Red Dwarf may have had 52 successful episodes spanning over 8 series and 11 years but seldom has any documentary of any worth been produced to celebrate the show.
Except the phenomenal documentaries currently being released with the Red Dwarf DVDs, proper mainstream analysis have been as rare as hen’s teeth. A few years ago Red Dwarf was briefly covered in Channel 4’s ‘Top Ten Best Sci-Fi Shows’ (in which Red Dwarf came third) and actually featured some good interviews with Rob Grant, Craig Charles, Rob Llewellyn and Chris Barrie. The problem with this was that it was far too short, and it mainly showed us clips of re-mastered Red Dwarf and series VII and VIII. Meh.
Skip forward a few years and Red Dwarf reaches the heady heights of the nations 18th favourite sit-com and narrowly missing out on an hour show all to itself. The short analysis it did get was bloody awful anyway. Meh meh.
So, it comes as no surprise that the announcement of Red Dwarf featuring in the new series of Comedy Connections brought nothing but moist underwear and high expectations from fans all over the place. Comedy Connections is a very well respected series with a history of making informed, well researched and nicely put together analysis of the nation’s favourite comedy shows. Red Dwarf was finally going to have a half hour show totally devoted to its past, present and future with plenty of interviews including Rob grant, Doug Naylor, Paul Jackson, Ed Bye, Robert Llewellyn, Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules, Hattie Hayridge and Norman Lovett. On top of this we were promised clips from by gone shows such as Robert Llewellyn’s sit-com The Corner House and even a clip from the much derided Red Dwarf USA.
It was with much anticipation that I took a seat in front of my telly.
The show begins with a short discussion about TEH SAD FANS with people such as Craig Charles saying such informed things as:
“There were 6 million people tuning in each week. I mean, they can’t all be Geeks, can they?”
Doug Naylor takes a more informed approach of challenging the stereotype of Red Dwarf fans being single male geeks with so much time on their empty little hands that they would happily sit in front of a computer writing about Red Dwarf all day… apparently some of you lot are normal too and 50% of you are even of the female variety and may have even had a wash in the last 48 hours. Craig Charles is skeptical of this.
The old story of Red Dwarf’s trouble with getting made was preceded with some wonderful clips of the stars and writers shows before Red Dwarf. We see Craig Charles (back when he actually did what he was good at) reading poetry on Saturday Night Live and Wogan. Spitting Image, Son of Cliche, Three of a Kind and various other shows helped describe the sheer amount Rob, Doug, Paul and Chris actually worked together and just how good Mr. Barrie is at impressions. It’s not surprising that Paul Jackson kept on nagging the BBC to make Red Dwarf; he obviously had faith in this writing partnership he’d had so much experience with.
The subject of the original casting was covered well, with even a fleeting mention (and an amusing bit of Photoshoping) of Alfred Molina and Alan Rickman’s early casting for Rimmer and Lister.
The show did a great job of introducing Red Dwarf to people who may not be familiar with it, while also keeping lonely hardcore fans, such as myself, happy at the same time. The interviews were superb and it’s always nice to hear the various stories from the horse’s mouths. Rob Grant had my main focus of attention as I never really get to hear his side of the story, and his inclusion was very beneficial. We even get a new anecdote about Craig, a sausage and type-casting issues. Marvelous. Incidentally, you should be hearing more from the ‘crunchy half of partnership’, Rob Grant, soon…
What sets Comedy Connections apart is the excellent research that goes into getting archive footage and they really did some up trumps. The most interesting clip was from Red Dwarf USA, which shows Lister’s first meet with the hologram Rimmer and his sudden realisation that he was in charge. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see any Hinton Battle or Robert Llewellyn, though. It was clear that Danny was a bitter soul about not being asked along to feature, calling the pilot “crap”. Other interesting clips included I, Lovett (in which Norman Lovett walks around his inventors shed talking to the camera and his talking dog. Ok then), Maid Marrion and Her Merry Men and a seemingly endless supply of Chris Barrie doing impressions from shows such as Spitting Image and Carrot’s Lib.
Really this show could easily have been an hour long with extra time spent of listening to people talk. Especially Doug and Rob. On the whole though, this is a wonderfully worthwhile program that summarised the show excellently. The only bad point I can see is that it didn’t address the contentious issue of Series VII and VIII with much objectivity and even stated that the effects IMPROVED and that Red Dwarf ENDED ON A HIGH. I, and many other people is big old wide cosmos, do not agree. I realise they were talking about the viewing figures but those 8 million were either disillusioned (i.e. me) or had a crap taste (i.e. THE REST OF YOU).
I was pleased (but not surprised) to see that they used the non re-mastered version for clips. It seems the DVDs have totally eradicated that particular sad part of Dwarf history. Good! Also, it was nice to see digital quality clips from Series V.
A new series of Comedy Connections is due to start in the New Year.