IT. IS. HERE.
And so, finally, our review of Red Dwarf: The Bodysnatcher Collection. With our increasingly glowing reviews of the main series releases, will this be a fitting epitaph – at least, for the moment – to Dwarf on DVD?
Cardboard slipcovers. I don’t like them. Others do. They don’t hurt anyone. Let’s move on.
I did quite a bit of whinging when the Bodysnatcher cover was announced; but I had to say, it looks a lot better in the flesh. I still think it looks a bit cluttered, and I still think the text of “The Bodysnatcher Collection” itself is a bit ugly; but the bunkroom background is a lot darker than the images online of the cover, and that helps a lot with the problem of it looking too busy. It’s still perhaps my least favourite out of all the DVD covers, mind – not in terms of the bunkroom concept, but purely in its execution.
Excellently, the set comes in a nice sturdy Amaray case (insert Alan Partridge quote here at your leisure) – no flimsy digipaks here. Open it up, and you get your four beautiful picture discs. There’s also the collector’s booklet (see below), a paper version of the DVD checklist (with no marking system to get upset about – it’s really just an “Also out on DVD leaflet”), and a leaflet advertising all the new merchandise, which was hanging around at DJ: the Dwarf mobile service, the 2008 calendar, the prints and canvas blocks, and the new T-shirts. You can’t fault them for doing all they can to push Dwarf here.
A booklet with a difference compared to previous releases. We get a nice introduction to Bodysnatcher and The End: The Original Assembly, which helps set the scene for these rather unusual features – and a full contents list on the back. (Interestingly, there’s no discussion of the actual Remastered episodes themselves, which seems an odd omission – yes, they’re covered adequately by the text tracks, but an introduction to them here would have been nice.) But we also get some rather special stuff. Firstly, a scene cut from Bodysnatcher when Rob and Doug did their polish, featuring Lister and Cat in the Drive Room. You can see why they cut it in terms of the rewrite – it would work as a bit of establisher, but there’s already a lot of that kind of thing in the finished piece – but it’s lovely that it’s included. We also get Mark Wilkinson’s draft sketches for the Cat pictures used in Remastered – I don’t think the final versions work in the episodes, but as sketches in their own right they’re great, and a nice inclusion.
The rest of the booklet is taken up with Mark’s Remastered VHS artwork. This is lovely to have, although whilst I certainly appreciate that it serves as an archive of these wonderful pieces of work, it does feel like it unbalances the booklet slightly in terms of content – they take up more than half of it. And I do wish they’d got rid of the the titles and page numbers on those pages. Still, when stuff is this good, it’s hard to complain too much – truth be told, even with the Remastered ship designs, I’d probably buy a poster or two of these.
WAH THE 2 ENTERTAIN LOGO IS IN 16:9 NOT 4:3 THE ENTIRE RELEASE IS POINTLESS.
Disc 1 starts with an opening CGI sequence featuring the three Remastered ships – and it’s lovely. You’ll never convince me that the CGI is even nearly as nice as the original model shots – but, then, that’s not really the issue here. As the Remastered series is a major feature of the release, it makes perfect sense for them to feature prominently in the menus – and whilst they don’t work very well in the show, they work great as menus. And it’s a nicely-concieved shot – although maybe not quite as pacy at it needs to be near the beginning to fit in with the opening Dwarf music.
The main menu then appears, complete with the spinning canister of Arnold J. Rimmer’s remains – fitting perfectly with both a scene in The End: The Original Assembly, and the general graverobbing theme of this release – and familiar Dwarf space sound. I have to say, the more I use the menus on this release, the more I prefer them to the menus on the standard releases. Yes, the animation on those was gorgeous, and the recreation of the bunkrooms fantastic – but the sheer ease of fucking use of the menus on this set just wins. No sitting around waiting for transitions – just beautiful-looking Microgramma text menus that gets you to the good stuff easily and quickly. The explanatory text here is clear and informative too.
