Rouge awakening

Wednesday, April 8, 2009 by

To mark Red Dwarf's 21st anniversary, the cast and celebrities arrive for the World Premiere Screening of Red Dwarf: Back to Earth to be shown on Friday at 9pm on Dave.

To mark Red Dwarf's 21st anniversary, the cast and celebrities arrive for the World Premiere Screening of Red Dwarf: Back to Earth to be shown on Friday at 9pm on Dave.

“…Nine years later” is how Red Dwarf: Back to Earth opens. And that’s the only specific detail I’m going to give from the three new RD episodes, which were screened back-to-back to press, celebs and general telly nabobs at London’s May Fair (I know, it doesn’t look right, but it is two words) hotel this evening.

“Unfortunately Craig’s not able to be with us tonight,” said Doug Naylor to the assembled. “He’s very disappointed. We’re just going to play a short film that he recorded earlier today on the Coronation Street set. And I just want you to compare the way this is shot with… [drowns in laughter]. Pay attention to the lip-sync! Never mind the quality! This is Coronation Street! It’s, what, number one in the ratings?!”

And then Craig, from the Kabin: “Hi everyone. I’m really gutted I won’t be getting to see Back to Earth with you all tonight, but unfortunately I’ve got a Coronation Street night shoot. I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved, maybe it’ll lead to more shows. But tonight it should make you laugh, gasp and maybe even shed a little tear – and not just at the bit where Chris gets his nackers slammed into a desk.”

Okay, so let’s talk in general terms about the three-parter…

Bingo jingo!

Bingo jingo!

I’ve got to be honest and say I have conflicting feelings. I’d never call myself a Red Dwarf fan, but I guess I’m enough of a fan to hold an opinion on when I think the original series stopped being truly great. Many of the problems that dogged its latter years are gone, here. There’s a cohesive story, for one, and the characters are allowed once more to do – well – just what we want to see them doing. Hey, even the original font is back!

And, yet, with that comes a sense this was almost written as a tribute to Red Dwarf, and not a new episode. As though Doug Naylor couldn’t give himself license to do anything other than repeat familiar tropes.

That plot, then. Just when it feels as though it’s about to twist into something quite ingenous it throws in a disappointing final loop that I was sure had to be a bluff… but wasn’t. Suddenly, and inelegantly, it stops.

It’s a shame, because everything else about the production is tops. It looks brilliant; this is Red Dwarf: The Movie. And the cast effortlessly reprise their roles, delivering the material with real zing.

So I’m a bit disappointed. But I think this is a fine commission for Dave – it’s the kind of thing digital channels should be doing; showing faith in much-loved franchises that people actually want to see on television. I applaud them for that. And, actually I’d would like to see more Red Dwarf. Despite my horrible grumbling, there’s still something there…


14 Responses to “Rouge awakening”

  1. Steve Brennan on April 9th, 2009 8:43 am

    I’ll reserve judgement till I’ve seen it, but I’m not hopeful. The reason being that for two full series (7 & 8) the dive in quality was shocking and the directorial decisions were wholly misguided. Bringing back the entire crew, replacing Kochanski with an actress wholly unsuited to the vibe of the show and with no comic timing, fiddling with the Rimmer character, filmizing series 7, farting around with CG, Kryten and the Cat’s wildly inconsistent personality shifts – all of these things killed the show, painfully. It was at its best from series 3 to 6, where the gag hit rate was high, the effects pleasingly cheesy, the characters established, and it never lost its sense of irreverent sci-fi bashing. And as has been noted, it was one of the few shows that actually suited a laugh track.

  2. Applemask on April 10th, 2009 10:17 pm

    That was surprisingly good, actually. In places it almost felt like Rob Grant was back. The second half was rushed, Kryten was underused and it’s a shame not to have Holly around, but it’s actually nowhere near as bad as a) it could have been and b) every critic in the world plus 99% of the Internet will say it was tomorrow.

  3. Steve Brennan on April 10th, 2009 11:01 pm

    Applemask is half right. It was surprising. I could never have predicted that an episode of Red Dwarf wouldn’t make me even smile once.

  4. Applemask on April 10th, 2009 11:05 pm


  5. Steve Brennan on April 10th, 2009 11:11 pm

    Yeah – fools, all of us, not to recognize comedy genius when we see it. Hey, haven’t even looked elsewhere at this here t’interweb. Funny how we both seem to think that everyone else will be saying its shit too, though.

