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Monday, April 13, 2009

Red Dwarf: Back to Earth

WARNING: Huge spoiler alerts and ranting ahead.

I was nervously awaiting RD:BTE. I wanted it to be great but expected it to be shocking. Then I saw the adverts and thought it'd be even worse than that. Then I watched the first episode, and thought maybe it was okay. Then I watched the second and refused to watch the third. Luckily, my friend convinced me to give it another shot, and I watched the whole thing back-to-back and it (almost) worked. But then again, it almost completely failed too. Here's why.

1. Audiences were initially shocked at the crew. Where were Kochanski and Holly? Why was Rimmer a hologram again? Kochanski and Holly's absences were explained, and became explicitly clear by the end of the mini-series, so I got over that. Also, it's understandable why Rimmer was a hologram. He was the only crew member stuck on the decaying ship in the original reality at the end of series eight. Everyone else had crossed into the mirror universe. It's feasible to imagine Rimmer died with the crew, although it doesn't explain how he became hardlight (the hardlight drive was developed after Red Dwarf was built and left the solar system) or has memories of the events the previous hologrammatic Arnold Rimmer had (unless, somehow, Holly has updated his memory and personality files based on the logs of Red Dwarf and Starbug from the past few years).

2. Pace. Put simply, in part one there was none. As an episode, it felt entirely like build-up for something else. There were a few good jokes, but they were too sparse, and the CGI sets were too obtrusive. But I hate CGI in general, because I believe it lacks the fullness, body and texture of models and physical structures. Indeed, the whole thing feels like a movie chopped into three parts, because the pacing is slow and the narrative wallows and wanders a bit. It never feels it's going anywhere or is in any rush to do so, until the last 15 mins of episode three.

3. Episode 2. This was scary stuff on first viewing. 'What, the whole of Red Dwarf was a *fucking* dream?' (Well, actually, it was a TV series, and the characters have escaped the TV programme to enter the real world.) This was the same metafictional plot of The League of Gentlemen, and it didn't work for that franchise either. Luckily, episode three redeems the series, but you'd be forgiven for switching off in a rage. I was so appalled I wanted to cry.

4. Coronation Street. When Lister arrives on Coronation Street (which actor Craig Charles currently appears in), I groaned. This was the worst kind of cross-merchandising, self-referential bullshit I could think of, I thought. I cringed and winced and wanted to die. But my friend had spoiled the ending (thankfully), so I could take a deep breath and watch it, knowing it would soon be over.

What saved the entired trio of episodes was the last half of episode three. We discover, thankfully, that this is a reworking of Back to Reality. We should've guessed from the title and the squid, right? But apparently we didn't (not all of us, or at least, not right away). It makes sense, though, since Back to Reality was voted fans' favourite ever episode.

And here's the big spoiler: the squid was a female despair squid (a 'joy' squid), whose own ink is the opposite of the male's. Instead of inspiring despair, it creates joyous hallucinations where all the dreamer's desires come true. So in this world Kochanski is still with us and even when Lister realises he's in a hallucination, he initially decides to die with Kochanski in the dreamworld. It's only when he realises Kochanski is still alive, and Kryten staged her death to hide the fact she dumped him, that he eventually decides he can win the real Kochanski back and leaves the dream world.

Apparently, all four of the heroes have an immunity to the ink from their previous encounter with the squid, which allows them a degree of agency and awareness in the dream, and thus the ability to wake up. Of course, for Rimmer to have this immunity, Holly was either a very clever computer, who altered Rimmer's hardlight 'biology' to account for his experiences, or he's the same Rimmer who left to become Ace in 'Stoke Me a Clipper'.

The Blade Runner references were nice but blatant, although far preferable to the Coronation Street ones and the scenes where Lister and co find their own Red Dward TV show DVDs. The dialogue was less infantile than series eight, though not as sharp as series six (perhaps more like series seven). The special effects were neither here or nor there.

So overall it wasn't too bad. Two thirds of it were annoying at first, but the final revelation is interesting, if not original. Especially when Kryten reveals that the reality of their hallucination has, because of multiverse theory, become real. Effectively there is a new universe where people believe Red Dwarf is a TV show, which is actually not quite real itself (i.e., our world is born of their hallucination and theirs is the 'real' world). This salvages some of the more awkward moments, and the gags soften the blow somewhat along the way.

Obviously, it's a far cry from the excellent comedy of previous series, and continues the tread into comedy drama over sit com territory, but it's not as bad as I initially thought. Furthermore, it does show promise that Doug Naylor has some really great plot twists in his head, albeit ones that rely on hackneyed stories in the first place. I would have preferred something more daring, but whatever.

A mixed bag, but worth a watch when it comes out on DVD (most likely in an unedited film-length version, which would be much better).

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  1. Anonymous4:43 AM

    You're far too generous. It was utterly abysmal.

    After such a long lay off, the slightly wooden performances from some of the cast I could forgive, but how Doug Naylor managed to deliver such a poor script I have no idea.

    I hope to God he has given up on trying to make Red Dwarf the movie if this is an indication of what he had in mind. Complete toss - I'm trying to forget it ever happened.

  2. Well that's harsh...

  3. I thought the third episode rescued it pretty much but I wonder how many people gave up after the second, which was a bit pants. We carried on purely out of nostalgia glad we did though.

  4. Anonymous6:28 PM

    To Mr anonymous ... if you can forgive actors being rusty after a long break, why can't you forgive the writer? The writing is probably harder than the acting. Geez.

  5. I hated episode 2 . . . but after episode 3 I decided I liked the whole, even if I didn't like some of the individual bits.

    The writing wasn't attrocious. The jokes were a bit half-baked at times, but I think Naylor was focussed more on the plot aspects than the comedy. That's been his general take on the show since series 7, when he made it a dramady rather than a sit com. He's far more into ideas than sarcastic comments, whereas Grant was the opposite.

    I think, given more time to develop the script and ideas, both might become at least as good as series 7, which wasn't terrible IMO. I would, of course, prefer Grant to return too, or someone else to help Naylor. Maybe Ben Elton or someone could add a more traditional 'Brit com' feel.

    But I can see why this show was so self-referential. If this were the last ever outing for the Dwarfers, why not give them a fitting tribute, rather than leaving everyone hanging like series 8 did?

  6. Anonymous6:21 AM

    re: Ellira - Doug Naylor has been trying to secure funding for a RD movie for over a decade. He has had over 13 years to pull together a decent plotline and work on new scripts.

    13 years in which he could have perfected a great, funny storyline. Instead he botched together a self-referencial, hugely disappointing, unfunny mess in a few weeks. In parts it was spectacularly cringeworthy (scene on the bus talking to the kids anyone?)

    Harsh? Maybe, but true. I really wanted it to be great but putting the sentimentality aside it wasn't even passable. It's only because it's Red Dwarf that people are kidding themselves it was any good. If it was a new programme you had never seen before I doubt you would have lasted 5 minutes.

  7. I think if it had been shown as a 90 minute film (I think this will be an option on the DVD), it won't actually be half bad. I'm also wondering what the deleted scenes are like, because that may be where all the missing humour is ;-)