The other three discs are much the same, although they don’t include the opening ships montage. Which is a actually a good thing – once you’ve introduced the release with it, you don’t need it on every disc. Interestingly, one extra is promoted from the separate bonus menu to the main menu – Re-Dwarf, the deleted scenes, and the script extracts get this treatment. The episode selection menus allow themselves the only other bits of menu animation on the disc (and something that hasn’t passed through the BBFC yet, oddly enough) – a lovely little slide across a detail of the relevant ship.
There are a couple of minor flaws. The Subtitles option is rather awkwardly placed on Disc 1 – as there are five options rather than four, it’s rather awkwardly placed at centre-bottom. And the release also has one of my major bugbears – the subtitles menu takes you to a different screen, which only has one option – to turn the subtitles on and off. Why can’t you just do this from the main screen, like the Just The Shows releases? A small niggle, to be sure, but it’s just one of those things that really annoys me.
(Speaking of the subtitles, I’ve only watched the Series 2 docco with them on, and was slightly disturbed with what I saw – no less than three mistakes. One of them temporarily escapes the chronicler’s mind, but the other two were calling Mike Agnew “Mike Tucker”, and crediting Chris Barrie as Norm during the Better Than Life rushes. Hopefully this is just an aberration, and things aren’t as bad on the other features – but still, it’s a shame the subtitles weren’t checked by someone familiar with the show, as these kind of mistakes smack of someone just guessing people’s names and hoping for the best. Which really isn’t good enough.)
But enough of all this chitter-chatter. Onto the content:
Kicking off Disc 1, the unmade episode of Series 1 of Red Dwarf, with new storyboards, and voices by Chris Barrie. But then, of course, you all know that. Although how great is it that it’s all this kind of stuff on Disc 1, rather than the Remastered stuff?
When the Series VII DVD came out, I made a big thing about the fact that Identity Within should not be judged as successful or not based on its entertainment value. If you found it amusing in its own right, that was a bonus – the key thing was the episode’s historical context.
But here, rightly or wrongly, I wanted something more. Bodysnatcher is the flagship feature on this release – and whilst historical context is all very well, with a flagship feature, I want something that entertains me. And with the current dearth of a new series, specials, or Movie – I want some new, fucking hilarious Dwarf. Moreover, there’s simply a sense of expectation with Bodysnatcher. It’s easy to go into Identity Within not expecting something amazing in the comedy stakes – it was written by an outside writer. Bodysnatcher is new Rob and Doug Dwarf, dammit, and I want something great.
Luckily, Bodysnatcher delivers in spades.
Oh sure, some of the material here is used elsewhere – there’s quite a few lines and situations that ended up dotted around Series 1 as broadcast. (And what intrigues me is that the basic idea of the show – Rimmer using DNA to construct a new body for himself – is used as a throwaway gag in… well, D.N.A.) But there’s a huge amount of new material in here – there’s a great scene between Lister and the medicomp that has an excellent “Made in Titan” gag in it, and a wonderful scene which has Rimmer taking out his frustrations on two skutters… by making them fight each other. It’s the best and funniest “new” Dwarf material for 14 years.
Chris is an absolute joy – his Series 1 Rimmer is perfect, and his Lister and Holly are fantastic. He does fail to nail Cat, however, but given his limited role, that doesn’t matter too much. His John Lenahan for the alarm clock and Tony Hawks for the medicomp have to be heard to be believed – yes, this really is Series 1. The storyboards themselves are perhaps easy to overlook at first – but they work perfectly, and the expressions on the characters genuinely add humour to the piece, and are all the better for being ever-so-slightly cartoony. The added sound effects work brilliantly, and the bursts of the Dwarf theme over the ship shots make the piece feel like a real episode.
Moreover, after watching the show, not only do I have a greater understanding of Series 1 in a historical context… I also feel like I have a far greater understanding of the actual material in Series 1 full-stop. It feels like an episode that should have been made – and whilst I actually quite like Waiting For God, and think its weak points are over-stated, I’d certainly have traded that episode for this one. The Rimmer material here especially just rounds out his Series 1 character properly – it really does feel like there’s a huge chunk missing from Series 1 that’s now been filled.
