Red Dwarf X (2012)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Written and directed by Doug Naylor. Broadcast on Dave.

Regulars: The same as in the 2009 series, so we have Lister, Rimmer, the Cat and Kryten – the John, Paul, George and Ringo of Red Dwarf, if you will.

Episode 1: Trojan (4 October 2012): The team find a derelict spaceship then pretend to be its crew when they get a distress call from Rimmer’s brother Howard… Great fun. An enjoyably old-fashioned episode of Red Dwarf, which pokes specific fun at Star Trek.
Observations: Starbug is seen for the first time since series eight’s Back in the Red. Mark Dexter plays Howard Rimmer, who like his brother is now a hard-light hologram. Susan Earl plays Howard’s android sidekick, Crawford. Lister and Rimmer have seemingly moved into new quarters aboard Red Dwarf – their fourth, at least, since the show began. When trying to con Howard, the regulars adopt new names: Flight Coordinator Kryten Krytenski, Flight Commander David Listerton-Smythe, and – for the Cat – Flight Officer Gerald Hampton.
Best gag: The running joke about moose causing car accidents in Sweden. (It gets applauded by the studio audience and for once you don’t want to kill them.)

Episode 2: Father and Suns (11 October 2012): It’s Father’s Day, so Lister – who’s his own dad – writes a card, gets drunk so he’ll forget what he wrote, and sends it to himself. Meanwhile, the others install a new Red Dwarf computer… The central conceit of Lister being his own father is really well managed: lots of good comedy comes from Lister, in effect, considering himself to be two people. Another very entertaining episode.
Observations: Kerry Shale plays an AI medibot (“MEDIBOT!”). Holly is mentioned when Kryten uploads a new computer programme. Rebecca Blackstone plays Pree, the computer who can predict people’s actions to such a degree that they don’t need to do them.
Best gag: Kryten is installing Pree and asks Rimmer what preferences they should go for. Rimmer affects disinterest while at the same time specifying that the AI’s on-screen image should be female, 25, blonde and 36D. (He then says, “Whatever!” when asked what type of personality she should have.)

Episode 3: Lemons (18 October 2012): A sci-fi gizmo sends Lister, Rimmer, Kryten and the Cat to planet Earth in the year AD 23 – and they have to go to extreme lengths to get home… It has its dodgy moment (jokes about having bits left over from self-assembly flat-pack furniture is not exactly pushing new boundaries), but never mind. Mostly this is great stuff. There are regular hearty laughs, the studio set of the Indian market is terrific, and we even get some considered religious satire.
Observations: The episode begins with a shot of Red Dwarf orbiting a desert planet with a bright star in the distance – ie, setting up the Biblical theme. We get the only scene in series 10 shot on location. There’s a lovely running gag about Shakespeare neologisms. Indira Joshi plays a woman at the market. James Baxter is good fun as a Geordie-accented Jesus.
Best gag: Lister is surprised by something Kryten’s told him, so says, “Jesus!” The man at the next table looks round: “Yes?”

Episode 4: Entangled (25 October 2012): When Kryten experiments with some technology he’d found it leads to a spate of coincidences. Meanwhile, Lister gambles with Rimmer’s freedom and loses… It’s a convoluted episode, but generally amusing.
Observations: Lister mentions that he’s nominally looking for Kochanski (a bigger subplot about the search was planned but then dropped). Starbug is seen again and Blue Midget is used. Steven Wickham from series six’s Emohawk plays the leader of the BEGGs, a race not a million miles away from the GELFs in that earlier episode. Sydney Stephenson plays Professor Irene Edgerton (aka Irene E), the dimwitted head of a research institute.
Best gag: When Rimmer asks who’s in danger, the Cat says, “A guy about your height, your colouring, who goes by the name of you.” He then adds: “We’re all deeply sorry, bud. Apart from me and him and him.

Episode 5: Dear Dave (1 November 2012): A mail pod arrives, bringing news that Lister might have a son… It’s easy to see why this is hidden away in the fifth transmission slot. It’s still likeable, but feels very aimless. It’s a bottle episode with unconnected set-piece discussions and a decidedly slender plot. Aside from a voice artist, it features just the four regulars on familiar sets – and nothing substantial happens for the first half.
Observations: Isla Ure voices two different vending machines. It’s 12 minutes into the episode before the Cat appears. The central idea of the mail catching up with the ship was also used in series two’s Better Than Life. Some scenes seem oddly static – and the DVD’s behind-the-scenes documentary explains why. Due to production issues, the full script wasn’t ready on the studio day – so some scenes were filmed weeks later on greenscreen during a pick-up week. That explains why, in the Rimmer’s-fingers scene for example, the cameras and actors are so stuck in place. (Incidentally, if you ever get the chance to see it, that documentary – We Are Smegged, it’s called – is extraordinary. So many things went wrong during the production of these six episodes. Scripts not being ready, vital things being left off budgets, footage not being broadcast-quality, model shots being unusable, mastertapes going missing… It’s gripping. On the series eight DVD, by contrast, people talk about how smooth it all was. It seems there’s an inverse ratio between behind-the-scenes fun and a successful end result.)
Best gag: Lister reads the letter telling him whether he or another man is the father of his ex-girlfriend’s baby. After a pause, he says, “What an absolute slag.”

Episode 6: The Beginning (8 November 2012): Attacked by a simulant death ship, the gang flee Red Dwarf… A so-so episode to end the run. It’s an attempt at a big-budget adventure on a limited budget, which shows a bit too much. (In fact, this is a watered-down version of an unmade Red Dwarf movie script.)
Observations: The title, of course, is nod towards the first episode of series one: The End. It starts with a flashback to a young Rimmer (Philip Labey, spot on) attending a class given by his lecturer father (Simon Treves). Richard O’Callaghan, who’d played another role in Red Dwarf: Back to Earth, is Hogey the Roguey, a persistent but benign android who keeps challenging the team to duels across time and space. Gary Cady and Alex Hardy play the simulants who are attacking our characters. Blue Midget is used. Rimmer finds out his real father was called Dungo the gardener. There are at least two clear references to The Empire Strikes Back – a sequence set in an asteroid field, and Rimmer’s paternal revelation.
Best gag: The cliffhanger ending to 1999’s series – Red Dwarf being consumed by microscopic bugs; Lister, the Cat, Kryten and Kochanski in a mirror universe; Rimmer coming face to face with Death – is finally acknowledged. But Rimmer is interrupted before he can explain what happened.

Best episode: Lemons. Worst episode: None is terrible, but The Beginning maybe underwhelms a bit.

Review: After the lengthy diversions from the normal format – being stuck on Starbug in series six and seven, the crew being resurrected in series eight, a deliberately surreal special in 2009 – we’ve now returned to the style of Red Dwarf patented in the early 1990s. Four characters ridicule each other while getting involved in sci-fi nonsense with lots of comedy. If this had been the first run of a new sitcom, it maybe wouldn’t be good enough. But after 25 years there’s a build-up of goodwill and that goes a long way. Watching series 10 is like hanging out with old friends. It’s *charming*. And it looks really good indeed, with digital photography and probably the finest interior sets Red Dwarf’s ever had. The studio audience is back and they got to see a lot of stuff being shot: there’s almost no pre-filmed location work. But the most important thing, the comedy, is strong. There’s real craft in the writing. Gags get set up, developed and paid off. Tremendous.

Nine utter twats out of 10

Red Dwarf: Back to Earth (2009)

Red Dwarf

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Written and directed by Doug Naylor. Broadcast on Dave.

Regulars: Fictionally, nine years have passed since the last episode. Lister, the Cat and Kryten are as before, but Rimmer’s back to being a hard-light hologram – it’s not specified if this is the man created in series eight or the old Rimmer returned to the fold. Not that it matters hugely. The resurrected crew of Red Dwarf have vanished, again with no explanation, as has Holly. Kochanski, meanwhile, has been killed off between series. (Or has she? See below.)

Episode 1 (10 April 2009): The crew find a sea monster in their water-storage tank… An enjoyable opener, with a return to comedy based on the interaction of the four core regulars. Good fun.
Observations: The cliffhanger from the end of series eight is totally ignored. Sophie Winkleman (yes please) plays Katerina Bartikovsky, a stern, no-fuss hologram activated when Rimmer fails to do his job properly. This is the first episode of Red Dwarf to be directed solely by co-creator/writer Doug Naylor.
Best gag: An oblivious Rimmer listening to music while the others are being attacked by the sea monster.

