In Defence of VIII?

I think VIII is better than VII. Here’s why.

First of all, however, an admission: in story terms, VII shits on VIII by a mile. It’s hard to deny this. Just take the first three episodes: Tikka, Stoke, and Ouroboros – all great ideas for a story. Tikka is an interesting alterate history/screwed-up timelines story, Stoke is an intriguing and meaningful way of writing a loved character out, and Ouroboros has oodles of Dwarf mythology revealed. Compare this with with a frankly flabby opening three-parter (which admittedly has an intriguing premise), with loads of padding, and which has the feel of a sketch-show at times. And VII has no equivalent of Pete, the story of which can be summed up as “A dinosaur eats some food and shits everywhere”. Cassandra is the best of a bad lot plot-wise – and let’s not pretend that it isn’t just a reheated Future Echoes.

But the problem is – when I sit down to watch the first three eps of VII, I don’t find myself laughing very much. BITR, for all its problems, for all the padding, dodgy plotting, and generally embarassing moments, makes me laugh rather a lot more than Tikka, Stoke, or Ouroboros ever have. And that’s the main reason I watch Red Dwarf – it’s a comedy show, and I sit there demanding to be amused.

But what’s this? I can hear some of you saying (well, shouting) now that the jokes in VIII were terrible. Oh, agreed, some of them are awful. “Yeah, lemonade in a really large scotch” springs to mind. There’s also the problem of over-explaining the joke, which really does destroy a lot of pretty funny gags. For instance:

CAT: Forget red! Let’s go all the way up to brown alert!
KRYTEN: But there’s no such thing as brown alert, sir.
CAT: You won’t be saying that in a minute. And don’t say I didn’t alert you!

RIMMER: And while we’re on the subject, when someone has had a tad too much claret, and has fallen asleep naked on their bunk, people of honour generally don’t take a polaroid of your snoozing todger, draw a moustache, mouth and ears on it, and then pin it up on the bulletin board under ‘missing persons’. They don’t write underneath, “Have you seen this man? Believed to be a French movie star”.
LISTER: As if your todger with a couple of eyes drawn on it would look like a French movie star. Way too good looking.

All of which should have been snipped at either the script or the editing stage. But I’m sorry – there are plenty of funny, well-done jokes as well, and they do outnumber the crap ones by a significant margin.

LISTER: I need some info. If the board of enquiry find us guilty tomorrow, what happens then?
HOLLY: Well, they’ll probably have a pot of tea, a bit of a chat, and go home, I suppose.

HOLLISTER: That is classified information, Karen! Who the hell told you that?

KAREN: The coffee machine on G-deck.
HOLLISTER: That damn coffee machine. I’m gonna bust his ass down to tampon dispenser.

[Crew huddle together]
CAT: Okay, this is what we do. I’ve watched a lot of TV shows and we all huddle together like this and whisper for a while before we answer. It looks like we know what we’re doing!
[They break the huddle]
CAT: We intend to defend ourselves!
[The Dwarfers huddle together again hurriedly]
CAT: You see how good that looked?

Oh, they’re not the best jokes in the world. But they make me laugh. And VIII is not short of jokes that make me laugh. VII, frankly, is, despite a handful of standout moments, such as The Rimmer Experience. (“You’re quite right sir, as usual. How could I have made such an elementary mistake? As usual.” is probably my favourite moment in the last two series, for instance.)

I’ll even stand up for jokes like this:

LISTER: The post’s arrived.
RIMMER: Brilliant; a bit of excitement at last.

[Lister produces a large wooden post.]

LISTER: Good, eh? It’s a beaut.

I can’t imagine a stupider gag than that. It doesn’t even make a huge amount of sense. But it’s so silly… it works. And stupid silliness like that is something sorely missing in VII. Another example – the end of Krytie TV. Kryten, with a strap-on beard, pretending to mop the floor, doing a Jeremy Beadle impression. It shouldn’t work. It especially shouldn’t work in Dwarf. And for a lot of you, it doesn’t work. But I did this: laugh. Robert plays it so well, and it’s just so ludicrous and unexpected and… funny. FUNNY, I tell you. “Whoops! You’ve been Krytered!” And there’s the great flour/flowers joke. And “They’re mine!” and… so on, and so on, and so on. Gags, real, actual, gags.