We also get two further Bodysnatcher delights – the first being a longer audio version of the episode. This is the full version of the episode from before it was cut down – the storyboarded version was edited slightly, much as any episode of Dwarf is in the edit suite. This is lovely to have for the all-important historical reasons – what other release would even bother to make Bodysnatcher, let alone keep an extended audio version when it was decided to edit it down? – and I’ll probably grab a copy to stick on my MP3 player. But from a strictly entertainment point of view, I don’t think much was lost during the re-edit, it being mainly the removal of some of the unimportant stage directions, and a general tightening up of scenes.
The second is the Rob and Doug commentary… and within two minutes of it starting, they went up there with my favourite commentary participants of all time. Effortlessly funny and entertaining, they – not to put too fine a point on it – piss all over the previous cast commentaries from a great height, in pretty much every department. (Not least of which that you don’t feel like killing them every five minutes.) Before long you’ve forgotten that Rob has had fuck-all to do with Dwarf for years – it’s like he’s always been there. Anyone searching for any hints of awkwardness between them will be disappointed.
They cover everything from the history of the script, to what they changed in the recent draft, to general Series 1 trivia. Especially interesting I find are are some of the discussions about their approach to writing. For instance, we all know about the story that they’d written all but the last scene of Queeg without it having an ending, but it’s interesting hearing Doug talk about the rationale behind something like that – that if you leave yourself enough interesting things dotted around the script, you can usually use them to work out an ending eventually. It’s this kind of revelation about their writing techniques that I find absolutely fascinating.
Having said all of that – there is a major criticism with Bodysnatcher. We know that Rob and Doug have done rewrites on the piece. Not only is that totally understandable – after all, otherwise you’d have the flagship feature on the disc WITHOUT A FUCKING ENDING – it’s also hugely desirable. The idea of Rob and Doug working on a Red Dwarf script still makes shivers go down my spine. But it’s also fair to say that once changes are made to the script, it starts to lose some of its significance as a historical document. The booklet (more of which later) including a cut scene, and the commentary discussing some of the changes, and indeed the long version of the show in audio form helps compensate for this… but not quite enough. I really wish they’d stuck the original script on the disc as a PDF. It wouldn’t have taken much room – and it would have satisfied my eternal curiosity about the very original script.
It’s fair to say, however, that complaining about that – compared to how wonderful Bodysnatcher has ended up – is rather a gift horse/mouth situation. This is a piece of work that deserves to be considered every much a part of Dwarf as the regular episodes. Unlike a lot of DVD features (“extra” hardly seems justified in this case, especially as it’s on Disc 1), Bodysnatcher can’t just be tossed aside in a DVD review. Despite the reused material, this deserves to be analysed and discussed as an episode in its own right. I hope it get the attention it thoroughly deserves. Indeed, when discussing the episode with my darling other half, she revealed something rather interesting: that Bodysnatcher had become her favourite episode of Red Dwarf ever. I wouldn’t go that far – but it does go to show just how great Bodysnatcher actually is.
People have been whinging about the lack of new Dwarf for what seems like four ice ages. This is it, people. Enjoy it.
The End: The Original Assembly
The original version of The End, compiled only from footage from the first studio recording in 1987. (As the Series 1 docco reveals, the series had seven recording slots, and they only delivered six episodes – the seventh was used to re-record certain scenes, including a lot of material from The End.)
Now, I’m a great defender of Series 1, and whilst I don’t think The End is the strongest episode in the series, I certainly think it works extremely well as an opening episode. But even I’m forced to admit here that I’m glad they reshot some of this. The timing is all off in certain scenes (although I will admit that some of it is me just being used to the broadcast version), and some of the additional jokes in the final version (including the odd one cannabilised from Bodysnatcher) are more than welcome.
