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TV review: Red Dwarf: Back to Earth

Should Craig Charles and co have been left to spin the galaxies in peace? Nicola Mostyn will be back for more

Published on April 22nd 2009.

TV review: Red Dwarf: Back to Earth

EASTER is all about resurrection (and Mini Eggs) so it’s rather fitting that the crew of Red Dwarf were back together over the Bank Holiday weekend to celebrate the comedy series’ 21st birthday.

Bringing back Craig Charles (Lister), Chris Barrie (Arnold Judas Rimmer), Danny John-Jules (Cat) and Robert Llewellyn (Kryten) for this three-part special was always going to be a controversial move.

The last of the eight series may have been made in 1999, but Red Dwarf is still hugely popular with sci-fi fans, and sci-fi fans do not love casually. Once word was out that a special was going to be made, the online debate raged - would this three partner do justice to the Red Dwarf canon or was the series best left to rest in peace?

As the first episode began, it seemed likely to be the latter. True, the cast didn’t look all that different, apart from having slightly larger heads (particularly Rimmer who could fit not just an H but the entire word Hologram on his forehead these days).

Perhaps the most likeable thing about Red Dwarf is that is really wants to be liked. It’s a warm-hearted series with a simple, Odd Couple premise and, though set in outer space millions of years into the future, it deals with basic human issues – love, death, insecurity and disappointment - among the giant squids, passive-aggressive toasters and alien curry monsters.

Nevertheless, the comedy, which, in the repeat-episodes, stands up as sharp and snappy, seemed dull and flabby and the cast seemed to be overacting, perhaps to make up for the less-than-hilarious lines.

Back to Earth lacked the old laughter track, but, happily, those fans who stuck it out to the second episode were rewarded. The half-hour slices had a slightly different feel to the previous series, coming over more like a feature film. While this made the whole thing less tight, it did allow for some more dramatic moments and, if the humour was at times a little "Dad-at-a-party", this was just about compensated for by

an ambitious and witty plot which took viewers on a self-referential, post modern journey back to present day Earth where the Red Dwarf crew found that they were, after all, only characters in a comedy TV series. And worse - they were down to their last episode.

This allowed for lots of intelligent and, at times, slightly baffling playfulness with the idea of characters and fiction, life and art and the interplay between these. It also allowed them to pay a visit to Coronation Street, pulling up in a ‘Starbug’ car outside the Kabin.

In this way, Red Dwarf: Back to Earth was poking fun at itself almost constantly, a clever tactic – get in there before anyone else can. And so Childwall-raised Charles had a dig at his own drug problem, the scene in the sci-fi shop fondly sent up their geeky fanbase and the whole plot played with the viewers’ central concern – that fictional characters burn more brightly when they live less long.

And perhaps this worry was justified. The jokes were simply not as good. No question about that.

But then there was the Lister-Kochanski plot. Throughout Red Dwarf, Kochanski has been the love of Lister’s life, the one that got away - literally, since Lister believes that she was sucked out of an airlock in the (non-existent) Series 9.

Lister’s love for this character has been responsible for some of Red Dwarf’s more wonderful moments – and in a poignant scene (which seemed to be drawn, in part, from the Bedford Falls scene in early Red Dwarf novel Better Than Life) Lister is forced to choose between a perfect but unreal life with his lover and a flawed but real existence without her. Craig Charles does poignancy as well as he does comedy, and by the close of the third episode he had reduced me to tears, putting me firmly onside for backing a new series of Red Dwarf. Better smeg than dead, after all.

*Red Dwarf Back to Earth is repeated on Dave on Wednesday 15 April 9pm – 9.30pm

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

KnowledgeableApril 14th 2009.

Craig Charles actually came from a very posh part of the city and his mum and dad were both Liverpool university lecturers. He used to go around Princes Road with Janet Street Porter's TV cews getting down with the kids in Granby and telling everyone he was from Toxteth. It's amazing how people are fooled, isn't it? The kids in Granby weern't though and he got beaten up!

DaveApril 14th 2009.

"Childwall-raised Charles". So that's what they call Cantril Farm nowadays. Arf!

Michael EllisApril 14th 2009.

Craig Charles ruined everything he has ever been in. Even 'Robot Wars'.

Truculent of ToxtethApril 14th 2009.

Knowledgeable, Wikipedia needs someone like you to put their record straight!

Thank god for senseApril 14th 2009.

Editorial says: Rant removed

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