Episode 2 (11 April 2009): The characters use a tentacle from the sea monster to travel into another dimension… Here’s where things get complicated. The dimension the team travel to is, well, ours. Lister, Rimmer, the Cat and Kryten end up in Britain, 2009 – where of course Red Dwarf is a TV show. (My head hurts.) However, it’s not *exactly* the reality we live in, because Red Dwarf is not a niche sitcom that Joe Public has kind of forgotten about. If Back to Earth has a major failing it’s the deluded belief that a branch of Currys would be showing Red Dwarf on its TV; that the sales assistant and a customer would have detailed knowledge of the show’s gags; that the local sci-fi shop would be decked out almost entirely with Red Dwarf merchandise; that two young children on a bus would know the show intimately… Talk about wishful thinking. But never mind: there’s plenty of fun to be had. When Kryten finds Red Dwarf DVDs in a shop – the actual, proper BBC releases of earlier series – he realises that the gang are fictional characters. Lister then goes one further and finds a Back to Earth DVD – ie, the DVD I used for this review. He reads the back-cover blurb… Yup: it’s the same text used on my copy. (My head hurts.)
Observations: We learn that these episodes are actually set after the then-hypothetical series 10. (My head hurts.) The unseen ‘series nine’ is said to have been the best ever. There was an episode where Kryten told Lister that Kochanski had been sucked out of an air lock. There’s a three-second shot of the regulars waiting for a train at Canary Wharf tube station. What an effort to go to. Jeremy Swift plays the manager of a sci-fi shop called They Walk Among Us! In this episode, references to 1982 sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner start to mount up. As do mentions of old Red Dwarf episodes (Polymorph, Parallel Universe, Meltdown, Timeslides…). Rimmer and Lister read an issue of SFX magazine with Red Dwarf on the cover – an actual issue done specifically by the SFX editorial team. (My head hurts.) The episode ends with the team driving onto the set of Coronation Street. (Did I mention that my head hurts?)
Best gag: Katerina says that killing a hologram doesn’t count as murder, so Rimmer gleefully pushes her into the path of a car.

Episode 3 (12 April 2009): Having gone to the set of Coronation Street and found Craig Charles, the actor who plays Lister in Red Dwarf, the team ask him to tell them where to find their creator… Perhaps the most insane episode of Red Dwarf yet, this goes past bonkers, doesn’t stop at out-of-its-fucking-tree and ends up all the way back round at kinda working. The Coronation Street section doesn’t make a huge amount of sense – the studio sets are in the relevant exterior buildings, no one’s around aside from three actors, and no one’s that perturbed by *fictional characters* showing up, one of whom looks like Craig Charles – but it’s good fun. The episode then makes a turn and becomes a Blade Runner pastiche. It’s *really* well done, with good matches for sets, costumes, dialogue and plot moves. The mini chase sequence is especially impressive.
Observations: Craig Charles plays himself as well as Lister. His then Corrie co-stars Michelle Keegan and Simon Gregson have cameos. Richard O’Callaghan plays the ‘creator of Red Dwarf’ (a spoof of Tyrell in Blade Runner). (How many people feared that it would be Doug Naylor playing himself?) At the end of the story, it’s revealed that the last two and a half episodes have not been real. The story’s MacGuffin – a hallucination-causing sea monster – is related to the despair squid from series five’s Back to Reality. (Oh! Hang on! Back to Reality… Back to Earth… The clue’s sitting right there in the title.) Chloë Annett makes a surprise appearance late on, playing a Rachel-from-Blade-Runner-like Kochanski in the fantasy sequence. It’s also revealed that Kryten invented the story of the real Kochanski’s death; she actually just decided to leave.
Best gag: Lister types out dialogue that the others have to say – typos, comments on the fiction, and all.

Best episode: Part Three. Worst episode: Part Two.

Alternative versions: There’s a ‘Director’s Cut’ available on the DVD, which bolts the three episodes together as an omnibus and adds at least one deleted scene back in. It’s actually the disc’s default version.

Review: The first Red Dwarf to be commissioned by and shown on TV channel Dave falls into the ‘good enough’ category. It’s not setting the world alight, but it has charm and is very watchable. Time has moved on, pressure has eased, and it’s not as try-hard as the late-90s series. As discussed above, the comedy gets very post-modern and self-referential but there’s plenty of good stuff – including, for the first time in what seems like ages, some genuine emotion in the Kochanski subplot. Clearly made on a budget, the production values are neat and trim rather than cheap. It was shot with digital cameras, which give it a certain sheen, and some decent CG set extensions make Red Dwarf itself look impressively epic. (Having said that, a couple of studio sets in the department-store sequence are pretty appalling.) We’re also back to single-camera shooting, but unlike in series seven there’s no studio audience or canned laughter, so it works much better.

Seven massive tentacles out of 10

Red Dwarf VIII (1999)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Written by Doug Naylor (all) and Paul Alexander (episodes 5 & 7). Directed by Ed Bye. Broadcast on BBC2.

Regulars: Lister, the Cat, Kryten and Kochanski are carried over from the previous series – in fact, the story picks up immediately after that batch of episodes ended. Holly is back full-time (played by Norman Lovett). And more importantly, Rimmer’s returned! Chris Barrie enjoyed his contribution to series seven more than he’d predicted, so reversed his decision to quit Red Dwarf. (After all that fuss he missed a total of four episodes.) However, this isn’t the Rimmer from the first 38 episodes of the show. This character has been artificially resurrected by tiny robots, along with the ship and its entire crew. So not only does he lack the memories and experiences of old episodes but he behaves how Rimmer was in the early days. (Well, to a point. He now *gets on* with Lister. They buddy around like old friends! Oh, and this Arnold’s not a hologram, of course.) And finally, we have a new regular character: Mac McDonald had played Captain Hollister in three 1988 episodes, and is now in the show every week.

Episode 1: Back in the Red: Part One (18 February 1999): Red Dwarf has been rebuilt by tiny robots and its crew resurrected… Oh, this is tiresome. Admittedly there’s a lovely opening – a deliberately old-school scene between Lister and Rimmer – but we then cut to three days earlier and just get clunky plotting and crass jokes.
Observations: There’s a scene in the bunkroom from series one and two, the set having been specially recreated. Lister’s old pals Selby and Chen – last seen in series two – have inconsequential cameos. It’s not explained why the nanobots didn’t resurrect Kochanski, who originally died along with everyone else of course. Rimmer finds the ‘positive viruses’ from series five’s Quarantine, which then become overused storytelling shortcuts.
Best gag: The Cat’s heartbeat and pulse form an infectious Cuban-flavoured dance rhythm.

Episode 2: Back in the Red: Part Two (25 February 1999): Put on trial for crimes against the Space Corps, our heroes are surreptitiously given hallucinogenic drugs so the captain can see what they do when the think they’re escaping… It was a chore watching this one. And just when you think it can’t get worse, the climax is more thunderingly awful than Red Dwarf had ever been before. In need of a disguise, Lister, the Cat and Kochanski use mop heads and false teeth to dress up as ‘the Dibbley family’ – yet another reference, of course, to Duane Dibbley from series five. At least some people are enjoying the gag: the studio audience burst into joyous applause and yelps (earlier on, they’d also applauded a long, tedious scene between Hollister and Rimmer). But it then gets even more depressing. When we see the characters in disguise, they walk down a corridor in slow motion to the sound of the George Baker Selection’s Little Green Bag. It’s not even a topical gag: Reservoir Dogs was seven years old by this point. Horrendous.
Observations: Captain Hollister records a log entry, which acts as a recap of last week’s events. Geoffrey Beevers plays a doctor. Robert Llewellyn hams it up something rotten as an AI computer (around this era it often seems like Llewellyn thinks he’s in a show for five-year-olds).
Best gag: Affected by the sexual-magnetism virus Lister has taken, an aroused Kochanski starts snogging him. Then the virus wears off and she comes to her senses. “I don’t know what got into me,” she says. “Well, nothing, sadly,” laments Lister.

Episode 3: Back in the Red: Part Three (4 March 1999): Oh, Christ, it’s still going on. Continuing the hallucinogenic fantasy started last week, the characters think they’re escaping Red Dwarf – but their actions are being observed by the captain… Another terrible episode.
Observations: Two versions of a Red Dwarf flight controller are seen: the fantasy version is played by the gorgeous Yasmin Bannerman; the real version is played by the roly-poly, middle-aged Jeillo Edwards. The Cat does a dance routine for the former, which involves CGI space shuttles copying his moves (incidentally, this is our first sight of Blue Midget since series three). When they exit the drug-induced fantasy, Lister, the Cat, Kryten and Kochanski find themselves as stop-motion plasticine puppets on an icy landscape – I consider myself an averagely intelligent guy and I genuinely have no idea what’s happening in this scene. At the end of the episode, Graham McTavish – later one of the dwarves in the Hobbit movies – debuts as the prison warden Ackerman.
Best gag: The Cat claims to be so gorgeous that “there’s a six-month waiting list for birds to suddenly appear every time I am near.”

