Series III DVD Review

I like DVD release dates. Waking up early, getting down to Woolies at 9am, taking the day off college, rushing to get the review finished, then soaking up the reaction on the internet. Lovely. However, if it’s a choice between this and getting the DVD early, there’s no contest.

This is why I finally decided to go with Play, who have a knack of delivering DVDs on the Saturday before they’re released. They have failed to do so a couple of times recently, so I was a tad scared, especially considering the postal strike that’s hit half of the country. However, Play came up with the goods, so, two days ahead of schedule, I was fortunate enough to be amongst the first to see the DVD. And Christ, it’s good. The improvement in picture quality isn’t as obvious as it was for the first two series, but then that’s probably due to it being better quality to begin with. The sound is much better, though; just having the heroic music from the start of Backwards in both earholes is reason enough to buy it.

Series III is also damn-near perfect. Marooned and Polymorph are constantly being cited as contenders for best episode evuur, and Backwards and Timeslides have an incredible number of classic scenes in them. There’s no weak link, as Bodyswap and The Last Day are both excellent too. However, none of us give a shite about the episodes. We’re here for the extras, the first of which is:

Animated Menus

The new opening is pure class. Various stock shots of Starbug flying about are used to show it landing on Red Dwarf. We then switch to CGI (which is quite noticable, unfortunately), and are taken down a corridor to a stunning recreation of the Science Room (as I like to call it). The style is unmistakable – Holly spouting out lines, surrounded by all sorts of junk from the series. Four options on the main menu: ‘Play All’, ‘Commentary’, ‘Episode Select’ and ‘Subtitles’.

The main menu on Disc Two is pretty much the same, but with a whopping five options: ‘Bonus Material’, ‘All Change’, ‘Subtitles’, ‘Weblink’ and ‘DVD Credits’. Not sure I approve of the documentary being seperate; what is it if it isn’t bonus material? Oh, well. As for the Bonus Materials menu: hmmm. A lot of people have reported authoring problems, here. For them, the menu animation restarts every time they move the cursor. I don’t think it’s a problem with the DVD itself; one of my friends gets the fault on one player, but not on the other.1 And, thankfully, it all works fine for me. The idea of having the name of the feature on a board in the corner is much better than the old method, as the menu doesn’t seem so cramped. There is, however, a slight pause during the transitions, which is a pain. Still, back to Disc One:

Cast Commentary

As with the series itself, one of the best people in the previous commentary tracks has left, and two unknowns have come in. Will the commentary survive this change? The answer is: yes, mainly. The chaps do go incredibly quiet at times; simply watching the episode and laughing at it. However, what they do say is very entertaining. Robert Llewellyn is simply perfect; he’s quite willing to take the piss out of his performance, which is incredibly pony at times. He also praises every aspect of the show, and this time his fellow cast members mainly agree. Hattie is lovely, as ever. Chris and Craig continue their form from the first two tracks; telling funny stories and offering analysis of the themes and issues surrounding the show. Danny seems uncharacteristically quiet, though. Hopefully he’d perked up a bit when the Series IV commentary was recorded a few days later. On to Disc Two…

All Change

This is the stuff. This is what Launching Red Dwarf would have been, if more than seven pence had been spent on it. Twelve very talented and interesting people share their thoughts and anecdotes on every single aspect of the series, with both specific examples and general overviews. There are some real gems here: Craig Charles tells the best showbiz anecdote ever (something to do with being next to Ronnie Corbett in a packed lift); the excellent Mike Agnew talks about Craig and Danny’s misbehaviour; Hattie tells some excellent stories about getting the part; Robert Llewellyn is at his hilarious, endearing best; Gordon Kennedy exceeds all expectations by remembering everything to do with his appearance in great detail; Ed Bye talks about the various headaches he suffered on the show; and Doug Naylor goes through some of his inspirations and criticisms.

