Ah, VIII. Ratings peaking at over 8 million viewers. Seen by many fans as a return to form, seen by others as a continuation of great form, and seen by yet others as embarassing rubbish. Are any of these opinions CORRECT? And can it beat the superlative collection of extras VII had to offer?
GORGEous. With a capital gorge. The opening Starbug montage invites poor comparisons with the model work from previous series, but is perfectly suited to the VIII release, obviously. After the Starbug-based design of the last three series, these menus are all new – the main menu is based around the elevator; the episode selection menu is in the Captain’s Office, and the bonus materials, as usual, are located in the bunkroom. With plenty of CGI being used in VIII, the new menu CGI sits more easily with the existing footage than usual – the most spectacular example of this being on the way to the bunkroom, where we get to see Floor 13 in all its glory, looking exactly as it does in the series.
Off the point completely, but continuing my trend of banging on about the idents at the start of DVDs – why haven’t 2 entertain done a proper 4:3 version of their ident, like the BBC one, rather than just letterboxing it? All it means is that on widescreen tellies, you’re left with an ugly black border around all four sides of the picture. It’s not like they’re not releasing plenty of archive material…
This is where it gets difficult. I won’t go on and on about the episodes here – the extras should deservedly take centre stage. But this review would be incomplete without at least some discussion of the actual episodes. And, to be honest, I was disappointed. I’ve been defending this series for quite a while now – true, in a kind of “It’s not as good as Series 1-VI, but it’s much better than VII” kind of way, but still – I expected my rewatch of the series to be more enjoyable than it was.
The thing is, I don’t have a problem with some of the things people criticise the series for. I like slapstick. I have no problem with the crew being back – they provide some of the best moments (Mac McDonald especially is just so good in this series), and I’ve never bought the idea that the series depended on some essential spirit of loneliness. I like the idea of the prison setting. I like toilet humour. I don’t care the series has changed fundamentally (I mean, come on, The End and Out Of Time are vastly different, and I love both episodes.) So, what is it I don’t like?
Well, the plots don’t help. Dwarf used to at least feel like it was about something – these eps feel shallower. But I wouldn’t care about that if the comedy was there. And it is, to an extent… and then an embarassing line comes up. (“Yeah, lemonade and a really large scotch.”) Or a string of rubbish jokes. (The entirety of the first bunkroom scene in Back In The Red.) Or huge misguided sequences that just don’t work. (Most of the dino stuff.) And we’re talking about a show that for the first six series, apart from the odd dodgy line, I don’t feel put much of a foot wrong. Even scenes that are otherwise fine often feel off somehow, in a way that I just can’t put my finger on. Performances, perhaps?
That’s not to say that the eps are without merit. I can sit and watch something like Krytie TV or Only The Good… and have a pretty good time. But I took delivery of Drop The Dead Donkey Series 2 over the weekend, and frankly, it pisses all over VIII in every way – plots, jokes, characterisation, acting – hell, even production. There are moments of such sheer brilliance that my jaw literally drops open. That’s just not there in VIII – and it is there, in spades, in the first six series. I take no joy in feeling like this – God, I really wanted just to suddenly realise how much I loved this series – but I can’t.
Back In The Red Xtended / Pete Feature-Length
So, the fabled Back In The Red Xtended – something that we first mentioned the possibility of way back, and which has probably been on GNP’s wish-list since the start too. It certainly does work better as one big lump – but my opinion of the episode, even the Xtended version, is coloured by the fact that out of all the episodes, BITR is the one I’m most disappointed by. (There’s something wrong with an episode of Red Dwarf that makes me wait five minutes before there’s a joke I even smile at.) I much prefer Pete, which was far more reviled by some fans at the time.
Unfortunately, the changes to the structure don’t feel like they work quite as well as they should do – although I’m not quite sure how else they could have been done. In particular, the end of the first part feels slightly awkward. The “cliffhanger” to BITR2 works far better in the Xtended though – in the standalone episode, the Dibbley skutters were given a gravity they really didn’t deserve, and was obviously only there because they just needed to end the ep at that point. The (rather amusing) opening bunkroom scene at the start of BITR3 has now been placed straight after where Part 1 used to end – and to be honest, it doesn’t seem much of an improvement pacing-wise. The whole problem with this scene is that if there were more scenes set after the events of the episode, there wouldn’t be a problem – but there’s just this one, and the bunkroom scene that starts BITR1. It feels like an anomaly. Still, there’s not much that could be done about it – and it is one of the funniest scenes in the entire series, if only for the Engaged joke.