Episode 4: Cassandra (11 March 1999): Now serving a two-year stretch in the brig, Lister volunteers the gang for the Canaries, an advance team sent on dangerous salvage missions. On their first trip, they encounter a computer that can predict the future… This episode isn’t especially majestic or anything, but after the previous three-parter it feels like a genuine treat. The hit-rate of gags is much higher, while there’s a story worth following. It has the feel of an episode from, say, series three to five: a sci-fi spoof with lots of comedy. Enjoyable stuff.
Observations: Cassandra is played by Geraldine McEwan. Jake Wood debuts as semi-regular character Kill Crazy, who’s one of the other prisoners. Ackerman appears again.
Best gag: Rimmer’s been told by Cassandra that he’s going to die while having sex with Kochanski. “So let me just repeat what I think you’re saying,” he gleefully replies. “Arnold – that’s me – and Kochanski – that’s the woman, the really attractive one you saw me with earlier – me and her are in bed, giving it rizz…”

Episode 5: Krytie TV (18 March 1999): Kryten is being held in the women’s prison, so male inmates manipulate him into filming his colleagues in the showers… Another not-bad episode. It has a funny subplot about an appeal process that comes with a woofer of a punchline.
Observations: Kill Crazy and Ackerman appear again.
Best gag: Lister tells Kochanski about the live feed from the women’s shower. “I saw the whole thing,” he says. “All three terrible hours of it.”

Episode 6: Pete: Part One (25 March 1999): As punishment for pulling a prank on the warden, the gang have to play a basketball game, then Lister and Rimmer have to peel a lot of potatoes. Meanwhile, the Cat, Kryten and Kochanski find a device that can freeze or speed up time… This feels like a bubble-and-squeak episode, with disparate ideas and scenes mashed together in the hope they’ll make something worthwhile. They don’t. It’s always dangerous to assume motives, but were eyes taken off the ball behind the scenes? Director Ed Bye certainly lets through some pretty sloppily staged moments. It was depressing watching this mess.
Observations: Ackerman appears again. There’s a running joke about Lister and Rimmer being frog-marched into the captain’s office, with the same camera moves each time. Ricky Grover plays a prisoner. The episode ends on a cliffhanger: a dinosaur has been created and is loose on the ship.
Best gag: Lister taps out a long Morse-code message on his cell’s pipes, then gets a reply from a nearby robot; they exchange taps for ages, then Lister says, “Damn… Wrong number.”

Episode 7: Pete: Part Two (1 April 1999): A dinosaur is on the loose, but has swallowed the gizmo that would turn it back into a sparrow, so the gang feed it roughage… This episode is so dreadful it beggars belief. There’s a sketch-like scene with Kochanski and Kryten where his artificial penis has escaped and is running around like a mouse. When it later shows up under the Cat’s T-shirt there’s a half-arsed attempt at spoofing the John Hurt Alien scene. Give me strength.
Observations: There’s a quick recap of the last episode. The running (limping, more like) joke of Lister and Rimmer being taken to see the captain continues. Kill Crazy appears again.
Best gag: Rimmer slags off the captain while Lister drops heavy hints that Hollister is stood behind him. (Yes, the pickings are that slim.)

Episode 8: Only the Good… (5 April 1999): Characters pull pranks on each other, then for tedious and perfunctory sci-fi reasons Rimmer has to go into a ‘mirror universe’… *Ghastly*.
Observations: This was the last episode of Red Dwarf for 10 years, and the final one ever to be shown on BBC2. Tony Slattery voices a vending machine. Danny John-Jules and Chloë Annett play ‘mirror’ equivalents of their characters. The episode ends on a cliffhanger.
Best gag: Kryten has been tricked by Lister into giving Kochanski a tampon as a present. “I hope I chose the right size!”

Best episode: Cassandra. Worst episode: Only The Good….

Alternative versions: The multi-episode stories, Back in the Red and Pete, are available on the DVD as omnibus edits. The first one has a few deleted gags added back in.

Review: Change is good. This show has revelled in ditching formats, switching characters around, and having regular boosts of new energy. For 1999, we’re back to the episodes being recorded with a live audience and having a videotape look. Rimmer is back to how he used to be in the early days. In scenes set in Lister and Rimmer’s cell, we’re back to dialogue-based character comedy… Sadly, though, this is a pretty disastrous set of episodes. There are problems everywhere you look. The show’s defining element, that these characters are stranded in deep space, has been thrown away. The comedy has taken a turn for the childish – lots of slapstick, lots of toilet humour – while Kochanski, Kryten, the Cat and especially Holly all get squeezed out to varying degrees. There are some really dodgy actors in minor roles. The CGI special-effects shots are rubbish. And basing a two-part story on a dinosaur running rampant isn’t the greatest idea in the world when you have a sitcom budget. An even bigger issue is an ugly thread of sexism that weaves through the whole series. Kryten is classified as a woman because he doesn’t have a penis – that’s laughing at someone because they’re different from a perceived ‘norm’, that is. Even in 1999 it felt ancient. Kochanski, a successful space-ship officer, also asks if a time-manipulating device could give her a boob job. (Just generally, Kochanski is a non-entity in this series. Chloë Annett often has nothing to play.) The sexual-magnetism virus is just as bad. The potion is only used by men and it only attracts women… except in one scene set in the prison where the punchline is essentially ‘Bum rape is funny, isn’t it?’ This was the last series for a very long time. It needed a break. If early Red Dwarf episodes showed a youthful exuberance, and the time of, say, series three had the confidence of being in your prime, this is a midlife crisis. A couple of decent episodes aside, series eight is tiresome, boring-uncle-at-a-wedding stuff.

Four bottles of hooch out of 10

Red Dwarf VII (1997)

Picture Shows: Rimmer (Chris Barrie), Kryten (Robert Llewelyn), Kochanski (Chloe Annett), Lister (Craig Charles) and Cat (Danny John-Jules) TX: BBC-2, TBC The successful science-fiction comedy series 'Red Dwarf' returns for another run of surreal and bizarre events. COPYRIGHTED IMAGE FROM BBC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Written by Doug Naylor (all), Paul Alexander (2, 7, 8), Kim Fuller (5), Robert Llewellyn (6) and James Hendrie (8). Directed by Ed Bye. Broadcast on BBC2.

Regulars: Having enjoyed the brisk studio days on BBC1 sitcom The Brittas Empire, Chris Barrie had tired of the stop-start process of making Red Dwarf. He wanted to quit but agreed to appear in two full episodes, and record cameos for two more, so Rimmer could be written out properly. His replacement in the line-up is Kristine Kochanski. It’s not actually the same woman we saw sporadically in series one and two, though. This Kochanski is from an alternative reality. She also looks different: the not-good-enough Clare Grogan has been dropped, and Chloë Annett cast in her place. Kochanski was added, in part, to prepare the ground for a Red Dwarf movie. Funding would be easier to get if the show had a female regular.

Episode 1: Tikka to Ride (17 January 1997): Because he’s run out of curry supplies, Lister convinces everyone they should travel into Earth’s past to get more. The gang end up in Dallas on 22 November 1963… The Dallas scenes are really something. Clearly a lot of research, thought, effort and talent has gone into restaging John F Kennedy’s assassination. Given the budget and the fact it was shot on an airfield in Surrey, the scene is a remarkable match to real events. Also, the script is peppered with both genuine and fictional history, all nicely thought-out. But the comedy is more silly than actually funny.
Observations: The cliffhanger from the end of series six is dealt with in the first scene by a bit of comedy exposition from Lister (we also get a clip from Out of Time). Lister says he’s 28 years old. No one explains how the time machine from series six now moves people through space too. (Or why the characters don’t use it to escape the drudgery of being stranded on Starbug.) Michael J Shannon plays JFK with a spot-on Massachusetts accent.
Best gag: Kryten’s enormous double take when he realises they’re in the Dallas Book Depository.

Episode 2: Stoke Me a Clipper (24 January 1997): The show goes back to its popular-old-character well again: Ace Rimmer shows up and asks our Rimmer to take over from him as an inter-dimensional superhero… The episode is built on some really naff ideas. Firstly, the notion that Ace Rimmer is someone who needs replacing. It’s reminiscent of what’s happened in modern Doctor Who: a character becoming mythic within the fiction just because he’s popular with audiences. Secondly, the writing has some juddering gear changes with big, ugly grinding noises when it tries to convince you that our Rimmer would even consider doing the job.
Observations: There’s a corny pre-titles sequence of Ace fighting some Nazis (one of whom is played by Reg Holdsworth). It contains some *appalling* green-screen shots and an awful rubber crocodile. Later, Lister and Kryten enter a medieval VR simulation so Lister can have a shag. The game’s king and queen are played by Brian Cox and Sarah Alexander. It’s 10 minutes into the episode before we see either the Cat or Rimmer (though we have seen Chris Barrie, of course). This episode’s Ace isn’t actually the same Ace we saw in series four; that one died and another Rimmer from a different reality took over. When our Rimmer is thought dead, his eulogy consists of numerous callbacks to old episodes. On a literal level, this is the last time we ever see the hologram Rimmer who was activated in episode one and lived through the show’s first 38 episodes.
Best gag: Because Chris Barrie’s got funny bones, Rimmer’s attempt to impersonate Ace are enjoyable.

