Blake’s 7: Cygnus Alpha (1978)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Having escaped, Blake, Avon and Jenna use their new spaceship to travel to Cygnus Alpha, intent on rescuing their colleagues. But a religious cult is ruling the prison planet…

Series A, episode 3. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: Vere Lorrimer. Originally broadcast: 16 January 1978, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Blake (3) is being defined as the crusader of the regular cast – a leader of men, an almost messianic figure. Having said that, he’s not *totally* altruistic: he wants to rescue Vila, Gan and the others stranded on Cygnus Alpha not because of their suffering but because he needs a crew for his rebellion against the Federation.
* Having found a firearm aboard their new ship, the Liberator, Avon (2) points it at Blake and Jenna. But they simply shrug the incident off – as Jenna later admits, the fact Avon is clearly out for number one would be unsettling if she thought he didn’t mean it. When Blake later heads down to the planet to look for the others, Avon advocates leaving him behind – especially after finding a fortune stored aboard the Liberator – but Jenna won’t let him. Paul Darrow continues to make his character endlessly interesting: this is a man who doesn’t even push a button in a conventional manner.
* Jenna (3) is biding her time, working out how to pilot the Liberator and operate its controls, while alpha males Blake and Avon take the lead. She also gets a colourful new blouse after finding a storeroom full of clothes.
* Zen (1), voiced by Peter Tuddenham, is the artificial-intelligence programme that runs the Liberator. He knows who Blake, Avon and Jenna are, so computer expert Avon is therefore suspicious of him.
* Vila (3) and Gan (2) arrive on Cygnus Alpha with other prisoners from the London. They’re soon told by the religious cult who act as jailers that they’re now infected with a condition called the Curse of Cygnus, which means they’ll need special medication for the rest of their lives. Thankfully, after Blake has arrived and rescued them, we learn the curse was just a cover story to keep the prisoners in check. Phew!

Best bit: If I were condemned to a lifelong prison sentence on a barren, rocky planet run by religious nutters, I’d still take solace from the fact I’d be near Pamela Salem. She plays Kara, one of the cult, and is extremely attractive.

Worst bit: The super-ship that showed up so conveniently in episode two continues to unashamedly provide our heroes with advantages. When Blake, Avon and Jenna explore the craft, they find complex weapons, an AI computer, a teleport device, a cache of enormous wealth and an ability to travel through space at high speed. Aren’t characters meant to achieve things themselves rather than just randomly be given the upper hand?

Review: For episode three, there’s a nice change of tone. So far, the show has taken place in a cold, colourless, metallic, sci-fi world of totalitarianism. But now we arrive on Cygnus Alpha, which is a windswept, mediaeval world run by a monastic-like cult. Its leader, Vargas, is played by Brian Blessed in a pre-Flash Gordon performance that’s not *quite* as bombastic as those he later indulged in. Enjoyable stuff.

Seven human souls are the only currency (our god is bankrupt without them) out of 10

Next episode: Time Squad


Blake’s 7: Space Fall (1978)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Blake, Jenna and Vila are aboard the spaceship London, en route for a prison planet, but Blake is plotting to escape. Then the London comes across another craft drifting in space…

Series A, episode 2. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: Pennant Roberts. Originally broadcast: 9 January 1978, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Seeing how he’s being taken to a prison planet, Blake (2) doesn’t waste any time in trying to escape. He recruits Jenna, Vila and others to a plan to seize control the ship, but it only goes half-right: some of the prisoners are caught and the sadistic crew start to murder them until Blake gives himself up. Then the London stumbles across a strange, highly sophisticated and abandoned ship in deep space. The scout party are seemingly killed, so the London’s captain orders Blake, Jenna and Avon to go aboard to see what’s happened. They manage to survive the experience and – didn’t the captain see this coming? – bugger off with the new ship.
* Jenna (2) is not surprised when the sub-commander of the London, Raiker, takes a special interest in her. She’s the only female prisoner… and he’s a prick. But when he hints that he can make her life easier in return for a favour, she whispers an insult into his ear and he slaps her. She looks back defiantly.
* Vila (2) has a key part to play in Blake’s escape plan: distract the naïve guard with magic tricks while the others are doing sneaky-sneaky stuff involving an access panel. He already feels like the comic relief.
* One of the other prisoners aboard the London is computer expert Kerr Avon (1), who initially wants to keep himself to himself but can’t resist showing off his knowledge. We’re told he nearly stole five million credits, but he ‘relied on other people’ and the plan went wrong. Blake eventually persuades him to help with his rebellion, and Avon sneaks into the ship’s access shafts to fiddle with the central computer. Paul Darrow is incredibly watchable, using an acting style that’s total bravado and confidence and commitment.
* Olag Gan (1) is another prisoner. His defining characteristic is ‘big, tall bloke’, which enables him to help the escape attempt by threatening to cut off a guard’s hand. David Jackson doesn’t have much substance to play.