Onto the additions made to the episode. The stuff added to the cockpit/crash sequence I’m not convinced about – it just seems to slow the pacing rather. I can take or leave the extra material in the “theory of relativity” scene, as well. The stuff added to the Captain’s hearing, however, is much better – I always liked that scene in the original version, and this makes it even funnier. It’s one of those scenes that I just sit there thinking “Why can’t all the series have been like this?”
Despite the criticisms, the programme as whole is definitely improved, and I’m very glad it’s presented this way on the DVD – but, I have to admit that I was hoping I would enjoy it more than I did. Like I said, Back In The Red is probably the episode I’m most disappointed with on the DVD – mainly because of my own false hopes and memories. It’s certainly no fault of the Xtended version, which I’m very pleased to have.
It would be interesting one day to see a version of BITR edited together just from the footage shot for the original one hour show – yes, it would be a fake exercise, as reshoots would probably have happened to scenes even if the show had stuck to its original format – but it would at least give us a better feeling of the plot the one hour version would have had. It’s easily extrapolated from other material on the disc, but you can’t really feel how it would have worked.
The feature-length Pete is less interesting, but no less welcome. It has had no additions made to it – just the two parts stuck together, with the recap removed. It’s certainly better than the broadcast version, and will certainly become my favourite way to view the episode. But isn’t it excellent that GNP made sure we had the broadcast version as well? Some people just don’t care about things like that. Yes, DVD producers who superimpose badly-designed episode captions over previously titles-less programmes, I’m looking at you.
Excellent fun – especially with Mac McDonald in tow. I do tire slightly of hearing the gang trot out the same old inaccuracies, mind you. It would have been nice to have had a mixture of cast and crew commentaries, as crew tend to have more of interest to say (to me, at any rate), but I suppose that’s budget for you. What’s especially interesting is hearing Norm criticising aspects of the series on the BITR1 track – I don’t agree with all he says, even if I agree with the general tone, but it’s good to hear it – and kudos to GNP for not editing the whining old git out.
It’s worthy of note that on the VII release, the commentaries were on the Xtended versions, but not the original eps – here, it’s the other way around. It does make sense, though, as unlike VII, these versions are radically different to the broadcast ones.
First broadcast on August 30th 2004 on BBC ONE. A nice overview of the show, so very good for people just getting into the series. For the more hardcore fans, there’s nothing hugely new – although the clips from Happy Families, Spitting Image, and the like are lovely to have. I wonder how difficult it was to get the programme cleared for DVD release. I’ll do that review I’ve promised of the show at some point.
One irritating thing about the programme is the fact that it’s in 16:9 – meaning all the archive footage is viciously cropped. Why it wasn’t made in 4:3, like the Dwarf DVD doccos I don’t know – and it’s an extremely common problem with new documentaries. Sure, most of the footage is new stuff – interviews, the connection diagrams, and the like – but none of that needs to be widescreen, and doesn’t benefit from it. On the other hand, the archive footage really would benefit from not being cropped to buggery. Thank God GNP had some sense with their documentaries.
Oh: well done on some excellent chapter point placing.
The Tank Documentary
Another spectacular documentary. We’ve clearly come a long way from even All Change and Built To Last – great though they were, they could feel slightly claustrophobic at times. Like the VII docco, the use of things like clips from cast readthroughs, wireframe CGI shots, and recce footage just opens the thing out more. Of course, it also makes you wish you could see more of them – space being the issue here – but there’s some ideas for future DVDs…
The big revelation in this one is that Rob and Doug stopped writing the bunkroom scenes from Series IV onwards because Chris and Craig got on with each other so badly that rehearsing it became too unpleasant! I must admit, I didn’t realise things were quite that bad between them. (I still don’t get the comments that keep being made about the bunkroom scenes, either. Yes, they’re great in the first three series – but IV and V are equally as good as the rest of the series, and contain precisely zero of them. I just don’t think they’re the heart and soul of Red Dwarf, like some people seem to think.) There’s plenty of other lovely anecdotes, but I won’t ruin them for you – grab a cup of tea and a biscuit, and enjoy 90 minutes of excellence. What’s lovely about these documentaries is just how nice everyone comes across as – Mac McDonald is one of the funniest people in the universe, Ed Bye is equally hilarious, and like the father you never had, and you just want to run up to Doug Naylor and give him a great big bear hug.