Episode 3: Ouroboros (31 January 1997): Starbug flies into a spatial disturbance and the crew meet their equivalents from another dimension. In that reality, Lister’s one-time girlfriend Kristine Kochanski has survived… Chloë Annett is instantly impressive as Kochanski – especially when the façade drops and we learn she’s just as messed-up as the other characters – while Kryten’s jealousy of her is really funny. This is a generally funny episode, in fact. The central gag (the word ourboros being mistaken for ‘our Rob or Ross’) doesn’t really work. But there are some good comedy moments, such as the state of Lister (broken tooth, shaving foam in his ears, pink dressing gown) when he meets Kochanski.
Observations: We find out the details of Lister’s backstory. He was abandoned in a Liverpool pub, the Aigburth Arms, on 26 November 2155. So he’s now a *22nd*-century guy – that’s the third different century he’s been said to be from. Well, he was actually born three million years later then taken to 2155 via time travel. Turns out, he’s his own father and Kochanski, his ex-girlfriend, is his mum. The baby Lister is played by Danny John-Jules’s nephew Alexander. The Starbug crew from the other reality include a hologramatic Lister and a gold-plated Kryten. We see a flashback to Red Dwarf before the accident – it reinforces Kochanski’s backstory (or the current version of it, at any rate), Lister is dressed in a series-one-style Hawaiian shirt, and it also features Rimmer.
Best gag: Kochanski has fallen through a tear in the dimension bridge (or whatever it is), so Lister fires an arrow at her that has a rope attached. It hits her painfully in the leg and she calls Lister’s walkie-talkie. Kryten answers it, listens for a moment, then says, “It’s an obscene phone call, sir.”

Episode 4: Duct Soup (7 February 1997): A power failure seals all the doors on Starbug, so the team have to spend the night crawling through the ship’s innards to get to the cockpit… Right from the word go this feels different – it’s character comedy and, production values aside, feels like a story from series one or two. Again, Kochanski’s very funny: amazingly, the show isn’t missing Rimmer (this is the first ever episode without him). And considering how much of the story takes place in cramped, samey tunnels it’s very well staged. Really good stuff.
Observations: There’s no title sequence (it was dropped for time reasons: better that than cutting meat out of the episode). Not since Queeg in series two has there been an episode where the crew neither go somewhere nor bump into someone. Kochanski specifies that she’s from Glasgow – a nod to the original actress, I suppose, even if Annett uses her own English accent.
Best gag: Kryten sees an insomniac Kochanski wrapped in a white blanket and wearing earmuffs. “Oh, my goodness,” he says to himself. “It’s Princess Leia.”

Episode 5: Blue (14 February 1997): While the crew attempt to get Kochanski back to her own dimension, Lister starts to realise that he’s missing Rimmer… It’s a smart move to have Lister yearn for Rimmer’s company. After all, the latter was created specifically to keep the former sane. A very enjoyable episode.
Observations: Rimmer appears in flashbacks, a dream sequence and a virtual-reality fantasy created by Kryten. This is the second episode running to feature no ‘outside influences’.
Best gag: Rimmer returns to visit Lister, talk of his adventures as Ace and ask about Kochanski. Overcome with emotion, Rimmer and Lister embrace… then kiss! (It’s a dream, of course. Lister wakes up screaming.)

Episode 6: Beyond a Joke (21 February 1997): Kryten’s head explodes when he gets angry, so the others try to track down a replacement and end up finding Kryten’s sorta-brother… Entire minutes pass without a single laugh. I’m not sure Red Dwarf has ever been more boring than this.
Observations: The episode was co-written by Kryten actor Robert Llewellyn. The gang play a Jane Austen virtual-reality game, which Kryten invades with a tank because he’s upset. The frequency of VR simulations in this show is getting tiresome now. Don Henderson plays an android trader. Llewellyn also plays Able, the Kryten-like character the team find.
Best gag: When asked what his name is, the senile Able has to send the request down to long-term-memory retrieval.

Episode 7: Epideme (28 February 1997): The crew board a derelict space ship and find a frozen woman, who wakes up, bites Lister and infects him with a strange virus… A boring and largely unfunny episode.
Observations: Gary Martin voices the intelligent virus. This is the start of a two-part finale.
Best gag: The gross-out comedy of Kryten hacking bits of Lister’s arm off in sloppy, squelching chunks.

Episode 8: Nanarchy (7 March 1997): On the search for Kryten’s missing nanobots – infinitesimally small robots that fix mechanical faults – the gang find a planetoid that was constructed from Red Dwarf… An underwhelming end to a mixed batch of episodes.
Observations: It starts with a ‘Last week on Red Dwarf…’ montage. The team return to the planetoid from series five’s Back to Reality. When Red Dwarf is found again, the characters also locate Holly – now played, for the first time since 1988, by Norman Lovett. (Why the character is no longer Hattie Hayridge is not mentioned.) At the end of the episode, Red Dwarf is rebuilt and we get a blast of the old-style theme tune.
Best gag: The early scenes of Lister trying to come to terms with only having one arm are amusing.

Best episode: Duct Soup. Worst episode: Beyond a Joke.

Alternative versions: Tikka to Ride is available on the DVD in four different edits: the broadcast version, an ‘Xtended’ cut with a few deleted gags and scenes added back in, and both of these with new CGI special effects. The new effects are appreciably better than the 1997 shots, but still not a patch on earlier series’ model work. The 37-minute Xtended version, meanwhile, has had its laughter track removed – an instant improvement. The biggest addition is a new ending set three weeks later, which explains what really happened to the ship’s curry supplies. Ouroboros and Duct Soup also have Xtended edits with jokes added and the laugh track removed. Duct Soup is a real treat, actually. Perhaps it’s our best indicator of how a Red Dwarf movie would have felt.

Review: Blimey, more changes. This show rarely stands still, you’ve got to admire that. For example, the episodes are now shot single-camera with no studio audience. This technique was the coming thing for British sitcoms in the late 90s, and in some ways Red Dwarf VII was the vanguard for The Royle Family, The Office and the like. However, not only has laughter been inelegantly dubbed on – at times actually masking lines of dialogue – but the comedy is still being written, played and edited as if there were an audience. It means stilted moments and forced timings. (It’s not far off Red Dwarf does Last of the Summer Wine.) The episodes have also been filmised, which only adds to the sensation of the comedy being at a remove somehow. Elsewhere, the most noticeable changes are in the cast. Rimmer jumps ship after two episodes; Kochanski joins the team in the next story. It works much better than you would have thought beforehand. As routinely funny as Rimmer has been for six series, giving him a break was probably a necessary evil, while Kochanski creates a whole new dynamic. Other changes include… Deep breath, now… New writers (co-creator Rob Grant had left after an obscure parting of the ways with Doug Naylor)… The return of Ed Bye as director after two series off… An increase in the number of episodes (the plan was to reach 52 so the show could be sold overseas as a package; this run gets it to 44)… New cartoony CGI for special-effects shots (though model are used at times)… The incidental music being much bigger than before (it sweeps and bombasts like a film score)… And a regrettable OTT change in Robert Llewellyn’s performance (once the calm voice of reason, Kryten is now like a CBBC character). After a very mixed opening, the series hits its stride with episodes three to five – all good, well written and funny – but then falls off a cliff with a trio of episodes that are duller and more lumpen than anything we’ve seen before.

Six nureeks out of 10

Red Dwarf VI (1993)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Written by Rob Grant & Doug Naylor. Directed by Andy de Emmony. Broadcast on BBC2.

Regulars: Holly’s been dropped, so we’re now down to Lister, Rimmer, the Cat and Kryten.

Episode 1: Psirens (7 October 1993): Two hundred years later: the crew wake up from suspended animation. They’re in Starbug, chasing a stolen Red Dwarf, but soon encounter creatures who suck out your brains… The episode sets up the show’s new format well enough and there are some good laughs.
Observations: The psiren monsters pose as women in attempts to lure the crew into danger. The Cat is tempted by two sexpots who want him for his body; Lister is shown visions of Kristine Kochanski and a woman he fancied when he was young; while Kryten sees his creator, Professor Mamet. Clare Grogan returns as Kochanski for the first time since series two’s Stasis Leak, while Anita Dobson cameos in the same scene. Jenny Agutter – Jenny Agutter! – plays Mamet. Craig Charles also plays one of the psirens when it poses as Lister, though it’s guitar-noodling hands are those of Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera. At the time of writing, this is the middle episode of Red Dwarf – there had been 30 before, and there have been 30 since.
Best gag: The two Listers are challenged to play the guitar so Rimmer, Kryten and the Cat can determine which is a psiren. As soon as one Dave shows genuine talent they know that’s the imposter so shoot at it.