Now, compared to any episode in the first six series, it comes up rather short. Hey, compared to any number of episodes of any number of comedy series, it comes up rather short. (My televisual viewing over the past two days has consisted of a steady diet of Knowing Me, Knowing You, TV Offal, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Yes, it comes up short.) But compared to VII… compared to long joke-free stretches of claustrophobic tedium… I’ll take the jokes, thanks. I’d prefer clever episodes like Dimension Jump, which combine a superb plot, wonderful characterisation, an interesting SF idea, and plenty of great jokes… but in a crisis situation, I’ll take just the jokes.

Of course, it has to be said that I think VIII has its fair share of embarassing moments. It now seems like a cliche, but it doesn’t stop it being true – the dancing Blue Midgets scene in BITR3 is just rubbish. It fails on every level. It’s not funny, and it doesn’t even look that good. Or the Reservoir Dogs sequence – I mean, why? Just, why? But it doesn’t amount to anything that makes VII better. You’ve got to take the entirety of each series into consideration, and five minutes of embarassingness doesn’t mean much in an eight-part half-hour comedy series. Sadly, great joke-free stretches do. Hello again, VII. Besides, the Kryten/Kochanski stuff is embarassing enough…

But what about characterisation? Admittedly, the character work in VII is again, stronger. Stoke Me A Clipper is widely held up to be one of the best eps in VII – and from a story and character point of view, it’s a textbook example of how to write a much-loved character out of a series. As Paul Alexander says in his Mr. Flibble interview:

“The core thing in Stoke was I wanted to come up with a way of writing Chris out of the series in a kind of a meaningful way, so there’d be a real reason for Rimmer leaving, rather than just the actor wanted to go off and do other things. The fans liked Ace Rimmer and were always asking to see him again, and as this was Chris’s swansong – maybe forever, maybe not, we didn’t know then – this could also be the last ever chance to see Ace Rimmer, so Doug wanted this to be an Ace story as well.”

Fine. Absolutely fine and dandy. But apart from the odd line (“According to the log we’re down to our last 3000 vomit bags – It’ll never be enough”), or odd moment (the blow-up doll, the ejection seat) – the ep doesn’t make me laugh. A Dwarf ep that doesn’t make me laugh. Therefore, it’s failed. I don’t care how well-written the story is. It’s supposed to be a sitcom, isn’t it?

As for Kochanski: it’s been said that she is a far better character in VII. I can’t see that at all. For a start, her main character arc is the awful Kryten/Kochanski/Lister love triangle, which makes me want to claw my eyes out whenever it appears. Kryten being whiny is not funny. Lister being lovestruck is not funny. And Kochanski being haughty is not funny. Beyond that, she’s not given a huge amount to do but whine about being on the ship. Again, not funny. She gets the odd good moment (the ‘rusty gate’ story in Duct Soup makes me laugh, anyway, and I do enjoy “Bastard!”), but overall she’s a waste of space. (Anyone who complains about her being “politically correct” will get a punch in the face, however.)

I honestly think that in VIII they rescue the character – not rescue as in “make her worthwhile” (why didn’t they do her like she is in Last Human?), but simply to “make less annoying”. She gets the odd great line “Because now, like all men, you have absolutely no control over your penis” – works very nicely as eye candy (you can tell me off all you like, but that’s partly the reason she was reintroduced in the first place), and stops being FUCKING ANNOYING. This is an improvement. And Chloë Annett’s acting markedly improves. Which is not a snipe at her – Robert’s acting is pretty dreadful in Marooned, for instance, but he gets it right soon enough. Joining an established team was always going to be tricky. By VIII, I think she pulls it off.

I can hear some of you gnashing your teeth now, however. That VII doesn’t have long joke-free stretches. Well, it certainly has long stretches where I don’t laugh. But, admittedly, I think part of this is about the way the show was shot, as well as the script. There’s a reason why for VIII they took what some thought was a retrograde step, back to recording in front of the audience, and getting rid of the film effect. It’s simply a better way of doing this kind of comedy. There’s the obvious benefit the cast has of performing in front of an audience, and being able to react to them, and heightening their performances – but it’s more than that. Multicamera shooting in front of an audience is a form of TV production that I love, and I feel just isn’t done enough these days. People are obsessed with making a show feel more real, or filmic. Fine for some productions, but Dwarf? At best, it just doesn’t need it. And at worst, it just distances you from the comedy, and so makes the show a lot less amusing.

God knows, I’ve tried to love both series. I really have. I think some people who love both series don’t seem to understand that when I tell them – they seem to think I take some kind of glee in not liking them. But I don’t. But the fact remains, if I want to put the telly on and have a laugh – which is the reason I put Dwarf on – I’m rather more likely to find such things by putting on VIII, than putting on VII. Because despite all its many, many faults, VIII has a sense of fun about it that VII sorely lacks.