Paul Alexander does win the award for the biggest handwave, however. Now, unlike pretty much everyone who has ever contributed to or commented on this site in any way, I like Kryten’s Jeremy Beadle stuff in Krytie TV – but there’s no denying that for a show broadcast in 1999, spoofing a show that not only finished three years previously, but was well, well past its best and out of the general public consciousness even then, the joke was rather, erm, “untimely”. So for Paul Alexander to claim that the show is prescient because it prefigures Big Brother… well, that’s an impressive turnaround. I should, however, point out that he comes across as a really, really nice guy. And anyone who comes up with that line about dry roasted peanuts is OK in my book.
Finally, we’re left with a little piece from Doug about the Movie. And, after him going on about how desperate he is to do it:
“At some point though, it will occur even to me, that these people are all lying scumbags, and it’s time I do something completely different, or to do some Red Dwarf specials or Red Dwarf series. And I think we’re pretty close to having to make a decision one way or the other quite honestly.”
Ooooh. I’ll take that as a positive indicator that we’ll probably get more Dwarf one way or the other. And yet again, the docco does what it should do – confronts the Movie issue head on. Superb.
Bill Pearson Model-Maker Video – Bob The Skutter
Bill Pearson, one of the props guys on the show since Series IV, and brought in to work on the effects for VIII, talks over a load of interesting photos, and new footage of his skutter driving around outside G Stage at Shepperton. Great fun – I just wish it was longer than five minutes, as it’s so interesting the time flies by so fast it feels more like two.
Another slightly irritating problem is the authoring – it’s a widescreen featurette, but instead of being presented anamorophic, it’s letterboxed in 4:3 – meaning a loss of resolution, and a black border around all sides on a widescreen telly, unless you zoom it. Bearing in mind the problems we had with TM:YNYN though, perhaps I should SHUT UP.
Raw Effects Footage – Dino Egg
18 minutes of the stuff. I’m in Hog’s Heaven, sir.
Model FX: Not from the BBC VFX guys this time, but from Special Effects GB, headed by Jim Francis. This is all the model Starbug crash stuff; and perhaps more than any other raw model footage, this gives a real insight as to how the piece was put together. (You’ve got to love that Starbug POV shot as it hits the boxes, too. Yes, you’ve GOT to. GO ON.) Some nice unused shots too, particularly a high-angle one of Starbug’s remains. There’s also the various stages of the pod’s disintegration from Only The Good… here – it’s unfortunate that the actual disintegration video effect used in the final episode is so appalling.
CGI FX: Pretty dang interesting. Not as interesting as the raw model FX, but still some fascinating shots that weren’t used – the best being Talia’s pod leaving the SS Hermes. (This looks pretty unfinished, so presumably the shot was dropped before it got to the final render.) It’s a pity we don’t get to see more wireframe stuff though, as seen in the documentary – and nowhere do we see the dropped CGI backgrounds for the Blue Midget dance sequence either, as mentioned in the VIII scriptbook.
Storyboard Sequences – Dibbley Basketball
The Starbug crash sequence, the Blue Midget dance, and the Dwarfer’s first encounter with Barney’s ugly brother – presented split screen, with the storyboards, and the final sequence. Veeeery interesting, and lovely to have. I don’t like any of the scenes much, though (the cockpit crash is about the best) – and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. In general, I just don’t like the big, expensive set pieces in VIII.
Deleted Scenes – Time Wand
Hooray! It’s the usual mix of stuff that Just Doesn’t Work, stuff which is fine but would just hold up the action, and stuff that really should have made the final edit. As a general rule, you can judge how chaotic a production was by the amount of deleted and reshot scenes – by Dwarf standards, this series easily wins the “WE’RE FUCKED” award hands down, with over an hour of the stuff. That’s two episodes worth!
Stuff like Holly’s line about mirror universes I find hilarious, for all the wrong reasons: “Politicians will be trusted, children’ll love sprouts, and rap music will be really good.” Hey, why not try thinking of the three laziest things you can think of? And yeah, I know it’s unfair to criticise deleted scenes, so, y’know, sorry. Onto more positive stuff: one especially good scene has some excellent business from Robert from when he’s hiding behind a barrel in Pete – having removed Kryten’s eyes, he waves them around in a silly manner above the barrel. It wouldn’t have sat well in the episode at all, feeling far too self-consciously playing up to the audience – but is great to see for its own sake.
There’s some really good throwaway lines and scenes, too – in many cases, better than a lot of what ended up in the series. I won’t ruin them all for you, so just to take one example: in Pete, The Hole scenario just seems to finish too quickly – the reason being there was plenty of dialogue chopped out of the scenes. For example, when Lister suggests taking it in turns to talk about things to pass the time, Rimmer moans: “Oh great. I’m going to become an expect on how to play the rock classics with a kazoo lodged between my buttocks.” A few scenes later:
LISTER: However, in the guitar solo from Stairway To Heaven, two kazoos should be used, to recreate Jimmy Page’s double-headed guitar work – so, extra clenching is required.