Episode 2: The Legion (14 October 1993): Starbug is ensnared by a tractor beam, which takes it to a space station where a strange man called Legion lives in apparent luxury… A so-so episode. The slapstick’s quite fun.
Observations: When the gang meet Legion he converts Rimmer’s hologramatic projection unit from ‘soft light’ to ‘hard light’ (a bit of sci-fi nonsense that means Rimmer can now touch things). There are a noticeable number of references to old episodes – The Inquisitor, Psirens, Timeslides – which suggest the writers now expect viewers to be ‘fans’. Robert Llewellyn plays Legion in one scene.
Best gag: During a crisis Rimmer demands they step up to red alert. Kryten: “Sir, are you sure? It does mean changing the bulb.”

Episode 3: Gunmen of the Apocalypse (21 October 1993): There’s great comic momentum to this one. It clips along and packs a lot of good stuff into 30 minutes. Blah blah blah plot plot plot means that Lister, Rimmer, the Cat and Kryten end up in a computer-generated Wild West simulation…
Observations: The episode starts with a black-and-white film-noir spoof because Lister in taking part in a virtual-reality roleplaying game. (Jennifer Calvert from CITV sitcom Spatz plays Loretta, the dame he’s shagging.) In the episode proper, Denis Lill plays the rogue android the crew encounter; Liz Hickling is his second-in-command. The set used for the Wild West town was a pre-existing site built by aficionados in Kent. When Lister enters Kryten’s fantasy he assumes the identity of Brett Riverboat, knife man. Rimmer is Dangerous Dan McGrew, a bare-fist fighter, while the Cat is a gunslinger called the Riviera Kid. In keeping with the theme of the story, the final shot sees Starbug flying off into the sunset and the end music has been replaced by a Western version. This episode won an International Emmy Award in 1994.
Best gag: When the others realise Kryten’s battle with a computer virus is being played out in a Wild West dream, the Cat says, “Isn’t there some way we can get in there and help him? Somehow turn ourselves into tiny, electronic people and get into his dream? Isn’t there some sort of gizmo lying around here somewhere that could do that? And if not –” he bangs the table “– why not?!”

Episode 4: Emohawk – Polymorph II (28 October 1993): An emohawk, a small creature that feeds on people’s emotions, finds its way onto Starbug… The story is in three sections – the encounter with a spaceship, negotiations with some GELFs and a rehash of an old episode back on Starbug – which are only loosely connected. A few good lines, but it gets tiresomely self-indulgent. Going over old ground is rarely a good idea, and this episode feels desperately eager to please the type of fan who goes to Red Dwarf conventions.
Observations: This is, in effect, a sequel to *three* classic episodes – Polymorph from series three, Dimension Jump from series four and Back to Reality from series five. When Rimmer is bled of his bitterness and negativity, he transforms into Dimension Jump’s Ace Rimmer – haircut, accent and all. (The running gag from the earlier story – “What a guy” – is given a couple more airings.) The Cat, meanwhile, is drained of his cool so ends up as Duane Dibbley from Back to Reality. Hugh Quarshie voices an automated spaceship that speaks in reverse (“Plead you do how?”). Ainsley Harriott and Steven Wickham play GELFs.
Best gag: “Change of plan! Leg it!”

Episode 5: Rimmerworld (4 November 1993): Rimmer is separated from the others and, thanks to a time-squeezing wormhole, has to live on a planet for 600 years while only a few hours pass on Starbug… Another episode that takes a surprisingly long time to set up its premise. But once we get to the world of multiple Rimmers it’s quite fun. Just a shame it’s so fleeting.
Observations: The simulant ship from Gunmen of the Apocalypse and its sexy female robot (Liz Hickling) appear again. Chris Barrie, of course, plays the entire population of a planet: its Roman-like ruler, various guards and even a concubine.
Best gag: Lister has a plan for how to escape the prison cell: “Why don’t we scrape away this mortar here, slide one of these bricks out, then using rope weaved from this hessian rig up a pulley system, so that when a guard comes in he sets off a trip-wire, gets laid out, and then we put Rimmer in the guard’s uniform, he leads us out, we steal some swords, and fight our way back to the Bug?” Kryten, holding up the object in his hand: “Or we could use the teleporter.”

Episode 6: Out of Time (11 November 1993): Starbug flies through some ‘unreality bubbles’, pockets of space that cause hallucinations. Then, after the crew have found a time machine, versions of themselves from the future show up… The episode was rewritten very late in the day and only lightly rehearsed, a fact you can infer from seeing the actors reading dialogue off monitors or cue cards. Showing the crew as old men is a good idea, but sadly it’s only a small piece of a muddled, cluttered episode. Too many ideas, not enough refinement.
Observations: This is the last episode of Red Dwarf to be co-written by Rob Grant. The final scene sees Lister, the Cat and Kryten all killed off and Rimmer attempting to change history… ‘To be continued,’ promises a caption.
Best gag: Having installed a time machine on Starbug, the crew travel to 16 August 1421… but of course they’re still in deep space, so it’s a rather meaningless trip.

Best episode: Gunmen of the Apocalypse. Worst episode: Out of Time.

Review: Red Dwarf has been ditched. The characters’ home base is now Starbug, though that craft is significantly roomier than we’ve seen before. It’s now a TARDIS-like space, compacting new levels, decks, engine rooms, bunk rooms, kitchens and a larger mid-section into the same exterior shape. It’s a good idea to do something different, as it raises the stakes and provides a change of pace. But chunks of this series are made up of the characters in designated cockpit seats, rattling off Star Trek-like commands and exposition. The gang acts like a well-oiled team, rather than the bunch of incompetents established earlier. (We also have to get used to the same two or three camera angles of the cramped cockpit.) Losing Red Dwarf, meanwhile, sees Holly being written out. It was getting obvious that Grant and Naylor had run out of things for her to do, especially as Kryten had taken over the heavy lifting when it comes to explaining the plot. Elsewhere, the Cat is involved more, both in the sense of being around all the time but also in having a function in the team (he’s the pilot, for example). It’s a jolt to remember how he was in earlier series. Try picturing the 1988 version having a line like “Eighty per cent of the manoeuvring thrusters are out!” This is part of a general remodelling process: the show is now a sci-fi adventure series with laughs, rather than a sitcom set in space. Humour happens incidentally and lines are plastered on top of dense plots. To replace the character comedy, there’s a big increase in running jokes. As well as lots of regular mentions of the shape of Kryten’s head, Rimmer often quotes Space Corps directives only to be corrected. (For the record, the directives Rimmer evokes are 1742, 34124, 68250 and 196156.) On a practical level, series six sees yet is another improvement in the visuals. The special effects, model work, sets and costumes are very impressive indeed. Mostly good fun.

Seven rats trapped together, marooned in deep space, out of 10

Red Dwarf V (1992)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Written by Rob Grant & Doug Naylor. Directed by Juliet May (episodes 1-3, 5, 6) and Grant Naylor (episodes 2, 4-6). Broadcast on BBC2.

NOTE: With Ed Bye busy on wife Ruby Wax’s comedy show, Juliet May was hired as Red Dwarf’s new director. However, she struggled with the sci-fi elements of the series and lost the confidence of the cast, so left partway through production. Writers Rob Grant and Doug Naylor took over, using a portmanteau credit. (May has since had a successful career in TV, directing episodes of Chalk, New Tricks, Miranda, Call the Midwife and much else. She gamely appears on Red Dwarf V’s DVD extras, speaking honestly and good-naturedly about her experiences on the show.)

Regulars: The same as series three and four. In fact, the 18 episodes shown between 1989 and 1992 represent the most stable Red Dwarf’s ever been in terms of its cast.

Episode 1: Holoship (20 February 1992): The gang encounter a spaceship crewed entirely by holograms and Rimmer is given the chance to sign up… A decent episode with some heart and good gags. Last series, it was Kryten who fell in love in the opening episode but had to give her up; here it’s Rimmer.
Observations: Jane Horrocks puts on a plummy accent to play Nirvanah Crane, the officer who Rimmer falls for. Don Warrington adds even more class when he cameos as an aloof, arrogant hologram. Lister is said to (still) be in his mid-20s.
Best gag: Rimmer is teleported off Starbug. Kryten says, “They’ve taken Mr Rimmer! They’ve taken Mr Rimmer!” The Cat: “Quick, let’s get out of here before they bring him back!”

Episode 2: The Inquisitor (27 February 1992): A mysterious android arrives and judges the crew: if they fail to prove that they’ve led a worthwhile life they’ll be erased from history… It’s an intriguing sci-fi idea with some legs. It’s a shame it isn’t funnier, though.
Observations: Jack Docherty plays the Inquisitor and becomes the third actor from sketch show Absolutely to guest star in Red Dwarf (after Morwenna Banks in Stasis Leak and Gordon Kennedy in The Last Day). Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules and Robert Llewellyn also play the android in the trial scenes. An alternative-timeline Lister is portrayed by Jake Abraham.
Best gag: “I can do better than that, Kryten. I can give you 15!”

