Red Dwarf DVD – Series IV Review

Can you believe it? We’re now half way through the release of the Red Dwarf DVDs. It only seems like yesterday when we were bawling about having to wait till November 2002 for Series I and now here we are, basking in the warm glow of 4 series on DVD. And so, let me dive right in and give you all the nuggets from the brand new Series IV set.

Disc 1

Animated Menus
Series IV uses exactly the same shell as the one we got with Series III. We open with a montage of Starbug shots which leads into a CG landing pad and takes you through beautiful CG corridors, past a beautiful CG Skutter and into the lovely CG Science Room. As I said the disk 1 and 2 menus are exactly the same as Series III but with some important prop changes, such as an inflatable parrot and Rimmer’s light bee on the main menu and various other relevant props stashed in the lockers that act as the episode select. On top of that we get a refurbished bunk room with props such as the Justice World Boots, Ace Rimmer’s Helmet and Spare Head 1, 2 and 3.
The attention to detail continues to astonish me and it’s obvious that Digital Deluxe have fully taken advantage of Mr Flibble’s understudy, Andrew Ellard to keep everything Series specific.

The only problem I would pick out is the music. It has been changed to match the music used in the series but for some reason it doesn’t seem to fit to the menus as well as the previous series managed. An example of this is the incidental music used for the move to the bunk room has another short clip tagged on at the end, which seems clumsy.

On a side note Series IV features the ‘Plain Text’ version of the Extras menu on disk 2. This manages to fix the problem experienced in the Series III menu by the masses of fans that have ‘non-industry standard players’. It’s good to see that issues like this were address quickly and effectively.

Cast Commentary
Once again; Danny John-Jules, Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Robert Llewellyn and Hattie Hayridge take the mic to provide audio commentary on all 6 episodes in the series. Unsurprisingly, it’s very similar to the Series III commentary with things seeming a bit crowded at times with 5 cast members rather than the 4 we get for Series I and II, and you always have one or two cast members being much quieter than the rest. The ham jokes is starting to grate, as are a few other running gags that the cast love to bestow on us and some of the stories are repeated in the documentary Built to Last but on the whole the commentaries are incredibly entertaining and it’s always fascinating to hear what the cast think about the episodes and their performances.

Disc 2

Built to Last
I rank these documentaries along side the deleted scenes as the most exciting features on the DVDs. It truly is fan boy heaven and Built to Last is packed with interesting stories and issues relating to the making of the series. The overly long program clips we got in All Change seem to have been toned down a bit and we now get more succinct and relevant snippets and even some rogue ones from Series II to punctuate some of the points the cast made.

A nice addition to the cast of interviewees is makeup artists Andrea Finch (formerly Pennell) and she gives some genuinely interesting insights into the make-up side of things including the greatly improves mask used for Rob and the time benefits gained. Of course Rob spoke very highly of Andrea in his book The Man in the Rubber Mask and it’s nice to see her on screen. Unfortunately we seem to be missing Mike Agnew this time round but you can’t have it all.

The cast are all at their wonderful best with anecdotes left right and centre, although I felt like throwing the cat (which was snoozing on the settee next to me) at the TV when Craig made a horrendous slur on the fans (more specifically the fan conventions), AGAIN.

But the main draw of this documentary was always going to be the three most famous stories from the making of this series, the issues of race, war and an angry BBC executive. In the episode ‘Dimension Jump’ the cat was originally intended to play a slobby cleaner, which would have wonderfully contradicted the whole ethos of the Cat’s character. However, the BBC blundered in with their size 12s and the character was changed to a priest to show a positive black role model rather than a negative one. This issue of race is well trodden in the Documentary and there’s a large section talking about how race has never been an issue with the show, even though two of the main characters are black.

The first Gulf War played merry hell with the scheduling of Series IV and forced the anti-war episode ‘Meltdown’ to the end of the run. Again, this issue is well addressed and comes as part of a very detailed analysis of the episode. The idea that the fans hated this episode is again voiced by the cast, THIS ISN’T TRUE! Although it’s nice to see that this was a firm favourite among the cast and crew.

It certainly is a magnificent documentary and it succeeds in moving along at a perfect pace, never making you feel like you’ve been sold short on information while still avoiding dragging on, despite being a whopping 70 minutes long. In short: a totally engaging and fascinating documentary for the hardcore and casual fan alike.