There are also some great techniques used by the documentary makers, such as using split-screens to illustrate the difference between the old and new looks and a nice bit where they spool Craig’s speech backwards. Andrew Ellard clearly makes a great director, and you can also hear him giggling in the background of some of the interviews. There’s even some titbits in here that I wasn’t aware of. Did you know, for example, that Robert Llewellyn was unavailable for most of the location filming for Backwards, and a stand-in was used? Or that it was Mel Bibby who came up with the idea of Lister using medical gear as cutlery? It’s cracking stuff.

If I can offer one criticism, it’s that some of the clips from the series went on for too long. Rather than giving a short clip to illustrate the point of the preceeding interview (such as the new sets or costumes), they decide to stay with the clip for quite a while, usually taking in a joke. The jokes are good, obviously, but we’ve seen them before, and they are not really necessary. I reckon that future documentaries would benefit from clips being played under the speaker, and perhaps even unseen extracts from the rushes could be used. To have Ed Bye talking about directing over a shot of him giving instructions to people would be pants-wetting.2

Deleted Scenes (Tension Sheet)

Oh, Jesus. Twenty-six minutes of pure loveliness. There are a few scenes that don’t work: Rimmer talking in reverse is a tad disturbing, and the extra bits of gluttony in Bodyswap seem pointless, but on the whole, things were genuinely excised due to time constraints, rather than quality. It’s interesting to note that most of these deleted bits are a few lines taken out of a scene, rather than huge chunks taken out. This is indicative of one or two things. Firstly, the tight plotting in Series III; it was possible to remove full scenes from I and II without losing much important information. Secondly, it shows that there were very few dud scenes in the series, and that it must have been hell to remove good quality lines in order to stay within 28 minutes.

The best scene here is from Polymorph, where the guilt-free Kryten goes into graphic detail about the fact that he is not an asshole (note the US variant), and the fact that the vanity-free Cat is. This is hilarious, mainly due to terminology such as ‘puckered’ and ‘evacuation’.

The Holly introductions are very interesting – Hattie is quite obviously reading from an autocue, and it looks as though she hasn’t seen the lines before. This affects her performance considerably. However, the material isn’t that bad, and with a bit more practice, it could have worked. It would have meant even less time was left for the episode proper, though.

Smeg Ups (Dog Food)

They’re all from the right series, and there are no obvious omissions that I can see. That’s the best we could have hoped for, seeing as we’re never going to get anything that wasn’t included on Smeg Outs. A couple of interesting points:

There are no deleted scenes from Marooned, as the studio rushes couldn’t be found in the archive. However, Smeg Outs contained one big deleted scene, as well as many out-takes, one of which came from a section of dialogue which didn’t make it to the broadcast version (piss-drinking). Given that the poker scene was pre-recorded, it could have been on a different tape to the one that got lost. However, the version used in Smeg Outs is not ‘as-shot’; it has all sorts of visual and sound effects added. And we still haven’t accounted for the out-takes. Does this mean that the tape has been lost at some point since the mid-nineties?

Also, something which I’d never noticed before, the out-take from Timeslides where Rimmer’s braces bust is from the alternate version of the scene, as presented on the DVD. You can tell from the fact that Lister is on his bunk, rather than sitting at the table. Extraordinary.

Hattie’s DJ Diary (Traffic Cone)

The good news is that I’m just about visible in the background of one of the shots! Lovely. This little compilation features some great footage of Robert, Chloe and Danny messing about, as well as some good links performed by Hattie. There’s also some fancy dress stuff, and footage of Chairman Jane’s excellent tattoo. It would have been nice to see more of the fans, though. Quite aside from my egotism, everyone wants to see their face on a DVD, and only a few people did. I imagine Paul Gannon’s feeling pretty smug today. Still, if anyone’s still dithering about whether to go next year, this feature should tip the balance a little.

Building A Better Universe (Scrabble Letters)

This is a touching and well-deserved tribute to the man who managed to completely revolutionise the look of the show, despite not having a great deal more money than his predecessor. Although, in my opinion, the grey sets were lovely, it can’t be denied that Mel’s work is an improvement, and he was part of the team which gave the show the look to match the scripts.