When I sit down watching Dwarf, I want to laugh – long, and hard. Pure character stuff, or great plots, or interesting SF ideas, or drama, are all well and good – but mean absolutely nothing to me in the context of Dwarf, if I’m not laughing at the same time. It’s why the first six series are so universally liked (at least, on G&T) – they combine everything into a pleasing whole.

But VII and VIII just don’t – at least, not to me. And so people who put more store on plots are likely to prefer VII, because VIII is so RUBBISH at them. People who like Dwarf more as a sitcom are going to prefer VIII, and find VII largely a waste of time.

I just happen to be in the latter camp, that’s all.

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27 Responses to In Defence of VIII?

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  1. Probably helps that series VII was my first but I just find it more enjoyable than VIII. For some reason my most quoted Red Dwarf line is variations of “Perhaps you would like to join us on a turn around the forest, and later have tea in Mr. Bingley’s gazebo”.

    I LIKE Beyond a Joke, I LIKE Nanarchy. I enjoy the insane situation of Kochanski, who clearly isn’t stupid, suggesting the Venus De Milo and going along with Van Gogh, and her one armed air quotes (was that in the script?) are as underappreciated as Kryten yelling “I better get out of here!” then trying to move having forgotten both legs are crushed

    I like VIII too but there’s so much waste.

  2. I would agree that Series VIII is better than seven but probably for very different reasons…

    One would obviously be that Rimmer is in every episode as he is, imo, the best character and Chris Barrie is the best actor on the show.

    I do agree though that Craig`s acting in particular is better than in VII. Robert also isn`t as annoying but that too is partly down to the script.

    I would say as well that there are better gags in VIII than VII but would highlight different ones. Holly`s `Bryl Cream` gag springs to mind.

    For me though, the situation and the comedy are both equally important so it isn`t simply a lack of good jokes that let VII down. I think that the plots, although big, solid ideas, are poorly written and unsatisfying. The same can be said for the characterization. VIII suffers from some of these problems too but still just has the edge in my mind.

  3. > Rimmer is in every episode as he is, imo, the best character and Chris Barrie is the best actor on the show.

    But it’s not our Rimmer. It’s not even the original Rimmer. It’s a completely one-dimensional pantomime version of a character.

    > I do agree though that Craig`s acting in particular is better than in VII.

    Negligible.

    > Robert also isn`t as annoying but that too is partly down to the script.

    Exactly.

    > I would say as well that there are better gags in VIII than VII but would highlight different ones. Holly`s `Bryl Cream` gag springs to mind.

    It’s a trade-off. Some sparkly gags. Some awful plots and Cassandra apart no sublime spins of sci-fi concepts.

    > For me though, the situation and the comedy are both equally important so it isn`t simply a lack of good jokes that let VII down. I think that the plots, although big, solid ideas, are poorly written and unsatisfying. The same can be said for the characterization. VIII suffers from some of these problems too but still just has the edge in my mind.

    Ultimately series VII tried to take Dwarf forward. Series VIII was Dwarf’s mid-life crisis.

  4. An enjoyable read John.

    I find it commendable that people are prepared to defend the two weaker series. I think we can all pretty much agree that they are inferior to series I through VI but it’s still Red Dwarf and it is still funny.

    I’m going to buck the trend so far and go for Series VII over VIII. In my opinion it’s slicker, funnier and close enough to the format established in VI. Losing Rimmer was always going to be a blow – he’s not my favourite character but I agree with your statement about Chris being the best actor. Chloe took up what proved to be a poisoned chalice but made a decent enough fist of it. She is better in VIII, agreed, but she wasn’t THAT terrible in VII. I actually enjoyed the Kryten ‘jilted lover’ response to Kochanski’s presence simply because I was feeling that my favourite character (Kryten) was getting off track and becoming the absolute leader of the Dwarfers (a process started in Quarantine). At least it gave the character a new angle, and emotion, to play with. Rimmer/Ace still manages to feature heavily in three of the eight episodes – not bad for a departing character.

    For me Series VIII feels like a bunch of movie dry runs; the ideas haven’t been fleshed out and everything feels half done. The whole Pete thing almost feels like an alternative mini-series running along side BITR. Don’t get me wrong, VIII has some great gags, “Flour, flowers!” and the Cat medical examination spring to mind but on the debit side you have the Canaries, basketball and Pete. I applaud Doug for being brave enough to gamble on the format but the weak plotting let it down IMO.