  6. Applemask on April 10th, 2009 11:52 pm

    Same thing happened to Walking With Beasts back in the day, for absolutely no reason at all except that it was a second series, sort of.

  7. Steve Brennan on April 11th, 2009 9:52 am

    I don’t think that’s a valid comparison. Red Dwarf is a comedy that has previously run for 8 series with a continuing narrative thread, established characters and two writers. It has been off the air for nearly a decade. The question here is, had the show run the course of its natural life, and was there any justification for resurrecting it? In other words, could we expect a programme that delivered a good story, and most importantly, LAUGHS? Based on the fact that the last 2 series really failed to do that, and Doug Naylor has spent the last few years making groan-inducing noises about turning it into a film (which happily he has failed to do – I’m thinking League of Gentlemen & Hitchhiker’s Guide-style disappointment) it was reasonable to have pretty low expectations for the new episode. And I think it really was poor – flat, unfunny and forced. And Dave rather reinforced the point by showing Gunmen of The Apocalypse and Quarantine straight after it – two of the show’s tightest and funniest episodes.

  8. Steve Brennan on April 12th, 2009 9:41 am

    As for part 2 – all I can say is RIP Red Dwarf. I was more right than I wanted to be when I mentioned the League of Gentlemen movie comparison. Naylor lifted the “fictional characters enter our world” conceit wholesale, and did it with even less laughs. The poor sods were reduced to hawking the upcoming DVD release and the Dave channel itself in-show. Truly – car crash TV. I think its a safe prediction that his will be the last Red Dwarf we ever see.

  9. Applemask on April 12th, 2009 8:33 pm

    Personally I liked the final loop, partly because I’m not sure how well the fourth-wall aspect was actually done in the end, and it made for a better ending for the characters, certainly than the last episode of series VIII. The Blade Runner stuff got old fast though.

  10. Chris Jones on April 13th, 2009 11:03 pm

    I thought this was awful. Self indulgent and toe curling in places.

  11. Andy Elms on April 14th, 2009 7:25 am

    Quite simply, didn’t really make me laugh.
    More like a bad fan-fiction story, although the Coronation Street segments were worryingly reminiscent of Doctor Who “Dimensions in Time”.
    Above all, it was all a bit rushed, what with having to fit in the ad breaks (and I don’t mean the Dave and DVD product placements).

  12. ljones on April 15th, 2009 7:59 pm

    Overall, I’d say the show was a dissapointment. For a small channel like dave I guess the show wasn’t too bad overall – there certianly is much worse out there. But for an (ex) BBC2 show and one as well known as this, it was well below par IHMO.

    First of all where does this ‘episode’ fit in with all the other red dwarf episodes? Last time we saw lister and co. they were effectively in prison on RD and everyone had been resurrected. Now they’re out and there appears to be nobody about again. Um, ?

    And just where was holly? Why didn’t they have that character in the storyline?

    For me the show started out weak and just pretty much tailed off from there. And IHMO large parts of the show just didn’t seem to work, or weren’t really appropiate such as using part of the show to flog DVDs to everyone. Hmmm.

    The whole coronation street seemed a bit pointless to me as well. Presumably the only reason it was chosen is because the actor who plays lister is in it. What about the others? Why didn’t they just stick to being in space, instead of choosing an unfunny “fictional characters have just entered our universe” idea. Been done before, and didn’t work.

    And godknows why there was the ‘tribute’ to blade runner. Why? That just seemed totally out of place. Why not a tribute to star wars instead? Or maybe even Dr who, at least it’d be british!

    Overall quite a dissapointment. Not absoulte rubbish, but certianly not even remotely in the same league as older BBC2 episodes.


  13. Mark on May 1st, 2009 12:16 pm

    Would it be fair to assume that Rob Grant was the jokes guy? I remember watching series 7 and wondering if Doug Naylor was incapable of writing comedy without his former partner. I don’t think I made it to the end of series 8, it was just awful. Doesn’t sound like I missed much with the new show.

  14. Steve on May 7th, 2009 10:09 pm

    Spot on, Mark. I think that Doug Naylor did the “sci-fi” stuff and then Rob Grant added the laughs. Red Dwarf has been disappointing since Grant left, at the end of series 6.