The good ship Red Dwarf’s had a somewhat tumultuous time for the last 15 years. Despite the odd funny moment it’s largely been a shadow of its former self. What initially started out as an inviting and surprisingly warm show about the last human and his plight to keep his sanity, became an increasingly testing, sometimes embarrassing series that focused on dreadful computer effects and increasingly stupid plot arcs (Lister being his own Dad just one of many fridge-nuking moments). 2009’s Back To Earth represented the nadir of the show, a self-indulgent, embarrassing, awkward and flat out unfunny mess that could almost have been an episode of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace without the knowing pastiche elements.
It’s fairly shocking then, that Red Dwarf X has ended up being a surprisingly likeable return to some semblance of form. Of course it’s not amazing (although to be honest, Red Dwarf was never as amazingly funny as say, the first series of Bottom, relying instead on likeable characters, genre trope subversions and a lot of charm), but it’s the most consistent series in about 15 years. After the abomination that was Back To Earth, it’s an almost Christ-like return.
Strangely there’s been sod all character development. It’s not a gripe as such, but you’d maybe expect things to have changed a bit, the strain of being stuck with the same people for years finally causing things to escalate. By now a feral Lister should have throttled Cat to death and be stalking the corridors in a loincloth made out of his dreads, a rampant Rimmer putting Red Dwarf on collision course with Hackney or something, but no, they’re still the same people, still joshing each other and getting up to all sorts of mischief. To be honest there’s something comforting about that. Bringing everything back to basics and dispensing with the more far reaching concepts has made the show likeable again. There’s a greater concentration on jokes, and things feel a lot less stodgy.
It’s the most consistently funny series in ages too. Some of it’s a bit cringe inducing and dated (albeit in a way that’s kind of endearing) but some of it is also laugh out loud funny in a way that Red Dwarf hasn’t been in a long time. Witness Rimmer’s face when he malfunctions, or the episode where they go back in time and find Jesus, the saviour going off on one after finding out about all the hassle caused by Christianity. It blows hot and cold and errs on the side of mediocrity, but unlike Back To Earth or the last couple of series, it isn’t utterly hateful either.
The fact is, Red Dwarf in its own archaic way, is kind of refreshing again. In an age where hateful, gurning ‘comedians’ like Russell Howard and Miranda Hart sell God knows how many DVDs, Red Dwarf X feels unique. It at least isn’t aimed embarrassingly at the BBC3 audience (consisting of first year students and morons). There’s nothing focus grouped about it, no hip youngsters designed to appeal to a trend setting demographic. It’s so gallantly uncool that it causes some kind of event horizon, instantly becoming strangely cool again.
There’s nothing here to rival some of the best episodes in the previous series’, there’s certainly nothing up there with ‘Gunmen Of The Apocalypse’ or ‘Backwards’, but it’s a step in the right direction.
As can be expected from a Red Dwarf release, the DVD’s got a fair few features, including a mammoth documentary, the always entertaining ‘smeg ups ‘ blooper reel, as well as deleted scenes. Smeg.