After six or seven minutes of lovely tributes from interviewees, we get a real gem. According to the caption, it’s the only known footage of Mel talking about his work on the series. It’s hard to tell where it came from, or when it was recorded, but he talks about the moody, industrial sets contrasting with the cleaner, more conventional sci-fi sets. It’s a cracking find, and an excellent addition to the DVD.

“Food” Featurette (Mashed Potato)

I’m going to be controversial here. I like the Food featurette. Okay, it adds nothing to the DVD. Okay, we don’t learn anything from it. Okay, it’s really dodgy policy to try and condense an entire theme into a three-minute montage. And okay, it wouldn’t be a disaster if there were no musical featurettes at all. But this one is good fun to watch, and there’s a certain wit in the decision for the clips used. The longer clips are punctuated with reaction shots from other episodes, which amuses me. Also, towards the end, several lists of foodstuffs are combined to form one huge list, which is very good. There’s also a lovely bit where one of the clips lip-synchs perfectly with a James Brown scream. So, it’s good, man.

Backwards – Forwards (Road Sign Book)

I was a bit worried about this one. It was either going to be a simple, yet inspired piece of loveliness, or yawn-a-rama city. Fortunately, it’s the former. Although sad twats with audio editing equipment, such as myself, have known what all the backwards bits are for years, stuff like “you’ve just unscoffed my sodding pie” and “hey, you robbing bastards, that’s our tandem” still makes me laugh. And it’s good to see impossible things happening, such as debris flying into a cardboard box in the café scene.

It does drag a bit, at times. There are scenes in the original that are almost all forwards, with very little in the way of backwards physics being shown. I initially thought that it would have been better to just have a few scenes shown reversed, but now I think about it, it’s better this way. Having the full episode demonstrates the ludicrous continuity problems, and it’s always amusing to hear the audience react before a joke has been made. Plus, I love hearing the final chord of the theme tune fade in.

Trailers (Vidscreen)

This is hyper-interesting. No adverts were archived by Auntie, and these come from a ‘dedicated fan’. This fan is not named directly, but Maxine ‘CMA’ Lehmann, former editor of Better Than Life, is thanked in the DVD Credits. 3 The first of these trailers features a clip from Marooned, followed by a caption. However, it looks as though the trailer is incomplete, as the voice-over trails off rather suddenly. The second trailer is for the Series II and III videos, so would be from the start of a commercial video, rather than be screened on the telly. 4 Full marks to GNP for making the effort to track these down. And boo! to the BBC for getting rid of them.

Raw Effects Footage (Marilyn Monroe’s Foot)

Oh, my God. Although for most shots, we only see one take, there are some alternative versions included, and also some extra bits from before or after the section used in the episodes. There’s even a few shots that I don’t recognise from the series, although I admit I’m not an expert on model shots from Series III. A few edited out-takes, complete with added soundtracks, can be found in the Smeg Ups section. In this section, however, there’s a couple of great moments where you can see the, rather thick, strings attached to Starbug, and early attempts at shots of the ‘bug leaving Red Dwarf. Seven and a half minutes of loveliness.

Isolated Music Cues (Oooooh, Guitar!)

There isn’t as much incidental music in Series III as there is in other series, and this is reflected here. However, the few tracks we do get are excellent. Here, we get the full version of ‘Cash’, which borrows further from Craig’s poem Yuppie. This is pretty incredible, as are the pop song-length versions of the bike-stealing/body-swapping music and the party music from The Last Day. No ‘Om’, sadly, but we don’t know whether a clean version of that was archived. However, we do get the proper, clean version of both theme tunes – no dodgy-mono-fade-in this time! Another example of GNP learning from their mistakes.