Still, there’s some stuff here that never turned up in an episode that are really, really good. There is an absolutely fantastic speech from Rimmer in his first scene as a hologram – “You don’t know what it’s like to be dead, you know. It’s… it’s not nice!” – that you wonder why the hell it never made it into the final show. It’s also interesting to note that one of the best scenes in The End – Rimmer’s exam scene – was part of this very first recording.
The obvious question here is – what’s new here that didn’t turn up in the Series 1 DVD deleted scenes? Well, the deleted scenes gave us the alternative versions of the opening corridor scene, the first bunkroom scene, more of Lister EXCRUCIATINGLY flirting with Kochanski, and the cut funeral scene with Rimmer’s hilarious elbow-titting monologue. We get all of that in The End: The Original Assembly, but we also get: the original take of Lister feeding Frankenstein (bulging testicles and all, although fortunately they’re not completely unfettered), Lister going into stasis (my God, Bathhurst NEVER got his complex speech right in that first recording – it’s agonising seeing the best take of it as part of the episode), Lister leaving stasis and the whole “They’re dead Dave” stuff (with Holly not in-vision, obviously), the entire scene with Rimmer’s re-entrance as a hologram, and the whole final scene of the episode. In other words: pretty much the entire last half of the show!
There’s little bits of extra stuff too, from otherwise as-broadcast scenes; we get to see an extra bit of McIntyre’s funeral that has Kochanski kicking one of the skutters, which is the funniest thing that character has ever done. And there’s an improvised Nigel Bradley chicken impression that might not have fitted into the show, but very amusing in its own right.
But it’s not just the extra material that’s important here – it’s how it all fits together as an episode. Certainly, thank fuck some bits were reshot – and there’s some moments in here that are just plain inept. But OK, I’ll say it: I laughed more at this than any episode in VII or VIII. Yes, even Stoke Me A Clipper or Cassandra. That might possibly be the most annoying thing I could possibly have said about this particular feature… but unfortunately, it’s true. Please – don’t hit me.
The lack of audience laughter is rather unsettling, especially at first. It can be explained by a number of things: the fact that some of the performances don’t click, the fact that there are sections with not enough jokes, the fact that this is the first time anyone had seen Red Dwarf, so they’re not going to be used to either the characters or situation, and the fact that some bits are just Plain Bad. But it’s also important to remember that this show hasn’t had a final sound mix done on it, just as with the deleted scenes on other releases. And a lot of those had very funny stuff on there… that doesn’t sound like it got much of a reaction. Worth bearing in mind.
Again, this is a piece that deserves further analysis – and certainly, a comparison between the original script, the Original Assembly, and the final broadcast version would be instructive. (And possibly the Remastered version too if you’re feeling masochistic.) But I’m so glad this is on here – it’s a brilliant insight into exactly where Dwarf began. It’s something I always wanted to see, but never thought we’d ever get. And it’s far more interesting than I could ever have hoped – simply because there’s far more material that was reshot than I ever expected.
Onto the Rob and Doug commentary. And again, they’re brilliant – just during the opening titles, we get a fascinating never-before-heard anecdote: “John Lloyd called… he said he watched the show, and really enjoyed the opening titles… and then the show started.” Again, they cover a huge amount of ground – everything from about the genesis of the show, to how they feel about SPECIFIC LINES. Half an hour of utter joy. And hearing the rapport they’ve still got with each other – it’s impossible not to start thinking “If only they’d write together again…”
And I’m amused that with the bit with Clare Grogan, Rob Grant says “Clare, dear me…” – and then the commentary track goes quiet for a bit. And it rarely, rarely goes quiet. Something cut out, perhaps? But maybe that’s me just projecting.
Series 1 docco. Usually, the doccos are the piece de resistance of the DVDs – but here, with so much else commanding attention, it’s possible they could be overlooked. Which would be a shame, because even compared to how excellent the VII/VIII doccos are, they’ve been taken yet another notch upwards. And, with the greatest will in the world – whilst I could appreciate the VII/VIII doccos for what they were, it’s obviously more interesting when you’re watching them about a series you love.