Deleted Scenes
46 separate clips yet just one fully deleted scene. Although full scenes are usually more interesting than a trimmed line here and a trimmed line there, all of these fascinated me. The full deleted scene in question is set in the gardens in of Justice World and demonstrates further how you can’t commit a crime whilst in the Justice Field. Apart form the obvious location problems I can see why this scene was cut; we get no vital plot points and pretty weak gags.

As for the rest of the clips they all certainly seem to be cut purely for time rather than quality; a particular favourite of mine is the extended ‘Goodbye Ace’ complete with a blue screen effect that was never completed and some very good gags. The deleted scenes are also fascinating because, in the main, they haven’t been through the post production process and they are very much ‘as shot’. This allows you to see some nice little details such as Mike Agnew (I may be wrong) providing the DNA machines booming voice for the recording. Very interesting, indeed.

Smeg Ups
All clips are present and correct and all have been previously seen on the ‘Smeg Ups’ and ‘Smeg Outs’ videos. An interesting change to the DVD releases was the editing needed to keep the DVD at a 12 rating rather than 15. Six different instances of various cast members saying a naughty word (FUCK) have been blurred out; just so small children don’t lip sync and be scared for life, as a result. Also milder naughty words such as shit have had a bleep inserted to mask the evil. Wholesome PC fun for all the family.

Ace Rimmer: A Life in Lame
Ace Rimmer: A Life in Lame takes its place on the Series IV extras as the mini documentary, just as Building a Better Universe: A Tribute to Mel Bibby did for Series III. However, Building a Better Universe was a funny, informative and incredibly touching tribute to a genius of a man. It was one of the better extras we have seen to date, but unfortunately Ace Rimmer: A Life in Lame is very, very poor.

What we basically have is a collection of pretty much every single scene worth seeing of Ace Rimmer from all three of his appearances in the show (Series IV: Dimension Jump, Series VI: Emohawk – Polymorph II and Series VII: Stoke me a Clipper). To break up the flow a bit we have a collection of 7 links read by Hattie Hayridge, reprising her role as Holly. These links were not written by Doug but in fact were written by Associate Producer and Assistant to the Penguin, Andrew Ellard. It wrenches my heart from its socket to say this but the writing for these links was awful and Hattie seems to have long lost the ‘Holly Touch’ she showed so brilliantly in Series III to V.

The problem is that these links are there to serve no other purpose other than to be funny, but they don’t achieve this in the slightest. If they were funny or even bearably watchable then the obvious lack of structure to this feature could be almost forgiven but, unlike Kryten on the Smeg Ups Videos, Holly is not used to provide any sort of form to the piece and the clips are just randomly mashed together in a very rough chronological order and all seem to be blighted with some pretty dreadful editing. It’s painfully obvious that this is a hacked up version of its original incarnation of a parody of the ‘I Heart’ programs, which featured yet more material written by Ellard. God knows what sort of state that version was in to warrant it being cut down.

Of course you have to judge for yourself. For people who haven’t seen these clips in years and years will love the opportunity to relive them but, for the people who have already seen these clips to death, this feature adds nothing of worth to the Red Dwarf universe. It’s a shame that, with Doug’s writing, tighter and neater editing and some form of structure and meaning to the feature, it could have been so much better and not a total worthless waste of everybody’s time it turned out to be.

‘Lurve’ Featurette
If you don’t already know this is a collection of clips, edited together and set to the track ‘Dizzy’ by Vic Reeves and the Wonderstuff. It’s a good song, which is nice, but the editing doesn’t seem as good as the ‘Food’ Featurette from Series III. But, to be honest, it’s all we could have hoped for and, if nothing else, is a nice little distraction. I have found with these featurette’s, however, is that they are actually quite re-watchable, which makes me think they aren’t a pointless waste of time they have been made out to be, just weaker than most of the other stuff we have on offer.

Can’t Smeg Won’t Smeg
Ignoring the gratuitous and senseless use of the word ‘smeg’ in the title this is actually quite entertaining. Paul Alexander continues to prove his writing ‘prowess’ by providing the script for some unbelievably unfunny and clichéd opening dialogue between the cast. However, once the Cat inexplicably turns to Duane Dibley and the actual cooking starts it’s quite enjoyable, with some nice farce and the apparently unscripted incident in which Danny swaps his pan with Ainslie’s. If you’re failing to see what relevance Ainsley Harriot and Can’t Cook Won’t Cook have to Red Dwarf then you’ll be interested to know that our man Ainse actually played the Gelf Chief in Emohawk: Polymorph II. If nothing else it provides a nice reminder of the Red Dwarf Night we got back in 1998. The completist in me is very pleased to see this released.

