but successful-when-alive brothers, the problem with Quantum Rods, and the perils of sexy simulants. It may not be perfect but it is very funny, it has impressive model shots, memorable characters, and is, all in all the best Red Dwarf for 19 years.
Well done to the cast, Doug Naylor, and Grant Naylor Productions. I hope you like it, Jameson.
Series X trailer