Nearly everything you’d want to be covered is touched on – everything from the genesis of the opening titles, to the reaction to the show in rehearsals and recordings, to Rob Grant hating Waiting For God. Ah, yes – Rob Grant. And it’s only now you realise how sorely he was missed in previous doccos – hearing his views along with Doug’s adds real meat to the piece. There’s also the long-awaited appearance of Paul Montague – and it’s interesting how proud he still is of his work in the series. (Although without wishing to be rude, for possibly the first time in my life – you might want to switch the subtitles on for his bits.) For what it’s worth, I still love his work on the series – although I’m also glad that people were desperately running around trying to add more detail to the sets.
There is also an increased use of rushes clips, even from the VII/VIII doccos – and fuck me, they’re fascinating. A shot from Waiting For God, which reveals how the studio sets were laid out? Check. Stuff from Me2 showing how the split-screens were done? Check. A shot of Dona DiStefano adding stuff to the set behind Paul Montague’s back, to add a bit of colour? Check. Footage from Tony Hawks and Chris Barrie doing a bit of audience warm-up? BLOODY CHECK. It’s amazing stuff – and stuff I never really thought we’d ever get to actually see. It gives a real sense of what it was like shooting those series. It also confirms my suspicion that I really, really want to have sex with Dona DiStefano.
Of course, the glimpses of the rushes footage just makes me wish I could see more of it. But forgetting about any arguments about how interesting or not that is to a wider audience… this release is just packed. There is literally no room for any extended extracts of rushes. A shame, but there’s just nothing substantial on these discs I would trade for more rushes extracts. (Well, apart from perhaps the Remastered eps. But you either include them or you don’t – and like it or not, they’re one of the reasons this release happened in the first place.)
There are juicy stories here aplenty – and most fascinating to me was Paul Jackson’s revelation that despite the seven recording slots, the team managed to only deliver six episodes… because nobody at the BBC noticed. It’s this kind of thing that just hasn’t been dug out before – in nearly 20 years! – and this documentary manages to put on the record. Which is an impressive achievement. If only other DVD doccos were made to this standard – actively finding out new information and challenging existing “facts”, rather than just lazily putting onto screen the accepted facts and have done with it.
The thing I take away from the Series 1 docco, and to an extent the commentary for The End: The Original Assembly, is how critical a lot of people are about that first series. Wheras I think it’s utterly fantastic. I don’t mean that negatively at all – the docco should accurately reflect people’s opinions, or there’s no point in doing it – but it’s interesting how your own views on a series often don’t square with the creators at all, and how their specific criticisms of a show are about stuff that doesn’t bug you in the slighest. It was a kitchen bin? Really? I don’t give a stuff. You don’t see much of it anyway. Act like it’s a disposal mechanism, and it’ll be fine.
It’s Cold Outside
Series 2 docco. More excellence, with some fascinating stuff here. Of course, it’s fair to say that as well as digging up new information, we do get some of the usual stories that being hardcore fans we already know about – such as Rob Grant’s reluctance to include a robot on the show – but then that stuff has to be covered, as it’s aimed towards a more general audience. And for every well-worn anecdote, we get three or four brand new bits – it’s very interesting hearing how good David Ross was with audiences, and how that skill apparently stayed with the cast long after he departed.
Again, it’s not just the facts about the show that are interesting – it’s the opinions. The most startling perhaps being Doug bemoan Parallel Universe as being an interesting idea, but written like it was by a couple of schoolboys – and whilst I definitely think the final episode works, you can kind of see where he’s coming from. Ed Bye also makes the interesting point that he felt Thanks For The Memory was the stand-out episode on paper, but not perhaps with the finished episode. I can certainly imagine getting that script and being pretty damn excited about it.