Best bit: The combination of Blake and Avon is fantastic straight off the bat. The clash of the two characters’ attitudes – and the two actors’ performances – creates a fascinating dynamic. Puritanical Blake says power should be back with the honest man. ‘Have you ever met an honest man?’ quips the cynical Avon.

Worst bit: Yes, this series was made in the inflation-heavy 1970s. Yes, the BBC is a cost-effective public-service broadcaster. Yes, tastes and expectations change over time. But nevertheless the studio sets of the London are really, really crummy. Drab, flat, grey walls and bodged-looking fixtures. It’s easy to see why Blake’s 7 has so often been ridiculed for looking cheap.

Review: A fine episode that again focuses on the lead character but also expands the cast of regulars. Blake quickly becomes the leader of the prisoners, but not through violence or intimidation or resources or because his name’s in the show’s title. It’s because of his powers of persuasion. He issues orders and plans strategies, while the others – Jenna, Vila, Avon – fall into line because he’s talking sense. It’s good writing and smart acting. The London, meanwhile, is crewed by guest actors from the Tom Baker era of Doctor Who (Glyn Owen from The Power of Kroll, Norman Tipton from Underworld and Leslie Schofield from The Face of Evil). One of them, Raiker (Schofield), is clearly a nasty piece of work who considers sexual abuse then murders prisoners for sadistic fun. Just in case you were still in any doubt, this is another indicator that Blake’s 7 is not a cosy, safe sci-fi romp. It’s dangerous and cruel, and that makes it interesting and unpredictable. This is such an enjoyable episode, in fact, that you forgive it the *enormous* deus ex machina of a super-ship landing in our heroes’ laps just when they need to escape.

Eight hull punctures out of 10

Next episode: Cygnus Alpha

Blake’s 7: The Way Back (1978)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Earth, the far future. Citizen Roj Blake learns of the authorities’ use of brainwashing, drugs and murder to keep the population under control…

Series A, episode 1. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: Michael E Briant. Originally broadcast: 2 January 1978, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Roj Blake (1) is living in a drab, soulless, fascist, dystopian, enclosed city cut off from the outside world when he’s approached by members of a resistance movement. They tell him he’s been brainwashed – he used to be a rebel leader but the state forced him to confess his ‘crimes’ and then wiped his memories. When he’s then caught with the resistance, Blake is arrested and framed on kiddie-fiddling charges (amongst other things). Found guilty after a trial that lasts less than three minutes, he’s loaded onto a spaceship bound for a prison planet… Actor Gareth Thomas is great throughout: you see his character believably transform from naïve bloke to forthright Blake.
* While waiting to board the transport ship, Blake is put in a holding cell with a compulsive thief called Vila Restal (1), who swipes his watch but is otherwise unthreatening. Michael Keating is a lot of fun in his one scene, playing the part with a twinkle in his eye.
* Another prisoner is the smuggler Jenna (1). Sally Knyvette plays her cool and seen-in-it-all-before, then gets a moment or two when the character admits she’s scared.

Best bit: In the scene of Blake being interrogated by an official after his arrest, the vision mixer crossfades between close-ups of the two men. The official is calm and stock-still, while Blake has his head in his hands and is jittery. It’s a striking image.

Worst bit: The title-sequence logo doesn’t have an apostrophe in the word Blake’s! Christ, that’s going to irritate me each and every episode.

Review: The first image we see is a CCTV camera keeping watch over the oppressed citizenry of a fascist state. Later, the police murder innocent people and lawyers fabricate evidence. Blake’s 7, it seems on the basis of this opening episode, is not going to be a laugh-a-minute experience. The tone is cynical, cold and humourless, and the drama seems more like a self-contained morality play than the pilot of a sci-fi adventure show. But it really works. The script has a fantastic sense of foreboding and the dread builds and builds. Blake’s fate seems cruelly inevitable, even if his lawyer (Tel Varon, played by Michael Halsey like he’s the lead character) is a decent guy with a conscience. And the fictional world is convincing and feels like it stretches out beyond the events we see. A very strong start.

