The Brittas Empire – The Complete Series Three

The third series of the nation’s 47th favourite sit-com has finally made its way onto the shelves. Two episodes had already been released on a “best-of” VHS, but the magical medium of DVD allows us to see the full series in crystal-clear quality for the first time since… it was last repeated.

It is important to see the full series, in order, in context this time around. Helen’s pregnancy gives a sense of continuity throughout, with her bump getting progressively bigger towards the end of the series. There’s also a piece of (perhaps unintentional) set-up for a future episode – Brittas is seen preparing a speech that will introduce Sebastian Coe in Laura’s Leaving, and the athlete-turned-Tory MP finally appears in Series Four’s Not A Good Day. Plus, two guest characters who later go on to reappear semi-frequently make their debuts here: Gordon’s brother Horatio (Richard Braine) in Two Little Boys and Laura’s estranged husband Michael T. Farrell III (David Crean) in Sex, Lies and Red Tape.

Crucially, Series Three is the first time that the supporting characters become parts in their own right. We see them involved in sub-plots that are completely independant to Brittas, although these usually end up being wound in to the main Gordon plot. Which is a very good thing, obviously; people make plans (such as Carol’s novel in Sex, Lies and Red Tape), and we see Brittas crush them. Also, there are a couple of episodes in which the main plot revolves around Laura, who really comes into her own in this series. Sex, Lies and Red Tape is about her mysterious visitor and Laura’s Leaving is about her, um, leaving.

The set-pieces in this series are sublime. Yes, they’re predictable, but that’s half the fun. The joy comes in seeing the small accidents snowballing into full-blown disasters, as well as Brittas’s reaction to the consequences. The visual-effects are excellent; just look at the big fireball in Two Little Boys. The final scene of The Stuff Of Dreams is visually, as well as emotionally, stunning. And the old-man make up from earlier in the episode knocks the socks off Out Of Time. However, the animatronic spider in That Creeping Feeling is RUBBISH.

The series kicks off with The Trial, which features the excellent framing device of a court room, in which Brittas is accused of mass-murder. When we see the supporting characters in the witness box, we see their charcter traits in a nutshell – Tim is sarcastic and cutting, Linda is enthusiastically bright and happy, Carol is generally down-trodden, and Helen is manically depressed. Plus, Brittas being in the dock provides Chris Barrie with the opportunity to pull seventeen unique silly faces per minute, which is about four SFPM more than usual.

Oh, the DVD. Given that, sadly, there are only six episodes in this series, it does seem silly to spread them out over two discs. I don’t know much about the technical side of things, so I assume that two single-layer DVDs are cheaper to produce than one dual-layer disc. Sticking with the pseudo-technical, there is a audio problem during some scenes in Two Little Boys; the sound is distant and strangely echoey. Whether this is a problem with the source, or down to a mistake made in the authoring is unknown.

As per the first two releases, there’s one fantastic extra, and a clutch of pointless ones. Let’s start with the weak ones, eh? Well, there’s a weblink, which I can recreate here for no extra cost. There’s a small photo gallery full of publicity shots, most of which are used on the packaging or on the menus. The most bizarre extra, though, is the Where’s Ben? game. You navigate cartoony CGI versions of the reception, staff room and office sets, looking in drawers, lockers and suchlike for Carol’s son. Hmmm. Nice to see the effort being made to provide is with a little more for our money, but it’s not the most gripping of activities.

However, the Wogan interview is just superb. This was originally transmitted in early 1992, presumably to publicise Series Two. Here, we get Terry’s full introduction, which includes a nice still from Red Dwarf IV, along with the interview itself, which lasts about six or seven minutes. Chris talks mainly about his inspirations for Brittas, along with his work on Spitting Image. He also gives Tel a crash course in impersonations and tells a brief Rimmer-related anecdote. Chris certainly gives good interview, and the Wogan is clearly impressed by his talents. Incidentally, is this the only time a Red Dwarf star has appeared on such a prime-time, mainstream chat show? Remember, Wogan was the Parkinson of its day.

The menus for this series are impressive. It’s apparantly supposed to be a training video for the centre, but that doesn’t really come across. To me, it looks like CGI recreations of the main sets, with stills from the series floating across the screen. But it does look good; better than you’d expect from such an obviously low-budget production. That said, that theme music can start to get on your tits after the fifteenth play.

The packaging is very much in line with the other couple of releases. A digi-pack still of Chris Barrie’s ever-amusing face on the front, a lengthy synopsis on the back and full cast lists and chapter points for all the episodes in the middle. All of which is set against green-tinted stills, and illustrated with nice publicity shots.

It’s becoming a bit of a cliché to say this, but it’s just lovely to have a show like Brittas available on a couple of shiny discs. It’s a ten-year-old star vehicle, but it somehow manages to feature excellent character comedy, superb slapstick, some genuinely funny gurning and touching dramatic moments. A commendable release for an eeeeeeeexcellent series.

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