There’s loads more rushes clips here – including a very strange improvised ending to Parallel Universe, where it’s revealed that Lister isn’t pregnant. There’s also a clip featuring a discussion between Danny and Doug on-set shooting Stasis Leak in the Midland Hotel – with them agitated that Dona is going to spray the lady instead of Danny (Doug: “It’s a comedy spray!”). It certainly provides a bit of context in terms of the shooting being slightly stressful, about the lack of power Doug had during shooting at the time, and indeed Doug’s excellent attitude towards comedy – but you can’t help but want to know more. But then, presumably, neither Danny, Doug or Dona are going to remember much about a specific incident that small.
As is customary with these doccos, the difficult subjects are dealt with fairly and honestly – and in this case the controversial subject is Norm leaving at the end of the series. The docco doesn’t quite nail down some differences in the story – there’s some discrepancy between Norm and Paul Jackson’s memories of how long Norm was needed for, and Paul never talks about the subject of the fee being drastically reduced, which seems to be Norm’s biggest bugbear – but it’s still great stuff, with some very candid statements from everybody. And Doug Naylor is hilarious on Norm’s comments about being really upset that the replacement character wasn’t completely different to Norm’s Holly – in fact, Doug makes a hell of a lot of sense throughout the entire section, with some apposite comments on exactly why you needed Norm there for rehearsals in the first place.
There’s also an interesting section about Paul Jackson going ballistic on the set of Kryten (which also reveals some interesting stuff about how they tried – and failed – to preserve the surprise of the skeletons), Rob Grant hilariously talking about “Norman banging on again – as per bloody usual…”, and… well, you get the idea. Shitloads of stuff. It’s perhaps easy, after eight of these, to take the doccos for granted. But these really are stunningly well put together – all the relevant people interviewed, some great anecdotes and insights, all edited together superbly – and really, really funny into the bargain (Ed Bye especially managing to be hilarious with every single thing he says). They really fly by – at the end, you feel like you’ve watched a 30 minute docco, not 70. And such care is taken in the choosing of the clips – they’ve even bothered to include an amusing five second unscreened end to the Hollister/Chicken scene from Stasis Leak – this is a far cry from the III/IV docs, which included a bit too much of the actual episodes for their own good. I’ve barely scraped the surface of either docco here – although hopefully I’ve done rather better than tossing them off in one sentence like some magazine reviewers seem to do – but you get the idea. They’re by far the best of the series rundown docs across any of the releases. That’s partly down to the subject matter, and partly down to the evidently increased budget – but GNP have clearly just got far better at making them as well. Honed to perfection through time and evolution. I’d love to see what they could do with the budget for a for-broadcast Dwarf documentary.
In fact, if there’s a criticism of the doccos, it’s simply that I’d be quite happy watching them at double the length – you yearn for more detail at times. Which is impractical for a million and one reasons, least of all disc space – and if your only problem is that you want MORE of something, they’re doing rather a lot right.
Although they could probably have just included 70 minutes of Chris Barrie’s Paul Jackson impression and it would have been worth it. Along with Ed Bye trying to sell sex tapes.
The Remastered Episodes
Onto Disc 2 then, and I suppose it’s about time we faced up to them – it’s the Remastered episodes. Where to fucking start?
The answer is far too long to put into a DVD review. But the short answer is: I hate them. I hate the replacement effects, I hate the replacement music, I hate the edits, I hate pretty much everything. There’s the odd bit that is an improvement – the sloppy edit on Hollister being kneed in the bollocks in Stasis Leak, for instance – but these are few and far between. I find stuff like the added starscapes in the bunkroom window don’t work as well as the sodding lightbulbs in the original – because at least the latter doesn’t draw attention to itself, wheras the former looks tacked on, and doesn’t suit the mood of the show. And I personally have huge problems with the film effect, both technically and artistically, which could take up an entire article – but I would say that you’re forever onto a loser if you’re trying to take a show made in an analogue studio on 1″ tape and lit for video, and apply a film effect to it. (I may disagree with the effect being used for VII artistically – but at least it was shot and lit for it.) And so on and so on and so on.
