Creator of Wild Horse and self confessed “target audience member” Rowan Roff leaves the despair squid behind and just goes with it in his discussion of the long awaited Red Dwarf X.
After Roger Federer’s disappointing loss to Andy Murray in this year’s Australian Open, many critics have begun saying his glory days are behind him. He’s too old. He doesn’t have the hunger anymore. He’ll never return to world #1 and he’ll never win another “Grand Slam” tournament. But if Roger is still playing quality tennis and still making a living doing something he loves, why would he stop playing? Oh wait, this is a Red Dwarf review.
The Red Dwarf series is now in its tenth season. It’s been almost 25 years since the show first aired and over 13 years since the last proper season aired. Red Dwarf X maintains the usual setting of being 3 million years in the future on the Red Dwarf mining ship where Vending Machine Service Technician Dave Lister is joined by his usual gang of misfits: The hologram of his immediate superior Arnold Rimmer, the fabulous-feline creature known only as Cat, and a rescued service mechanoid Kryten. (Sadly, the on-board computer Holly is absent completely and, not-so-sadly, so is female crew member Kristine Kochanski).
Although that may sound like a typical sci-fi setup, at its heart Red Dwarf has always been a show about four conflicting personalities living in a confined space. While the plots of the episodes are often brilliant exercises in science fiction writing with plenty of parallel dimensions, time shifts, alien encounters, and alterations to the laws of physics, most of the humour is derived simply from the interactions between the crew, or witty one-liners: “I am Holly, the ship’s computer, with an IQ of 6000; the same IQ as 6000 PE teachers.” Red Dwarf’s success can be attributed to the perfect relationship between these two elements. It is no surprise then, that when the combination of writers was broken and Rob Grant left Doug Naylor to his own devices in season VII, the formula they had going was also thrown out of balance.
Perhaps Naylor picked up on this because Red Dwarf X picks up right where season VI puts it down. Seriously. If you were hanging out to see how the cliff-hanger at the end of season VIII turned out, forget about it. If you were wondering if they would make any reference to the Back to Earth mini-series… nope. If you naturally assumed Kochanski would still be around, you would again be incorrect. And there is no mention of why not. (Actually, Naylor has apparently dropped hints that there is a “missing” season in there somewhere that ties everything up, but after reading a billion-word fan written essay on the matter I have come to the conclusion I don’t care anymore.) For all intents and purposes season VIII and IX never happened or happened in some alternate reality or something. Whatever. Just go with it.
Actually, there’s a lot you will have to “just go with”. For example, yes, the crew has noticeably aged, but doesn’t it make sense that Lister would indeed grow older, and so would the Cat, although I suppose a hologram probably shouldn’t age, although perhaps the computer is making Rimmer appear older to make it easier on Lister, although, although… – As Lister would say, who gives a smeg? Perfectly aligned continuity is not really what the show’s about. Once the jokes start flying all the little inconsistencies are quickly forgotten.
I will however admit that my mind was absolutely blown in episode 2: Fathers and Suns when Lister recorded a video of himself on a VHS tape. Aren’t they 3 million years in the future on a spaceship? Why would they still be using VHS? Oh that’s right, Red Dwarf is a show from the 90’s. Wait, this was filmed in 2012! So I’m watching a TV show set in the future, conceived in the past and constructed in the present? Meta…
But never mind all that background stuff, Red Dwarf X at its core is brilliant. And just in case you think I’m just giving the perspective of someone who has loved the series all the way through, let it be clear that I am. I fall squarely into the “target audience” category and the odds were pretty much 1:1 that I’d enjoy the latest instalment. But I don’t care; I’ve waited over ten years for it and gotten exactly what I was after. Classic Red Dwarf. Great jokes and interesting scenarios. The chemistry between the characters has always been the show’s strength and it shines through especially well in the new season. Episode 5: Dear Dave in particular, I would go as far as to rate as one of my favourite episodes ever, due largely to an incredibly funny scene in which Lister is wrongfully accused of getting intimate with a vending machine. More than anything, the return of Red Dwarf has emphasised what has been missing on television for the last ten years.
Red Dwarf X will likely suffer from comparisons to previous seasons. And unfortunately it does fall slightly short of the “golden” period of the series. My hope is that it has done enough to warrant another season. And I’m quietly confident that it will. It seems to have been generally well-received and according to Naylor, “the ratings have been terrific.” The new episodes might not be on par with the old ones, but if people like watching it and the writers and cast still enjoy making it, why stop?
And that’s why Roger Federer will hopefully be around for many more years to come.
Rowan can also be found at Wild Horse.
Great review, very well written. It’s VERY interesting to rate “Dear Dave” so highly! I was at the recording of that episode and loved it, but after seeing the rest of the series I thought it was the “least amazing” episode of X. Do you happen to have a link to the “billion-word fan written essay”? I would really like to read that and any other detailed written pieces about series X that you know of! Thanks!
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