Nine judgement machines out of 10

Next episode: Space Fall

Dracula (BBC1, 28 December 2006, Bill Eagles)


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

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: It’s 1899, which is a little later than in the novel. The locations include the fictional Castle Holmwood and the genuine graveyard of St Mary’s Church in Whitby; the fictional Westenra House and the genuine Harley Street, Chelsea and Highgate Cemetery in London; and the fictional Castle Dracula in Transylvania.

Faithful to the novel? This TV version of Stoker’s novel is another one of those vaguely faithful adaptations that nevertheless makes many changes.
* For a start, the first character we meet – in a spooky prologue – is Abraham Van Helsing (David Suchet). He doesn’t appear in the book until nearly a third of the way in.
* The lead character here is a secondary character in the novel. Arthur, aka Lord Holmwood (Dan Stevens), is a wet fish who quotes poetry at girlfriend Lucy Westenra (Sophia Myles). Nevertheless she agrees to marry him.
* This disappoints Arthur’s pal John Seward (Tom Burke), who fancies Lucy too. The novel’s third suitor, the American Quincy Morris, has been dropped.
* Arthur then travels to his childhood home, Whitby, to see his insane, dying father. He also learns that the syphilis-related condition that soon kills his dad is hereditary… (Why Arthur was being called Lord Holmwood while his father was still alive is not addressed. In the novel, his father is not insane and dies ‘off stage’.)
* A month later, looking for a cure, Arthur visits a mysterious man called Singleton (Donald Sumpter). Together they plot to bring a “magician” to England so he can use his knowledge of blood transfusions to cure Arthur…. The character of Singleton was created for this film. Being Dracula’s ally in the UK, he takes the place of the lunatic Renfield from the novel.
* We then meet Lucy’s friends Jonathan Harker (Rafe Spall) and Mina Murray (Stephanie Leonadis). Jonathan is a newly qualified solicitor who’s soon given a job. He’s told that a client called Mr Singleton has an associate on the continent who wants to buy some London property, so Jonathan travels to Transylvania to meet the secretive nobleman Count Dracula (Marc Warren). He looks very old – a detail from the novel that’s almost always abandoned in adaptations – and insists that Jonathan stays longer than planned. We get the usual scenes of Harker being trapped in a scary castle and being unnerved by his host’s demeanour, but in a break from the book’s plot he’s then killed rather than escapes.
* Cut back to England, and Arthur and Lucy are getting married in the rain. Lucy’s joy is short-lived, though, because Arthur chooses to go off with Singleton rather than be with her on their wedding night. This lack of interest in sex makes John suspicious so he tails Arthur, who takes part in a bizarre religious ceremony.
* Meanwhile, Dracula is travelling to Britain on board a ship called the Demeter.
* The next day, Arthur sheepishly turns up in Whitby and gives Lucy a necklace. She responds by grabbing his crotch, but he resists because of his secret syphilis.
* The Demeter beaches at Whitby, but the crew have vanished and Jonathan’s corpse is aboard. The only cargo is a box of earth. Lucy and an in-mourning Mina soon encounter Dracula, who now looks younger and doesn’t have an issue with daylight. Arthur is angry that they’ve all become friends and demands that Dracula does what he was brought to England for: cure Arthur. But the vampire openly says he’s more interested in the women of the house.
* We’re told that Dracula is 900 years old (it’s quite refreshing that no connection is made to Vlad the Impaler) then see that he can transform into a bat.
* During the night, Dracula uses his hypnotic vampire abilities to sexually abuse Lucy while Arthur sleeps in the same bed. He forces her to feed from his chest.
* Lucy subsequently falls ill, so Arthur calls in medical doctor John. He says she needs a blood transfusion, but it doesn’t work and she dies. She’s buried in Highgate Cemetery, which also features in the novel (if disguised with a fake name).
* Now that Dracula is in the UK and feeding, he doesn’t need acolyte Singleton any more so kills him. John, still on the case of what the fuck is going on, finds the corpse in a room full of ritualistic paraphernalia then searches the cellar underneath. There he encounters Abraham Van Helsing, a gibbering lunatic who’s been imprisoned because he knows a lot about Dracula. (He dodged death because he has a crucifix round his neck.)
* Van Helsing explains that Singleton and Arthur are part of the Brotherhood of the Undead, a cult who arranges for vampires such as Dracula to come to Britain. John then travels back to Whitby to confront Arthur.
* Dracula, meanwhile, targets Mina in London.
* Having cleaned up both his clothes and his mind, Van Helsing tells Arthur and John that they must view Lucy’s corpse. They creep into her crypt at night and find the coffin empty. Luce then appears standing behind them; she’s a vampire so attacks her husband and taunts John. Arthur must stake her. As he does so, we see that elsewhere Dracula is simultaneously hurt.
* The men find the Count at the Brotherhood’s HQ. He murders Arthur – by twisting his head off! Then Van Helsing distracts the vampire with some Christian rhetoric (which is very reminiscent of dialogue from The Exorcist) so that John can stake him. Dracula dies.
* In the final shot, we see a seemingly resurrected Dracula living rough on the streets of London…