Talking Book Chapters (Books)

Two extracts from Better Than Life, as read by Christopher Brown. These are Part Two Chapter Six, which is based on Marooned, and Part Three Chapter Seventeen, which is part of the novelisation of Polymorph. These extracts are included to demonstrate how the ideas from the series can be used to greater effect when expanded upon, or something. They’re also a good opportunity to show off Chris’s vocal talents. These are also evidenced in the deleted scenes from Bodyswap, impersonation fans.

Photo Gallery (Photo)

Extraordinary. The last two galleries were mainly rubbish (apart from the odd gem), with very few unseen shots, photos from the wrong series and a shockingly small number of images. This is all changed now, with so many photos included, they’ve had to be split into five sections! As well as some shots that have been used in books and on the official site, there’s loads of excellent images that I don’t recognise, the highlights being the ‘Instant Snapshots’ of costume fittings and the designs for Starbug. As an extra bit of loveliness, the navigation and framing are much smaller this time round, so the photos themselves are nearly full-screen. Marvellous.

Weblink

This is the best extra. Easily.

Easter Eggs

Boy, these are extraordinarily well-hidden. In his interview with G&T, our Andrew revealed that “the cooler ones will be harder to track down”. How right he was. This is excellent, of course. The easter eggs on the previous two DVDs weren’t hidden at all, really. And on top of that, they were actually listed in the Collector’s Booklet. This time, although the Booklet does advertise ‘Easter Eggs’, it doesn’t say what they are, or even how many there are. The eggs are good fun to track down, so if you don’t want to know the scores look away now.

Disc One
Unused Model Shot – This is a rather easy egg to get, in all fairness. All you have to do is watch Marooned and wait for a few seconds. There is a reason for this, though: they needed to stick something on the end of the episode, so that it could get reclassified as a 12 certificate. It’s a nice addition.

Bonus Deleted Scene – This one wins the prize for being the most difficult to find. You need to go to the main ‘Episode Select’ menu, the one that shows all the episode numbers and names on lockers. Wait for the menu to play through twice, and wait for a few moments. The music will change to the party song from The Last Day, and Kevin the Polymorph will come scuttling into view. When Kevin changes to the rabbit, select him, by going to the ‘Main Menu’ option and pressing down. When the question mark appears over his head, press select. You have to be quick, as the Polymorph turns back into Kevin after a few seconds, and scuttles off again. The scene itself is interesting; an early attempt at the complex (by 1989 standards) shot of the Polymorph sneaking up behind the crew.

Disc Two
Animated Interview – Another tricky bugger. On the main ‘Bonus Material’ menu, you need to hover your cursor over either the ‘back’ light, or the cone. Then, when the Polymorph turns into the rabbit again (the ‘morph is present throughout on this menu), press either up or down to select the skutter’s board. Again, you have to be quick, as you can only do it when the rabbit is on-screen. 5 The animation, of Rob, Doug and Ed talking about Polymorph has a different background to the features on the first two releases – the trio are in the Officer’s Quarters this time.

Starbug Playset Featurette – This one is my favourite. In the Gallery, skip to the ninth picture in the ‘Models and Covers’ section. This is the first of the Starbug design sketches. When you get there, press up, and the picture will be selected. Press enter, and you’re treated to a fantastic behind-the-scenes look at the making of the toy. This shows real originality, and stunning attention to detail. What other company would think of including something like this on a DVD? Genius.

Incidentally, do you get it? Easter eggs… bunny… Easter bunny… it’s clever stuff!

DVD Credits

I was greatly amused by the fact that the credits are so long, they’ve had to tack a bit of “Hudzen’s Theme” on to the main theme tune. I would like to meet each individual listed on the credits, and shake them by the hand. They’re good people.

Collector’s Booklet

Good old Andrew Ellard. All those teachers and relatives who said he was wasting his time watching Red Dwarf must be eating their words now. There’s plenty of great bits in here, apparantly comprised of bits that couldn’t be included in All Change. Consequently, we get another very informative booklet, with more ‘new’ factoids than ever before. It also includes the excellent theory about Timeslides, namely that Rimmer was less sceptical when his future self visited him in Stasis Leak, due to his previous encounter.

