Like many of my generation, I was raised on a diet of British comedies. The nutritious sustenance provided by the likes of Bottom, Allo Allo, Blackadder and Spitting
Image formed the ground work for my self deprecating leanings in later life. My favourite on this menu was always Red Dwarf. The shows quality has wavered significantly over the last decade and i’m wondering do we need to flog that horse any further?
“What is it???”
Beginning in 1988, Red Dwarf was a sitcom set in Space.The plot revolves around David Lister(Craig Charles), a slob who becomes the last human being alive. Lister was
in Stasis when the crew of his mining ship “Red Dwarf” were killed by a radiation leak, so when the on-board computer Holly(Norman Lovett), navigated the ship into
deep space Lister could not be released from stasis until the radiation had reached safe background levels around 3 million years later. After his mental health began to decline
Holly decided to bring back Lister’s bunkmate Rimmer (Chris Barrie) as a hologram to keep him company/sane. The duo are joined by Cat(Danny John Jules) – the ancestor
of Lister’s cat which had evolved into a humanoid form over the course of that time. Eventually they rescue a service-mechanoid called Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) who
joins their crew.
The show ran for six successful seasons until 1993 when the show took a hiatus. This break was largely due to the dissolving of the creative partnership between Rob
Grant and Doug Naylor, which in part led to the cast undertaking other projects. The season ended on a cliffhanger with a message ‘To be continued’ but fans had to
wait 3 more years before it was resolved. When the show did finally return – it was almost unrecognisable to the fans. The lighting and sets were inconsistently bright
and clean, the show was no longer filmed in front of a live audience, out of character storylines and the writing pushed a comical slapstick narrative. These errors
were tightened up by season 8 but by then the damage was done. Season 7 and 8 tried to recreate the pace of the earlier Seasons but could not match the comedic
success. When the show’s Season 9 proposal was turned down by the BBC, the fans had to wait a further decade before Dave digital channel commissioned a 3 episode run
for their channel.
Back to Earth (affectionately known as the non-series) was heavily meta and set on Earth in 2009. It was not well received by fans but it did however test the waters for Red Dwarf to become a viable commission for Dave, who went on to commision the show for a further 3 seasons.
The recent news that the show would return for a new season has yet to be confirmed by Dave and has been met with a luke warm reception by fans.
Red Dwarf fans have always been quite vocal in their opinion over the years. I’ve found myself waxing lyrical about the show on many an occasion, and like my older
brothers before me – I have uttered the grumbles of “it used to be better”. The commentary of my older brothers based firmly in the subject of “the show went downhill
when they got a budget” (presumably around Season 3?) and mine in the hiatus period after season 6.
Having watched every outing since – I have experienced a heady mix of excitement which always gives way to crushing disappointment. Most recently Season 12 which
relied heavily on awkwardly shoehorning call backs to season 1. For me season 12 only had one stand out episode ‘Siliconia’ which would not have sat out-of-place
during Season 3 or 4, and further continues to cement Chris Barrie as an absolute national treasure!
The reason the show doesn’t work for me after season 6 was that it was devoid of charm. The show always swaggered with a hefty commentary on humanity itself. The
overall plot was layered with a heavy weight of doom and foreboding – for the most part – the last human being in the universe is marooned on a mining ship in deep
space. To me the show represented a very british reaction to that concept. The hopeless odds met with an attitude of “keep calm and carry on”.
If you really want to keep the franchise pure in your heart go out and get a copy of the books. Based loosely on the adventures of the crew, the stories are woven into
an epic adventure spanning a number of years and galaxies and told in greater more comedic detail. Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers (1989), Better Than Life (1990), The Last Human (1995), Backwards (1996).
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