    VII had a couple of great episodes to shore it up notably ‘Blue’ and ‘Stoke me a Clipper’. I do love the outrageous Ace Rimmer piece at the start of SMaC – classic Dwarf. It’s not a big margin by any means but VII is better than VIII in my world.

    Always great to read through peoples’ opinions of this wonderful TV show.

  5. “Ultimately series VII tried to take Dwarf forward. Series VIII was Dwarf?s mid-life crisis.” – Karl

    What would probably take me an essay you’ve managed to capture in a sound bite. Nice analogy Karl. As I wrote in my post above VII felt like Dwarf, VIII felt like where the hell are we going?

  6. G&T Admin

    This article, in all honesty, reads far more positively towards VIII than I really intended it to – and certainly more positively than I think now. As a whole, I think the series doesn’t work – and stuff like “And VIII is not short of jokes that make me laugh” is rather over-egging things. In general, I just don’t like the series.

    But yes, I much prefer it to VII, which is the main point I was trying to get across – and I do still quite like the individual jokes I quoted. I think I’m the only G&T writer who thinks this, though…

    For me, though, comedy is the most important thing about Dwarf. If an episode doesn’t make me laugh, then I’m Just Not Interested.

  7. I need to re-watch both series tbh. I’ve got into a pattern of thinking “Hey Series VII wasn’t so bad” and “VIII is just bloody awful” but I’m not absolutely sure this is really how I feel, or at least how I’d feel if I watched them again.

    A couple of nights ago I watched through Series I on DVD and then unable to find my Series II DVD returned to my VHS copy on the ’94 re-runs (complete with various snippets of cunty-nudety). I watched Backwards last night through some awful tracking, but the zing of that opening scrawl and Goodall’s brilliant movie-esque fanfare fueled my heart with so much happyness. I love that even now you can still watch the eps and notice new things.

  8. VIII is just poor by Red Dwarf standards; it’s not poor comedy.

    I’m on a I through VIII watch through at the moment, extras and all. Just finished V, which is by far my favourite series. I skipped ahead a little and watched Legion last night because I was so flabbergasted that it polled so well.

    I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with VII and VIII. I don’t know these eps even half as well as I know the rest.

  9. G&T Admin

    VIII is just poor by Red Dwarf standards; it?s not poor comedy.

    I think this is partly my problem – I do think VIII is, a lot of the time, poor comedy – forgetting about comparing it to the rest of Dwarf. I would put an awful lot of comedy above it. I like some of what it tries to do – and God, I’ll take it over VII in a heartbeat – but I don’t really think it succeeds.

    If I thought it was good comedy, just not up to Dwarf standards, I wouldn’t be nearly as harsh on it…

  10. there is not a series that i hate or really really dislike but i think series 7 became more of a story driven series rather than a comedy driven series and i think that may have been down to the lack of studio audience ( which i hope dosent have the same affect in these specials )

  11. Sorry but I feel that VIII is a strong series personally, it’s almost a “best of” from the series previous to it.

    Production values are much higher, which is sadly under-appreciated by a lot of rose-tinted glasses wearing fans. The return of the audience improved it by double the standard of VII. And in a lot of places, the series can actually be very clever.

    I’m not saying VIII is the best series of its entire run, but I do feel it deserves more credit then it recieves. It’s the most polished so far, but you’d hope for that with it being the most modern series created.

    And if the specials follow the route of the latter series, I would enjoy it just as much as if they followed V or VI.

  12. G&T Admin

    Production values are much higher, which is sadly under-appreciated by a lot of rose-tinted glasses wearing fans.

    I really don’t agree with you there – which is fine, but I think the accusation of rose-tinted specs is unfair. I don’t think that’s the case – people CAN look at these things objectively, and it’s unfair to assume otherwise just because they don’t agree with your view.

    For what it’s worth, I think Series V is the best-looking series, with VI close behind it.

    The return of the audience improved it by double the standard of VII.

    Can’t argue with you there, mind.

    And in a lot of places, the series can actually be very clever.

    I think there are clever elements, certainly – and some good jokes, too. But it doesn’t come together as a coherent, watchable whole, for me.

  13. > I?m not saying VIII is the best series of its entire run, but I do feel it deserves more credit then it recieves. It?s the most polished so far, but you?d hope for that with it being the most modern series created.

    I’m reminded of an old phrase…

    “You can’t polish a Turd”.

    Obviously everyone’s entitled to his or her opinion (Unless it’s SoundableObject talking about Doctor Who) , but polished!? I find that hard to comprehend. You have an hour-long special stretched into three episodes. You have Pete dragged out into the hideous creation that is Pete Part II. You have the only series where Rimmer isn’t a hologram and as a result loses an awful lot of what made him the character he was. Grrr…

    You have a cliffhanger ending which doesn’t carry a single iota of the magnificient we saw in OOT.