Best performance: David Suchet as Van Helsing. It’s little more than a cameo – like a big famous actor showing up for a day’s work on a low-budget movie – but at least it’s an interesting performance.

Best bit: How good Sophia Myles looks in a nightgown.

Review: One of the jewels in the crown of the BBC’s Christmas schedule in 2006, this 90-minute TV movie falls very flat indeed. It has no life to it; no blood coursing through its veins. By shuffling the book’s plot, it also leads to some odd storytelling. Arthur is the lead character, but is quite unlikable and selfish. The focus then shifts to Jonathan, who meets Dracula barely a few minutes after being introduced and is killed off very quickly. The script also changes the motivations of several characters, notably Arthur. The story is now about his hubris, rather than the savagery of Count Dracula. Admittedly, it’s an interesting idea that Dracula targets our group of characters because one of them made a deal with the devil. In the novel, he more or less picks them at random. But the biggest problem with this film is a general sense of going through the motions. The cast lack energy, the script lacks distinction, and the direction is boring. It’s very difficult to care about anything that’s happening. There’s also precious little discussion of vampirism; it’s just assumed that every character and every viewer knows all about it. As BBC adaptations go, this is not a patch on the 1977 effort.

Three garden parties out of 10

Crime Traveller (1997)


Spoiler warning! Minor plot twists might be revealed.

On Saturday 1 March 1997, a new drama series began on BBC1. Crime Traveller was created and written by Anthony Horowitz, who’d been struck by the notion of using time travel in a detective-show format while writing for ITV series Agatha Christie’s Poirot. It immediately won a place in my heart…

In March 1997, I was nearing the end of my A levels. The pressure of studying, revising, applying for universities, and working weekends at a supermarket was building up. My life, for the first time, was genuinely busy and intense. But for eight weeks I had a little treat each Saturday night. I’d get home at 9pm after an eight-hour shift on the checkouts or pushing trolleys around. I’d have some food and open a beer. And I’d watch Crime Traveller, which I’d videoed earlier that evening. It was a joy: a light-hearted, likeable detective show with a sci-fi twist. I was hooked.

I didn’t see it again for a few years, not until the DVD release. I bought the first four episodes on DVD at the Virgin Megastore in Camden on 26 March 2003. I know that because I still have the receipt in the slipcase. Sadly I didn’t keep the record of when I bought the second half of the series, but it wasn’t too long after its DVD release in May 2003. Since then I’ve gone back to Crime Traveller again and again, rewatching it about once a year or so. It’s often been a friend in dark times: an instant cheerer-upper.

I’ve also had a couple of encounters with the show in real life. On 27 August 2009, having figured out where it was from viewing the episodes, I went to have a look at the building used in Crime Traveller as Holly Turner’s flat. When I got there, the front door was wedged open to allow some workmen to come in and out. So I chanced my arm and had a look inside the lobby, which was instantly recognisable from Crime Traveller (even if Danny’s partitioned-off office had gone – maybe it was only installed for the filming). Then, on 27 September 2014, I went to a sci-fi signing event in Barking because one of the guests that day was Crime Traveller star Chloe Annett. She kindly signed my DVD cover – well, I did pay her £10 to do it – and then listened patiently as I told her what the show meant to me.

