Red Dwarf DVD – Series VII Review

Series VII, then. The penultimate release to what has so far been the finest set of DVDs to ever be released. And, for this reviewer, it starts to get a little more interesting as from this series. As you may or may not know, I don’t like VII very much. In fact, it’s generally regarded as the least favourite series for a lot of fans. I’ll quit beating about the bush and just come out with it: it’s a bloody terrible series, in my honest opinion. But enough of that, because all that stuff isn’t important anymore.

What’s become very, very clear to me is that no matter how you perceive the quality of the episodes, this has bog all relation to how good the extras will be. This became startlingly apparent as I watched through the best extras I’ve ever witnessed on any DVD, Dwarf or no. But more about all that later.

So, let’s review the ass off this, shall we?

Disk 1

As usual the menus are the same for all disks. The opening montage is identical to the one uses for the Series VI release, and shows stock Starbug footage (all from series VI episodes) before crashing, switching to CG and gliding effortlessly into the mid-section, which again is almost identical (bar the change in props and other details) to that seen on the VI disks. Of course, this is all to be expected.

This disk comes with 3 episodes, two of which have more than one version. We have; Tikka To Ride in it’s original, re-mastered, Xtended and re-mastered Xtended incarnations, Stoke me a Clipper and Ouroboros original and Xtended. The re-mastered Tikka is, of course, a DVD exclusive and features some re-done CGI from your man, Chris Veale. They’re certainly a vast improvement on his ‘created in two weeks botch jobs’ originally used, but there’s still no getting away from the fact that CGI that doesn’t cost millions of pounds will ALWAYS look like a bit cheap. You just can’t suspend your disbelief in the same way you can with models.

The commentaries are pretty standard, with the usual piss taking going on but with Chloê Annett added into the bargain. At the end of the day, you’re not going to get any amazing insight into the show, but it’s entertaining to hear them all enjoy the episodes and banter on a bit. It’s great to hear Norm back on the commentary for Nanarchy and interestingly, Chris Barrie makes an appearance on the commentaries for Duct Soup and Beyond a Joke, despite not appearing in them. Shame he didn’t rant on about how CRAP they are.

But, the real pant wettingly exciting bit about disk 1 is the ‘missing episode’ Identity Within. Written by John McKay, performed by Chris Barrie and Storyboarded by Neil Maguire. In the end, this rather epic (and expensive sounding) episode was dropped for the infinitely cheaper Duct Soup, but it is presented here in all its first draft glory. Having read this script many months ago, I wasn’t overly impressed with the quality, but for some reason when presented in this fashion (basically it feels like a mixture between a talking book and a very well drawn comic) it seems to breath new life into a pretty average script. The really exciting thing is not what’s contained in this episode, but that it was actually included on the disk at all. I honestly can’t think of any other examples (in my admittedly limited experience) of any show presenting a rejected script like this. When series VIII finally hits the shelves in March, and GNP are left kicking their collective DVD heels, you better hope the BBC and other production companies actually PAY ATTENTION and start treating other TV shows like this.

Disk 2

I’ve heard a nasty rumour that there’s some episodes of some sort on this disk, desperately trying to grab attention away form the REAL draw, the Fan Films. As some of you may or may not know, the Fan Films feature holds special significance for me because I’m actually in the joint winning film, The Movie: Yeah, No, Yeah, No. The two winners are presented as part of a mock awards ceremony with Doug Naylor as the host, in a typically shoddy fan filmesque set. James Hickey’s joint winner Attack of the Giant Hand Monster is presented second and is utterly *brilliant*. The recreation of the sets (and especially a corridor from DNA) is incredibly impressive and it had me laughing like a twat on many an occasion. Could have done with being a tad longer, mind. The rest of the runners up (and clips from The Other Movie) are shown in a montage at the start of the feature, some of which DJ attendees saw in August, some of which we didn’t. They all look immensely entertaining, though, so I hope GNP find some way of releasing them all to the general public at some point.

Disk 3

The extras disk, then. Jam packed, as usual, and contributing a fair chunk to the overall total of 4 hours of extra footage. So, let’s do this step by step, shall we.

Back From The Dead Documentary
As always the documentary is the jewel in the DVD crown. And this time it’s even bigger, weighing in at a whopping 90 karats (or minutes). There was a hell of a lot of ‘issues’ with series VII and I’m delighted to report that they’re all addressed fairly comprehensibly here. However, Doug’s account of Rob’s departure does seem a little one sided, which wouldn’t be a problem usually, but Rob does come out of it looking a lot like the bad guy of the whole thing. Still, it’s fascinating to hear stories of Rob walking out on the 10%ers and leaving Doug to re-write all his scripts, wrangling with lawyers and what not. A bizarre situation.

It’s obvious from the opening section that Doug was unhappy with a lot of factors in this series, such as the model fiasco, taking on extra writers (it seems he only did this so he didn’t look “arrogant” by refusing them) and the departure of Rob and, to a lesser extent, Chris. There’s no doubt that this series had far more than its fair share of shit thrown at it, and I’m pleased the issues are covered in the docco.

But, any old duffer can chuck together some interview clips and pretend it’s a good job. It takes more to actually produce an interesting, varied and entertaining product. With unseen rushes and clips punctuating everything and some clever editing and lovely pacing, your Mr. Andrew Ellard (Director) and co. have surpassed themselves once again. Incidentally, I’ve been left gagging for more 10%ers and I – Camcorder, neither of which I have properly seen – but from the clips tantalisingly thrown in, they look brilliant.