There is the argument that the grading itself works fine – I find it impossible to tell, as the film effect is too distracting, although the Special Edition of The Curse of Fenric applied an aggressive colour grade, to generally excellent reviews. The sound has also been praised, but to me, I generally prefer the original mix. I like my dispensing machines to sound silly. But this is all turning into the article that I said I wouldn’t write, so I’ll leave it there for now.
Regardless – none of that stuff is a criticism of including the episodes on the DVDs. Some people prefer them – I think they’re mad, but I suppose I can sort-of understand it if they were the first ones you saw. It’s also nice to have them for historical reasons – even if I won’t be viewing them that often for entertainment, I am genuinely pleased to own them. One thing that can be said for the Remastered episodes is that they do look better than ever before – certainly better than on VHS, and perhaps even better than broadcast. (I suspect some level-tweaking here and there.)
With main series DVD releases containing the original episodes, and with the threat that the Remastered series might replace the originals completely disappeared (see below) – it’s now easier to view these as interesting faliures, rather than something to get upset about. But failures they undoubtedly are. One thing that strikes me is the occasional bit of dirt on some of the model shots that hasn’t been removed – such as the opening model shots of Polymorph or Marooned. Surely this shows an incredible skewed set of priorities… OH MY GOD I CAN’T SHUT UP ONTO THE NEXT SECTION.
Six, spread across the eighteen episodes. The End has a commentary on the remastering process with Ed Bye, Mark Wyborn, Jem Whippey and Chris Veale – and I’m not sure I’ve heard four nicer-sounding people I’ve disagreed with so much. Whilst it’s a nice enough commentary, and I’ve glad we’ve got it, I can’t help but feel that we don’t learn much that Re-Dwarf and the text commentary tracks don’t get across rather better.
The rest, however, are a joy. Doug Naylor and Ed Bye talk over Me2, Kryten, Better Than Life, Polymorph, and Bodyswap. Perhaps Ed does spend a bit too long pointing out the obvious – yes, Ed, it’s another Chris Veale shot, well done – but these are lovely stuff. The obvious thing to wish for is that Rob Grant was contributing, but – reading between the lines – it’s perhaps obvious he probably doesn’t want to be involved with anything to do with the Remastered project, seeing as he wasn’t part of it.
What’s interesting is that a fair amount of the time, Doug and Ed don’t even talk about Red Dwarf specifically – it’s more of a general discussion about the ENTIRE HISTORY OF COMEDY instead, with The Young Ones, Carrott’s Lib, and Spitting Image discussed in Me2 alone. This is no bad thing – if there’s one thing that needs talking about, it’s the show’s position in the comedy pantheon – and it’s fucking fascinating to boot. There’s a hilarious anecdote about Rob and Doug attending a Young Ones recording, and seeing Paul Jackson come down from the gallery to rant at the cast for not knowing their lines – and Doug thinking it was part of the show…
If there’s a criticism, it’s that I wish there were more of them – I’d kill to know what Doug and Ed thought of some of the other episodes. But these six commentaries, combined with the commentaries on Bodysnatcher, TE:TOA, the script extracts, and the Daytime UK interview, means that we’re hardly being short-changed in this department. All I will say is that this definitely shows that the commentaries for the “standard” releases could have benefited from a more mixed set of commentary participants. But then, this set is an attempt to correct that, so it seems churlish to gaze wistfully at my IV-VIII releases for too long.
Best anecdote, though? Ed’s one about the Labour Party Conference…
“What’s Different?” Text Track
A text track detailing all the changes made to the Remastered series, on all 18 episodes – and tossing in some jokes and a few bits of episode trivia too. And it’s marvellous. The notes on the remastering include lots of stuff that I’d never have noticed in a million years – the shortening of the shot of Lister fixing McCartney in Future Echoes, for instance. This kind of thing I find fascinating as an insight into the process of creating the Remastered eps. And hooray, they point out the spelling mistakes in the Remastered credits!