Episode 3: Terrorform (5 March 1992): Rimmer and Kryten crash on a planetoid that adapts its terrain to reflect Rimmer’s unconscious mind… It’s fast-paced and funny, and also nicely plotted across the half-hour. A good Rimmer story for the second time in three episodes.
Observations: Rimmer doesn’t feature in the first 10 minutes. The location work is the show’s first ever night-shoot, and it’s really well done – lots of smoke, coloured lights and fire make it look like a Hammer movie. In the scenes on the planet, where Rimmer has physical form, Chris Barrie doesn’t wear the H symbol on his forehead. He also plays musketeer-like manifestations of Rimmer’s emotions.
Best gag: Lister and the Cat type out a conversation on a keyboard because they’re too scared to talk. (They think a tarantula is nearby.)

Episode 4: Quarantine (12 March 1992): Affected by a virus that turns him insane, Rimmer locks his colleague up in a cell… It’s a bit lumbering to begin with, but once the quarantine stuff kicks in the episode is very enjoyable. Chris Barrie’s having a blast with normal Rimmer being a twat and ill Rimmer wearing a gingham dress and army boots.
Observations: How gorgeous is the model filming of Starbug landing on the snow-covered planet? (Lots. Lots gorgeous.)
Best gag: Mr Flibble.

Episode 5: Demons and Angels (19 March 1992): An accident creates two duplicate Red Dwarfs – one is good and pure, the other is bad and decaying… The same problem from Quarantine exists again here: for the first half or so the comedy is in a low gear while sci-fi plotting dominates. But it picks up once the seedy versions of the characters arrive.
Observations: This is the last episode to feature Red Dwarf itself for quite some time. All five regulars play ‘high’ and ‘low’ equivalents of their characters. The former are pacifist, Buddhist-like hippies; the latter are twisted, violent psychopaths. (There are lots of split-screen and composite shots to show us the same actor in multiple roles. Some are more successful than others.)
Best gag: The low Rimmer. It’s as if they’d cast a Tory MP to play Servalan from Blake’s 7 in an episode where she dresses up as a Dr Frank-n-Furter who’s a fan of the Sex Pistols and wants a shag.

Episode 6: Back to Reality (26 March 1992): Having apparently been killed in a crash, the gang ‘wake up’ attached to a virtual-reality machine. For four years, they’ve been playing a computer game called Red Dwarf… I remember watching this on transmission, 10 days after my 13th birthday. I fell for it hook, line, sinker, rod and copy of Angling Times. I assumed it was the last ever episode of Red Dwarf and this was a subversive way of wrapping the show up. The whole thing has a moody vibe about it, especially the oceanic opening but also in the ‘real’ world, which is a 1984-ish Britain of fascists and thugs. The plotting is lovely, with clues well seeded early on and some big twists. And it’s routinely funny. The best episode since Polymorph.
Observations: Timothy Spall has one scene as a technician. In the ‘real’ world, Lister is Sebastian Doyle, a wealthy and corrupt politician. Rimmer is Sebastian’s down-and-out brother, Billy. Kryten, meanwhile, is Jake Bullet, a half-human cop. And the Cat is a nerd called Duane Dibbley who has a key to a Salvation Army hostel. We also see the next batch of players in the Red Dwarf RPG: versions of Lister, Rimmer, Kryten, the Cat and Kochanski. This episode has no scenes set on Red Dwarf itself. In fact, Back to Reality is the start of a 14-episode run where the ship is only seen in very occasional flashbacks.
Best gag: It might have been sullied by self-indulgent callbacks in later episodes but the Duane Dibbley stuff is great.

Best episode: Back to Reality. Worst episode: The Inquisitor.

Review: A really entertaining set of episodes. The series is evolving yet again, though. For a kick-off, the writers seemed to be bored of their title ship. Red Dwarf doesn’t feature in episode six at all, while there’s a vast reduction of scenes in Lister and Rimmer’s bunkroom. Starbug is now the setting of choice: it’s used in all six episodes, and in the first two we don’t even find out why the characters are in the shuttle. It’s now just somewhere they hang out. Elsewhere, the crutch of running gags is creeping into the scripts more and more. One example sees the Cat suggest a plan of action and then Kryten tell him it’s an excellent idea with just two minor drawbacks (minor drawbacks that prove the plan is nonsense). Additionally, despite being introduced as a senile butler, Kryten continues to have encyclopedic knowledge of whatever sci-fi element the plot throws up – holoships, the Inquisitor, psi-moons… Put politely, this is economic storytelling; put critically it’s just lazy. We’re also seeing a shift of the balance of power in Rimmer’s favour. Lister is still nominally the lead, but three of these episodes could be said to be about Arnold. He even has two sex scenes. Compare with poor Hattie Hayridge as Holly. The odd gag aside, she’s been reduced to reading out technobabble. (It’s noticeable that when Back to Reality sees the characters wake up from their ‘fantasy’, Holly isn’t included.) Nevertheless, the comedy is good, the production values very fine indeed, and the cast enjoyable company.

Nine blatant clues out of 10

Dracula 3000: Infinite Darkness (2004, Darrell Roodt)


An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: The year 3000. Deep space, on board a ship called the Demeter that’s been found drifting in the Carpathian System.

Faithful to the novel? No, although there are some deliberate echoes. The plot sees the crew of a salvage space ship called Mother III board a large derelict (which seems to be Soviet for some reason). The leader of the team is Abraham Van Helsing (Casper Van Dien), while his five-strong crew include characters called Arthur Holmwood (Grant Swanby), who’s a tech guy in a wheelchair, and navigator Mina Murray (Alexandra Kamp). Away from the source material, Coolio plays a guy obsessed with getting high on dope. The characters soon find the skeleton of the captain, which is tied to a chair in an echo of the sea captain from the book. The captain is played by Udo Kier from 1974’s Blood for Dracula and 2000’s Shadow of the Vampire. We see his log entries from 50 years previously, but the characters don’t. After a lot of wandering about, Count Orlock (aka Dracula) shows up. He’s the last of the vampires and has been woken up by the Mother III crew. Our heroes have never heard of vampires, so have to Google the concept. An on-screen history of the mythology includes mention of Lord Ruthven (from the 1819 short story The Vampyre), the original Van Helsing from Bram Stoker’s book and the lead character from Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1871-72 novella Carmilla.

Best performance: No one’s any good. Erika Eleniak at least wears a tight vest and leather trousers as Aurora. The character is later revealed to be a robot on a covert mission, sorta like Ash in Alien. However, rather than go psycho, her twist is that she used to be a ‘pleasure bot’… and at the end she offers Tiny Lister’s character some free sex. So the film can add misogyny to its many flaws.

Best bit: Um. Let’s see. Er. I’ll get back to you on that one…

Review: This low-budget Alien rip-off was released on DVD in 2004, and it’s shot like a TV show, with ‘drama’ done in big fat close-ups. It’s not scary or especially violent; the dialogue is crass; the performances are awful; and the action is very poor. It’s all so incredibly shallow. No one seems that bothered about what’s going on, or that their colleagues are getting killed. Dross but it passed the time.

Three moon cycles out of 10

Red Dwarf IV (1991)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Written by Rob Grant & Doug Naylor. Directed by Ed Bye. Broadcast on BBC2.

Regulars: The same as series three.

Episode 1: Camille (14 February 1991): The crew find a genetically engineered life form that appears to individuals as their heart’s desire… A Kryten-heavy episode to start the series. Not only does Lister try to break the mechanoid’s programming so he can lie, but he encounters love for the first time. The concept of Camille looking like different people is really well done, just with simple editing rather than any special effects. An okay episode.
Observations: Kryten sees Camille as another android (played by Robert Llewellyn’s wife, Judy Pascoe); Rimmer sees her as an attractive female hologram (Francesca Folan); Lister sees her as a Liverpudlian version of Kochanski (Suzanne Rhatigan); and the Cat sees… himself. (The Cat gag is greeted by whoops and applause from the studio audience. Presumably Red Dwarf fans are getting hold of tickets in big numbers now.) The story is a spin on Casablanca. Starbug is featured.
Best gag: Flirting with Camille, Kryten asks, “What is that fragrance? It smells divine.” Camille: “WD-40.”

Episode 2: DNA (21 February 1991): The crew find a UFO, which contains a machine that turns Kryten into a human… The episode’s worth seeing for Robert Llewellyn’s terrific performance as the confused human version of Kryten.
Observations: As well as human-Kryten, Robert Llewellyn plays three of Kryten’s spare heads. The show’s backstory is rejigged in this episode: Lister is said to be from the 23rd century (it was the 21st in series two) and he claims he actually dated Kristine Kochanski, a woman he barely knew in series one.
Best gag: Kryten’s list of medical problems now that he’s human. His eyes don’t have a zoom facility, for example, while his nipples no longer regulate body temperature and pick up Jazz FM. He then shows Lister a double Polaroid of something strange that’s happened to his penis…

Episode 3: Justice (28 February 1991): The crew find a pod in space, which contains either a female prison guard or a psychotic android. They take it to a penal colony so it can be opened safely, but Rimmer is put on trial for multiple murders… There’s a convoluted set-up, but once we get to the trial scene it’s good stuff.
Observations: The penal colony is represented by fantastic location filming at a disused water-pumping station… and some of the most basic sets ever seen in a BBC sitcom. Seriously, the courtroom must have cost £3.50. There’s also more retconning going on: the original crew of Red Dwarf has changed from 167 people to 1,167. Nicholas Ball guest stars as the android in the pod. Starbug features again.
Best gag: Lister’s space mumps are funny, but the trial scene steals it. Kryten is acting as Rimmer’s lawyer. He says of Rimmer, “A man of such awesome stupidity–” and Rimmer objects. Kryten continues: “A man of such awesome stupidity he even objects to his own defense counsel.”