    Sorry. Must stop now.

  14. >(Unless it?s SoundableObject talking about Doctor Who)

    Not a fan of Colin baker?

  15. “I?m not saying VIII is the best series of its entire run, but I do feel it deserves more credit then it receives. It?s the most polished so far, but you?d hope for that with it being the most modern series created.” – littlesmegger

    Polished in what way? Technically it’s fine but the plots are clunkier than a Vauxhall Viva off road. How can it be polished when Rimmer is not a hologram, the cast are members of a penal colony and everything else is so radically different? And Pete.

    To me VIII came across as a bunch of movie pilots. Lots of funny stuff in there but polished is not an adjective I’d choose. Also the only Red Dwarf series where I thought, “Padded!”

    Series V is polished; cast, crew and writers at their zenith.

  16. A lot of what was wrong with VIII could have been remedied with some drastic editing – cut BITR down to two eps (or even one) and scrap the dinosaur for starters. Get rid of Archie, basketball game, bloody bloody bloody blue midget dance, and a few others, and you could have a much better series.

    It seems to me that in VIII they kept a lot of gags that would have ended up on the cutting room floor in earlier shows.
    How much of this was the result of having 8 eps to fill instead of 6?

    Still, it’s nothing compared to the horror that is VII.
    Tikka is lovely, but I honestly have difficulty watching any of the others all the way through.
    I’m not saying that there aren’t good scenes, but they’re far outweighed by the lame ones.

  17. >VIII is just poor by Red Dwarf standards; it?s not poor comedy.

    My problem is that I find it poor comedy. Depressingly, poor comedy that is actually on a par with a lot of sitcoms that I actively dislike.

    VII isn’t overly funny either, but at least it’s trying to be Red-Dwarf-funny and has some reasonable story ideas.

    The editing thing is mentioned often but when you’re relying on cutting out huge segments of episodes, you’re basically conceding that what’s there really isn’t very good.

  18. G&T Admin

    Out of interest, Pete, could you name a few sitcoms you think VIII is on a par with?

  19. There’s rather a lot of them, sadly. Non-specific ones would include; My Family, Birds of a Feather, After You’ve Gone. These are shows I’ll catch part of during a channel-hop and find the experience ghastly. I don’t choose to watch them, just like I don’t choose to watch Red Dwarf VIII.

    Shows of a similar genre would be My Hero and Goodnight Sweetheart. Both good ideas for sitcoms, both shit.

    I’ve definitely seen episodes of Red Dwarf VIII less than 5 times. Aside from it being so unlike the show I’m used to and annoying me as a consequence, I just don’t find it remotely amusing.

    I might sit down and watch it again with a notepad and try and find some redeeming qualities. Off the top of my head, there are a couple of lines in Cassandra (both delivered by Kochanski) that I actually like.

  20. What is wrong with Goodnight Sweetheart? I thought it was brilliant up till series 4.

  21. Cassandra is the one episode of VIII that for the most part I think holds up to the classic-era. Gags are ‘rolled off’ in the style of the classic era, things move at a fast-pace, it’s got a good sci-fi plot to it and it even has Lister being philosophical at the end.

    I’ve never found the rest of the series particularly ‘Dwarfy’. It seemed so desperate to get laughs. Playing for cheap gags that made me laugh the first time, but quickly irritated.

  22. I found ‘Only the Good…’ “Dwarfy”, it is not a fantastic episode but it had a good sci-fi concept to back up the comedy, if only the comedy was a little better.
    Overall I think Series VIII is very good compared to other TV Shows, compared to other Series I-VI of Dwarf and it has no chance.

  23. I agree that Goodnight Sweetheart and Series VIII have little or nothing in common. If people said that GS wasn`t funny then I could understand but the first few series had tight scripts and decent characterization and certainly didn`t desperately look for laughs as VIII does imo.

  24. People = me.

    Goodnight Sweetheart was such an awesome idea, I just think it was completely wasted on a mediocre sitcom with Nicholas Lyndhurst at his most irritating (Great in early OFAH, not so great any more).

    My memories of it are a little hazy, but the big “jokes” seemed to revolve around his character playing contemporary songs from the 90’s in the 40’s and claiming he wrote them. BTTF already went as far as they could with this.

  25. G&T Admin

    To be fair, much of the humour also revolved around Gary Sparrow cheating on his wife.

  26. And organising two different dates in two different time zones…at the same time!

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