However, I can’t let this one slip. Ellard mentions the fact that Graham Chapman was going to play the host of Lifestyles Of The Disgustingly Rich And Famous, until he selfishly died and Ruby Wax took the role on. However, the paragraph explaining this is on the page for The Last Day, rather than Timeslides. Oh, man!

The Cover

What a gorgeous chunk of loveliness. The transition between Starbug on the front and Lister on the back is seamless, and there’s no dodgy red rings around the picture of Lister. The image editing here is excellent, as is the cut around Lister and Rimmer on the front. The new ‘2 Disc Set’ logo is great, and the picture of Hattie on the spine looks good next to the others. And I now have three eighths of a Red Dwarf logo on my shelf! 6

The Leaflet

Yes, the leaflet. One side features a nice advert for RDSUK, an abbreviation that all the cool kids will be using soon. 7 Excellently, the red lettering has the detail of the Red Dwarf ship on it! You can use a magic code to recieve a 10% discount, before the end of the year. This is the same advert that appears in the latest BTL. On the other side is an excellent advert for The Prop Store Of London‘s Red Dwarf sale. The fact that almost all of the items featured on the leaflet will have been sold by now is irrelevant.

The Discs

This is more like it. When the first two series were released, almost all BBC DVDs had plain, silver discs, with black lettering. However, the BBC have finally started to use picture discs recently, and I’m pleased to say that Red Dwarf is no exception. The discs benefit from being round, as they each show Starbug’s rear section, with a picture of either Lister (Disc One) or Rimmer (Disc Two). They really do look lovely, and add the overall sense of improvement in the release.

The Sticker

Yes, the sticker. Included on the cellophane wrapper was a small, round, red sticker, proudly boasting: “Over 200 minutes of bonus material!”. Sadly, you have to remove the sticker in order to open the case, but I managed to peel mine off and stick it on my bedroom wall. I happen to think it looks rather striking.

The Subtitles

Excellently, most of the extras are now subtitled, in English SDH. There are a few too many contractions for my liking. This is understandable for the interviews (there’s no need to include “you know” and suchlike), but it’s a shame on the scripted material. Still, there doesn’t appear to be any major inaccuracies.

There is one really bad thing about this DVD – it makes the Series I and II ones look shit. However, that’s a small price to pay for a DVD which would be very difficult to improve. There’s nine hours’ worth of entertainment in this release, which is quite phenomenal for a 14-year-old sit-com. The amount of care and effort put into this release is breath-taking. Just as the series stepped up a gear after Series II, so too has the DVD.

Red Dwarf III is available from all good video shops from Monday, 3rd November.

Footnotes

Various corrections and additonal information that has come to light since the original review was published…

  1. The problems with the discs are more widespread than we initially thought. Apparantly, the DVD is up to industry standard, but an awful lot of players are not. The BBC will shortly be issuing replacement discs, with a text-based version of the menu.
  2. Actually, it would be more likely that the floor manager would be giving instructions, but never mind.
  3. Maxine herself has since e-mailed us, confirming that it was she who provided the trailers. She was approached directly by Andrew Ellard. Oooh! If only they had tried to find some original continuity to shove on the disc – we have some for Series III…
  4. Lord of the Interwebs Rob Sedgebeer informs me that in the olden days, it was common practice to trail videos on TV. That rather explains the terrible picture and sound quality; it is an off-air after all.
  5. When the ‘fixed’ version of Disc Two is released, this egg will be hidden yet again, on the text-based menu! Obviously, we’ll let you know the moment we find it. (Can’t imagine it’ll be too tricky, though; which means that surely the eggs will be easier to find on the IV disc…)
  6. A few people have complained that the spine images don’t match up. I found that if you jiggle them about a bit, they do. You do have to have a tiny bit of the III cover sticking out at the top, though, which is a pain.
  7. They are. Hooray! If only we can get them to start using “TOS“.

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