Episode 4: White Hole (7 March 1991): Kryten forms a plan to restore Holly’s massive IQ, but accidentally reduces her run-time to just a few minutes… A rare chance for Hattie Hayridge to shine as Holly, this is a slick, funny-throughout episode. The “So, what is it?” scene is especially good.
Observations: Talkie Toaster appears for the first time since series one (he’s now voiced by David Ross, the original Kryten). Starbug is used yet again.
Best gag: Kryten speaks of a mechanoid friend who suffered from senility: “His name was Gilbert. But he preferred it if people called him Ramses Niblick The Third Kerplunk Kerplunk Whoops Where’s My Thribble?”

Episode 5: Dimension Jump (14 March 1991): A charming, likeable and talented Arnold Rimmer – known as Ace – arrives from another dimension… After two episodes not really ‘about’ anything, this is an enjoyable character story for Rimmer – even if once Ace arrives nothing much actually happens. Chris Barrie is excellent playing the two incarnations, and Ace is a fantastic creation. A cross between Bond and Biggles, he even has his own catchphrase: “Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast.”
Observations: The episode begins with a prologue set years earlier: Simon Gaffney and Kalli Greenwood return from series three to play young Rimmer and his mum. There’s then a sequence in the alternative reality: as well as Chris Barrie as Ace Rimmer, we see Craig Charles playing mechanic Spanners, Danny-John Jules as a padre, Hattie Hayridge as a secretary called Millie, and Robert Llewellyn as Bongo, Ace’s boss. The whole thing is a kind of Top Gun spoof, complete with incidental music not a million light years away from Berlin’s Take My Breath Away. Starbug is used again. A crawl of text at the end of the episode tells you that Ace continued to search other realities for versions of Rimmer (he’ll be back in this universe in series seven). Rather than the usual theme tune at the end, there’s a chintzy organ version to tie in with a gag about Rimmer’s musical tastes.
Best gag: Lister’s tales of fishing trips in Liverpool canals. “Used to go condom fishing. I swear, one time I caught a two-pound, black-ribbed nobbler!”

Episode 6: Meltdown (21 March 1991): Kryten finds a matter-transportation device, which teleports the crew to an Earth-like planet where droids of famous historical figures are fighting a war… It has its moments, but the ‘production’ scuttles the comedy. It’s half-arsed at times. It comes off like a student video.
Observations: This episode has series four’s only scenes filmed outdoors (an exterior scene in Justice was cut). Sadly the locations are pretty terrible. The production team have clearly just gone to some non-descript fields and – in one lacklustre scene – someone’s back garden. There’s also some truly awful stock footage used to represent some dinosaurs. (At least Kryten says the creatures look unconvincing.) Tony Hawks has his most substantial Red Dwarf role yet: he plays the Caligula droid in a funny scene with Lister and the Cat. As well as Caligula (AD 12-41), other famous people represented as droids include Pythagoras (circa 570-495 BC), Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), Albert Einstein (1879-1955), Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), Stan Laurel (1890-1965), Noel Coward (1899-1973), Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), Mother Teresa (1910-1997, the only one still alive when this episode was made), Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962), Elvis Presley (1935-1977) and Father Christmas. For the second episode running the end music has been replaced: here it’s sung in the style of Elvis.
Best gag: Rimmer’s boring stories about games of Risk he played when he was 17, including gleeful retellings of specific dice throws. Bored Lister asks how he can remember such detail. Rimmer: “I jotted it down in my Risk campaign book!”

Best episode: Dimension Jump. Worst episode: Meltdown.

Review: This run of episodes is superficially the same as 1989’s batch, and has the same regular cast, but there are some interesting changes. Rimmer is more of a nerd now, rather than just an egotist. He has an anoraky love of telegraph poles, Hammond-organ music, diesel engines and board games. Kryten, meanwhile, has found his role within the team. He’s become Mr Exposition, who can rattle off reams of information on DNA, white holes, simulants, etc, as the plot demands it. Stories tend to come from outside Red Dwarf itself now, rather than being generated by the core characters, and all the plots are based on sci-fi gimmicks (even if Camille and DNA both give Llewellyn stuff to play and Dimension Jump is about Rimmer). One big change within the series itself is that the intended running order was switched. The start of Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait on 19 January 1991 resulted in the BBC delaying the transmission of the two military-themed episodes – a well-intentioned if oversensitive move. (Dimension Jump was planned to be the series opener, but ended up being screened fifth.) Enjoyable stuff, if never quite matching the heights of series two and three.

Eight kippers out of 10

Red Dwarf III (1989)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Written by Rob Grant & Doug Naylor. Directed by Ed Bye. Broadcast on BBC2.

Regulars: Lister, Rimmer and the Cat are still in place, though they’ve each had a makeover. Rimmer’s new costumes are very Captain Scarlet-y, for example, while Lister’s developed a love of leather jackets. (The newly hired costume designer was Howard Burden, who worked on Doctor Who between 2012 and 2014.) Elsewhere, Holly has been recast. Norman Lovett was bored of commuting from his home in Edinburgh to rehearsals in London and studio days in Manchester. So replacing him is Hattie Hayridge, who’d played the female Holly in series two. The change of gender is explained during the comically fast-scrolling on-screen text at the start of episode one. Also explained in that copy is the fact that Kryten, a guest character in series two, has joined the regular team. Original actor David Ross wasn’t available, so Robert Llewellyn is now under the mask. He uses a strange, kinda-Canadian accent for some reason, but he’s very funny when given stuff to play.

Episode 1: Backwards (14 November 1989): A terrific start. Rimmer and Kryten fly their shuttle through a ‘time hole’ and end up on a version of Earth where time is running in reverse… Great comedy is mined from footage being played backwards (or actors pretending it is). A woman regurgitates an éclair, people ride a tandem the wrong way, a big bar brawl sees tables ‘unsmashed’ and Lister thrown through a broken window that then reassembles… In truth, a lot of these jokes don’t stand up to logical scrutiny. But it’s all very entertaining.
Observations: The Star Wars-spoofing caption at the beginning tells us that the twin boys Lister was pregnant with at the end of series two have been returned to their original universe. The gang’s new type of shuttle – the green, globular Starbug – makes its debut. This episode features the first Red Dwarf scenes set on a recognisable and real Earth. Writer Rob Grant cameos as a man smoking a cigarette. Tony Hawks has another Red Dwarf role: he’s the compère at the pub in the backwards world.
Best gag: Just before the team leave the backwards Earth, the Cat nips into the bushes…

Episode 2: Marooned (21 November 1989): Red Dwarf is approaching five black holes, so the gang evacuate while Holly flies the ship through the cluster. Lister and Rimmer crash-land on a planet and are stranded without food or heat… Scintillating comedy. Stunning. It’s largely a two-handed playlet based on the twisted friendship of Lister and Rimmer. (The Cat, Kryten and Holly are absent for a 22-minute stretch of this 29-minute episode.)
Observations: Almost everything is set inside Starbug. There are no scenes set on Red Dwarf itself: a first. We also see Blue Midget. Why the gang don’t evacuate in the same shuttle is not addressed.
Best gag: *All of it.* Lister and Rimmer’s bewilderingly entertaining duologue covers Alexander the Great, the meaning of the word mayday, a tube of Bonjela gum ointment, dog food, Harold Pinter, William Shakespeare, virginity, a skateboard, the day Cliff Richard was shot, a Javanese camphor-wood trunk, a Bentley V8 convertible, the ninth hole of Bootle municipal golf course, page 61 of Lolita, Napoleon’s Armée du Nord, an authentic Les Paul copy guitar, She’s Out of My Life and the Last Post. Amazing stuff. Really well played and thoroughly hilarious.

