Red Dwarf DVD – Series V Review

A few days after receiving Series V on DVD, I sat at my computer with the intention of banging out a review during the day. I had my list of titles in front me, a large mug of coffee and a whole heap of thoughts. But then I decided I’d rather sit on the sofa eating crisps. So I did.

Anyway, I finally wrote it. Here we go.

Disk numero uno

We’ve already established with the last four DVDs that Grant Naylor Productions are putting everything they have into these releases. And so they should. As a production company they don’t actually have anything else to produce at the moment! But the time, effort and thought that goes into these DVDs is evident, right from the word go, with the menus.

At the time of its release, these menus were just the best. Taking the basic template used for III and IV, Digital Deluxe set to work decaying the main menu to give it a ‘Low Ship’ feel, with filth, explosions of broken Skutters a plenty. The episode selection menu stays the same, but this can be forgiven due to the lovely ‘High Ship’ bunk room for the extras menu. Once again, it’s a faithful representation of the set and packed with lots of lovely props. A good offshoot of the problems surrounding the Series III menus, is that these menus are split into two screens, giving a less cluttered (and less broken) feel to the menu.

“What about the content?” I don’t hear you cry. Well, disk one has all 6 episodes in all their cleaned up and lovely digital glory, and the cast commentaries are the best yet. “Unfortunately” Craig could not attend the commentary recording, so we have no “OOOH, BOBBY HAMING IT UP!”, “OOOOH, CHRIS! – LUNCH BOX – HAM!” etc. This means Chris and Robert have much more room to contribute with their customary wit and charm. It’s nice to have Danny and Hattie present but they add little of interest.

So, what of the fan commentary? Well, when the competition to star in an episode commentary was first announced, there was a small but strong opposition to it. Claims of “wasting money that could be spent of 20 hours of unedited rushes” went up and things got a little nasty, to say the least.
I (partly because I wanted to enter the competition) thought it was a perfectly good idea and one which was rather daring, considering this had been seldom done before. The decision to do this was vindicated by the fact that the four fans selected for this commentary where very good. I honestly think that! What we have is 4 articulate fans talking about what they like about ‘Back to Reality’ and laughing lots. It’s nice!

But, disk 2. Oh disk 2!

Mike Tucker

I’m sure you’ll agree that there’s a lot to be said for learning from your past mistakes. The extras on Series IV were good. Very good. But things like ‘Can’t Smeg Won’t Smeg’ and ‘Ace Rimmer – A Life in Lamé’ were just, well, terrible and pointless (I acknowledge that CSWS had to appear at some point, but still). Now, my earlier criticisms about the writing and performing in ‘Life in Lamé’ aren’t what I’m referring to, here (it wasn’t actually a personal attack on Andrew Ellard, more of a knee jerk fan-boy reaction to a non-Grant Naylor person writing Red Dwarf material. I hate that, no matter WHO it is), but I really, really HATE brainless and pointless montage features. They add nothing, teach you nothing and have no point to them, and this pointless collection of Ace clips was one of the worst offenders I’ve witnessed, with no structure of any kind and a waste of 20 minutes of disk space . So, what do GNP do for the V DVD? Another montage piece showing us Duane Dibley? No. They blow my bloody socks off with a collection of flawless extras that have been improved upon to reflect the feedback received from III and IV. Like I said, there’s a lot that can be said for learning from your mistakes.

I’ll start with the Original Documentary, ‘Heavy Science’. There was very little to criticise about the last two for III and IV, but we ‘sad act’ fans are ALWAYS hungry for some nice rushes here and there. And ‘Heavy Science’ uses rushes brilliantly, one example being footage of Craig Charles trying to light his cigarette on a plume of fire with Doug (at least, I think it’s Doug) screaming “CRAIG, DON’T BUGGER ABOUT”. And there’s plenty more scattered in there to punctuate points made by the talking heads. The talking heads are excellent, and one of the high points of the Documentary was the frank re-telling of Juliet May saga, with the crew being as diplomatic as possible. To be fair, Juliet does a good job of defending her position and is an excellent addition to the documentary.

If we ignore the contentious Musical Featurettes for a moment, there’s not a single duff extra on this disk. Not one. Mike Tucker brings us a brilliant short film about the VisFX team building various things for Series V, including Moose Base Alpha (‘Quarantine’), the Self Loathing Beast (‘Terrorform’) and the despair squid (‘Back to Reality’), all with an informative commentary from the man himself. On top of that we have ‘Dwarfing USA’ which is a surprisingly frank account of the making of the first Universal Red Dwarf pilot, all punctuated with clips of the show itself, in lovely high quality.

Due to problems with the clearing of the ‘Backwards’ and ‘Last Human’ audio books, GNP had to look elsewhere to fill the gap. Excellently, the BBC archives were raided to bring us the first ‘Dave Hollins’ sketch from Rob and Doug’s early 80s radio show, Son of Cliché. The plan is to release all of them on the remaining three DVDs. It’s an incredibly valuable extra, as the majority of Red Dwarf fans wont have heard the shows, yet plenty know of Red Dwarf’s radio roots.

Craig Charles as Lister. Oh dear.

The trailers section for this release is totally stocked to the gills, for this series. As well as 4 ‘interesting’ trailers for Red Dwarf V on TV and video, we’ve got all the Skutter/BBC2 logo idents from 1998’s Red Dwarf Night. God knows why they’re on this DVD, but it’s great to have them, never the less. The trailers section also gives us an HILARIOUS link provided by Craig Charles as Lister, introducing the winner of the best Red Dwarf show ever for a repeat run in 1995. The completist in me is pleased we have this, but it’s not very good at all. Is this the start of Craig Charles forgetting how to play Lister? Yes, I think so.

And finally, we have the usuals: Deleted scenes (totaling over 40 minutes of unseen stuff! Including a very interesting piece of dropped footage of the crew as 2D computer sprites from ‘Back to Reality’), Raw FX footage, Isolated Music Cues, Picture Gallery and Easter Eggs (I’ll update my Easter Egg guide soon) and a musical featurette (this time with the loose theme of ‘Bad Guys’. Rubbish). That’s a hell of a lot of worthwhile stuff, wouldn’t you say?

So there we have it. In my opinion this was the very best Red Dwarf DVD (until VI came out, but that’s another review), with just massive chunks of wonderful extras, a beautifully crafted Original Documentary, visually stunning menus and even a musical featurette for people who like to see people falling over to music. It’s got it all, folks.

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