Excellent. And the way Craig delivers that line is wonderful – straight, exactly how it needed to be played. I have no idea why that didn’t make it into Pete, and some of the rubbish dino stuff cut out – it could even have been added to the feature-length version along with a few other things to make an Xtended cut.
And most exciting of all, we get a voice saying “Roll VT” on the shot where Bob cuts the hole, too! WELL I WAS INTERESTED LEAVE ME ALONE.
There are three scenes that everyone wants to know about, of course – the first two being the ARCHIE RAPE SCENES, with both Cat (in a cut scene originally shot for Cassandra, part of which was then used in Pete) and Hollister (cut from the CLIMAX HA HA of Pete) taking it up the botty. Neither really works, although the Cat stuff would probably have been worth it just for Kryten’s line that Archie can “play dead and beg, but that’s about it”. The Hollister scene, sadly, just doesn’t work – and frankly, I just don’t think it’s performed and shot very well. It was a reshoot away from being a great end to the ep, though.
The third scene is, of course, the original ending to Only The Good…; the Dwarfer’s get the antidote, get rid of the virus, and end up with the free run of the ship – and leave Hollister and the rest of the crew stranded. This ending does have its problems, but I believe it could have been salvaged. It has one of my favourite dialogue scenes from the whole of the series, where it becomes clear after several hours of Rimmer trying to remember the formula, that the rest of the crew have in fact heard of Cesiumfrancolithic Myxialobidiumrixydixydoxhidexidroxhide – apart from Cat, who has merely heard of Cesiumfrancolithic Myxialobidiumrixydexydixydoxydroxhide. Just a brilliant bit of writing. The crew partying around the ship feels slightly off – almost as though it needed a bit more scale – but Rimmer and Kryten waving Hollister goodbye works perfectly, with a lovely camera move tracking away from them – you can imagine how it would have worked with the FX added. Even as shot, I think it would have made for a far more satisfying ending to the series.
Doug did in fact wonder whether to restore this ending for the DVD (although no doubt we would have got the broadcast version as well) – he hadn’t decided one way or the other when it was realised that as the FX weren’t finished, it was impractical anyway. It would have been very interesting to see, and definitely have improved the episode in my eyes. Even just from what Doug says on the DVD, you sense that he might just agree.
Music Cues – Pete in Cage
Once one of my favourite extras (must compile that CD for the car…), this is now reduced to the opening theme, closing theme, the awful Blue Midget dance music (sorry), and a slightly different version of the awful Blue Midget dance music (sorry). Well, that’s what happens if you don’t hire Howard Goodall to do anything, and use library music instead. (Although it would have been nice to have had the library music on there, if possible.)
In fact, I’ve been thinking about this – and the lack of Goodall work in VIII really does affect the feel of the show negatively, I think. The music used when Lister meets Selby and Chen, for instance – very un-Dwarflike. Sure, previous series used library music – and VIII has some Goodall-written stuff (the theme tune, obviously, and the Red Dwarf stings) – but VIII has by far the most library stuff. And I think it impacts on the feel of the show greatly. It might even be partially responsible for certain people saying the show didn’t feel like Red Dwarf any more.
Gallery – Monkey on the bog
People who don’t like photo galleries on DVDs irritate me. Still pictures are a wonderful artform in their own right – do they suddenly become worthless when they’re transferred onto DVD? Some people suddenly seem to get confused when the pictures don’t move.
Anyway, you know the drill – loads of wonderful production photos, and design work for the series. If I have one criticism, it’s that there is a needless border around the edge of the screen which could have been used to make the images bigger – and the navigation at the bottom overlaps the images as well. Still, it’s a lot better than most other DVDs. To be honest, I’ve never seen a DVD gallery done exactly right yet, I think.
Smeg Ups – Toilet
A more interesting extra to me (and I suspect a lot of viewers) than previous DVD releases. I’d bought Smeg Ups and Smeg Outs, and Red Dwarf Xtended (although some bastard ex-friend-of-a-friend has my copy of the latter), but not the VIII tapes. So I’ve only ever seen these once before, at Ian’s. And there’s lots of very funny stuff here. Robert, Craig and Chloë in a threesome! Craig’s German Shepherd joke! Chloë’s blow job! A pity the beeping ruins the effect of the last one, mind. Are mentions of oral sex banned from a 12? This country…
Trailers – Vidscreen
Best. Trailers. Evur.