So, to celebrate its 20th anniversary, here’s a look at this TV series that means so much to me…

Crime Traveller is a cop show with a difference: the two lead characters, Jeff and Holly, have a time machine, which they use to go back in time and solve crimes as they’re happening. The episodes are therefore structured ‘answers first/questions second’. We usually see the chaotic consequences of a murder, then the fun comes when Jeff and Holly travel back in time and we find out what really happened. It’s also a series set in a world you don’t see on TV any more: similar to real life, but with theatrical embellishments. It’s a Britain where a police detective can barely read; where solicitors blab about the contents of wills before the body is cold; where both the police and the press declare people guilty months before a trial; where widows make jokes about pottery on the day their husband’s been killed. The locations and settings are often arch and dramatic too. Bank managers have cavernous, Ken Adam-like offices. People live in Art Deco houses. Hospitals look like art galleries.

Detective Inspector Jeff Slade (Michael French) is a charming but reckless maverick who doesn’t mind bending the rules if it gets results. He also used to be married but she died a long time ago. At the start of the series, he grows close to colleague Holly Turner, who has a time machine, and they use it to solve crimes. In one episode she gets the hump when she thinks he’s slept with another woman, and in a later story he’s jealous of her ex being back on the scene, but their relationship is mostly platonic.

Holly Turner (Chloe Annett) is a clever and likeable police science officer. She has a time machine that was built by her father, Frederick, who has since gone missing. The machine sends you back (never forwards) an unpredictable amount of time, usually a few hours. You can’t actually change the past – you were always there, as it were – and it would be disastrous if you ever met yourself. You also have to be back at the machine at precisely the time you left, otherwise you’d be caught in a loop of infinity (ie, you’d go round and round the same few hours forever). This presents a *whopper* of a plot hole, which the series wisely ignores: why do the two versions of the characters never see each other at the machine? Every time Holly and Jeff are about to use it, future versions of themselves should come running in, surely?

Detective Chief Inspector Kate Grisham (Sue Johnston) is the grumpy, M-like boss of the team who is often frustrated by her detectives… until Jeff and Holly miraculously solve the case. She has football knickknacks on her desk, and in one episode we learn she’s married. She also has two other subordinates: Detective Sergeant Morris (Paul Trussell), 28, seems to be one truncheon short of a constabulary (we never learn his first name), while Detective Constable Nicky Robson (Richard Dempsey), 23, is a graduate trainee who’s very clever and friendly.

Rounding out the regular cast are: Danny (Bob Goody), the good-natured caretaker at Holly’s block of flats, who appears in all but one episode, and Frank (Jack Chissick), a duty officer at the police station, who appears in episodes 2, 4, 5, 7 and 8.

Created and written by Anthony Horowitz. Produced by Brian Eastman. Directed by Brian Farnham (episodes 1, 3, 6 & 7) and Rick Stroud (episodes 2, 4, 5 & 8).



Broadcast: 20.10-21.00, Saturday 1 March 1997, BBC1.
Radio Times synopsis: “Detective Jeff Slade is at risk of losing his job until a colleague, Holly Turner, tells him about her secret time machine.”
Notable guest cast: This week’s murder victim, an arrogant aviation magnate called Guy Lombard, is played by Terrence Hardiman (aka the Demon Headmaster).
Time travels: #1 – Holly first uses her time machine at 12.05pm and goes back three hours. Earlier in the episode, through Jeff’s eyes, we saw her at a train station. Now we see the same events from Holly’s point of view. #2 – Holly and Jeff travel at 6.25pm and go back 10 hours. It’s Jeff’s first ever trip in time.
* The first shot of the episode is a close-up of a clock (it’s 10am); the final scene is in a restaurant that has a clock face projected onto a wall (it’s 8.10pm). A visual motif of time and clocks recurs throughout the series, obviously.
* On a wall of Holly’s living room is a poster for On a marché sur la Lune (aka Explorers on the Moon, 1952-1953), the 17th book in the Tintin series. Crime Traveller creator Anthony Horowitz is a huge Tintin fan and has visited every location used in one of the stories (except the moon, obviously). In 2011 he was hired to write the sequel to Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. By 2016, however, his script had been scrapped and the film is still unmade.
* Holly’s flat is said to be in a block of flats called Sundown Court. In real life, it’s on St Mary’s Terrace in west London. The same block – though a different entrance – was used as Maddy Magellan’s home in the first series of Jonathan Creek, which was broadcast on BBC1 later in 1997.
* Other filming locations in this episode include: Reading train station, used for the opening sequence; Café Laville at 453 Edgware Road, London, a café with a view of Regent’s Canal (for plot reasons, it’s renamed Giovanni’s); Randolph Avenue, London, where Jeff and Holly find the catering van; and a bookies just off Randolph Avenue.



