Last night saw the return of a British television institution, Red Dwarf, after 13 years of aimlessly drifting through space. Unless, of course, you include Dave’s 2008 special ‘Back to Earth’, which we don’t.
The problem with well-loved franchises returning after so long is that they can never live up to the fond memories fans had of them. Just look at what happened to both the Die Hard and Star Wars trilogies, genre defining films that should have been left to rest in peace, only to have the defibrillator wheeled out to ensure the horse was once again kicking before they began flogging it.
Ever since the end of Red Dwarf VIII, fans have been clamouring for more, only to have the rumoured Red Dwarf film cancelled in pre-production and a lacklustre series of Dave’s specials attempt to quench their gargantuan thirst.
But do fans ever really know what they want? Discussing the launch of Pottermore, David Mitchell wrote in the Observer that it’s better to leave fans wanting more than destroy the memory of something they love, which very nearly happened with Back to Earth.
He also called me annoying, but that’s another story.
So, it was a massive risk for Dave, but did commissioning an all-new series of Red Dwarf pay off? Yes. Red Dwarf X was something of a return to form for a series that seemed to be losing it’s way towards the end. It was far from perfect, but much like the last episode of Lost, it was never going to be able to deliver given the amount of hype that surrounded it.
The characters we love haven’t changed much; in fact Lister and the Cat barely appear to have aged, although the same can’t be said for Kryten and Rimmer, which is somewhat disconcerting as they’re the two non-organic characters.
This first episode revolves around Rimmer, as he battles his ever-present inability to succeed and become an officer like his brothers. Barrie is on fine form as Rimmer, smarmy and spineless as ever, still suffering with an inferiority complex so great it appears to have given a hologram wrinkles.
Barrie is supported well by his fellow Dwarfers, especially Danny John-Jules, whose character Cat has landed back on his feet, often wandering into scenes half way through to have a good old chew of the scenery.
Craig Charles and Robert Llewellyn put in decent performances as Lister and Kryten respectively, although with this being a Rimmer heavy episode, they appear to have taken a step back from the spotlight. This was a bit disappointing as I for one always saw the show as revolving around Lister, also you’d really expect a series being relaunched after 13 years to start with a story that utilises all the characters.
Still, giving the Dwarfers the run of Red Dwarf once more seems to have paid dividends: they no longer have to battle for screen time with support characters such as Captain Hollister or the Canaries. It would have been nice to see Holly and the Scutters return along with our universe-wandering protagonists, but there’s every chance they could make an appearance later on in the series.
In this first episode, Lister, Rimmer, Kryten and Cat stumble across an abandoned Space Corps ship. While aboard, they receive a distress call from a doomed ship commanded by Rimmer’s brother, Howard.
Rimmer can’t bear the thought of facing his brother without first becoming an officer, so the crew don their best Star Trek uniforms and pretend that they’re all serving Space Corps officers, with Rimmer captaining the abandoned vessel.
Howard and a Simulant from his ship are transported aboard Rimmer’s vessel and, as can only be expected, the Dwarfers’ attempted ruse leads to all sorts of chaos.
It’s a story that would sit well within any of the preceding series of Red Dwarf. It may not have the charm of some of the series’ more classic episodes, such as Rimmerworld, Backwards or Legion, but it’s nice to see the crew doing what they do best, blagging their way through whatever adventures the vast, empty universe can throw at them.
At the end of the episode, as the familiar bars of the classic theme song strike, and as Jenna Russell tells us how it’s cold outside and there’s no kind of atmosphere, there’s a definite sense of relief. Red Dwarf X was able to, momentarily, bend space and time and, for half an hour, take us back to the 90s, without the need to label it as ironic and sell it for 10x the original price in some back street boutique in Shoreditch.
It would be remiss of anyone to expect Red Dwarf X to re-capture the glory days when Rob Grant and Doug Naylor were at the helm, but the new series is off to a solid, if not perfect, start. Which is all we can ask for after the smeg up that was Back to Earth.
Smoke us a kipper, Red Dwarf’s back for breakfast.