Trailer 1: The Star Wars trailer that was extensively shown before the series aired. God, I remember how excited I was when I saw that trailer – and it certainly takes me right back. It’s great to watch even now, although I still think “May the farce be with you” is a fucking awful tagline.
Trailer 2: A regular trail for episode 2 – and the first regular trail taken from a broadcast quality source rather than an off-air since right back in Series 1! It’s pretty bog-standard, but a good example of the style of trails BBC TWO had in 1999.
PBS Idents: When I first heard about these, I was extremely excited – being a television presentation nerd. What I didn’t expect was for these to be the comedic highlight of the release.
It’s not the new Dwarfy jokes – it’s simply the way the sketches without fail turn into a discussion about “your local television station”. It’s hilarious to start with, but with each new sketch it just gets funnier and funnier. I am honestly not kidding when I say I got more entertainment out of ten minutes of this than I did out of the entirety of Back In The Red. And Craig’s improvisations are brilliant. Truly the highlight of the disc.
Children In Need Sketch: Interestingly, this is taken from an actual recording of Children In Need, phone number and all, rather than (as I would have expected) just the sketch as delivered to CIN by GNP. I think it’s a pretty awful sketch in all honesty (although there’s a good Channel 5 joke) – but it’s nice to have it on there. Hmmm – I wonder if 2 entertain contributed anything towards CIN for the right to use it…
“Fight” Music Featurette – Cons Uniforms
I used HATE these. I don’t know why, in retrospect – they’re a pretty neat idea, really. My only problem is that they’re never set to music I like, so I can’t really enjoy them that much. But don’t ask what music I like – it will only upset and distress you. Ooooh.
Radio Sketch – Baxter’s Hooch
This one, to be precise – the second Dave Hollins sketch, and first broadcast on 10th November 1984. Mostly reused in Me2, of course; but it’s a lovely sketch in its own right.
Son Of Cliché badly needs a CD release – I sure it would sell, if you slapped “From the creators of Red Dwarf” on the front in big letters. Sadly, this is what happened last time I broached the subject with BBC Worldwide.
Two of them! Look away now if you don’t want to know…
Intro2 Video: On Disc 2, select number 13 in the lift. You may chuckle smugly to yourself that it is not laid out in the same way as on the programme, if you want. Select the red testtube, and you’ll get the video to Clear, with Norm, Danny and Craig. I hate the song, but it’s nice to have as an egg. And you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Norman Lovett on-screen with the subtitle “SCATTING”.
Docco Smeg Ups: On Disc 3, select Bonus Material, wait until the camera stops on the door, and press up twice until the red light is highlighted, and then press select. You will get a compliation of something that was mooted on the Webboard a while back – outtakes from the documentary shoot, the highlight of which is Mac McDonald telling Andrew not to be ashamed to talk about his erection issues. Excellent stuff.
And so, this isn’t it. We don’t reach the end. Sure, what I hold in my sweaty little hand is indeed the last series of Red Dwarf to date. But I firmly believe there will be more Dwarf releases – anything from a bonus disc of new extras (as Andrew said on the Webboard recently, it would only need to sell a quarter of the regular releases to be profitable enough to be worth doing), to the Re-mastered series, to the Movie, to even a new series or specials. I can’t believe this is the last we will see of the Boys from the Dwarf. But just in case it is – well, they’ve gone out with a bang.
I have to say though, there is one thing that pisses me off with the Dwarf releases. They cause me to lie awake at night, wondering what we would get if other companies exercised the same amount of effort and dedication to DVD releases as GNP do. Yes, I’ve complained about a few things above, but in all honesty my complaints are pretty minor. Just imagine if GNP had made Blackadder, for instance. Sure, we finally have a release of all the episodes, including the specials – but we know rushes and outtakes exist for the series, along with behind-the-scenes footage, and countless interviews. And who knows what else is lurking about that isn’t even widely known about? And yet, we don’t get a full, extras-packed release – for one of the best comedy series of all time. Not some obscure release that would only sell 50 copies, where such things are understandable. Something is just wrong, there. If GNP are ever stuck for something to do, they could always try getting involved in DVD releases of non-GNP programmes. Because what they produce are pretty much the best TV DVDs out there, full stop. And you just know they’ve gone down pretty much every avenue to get as much material as possible.
Hmmm. I suppose I’d better try and come up with some pithy comment for GNP to quote in the inevitable news item. Erm… buy it, you cunts?