Broadcast: 20.10-21.00, Saturday 8 March 1997, BBC1.
Radio Times synopsis: “Slade and Holly travel back in time to investigate the murder of Holly’s aunt, who was apparently poisoned in a restaurant.”
Notable guest cast: Holly’s aunt Mary Chandler is played by Mary Tamm. Pip Torrens is one of the suspects.
Time travel: At 8.05pm, Holly and Jeff attempt to travel through time, but the machine blows a fuse and the building’s electricity goes off. Some people are trapped in a lift – eagle-eared viewers will recognise the cries for help as Grisham. Once the power’s back on, Holly and Jeff try again and travel back to 11.45 that morning.
* This episode is the first to have time-travelling Holly and Jeff interact with other regulars. Therefore, the story has to be structured in such a way that the original timeline’s Jeff and Holly are out of the way. Having been removed from the case – because Holly knew the victim – they go to see Mary’s solicitor, but we never learn how they spend the afternoon before time-travelling.
* The episode is set in early August (even though a scene at 8pm is after dark).
* We meet a new recurring character for the first time: a friendly duty officer at the police station called Frank.
* We see a screen showing Holly’s bank details. Her account number is AGH-345-0054, her sort code is 90-43-68, and she’s £1,669.90 overdrawn thanks to buying lots of electrical equipment.
* The building used as the location for the solicitors’ offices was Marco Polo House, 346 Queenstown Road, near Battersby Park in London. Built in the late 1980s, it was a glass-and-marble office building, sadly now demolished. The 1993 Red Dwarf episode Legion also filmed there.
* There are lots of clocks throughout the episode, in almost every scene in fact. Some are highlighted by characters or camerawork, others are just background details, but you could – if you wish – track the timings of each scene.



Broadcast: 20.10-21.00, Saturday 15 March 1997, BBC1.
Radio Times synopsis: “Slade and Holly go undercover in the world of fashion after a high profile designer receives a series of death threats.”
Notable guest cast: IMDB and other websites list American actor Alexis Denisof (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Avengers Assemble) as being in this episode. However, he’s not mentioned in the end credits and – as far as I can see – doesn’t appear on screen.
Time travel: Holly and Jeff travel back 20 hours, arriving at 8pm the previous evening.
* Holly is forced by her boss to go undercover as a seamstress, despite not being a detective and not being able to sew. (Everyday sexism!)
* In one of the show’s sillier moments, Grisham gathers all her police officers together to give them a detailed briefing. She tells regular characters Slade, Turner, Morris and Robson what they should do, but everyone else gets a vague wafting of a pointy stick at a map as Grisham says, “And the rest of you, as agreed.”
* Fashion designer Sonja’s house is, in reality, the Art Deco masterpiece St Ann’s Court in Chertsey, Surrey. It was designed by Sir Raymond McGrath in 1936 and is currently valued at around £9 million. The house contains a recording studio used by Roxy Music and Paul Weller, while several other film and TV crews have used it, such as Agatha Christie’s Poirot.
* Holly and Jeff discuss their previous time-travels. Holly moans that she’s been imprisoned (referring to episode two), chased by lunatics, been involved in two cars smashes, and been attacked with a knife. Jeff replies that she’s also solved two murders, a blackmail racket and an art fraud. The mention of the art fraud suggests that this episode was originally planned to come after episode four.
* The Tintin poster has gone missing from Holly’s flat.
* We see Jeff’s flat for the first time: he bought it from a murderer he sent to prison, but then couldn’t afford much furniture. He serves Holly her meal on a ping-pong table.
* Jeff mentions his father, who used to be a copper but is now retired. This reference means that if this episode has been moved in the running order, it can’t have originally gone after episode five.
* Danny the caretaker misses an episode for the only time.



