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DVD Review: Red Dwarf – Back to Earth

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Red Dwarf was a show that aired from 1988 to 1999 on BBC in eight series. The show followed Dave Lister (Craig Charles) who was a technician on a mining spaceship called Red Dwarf. Following a radiation leak, everyone on board was killed except for Lister because he was in suspended animation at the time. The on-board computer Holly kept him in suspended animation until the radiation levels died down. This took three million years and Lister was the last human alive.

However he’s not the only thing alive on the ship. His cat was also in suspended animation while pregnant and over the time spent in suspended animation a creature known as The Cat (Danny John-Jules) evolved into a humanoid that likes to sleep, eat, and is only concerned about its appearance. Then there’s Arnold Judas Rimmer (Chris Barrie) who was Lister’s bunkmate and immediate superior who Holly resurrected as a hologram to keep Lister company. However they weren’t friends and to call Rimmer anal-retentive and detail obsessed is being kind; he's also cowardly, arrogant, and rude and Lister takes great pleasure in torturing him. Since the show didn’t have a large budget, Rimmer is a “solid hologram” and the only difference between him and Lister is the letter “H” in the middle of his forehead to signify hologram. Eventually a service mechanoid named Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) joins the crew in series three.

While the show was inspired by the movie Blade Runner it was a spoof of science fiction among other genres and during its eight seasons gathered a large cult following and attracted fans including Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation) who initially thought it was a rip-off of TNG until he started watching it and loved it. After the show's eighth series ended, the producers tried for several years to get series nine commissioned but the BBC wasn’t interested, even though the series ended with a cliffhanger. Then there were talks of a movie to wrap things up, but instead the three-part special Red Dwarf: Back to Earth was commissioned.

The show picks up some time after series nine had “aired” and the cast has lost some supporting characters. After dealing with a giant squid in the last of their water tanks, the crew encounters a dimensional rift which they enter and end up on Earth where they realize they’re the stars of a fictional TV show Red Dwarf. They also learn that "Back to Earth" will be the last shows for them and they set out to find their creator and convince him to let them live since they learn they are to die in the last episode.

I’m a big fan of Red Dwarf. While it was great to see the crew back again, it was very much insulated and anyone who hadn’t watched the previous series wouldn’t be able to follow it. The show had a lot of nods to its influences, including the third part being an homage to Blade Runner. There have been more rumors of a movie or a new series, and at a recent convention Robert Llewellyn confirmed that series 10 has been commissioned and will make sense since there never was a series nine. Hopefully that series will be more new user friendly and will become popular all over again. If a new viewer saw these episodes and either liked what they saw or was curious as how this all started, I would heartily recommend renting the eight seasons — you won’t be disappointed.

Red Dwarf: Back to Earth is a two-disc release. The first disc has two versions of the story, and the first is the three episodes as they originally aired with commentary from Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Robert Llewellyn, and Danny John-Jules. The commentary with the quartet is fun, lively, and they clearly enjoyed making these episodes and would love to see the series continue in some form. They talk about old times, what it was like coming back to the characters and shooting these episodes as well as what would have happened had series nine aired.

The second version is the “Director’s Cut” which is actually shorter because nothing has been added; in fact several lines were cut because they don’t make sense as a movie since it refers to the three episodes. There’s commentary with writer/director Doug Naylor who talks about why this version is shorter and references several other films where the director’s cut was shorter than the original version. Naylor talks about coming back to the characters, why they skipped series nine, and instead have numerous references to it throughout the episodes.

The second disc contains a bevy of extras. There’s a behind the scenes featurette called “The Making of Back to Earth” which is actually longer (by only a few minutes) than the episodes themselves and covers all portions of production and interviews with the cast and crew who talk about coming back to the show after such a long hiatus. There’s also a gag reel called “Smeg Ups” (watch the earlier seasons to get the reference), and a featurette on the special effects which was covered in “Making of Back to Earth.”

There are also a few deleted scenes which didn’t add much to the plot with optional commentary from Naylor, as well as footage from the premiere and footage from the cast signing for the return of Red Dwarf. Kudos to the cast and crew of Red Dwarf for packing in the extras on the DVD — the story might not have been the greatest (go back to seasons three through five/six for that) but it rekindled interest in the series and new episodes are coming!

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  • MacTech

    One minor correction, Frankenstein (The Holy Mother of the Felis Sapiens race) was not put into stasis with Lister, Lister let her free in the ship’s hold, she was sealed in the radiation-proof hold, and over the ensuing three million years her descendants eventually evolved into the Felis Sapiens race