Trailers
I love these to bits, I really do. For some reason I adore the charm they bring with them. Here we have two more trailers, rescued from the VHS tapes of a dedicated fan, with crackly video and sound quality which gives them such a wonderful air of charm and interest.

What we have been given is the original trailer for the first episode of Series IV, ‘Camille’. In the background is the track ‘Love is in the Air’ with a superimposed heart border over clips from the episode. The BBC obviously playing on the Valentines Day broadcast date and actually showing a shocking amount of decent publicising.

The second trailer is from the re-run of the series and is presented in the style of the rolling text from the end of ‘Dimension Jump’. Another wonderful trailer and it actually shows yet more effort put into the publicising of the show, even for the repeats!

Raw Model Footage
As the brief explains on the DVD, the model shots for Series IV were more episode specific as most of the generic Red Dwarf and Starbug shots were in the can from the previous three series. Along with some lovely Starbug shots, that are now as familiar as the episodes themselves, we get some brilliant unseen stuff too. Of note, there are more shots of Justice World and its adjoining ‘Garden Dome’, the Europa Test base and plenty of extra model shots of the wonderful Wildfire Craft. We’re also treated to some unused footage of Starbug firing out its thermonuclear device but I can see why this was dropped though; it looks more like a pea shooter than a doomsday device.

Music Cues
Now this wonderful. In my opinion there is nothing better than pressing the play all button, lying back and listening to the fruits of Howard Goodall’s work. We have a nice and interesting collection here too, like an Extended version of the Hammond Organ End Theme complete with an extra intro type tit at the beginning and the full version of the Planet Potting music from White Hole with a decidedly dodgy middle bit which, had it been used in the Episode, thrown away some of the tension somewhat. All the usual Themes and Incidental music are all present and correct of course. This certainly makes for very pleasant listening.

Audio Book Chapters
Two Series IV relevant excerpts from the Grant Naylor book, ‘Better than Life’. The two clips cover the book version of Planet Pool and Talkie Toaster. I really like this feature because it serves as wonderful education for the fan out there who haven’t read the books and it also help to demonstrate how the story was handled differently in the books. True, it’s essentially a very lazy extra but a wholly relevant and interesting one.

Photo Gallery
Not much to say about this other than OH MY GOD! As Series III proved the lack of photos for Series I and II are in the past and this awesome collection of production still, snapshots, model shots and original designs done by the special effect department is totally pant wetting! We also get the original VHS covers for the series which I think is lovely touch. Completism is a marvelous thing.

In summary this is another resounding triumph with all the love care and attention that a show like Red Dwarf deserves for these releases. Another triumph for BBCWW and GNP. Roll on Series V, OH YES!

Additional – Region 2

As per usual Play.com have come up trumps and delivered the Region 2 copy of a Red Dwarf DVD on the Saturday before release. Some people pretend they prefer to buy it in the shops on the Monday. They lie. Of course there are some certain Region 2 differences that need to be addressed to complete the review and here they are in all their irrelevant and pointless glory.

The Cover
Well this is interesting. The CGI backdrop of the bunk room seems to have been drained of it’s colour. The pictures we have seen of the Region 2 and even the Region 1 cover used a deep, rich cream colour. In reality it seems more grey which I’m not sure I like as much. The logo is in silver so my thoughts would be that the CGI backdrop would need to be as dark as possible to keep a nice contrast going. Ho hum.

The botched spine lettering is continued with a larger font used for this series. It’s blatant that this was an error by GNP when they released Series II with a larger font on the spine and this has resulted in a incredibly messy looking set on the shelf. it’s a shame really.

Also of note is the new ‘BBC DVD’ logo and the writing on the bottom of the cover now reading ‘The Entire Fourth Series’, with the word ‘Entire’ replacing the word ‘Original’, as used with Series I through III.

Picture Disks
Beautiful and lovely. As with the cover they could have done with a deeper tone being used rather then the grey, washed out look. For disk 2 we have Lister a la Space Mumps and disk 1 has smug git, Ace Rimmer. They really are wonderfully and simplistically designed and it’s a shame we didn’t have picture disks for Series I and II, also. The bloody Americans did.

Is that it? Yes, I think it is. Until November.

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