Broadcast: 20.10-21.00, Saturday 22 March 1997, BBC1.
Radio Times synopsis: “Holly travels back in time in an attempt to save Slade’s life.”
Notable guest cast: Two hostage-victim extras are played by Anthony Horowitz’s sons Nicholas and Cassian.
Time travel: When Holly sees a news report about Jeff being shot, she uses her machine to find out what happened. She goes back 11 hours and 14 minutes to 8am. For the next chunk of the episode, time-travelling Holly interacts with the past version of Jeff.
* This is the only episode where Jeff doesn’t travel in time.
* The Tintin poster has returned to Holly’s living-room wall.
* The murder victim’s next-door neighbour is a man called Kelly, who’s clearly a fan of British comedy. He lives with cats called Kenneth and Hattie (ie, Williams and Jacques) and has posters on his wall for The Ladykillers (1955) and Carry On Doctor (1967).
* Holly and Jeff have a coffee in the same canal-side café we saw in episode one. They even sit at the same table. However, this time there’s no fictional rebranding: a waitress’s apron has the establishment’s real name on it.
* The location used for the art gallery and the jewellers next door is Woburn Place in Bloomsbury.
* Jewel thief Crowley’s flat, meanwhile, was filmed at the Alexandra Road Estate in north London. The area’s Brutalist architecture has also been seen in The Sweeney, Spooks, Prime Suspect, New Tricks, 28 Weeks Later (2007) and Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014). Incidentally, the production design of the flat’s interior is slightly odd. Hardened criminal Crowley has rows of pretty postcards on every wall and sofa cushions in the shapes of the mid-90s BBC1 and BBC2 logos.



Broadcast: 20.05-21.00, Saturday 29 March 1997, BBC1.
Radio Times synopsis: “Slade is determined to find out if his convicted father (played by The Bill’s Chris Ellison) is innocent, when he too is accused of a robbery he did not commit.”
Notable guest cast: There are three notable guest actors: Christopher Ellison (The Bill) as Jeff’s jailbird father, Jack; Ray Lonnen (The Sandbaggers, Harry’s Game, Rich Tea and Sympathy) as police divisional head Gareth Oldroyd; and Stephen Grief (Blake’s 7) as Lenny Gebler, a fence who’s made a name for himself north of Watford.
Time travel: When it becomes clear that Jeff is being framed for the theft of some diamonds, he and Holly use the time machine. They need to go back more than a day, to before the case began, but Holly says they can’t predict how much time the machine will give them. She suggests they cross their fingers, which works: they go back 24 hours to 1.30pm the previous day.
* After her moonlighting as an undercover agent in episode three, this time lab-rat Holly is seconded as a diamonds expert. “Gemology isn’t really my field,” she says.
* No one dies in this episode. The only other time that happens is episode seven.
* We’re initially told that Gebler’s meeting with some diamond sellers will be at 9pm. Grisham even asks her squad to assemble at 8pm so they can prepare to swoop in. However, the swoop itself takes place in broad daylight, as do various scenes set later the same day. Then, after Jeff and Holly have time-travelled, we’re told the arrest happened at 2.10pm.
* The combination to the safe in Grisham’s office is 36-17-25.
* Five years ago, Jeff’s policeman father was sent to prison for nine years. Jack Slade was in charge of a bank-raid case with Oldroyd, but half of the £200,000 loot went missing. Slade was framed for the theft by Oldroyd. Now, he breaks out of prison to help his son. His conviction quashed – and presumably his escape ignored – he then comes round to Holly’s flat for dinner, where he tells her and Jeff that in prison he found Holly’s father’s book about time-travel. He might read it one day.
* While time-travelling, Jeff sees his earlier self at the police station. There’s thankfully no temporal schism, as Holly warned about in episode one.
* The prison governor’s office has ‘Tempus fugit’ printed on the floor. Taking the mick, that, isn’t it?