Episode 3: Polymorph (28 November 1989): A genetically modified creature that can drain people of emotions boards the ship… Uproariously funny. There’s a great comedy prologue about Lister using medical supplies while cooking, then the plot kicks in and the episode freewheels along with joy and huge confidence.
Observations: At the start, a gravely voiced narrator warns viewers of scary content. The whole thing is a pastiche of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). Since series two, Lister and Rimmer have moved into posh officers’ quarters (well, you would, wouldn’t you?). At one point, Rimmer watches an old home movie, in which we see him as a child (played by Simon Gafney), his three brothers and his mum. The polymorph later takes the form of his mother (played by Kalli Greenwood). Frances Barber cameos when the polymorph poses as a sexy woman to entice the Cat into flirting. Kryten cites a Space Corps directive: not the last time we’ll hear a variation on that joke. He also uses a psi-scan for the first time: it’s a spoof of Star Trek’s tricorder device, and will become a regular source of exposition.
Best gag: There are three *enormous* contenders. The scene of the polymorph taking the form of Lister’s underpants, which he then puts on, is puerile visual comedy of the first rank. The boxers start to constrict, causing Lister agony. So Kryten – wearing a vacuum cleaner attachment on his groin – kneels between Lister’s legs and tries to yank the pants off. Rimmer walks in on them. “Well, I can’t say I’m totally shocked,” he says once the studio audience have stopped hyperventilating. “You’ll bonk anything, won’t you, Lister?!” Just as hilarious is the polymorph pretending to be Rimmer’s mum. It claims to have slept with Lister and goads Rimmer with descriptions of the act: “I honestly thought my false teeth were going to fall out…” Finally, Rimmer as a pacifist hipster after he’s lost all his anger is spectacularly funny.

Episode 4: Body Swap (5 December 1989): Rimmer convinces Lister to trade bodies with him for a time, ostensibly so he can get him fit… Giving Craig Charles and Chris Barrie the chance to play the other’s character is a fun idea. But sadly the practicalities muddy the humour somewhat. The proper actor still voices the character (Barrie dubs dialogue over Charles playing Rimmer, for example), which can be very distracting. You sense the actors having to awkwardly match their words to unfamiliar mouth movements, and it surely means that the audience laughter we hear is not genuine.
Observations: Starbug is featured again. As is another shuttle – it’s referred to as White Midget in dialogue, but the shot of it is of Blue Midget from series two. Rimmer also takes over the Cat’s body in the last scene, so Barrie and Danny John-Jules trade roles.
Best gag: Rimmer, in Lister’s body, pretends that he’s lost his arm in an accident. Lister is aghast. Rimmer: “It’s worse than that. I’ve lost your watch too.”

Episode 5: Timeslides (12 December 1989): Kryten discovers a mutated developing fluid, which prints photographs that allow you to travel in time… The plot makes very little sense, but never mind. Tremendous fun.
Observations: One of the photographs is from the wedding of Rimmer’s brother Frank (played by Chris Barrie). Comedian Mark Steel has a silent cameo as a skier. At one point Kryten suggests they go to Dallas in 1963, stand on the grassy knoll and shout, “Duck!” (a whole episode will be based on this joke in series seven). We meet Lister aged 17 (played by Craig Charles’s brother Emile). Ruby Wax (the wife of director Ed Bye) cameos as a TV reporter. Koo Stark plays Lady Sabrina Mulholland-Jjones, an attractive woman Lister marries in an alternative timeline. Simon Gafney plays a young Rimmer for the second time. It’s taken 17 episodes of Red Dwarf for scenes set on the actual, real, proper planet Earth… unless you count the backwards version from earlier in this series or the home-movie footage Rimmer watched in Polymorph. At the end of the story, thanks to timey-wimey nonsense, Rimmer is fully human again. But he soon accidentally kills himself.
Best gag: Rimmer, realising he’s now alive: “Kryten! Unpack Rachel and get out the puncture-repair kit!”

Episode 6: The Last Day (19 December 1989): A message reaches Red Dwarf that Kryten is at the end of his working life. A replacement is on its way to deactivate him… It’s a good idea to focus on Kryten, who’s settled into the team very nicely, but this is a relatively underwhelming episode.
Observations: Robert Llewellyn also plays a rep from the company that built Kryten. Gordon Kennedy plays Hudson 10, the replacement android. Lister reveals that he was abandoned as a baby in a pub – we’ll see that happen, and learn more of the context, in series seven.
Best gag: Kryten is told there’s no such place as Silicon Heaven. “Then where do all the calculators go?” (Hudson 10 repeats the same joke later on.)

Best episode: You’re a better man than me if you can separate Marooned and Polymorph. Worst episode: The Last Day.

Alternative version: The episodes were ‘remastered’ a few years later. Avoid at all costs. Much more fun is ‘Backwards Forwards’ – a DVD special feature that allows you to watch the episode Backwards playing in reverse. Among a number of treats, you can see what Arthur Smith is actually saying in his rant at Rimmer and Kryten. He’s ridiculing viewers who have bothered to watch the footage in the right order.

Review: This feels very different from the first 12 episodes. For example, giving Kryten stuff to do and involving the Cat a bit more means a more democratic approach to the storytelling. It’s not so much the Lister-and-Rimmer show now, reportedly a deliberate move because of a behind-the-scenes feud. (Having said that, episode two is basically one long scene between the pair.) There are other major changes too. A new high-tempo title sequence is made up of clips from the series and is scored by a rock-guitar instrumental version of the closing song. Sets, costumes and visual effects are all on a much higher level of professionalism. Everything’s more artfully lit, more polished and generally classier. Series two had been consistently funny and entertaining. This is even better.

Ten pistons in an ocean liner’s engine room out of 10

Dracula (1931, Tod Browning)


An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: The same locations as the book, though the only scene set in Whitby is the shipwreck. Noisy traffic in London tells us it’s the 20th century.

Faithful to the novel? After a fashion. The screenplay is based on a stage adaptation of Dracula that had been successful in both the UK and America. The story is therefore a slim-line take on the book’s plot. A major change is that it’s Renfield, rather than Johnathan Harker, who visits Transylvania. He falls under the vampire’s thrall after a brief encounter with Dracula’s Brides, then helps the Count travel to England on a ship called the Vesta. Once in the UK, the troubled Renfield is looked after by Dr Seward, who runs the sanatorium next to the house Dracula has bought. Meanwhile, Dracula specifically seeks out his new neighbour and learns that he has a daughter called Mina; she has friends called John Harker and Lucy Weston. (Rejigging the core characters’ relationships will happen a lot in future films too.) Quincey Morris and Arthur Holmwood have been dropped from the story – as has the climax where the good guys chase Dracula back to his castle.

Best performance: Dwight Frye as Renfield goes from dapper and slightly camp to wide-eyed and batshit crazy. Elsewhere, Bela Lugosi is building a cliché in front of your eyes. From this point on, people will think of Count Dracula in evening dress with a cape, holding a candle and speaking in a stilted accent. (In the novel, the character is said to have perfect English.) Lugosi had actually already played Dracula – in the Broadway production of the play. He’d taken over from future Upstairs Downstairs actor Raymond Huntley, who’d been in the West End cast. Appropriately enough, Lugosi was Hungarian: in 1897, when the original novel had been published, Transylvania was in Austro-Hungary. The film’s cast also has another apt connection: Dr Seward is played by Herbert Bunston, who had actually worked with Bram Stoker at London’s Lyceum Theatre at the turn of the century.

Best bit: In one of the scenes that highlights this is based on a theatre play, Dracula is visiting Seward in his sitting room. Van Helsing spots that the count doesn’t appear in a mirror so confronts him – and Dracula smashes the mirror. (Vampire attacks, by the way, come after fades to black. This might be a pre-Code film, but they still weren’t going to get too violent in 1931.)

Alternative versions: A silent version with intertitles was also prepared for cinemas that had yet to convert their equipment to sound. Sadly it seems that cut is now lost. But what does survive is the Spanish-language Dracula that was made concurrently with this movie. Rather than a badly dubbed copy, this was an entirely separate endeavour filmed by a different cast and crew but using the same script and sets. They filmed overnight while the main unit was sleeping. By some accounts it’s the much better movie of the two.

Review: This movie is only 70 minutes and it doesn’t hang about. It’s a brisk telling of the essential Dracula story. So brisk, in fact, that drama gets left by the wayside. As soon as Renfield arrives in Transylvania, the Count tells him they’re leaving for England. Lucy is killed after just one encounter with Dracula. Van Helsing rumbles him on their first meeting. It’s hardly nuanced stuff. Thankfully, for the first half at least, the film is very creepy. We meet Dracula via a terrifying shot of him in crypt, while his castle has vast, shadowy interiors like a cathedral. But there’s no getting away from the feeling that this is a lacklustre movie. Director Tod Browning made his name in silent film and it shows: dialogue scenes are lethargic and stilted. There’s also an unwelcome debt to the stage play. Characters actually stand at the French windows and describe what’s happening off-screen! Director of photography Karl Freund also shot Metropolis (1927) – one of the most visually ambitious movies of the silent era – but you can sense him wrestling with Browning’s static style. When the camera moves it impresses. But too many scenes play out with no tension, and sadly the story feels flat. Is this a classic despite its director? That would be apt, I suppose: the novel is a classic despite being a poorly written potboiler.

Eight crumbling castles of a bygone age out of 10