Deleted Scenes
With the previous series I’ve always got the impression that the cut stuff was cut for the best, and I always went away pleased that the episodes really were at their best in their final versions.

But. Well. I laughed more at this 40 minute reel of deleted scenes than I did at the entire series. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some prize duffers in there, too, but there’s just so many lovely moments which have inexplicably found themselves on the cutting room floor (assuming that Ed Bye and Doug Naylor actually hacks bits off the video tape).

The alternative version of Lister’s curry story are shown here before it was re-shot to bring Cat into the scene. The unused version is far, FAR better. Lister wandering around sprinkling curry powder into his drink whilst telling his story as Rimmer paints his toy soldiers and listens – the whole scene just has better comic timing and a nicer, far more tradition sit-com, feel to it. After that we get the usual collection of cut gags removed to keep the plot moving, but yet again I see some heartbreaking casualties; Rimmer’s “hard to accept” rant, the more in depth scene explaining of Ace’s background, Cat’s vampires and mirrors lines, the full (and greatly improved) version of Lister’s “Hey… no I don’t” line, Kochanski’s “I don’t know he was drunk at the time… and he had his hand down my blouse” and pretty much all of Holly’s cut lines from Nanarchy. All great and all of them should have found their way into the show. They really should have.

By this point, it all became painfully obvious to me just how different this series could have been. If factors like the model shot fiasco, poor editing decisions and the drop in the actors performances (probably due to the lack of a studio audience) had been spotted and fixed, then we could be looking at a vastly superior series to what we ended up with.

Behind the Scenes
Two clips here. Firstly we have Robert’s camcorder footage from the filming of Series VII. This really is classic stuff, especially Craig Charles going through the cast and crew introducing them individually with surprisingly amusing comments. Oh, and Chloê Annett’s cleavage. Of course, those of you who used to visit Rob’s site when it was actually any good, might remember this footage from then. However, it’s presented here in infinitely better picture and sound quality. Top notch.

The second behind the scenes treat is the small segment from How do they do That showing the model unit gang setting up and filming some key VII model shots. Amusingly, the whole point of the piece was about how they created these effects on a shoestring, despite the fact that series VII saw a massive price hike for model shots, compared to the previous series. Still, at least they cut Eamon Holmes’ stupid face from the beginning and end of the clip.

Trailers
One TV spot (from a VHS archive) and Kryten’s links from the Xtended videos (with Craig Charles and Chris Barrie turning up for the ‘Smeg Ups’ section). Not too fascinating, but the completist in me is joyous that they’re archived on shiny disk for evermore.

Stills
As you would expect, lots and lots of production and behind the scenes shots here, and the obligatory inclusion of the VHS covers for various territories. Just how shit are the American covers? Very shit, is the answer.

‘Burning Rubber’ Featurette
Yes, it’s a musical featurette with clips tenuously connected to ‘burning rubber’. Great song, though. “He’s got a brand new car… looks like a Jaguar…”. I sometimes worry about how much the music clearance costs for these featurettes, but then again it’s never seemed to have a negative effect on other extras, so I suppose there’s harm to them. Even if they are a little pointless.

There’s an amusing cock-up with the labelling, though, as it’s shown on the menu as being “Technically Speaking”, which was its early working title (presumably before the subject changed, too). I am assured by Andrew that you stinking Americans will have the error corrected, though.

Raw FX footage
By far the most interesting collection of Raw FX footage to date, simply because of the variety and large amount of unseen stuff. We’ve got the original Model FX done by Wragg, Tucker, Tyler and co. – most of which was chucked out after re-writes had left them redundant. We’ve got Chris Veal’s hastily done CG replacements and his less hastily done Tikka re-Mastered stuff. And finally some BBC CGI including the linkway from Ouroboros, some rejected Gemini 12 shots and some nightmare inducing shots of the entrance to The Rimmer Experience. *Brrr*

Isolated Music Cues
Loads and loads of Goodall stuff here, much of which was cast away in favour of library music. It’s all fantastic stuff, but you can see why some of it was substituted. For example, I can’t imagine the Kennedy scene with anything other than the library music they ended up using. Especially not the strange Indian themed music Howard composed.

As well as masses of incidental music listed by episode, you also get the expected opening and closing themes and Rimmer’s Munchkin Song thrown in for good luck. So, sit back select Play All and relax to the sounds of a musical genius at work.

Son of Cliché – Dave Hollins Sketches
Two more of the fantastic Dave Hollins sketches here for you. Once again, completeness at its finest, and it’s always interesting for people to hear Dwarf in such a seminal stage. Well those of you who didn’t STEAL the SoC episodes back when they were on this very site for download…

As for the Easter eggs… Well, there’s two of them and that’s all I’m saying. They’re very, very good mind. Look out for my Easter Eggs page being updated with these (and V and VI’s) soon.

So, there we have it boys and girls. I’m sure nothing in this review comes as any surprise to you, as the quality of these DVDs are as consistent as a man on a high bran diet. Brilliant attention to detail and huge amounts of material ensure that this set is yet another example of DVD production perfection. It’s so good that I can safely brush aside my dislike of the series and confidentially state to you all that this is the best series of the set. That is an *astonishing* achievement.

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