Broadcast: 20.10-21.00, Saturday 5 April 1997, BBC1.
Radio Times synopsis: “Holly questions Slade’s increasing dependency on the time machine, while Grisham becomes suspicious of his crime-solving success rate.”
Notable guest cast: The murder victim, former government minister Sir Iain Hawkins, is played by David Neal. He was the president in classic Doctor Who serial The Caves of Androzani.
Time travels: #1 – Holly and Jeff are time-travelling as the episode begins. They’ve popped back to spy on a gang of bank robbers planning a heist. #2 – Later, when Jeff wants to use the machine to solve this week’s murder case, Holly says no. They’ve been using it too much, causing damage to its expensive workings. However, Jeff learns that Holly won’t be at home that evening – so he goes round at 6pm and uses the machine solo. He travels back 10 hours and seven minutes. Therefore, we get a reversal of episode four: now it’s Jeff who’s travelled back without Holly’s knowledge. As in that earlier story, there are then scenes where one of them doesn’t know the other is from the future.
* Grisham wonders why Slade’s been solving cases like never before for the “last few months”, so we’re some way on from the first episode.
* This is the third episode in which we’re told (or shown) that a man was fleeing the crime scene…. only for us to later learn it was a time-travelling Slade.
* One of the murder suspects is Lawrence Kirby, a man who runs a business that converts old telephones boxes into shower cubicles, flowerboxes or general garden ornaments. The firm is called The Big Box Company and its building is surrounded by classic British red phone boxes. There’s also a blue police box… When Slade sees it, it gives him the idea to time-travel. The incidental music even quotes the Doctor Who theme tune.
* While trying to work out how Slade is so successful these days, Morris actually sees both Jeffs at the same time – the original timeline’s and the time-travelling one.
* At the end of the episode, Holly is angry with Jeff and says he can’t use the machine any more.



Broadcast: 20.10-21.00, Saturday 12 April 1997, BBC1.
Radio Times synopsis: “Slade develops a complex plan in order to win the lottery, but reckons without Holly’s elusiveness.”
Notable guest cast: Space 1999’s Zienia Merton has a small role as a receptionist.
Time travel: This is the only episode were Holly never travels in time. Jeff convinces her to let him go alone – his plan is to go into the past and win the Lottery. He journeys at 8.20pm and ends up at 7.26 that morning. Uniquely, time-travel is not being used to solve this episode’s crime. It’s a comedy subplot.
* At the beginning of the episode, Jeff gives Holly some flowers as an apology for using the machine without permission in episode six.
* Holly’s flat is number 67.
* Jeff tells Holly that he’s “solved five cases thanks to you” – another hint that the episodes’ running order was shuffled before transmission.
* Jeff travels in time specifically to play the Lottery, having already leant the result. The winning numbers are 8, 12, 11, 22, 6 and 1. However, after Jeff writes them down and asks Robson to buy him a ticket, Robson reads them upside down. Jeff, therefore, only gets four right (8, 11, 22 and 1); Robson inadvertently replaces 12 and 6 with 21 and 9. Jeff wins just £186.
* Holly has a second Tintin poster on her living room wall. Above the desk is a print of L’Oreille cassee (aka The Broken Ear, 1935-37), the sixth book in the series.
* Filming took place at Brixton Market.
* The scene of Jeff, Morris and Robson tailing a suspect was filmed in and around Sherief’s Snack Bar, a café on the corner of Sandwich Street and Hastings Street in central London. The café is now called Sandwich Street Kitchen.
* Darkness falls well before 7.30pm, so presumably this episode is set in winter.
* Morris tells us that his regular Lottery numbers are 7 (his birthday), 28 (his age), 10 (the number of his flat), 31 (his Scout number), 33 (his girlfriend’s age) and 40 (his lucky number).



Broadcast: 20.10-21.00, Saturday 19 April 1997, BBC1.
Radio Times synopsis: “Slade and Holly are confronted with the possibility that theirs may not be the only time machine in the world.”
Notable guest cast: Angela Pleasence has a small role as a landlady. The main guest star is Christopher Villiers, later a regular in Emmerdale.
Time travels: #1 – Having seen a man run over and killed outside Holly’s flat, Holly and Jeff attempt to travel back to see who was in the car. However, the unpredictable machine only gives them three minutes, which isn’t enough time. #2 – Later in the episode, Jeff uses a time machine built by guest character Stephen Marlowe to travel back two hours (a span he can specify) so he can spy on Marlowe.
* Holly takes Jeff to the cinema to see Les Enfants du Paradis. Released in 1945, and directed by Marcel Carné, it was once voted the best film of all time by French critics. Holly enthusiastically says it’s timeless; Jeff replies that it felt endless (the film is 190 minutes long). The scene was shot outside the Renoir Cinema (now the Curzon Bloomsbury), The Brunswick, Bloomsbury, London.
* The murder victim, Professor Hayward, has a bedroom littered with dozens of clocks.
* The episode has a distinct film-noir feel about it – lots of night shoots, lots of smoke and shadows.

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