On the trivia side, there’s lots of interesting stuff here that I’d never noticed before. One of my favourites is the pointing out of the compositing error in the Remastered title sequence – when the shot pulls out, if you keep an eye on Lister, his “square” leaves the “F” and goes wandering across the ship! Or, on a non-Remastered note – Lister’s space bike is completely different between Series 1 and 2…
And they’re slightly snarky as well – after the appalling additional Polymorph Remastered ending, what does the text track say? “No, we don’t like it either.” Or on the repeated line in the Backwards scrolltext: “You’d think a bit of on-screen text would be easy to remaster, but hey, whatever.” Just brilliant. And I love the fact that the track actually talks to you – it just gives a lovely warm friendly feeling to the whole thing. Which frankly, I need as much of as I can get whilst watching the Remastered eps. Although the track beat me at Rock/Paper/Scissors. Bastard.
It’s not perfect. There are jokes that fall flat (although in nine hours, that’s inevitable), there are a few too many gaps (which could have been used to stick episode trivia in – even stuff already known about would have filled it out a bit), and the track occasionally over-eggs the “This is all boring” motif. But still – for me, it turns the inclusion of the Remastered series on the disc from something that I can objectively understand why they are included, into something that I find actually entertaining. No mean feat.
Unfortunately however, this feature does have the worst bit of authoring on the disc. When you select the text tracks option, it plonks you straight into the first episode on the disc. And you can’t just go back to the menu and pick which episode you want to watch – when you select a different episode, the track is turned off. And I can’t seem to switch on the feature using my DVD player controls either. So the only way to watch other episodes is to make it start on the first episode, and then flick through the chapters to the one you want. This is one of the most stupid bits of authoring I’ve ever witnessed on a DVD. Why the HELL wasn’t this an on/off feature?
The documentary on the Remastered series, running to 20 minutes. It’s narrated by a certain Andrew Ellard, and whilst it’s obvious that he’s not a voiceover professional, it seems somehow fitting – this being the last main DVD release for the time being, and him having been much of the driving force behind these releases – that he should take on the role.
The word that strikes me that sums up the whole documentary is: “fair”. Certainly, I don’t agree with everyone’s comments in the docco – but then that’s not the point, as the docco is supposed to reflect everyone’s opinions, not mine. But this is no puff piece expounding the virtues of the series – the faults in the project are seriously examined. There’s a fantastic section where everyone denies knowledge about the added skutters in The End (Ed Bye: “They were put in there…. BY GOD”) – and, rather more importantly, the docco ends with the revelation that GNP turned down the commission to remaster Series IV and V, and with Doug Naylor saying from a creative point of view, they probably should have resisted doing them at the time. You can’t really get any more brutally honest than Doug admitting that the project was mostly a creative faliure.
Of course, there’s the flipside put across too – that the Remastered eps were made to sell the programme to more territories in order to help potential funding for the Movie, and that if the Remastered series had been done now, then it probably would have been a lot more creative successfully. And you know what? All that opens up a whole can of worms that I’m not getting to in this review, as it’s already far too long. Sorry. Suffice to say that I can definitely see the point with both of them, and agree in certain respects – but also disagree with others too. But that’s enough for now.
Speaking of the Movie, also included is the test shot that The Mill did for the film, using the physical model of the Remastered Dwarf. And you know what? It looks great. I still don’t like the shape compared to the original, but it is a beautiful shot, there’s no denying it. And it’s brilliant that this was dug out and included.
The most interesting thing revealed in the docco is that the Remastered series was to have included a full model shoot with the Remastered ships, rather than including all-CGI shots. And the reason it didn’t take place? Not because of money – but because, erm, the ship was too big for the motion control studio. Which is what I would call a quite monumental fuck-up. It’s painful to imagine how different the Remastered eps would have looked if this hadn’t happened – and frankly puts a whole new twist on the ideas behind the making of the episodes. This was no deliberate “replacing cool model shots with crap CGI” – the idea was to create better model shots. Whether the show needed them is another matter entirely of course, but even so.
There’s also a section where Doug points out that the Remastered eps were never intended to replace the original episodes. Certainly, I think that a lot of the really nasty backlash at the time was because that was exactly what seemed to be happening – when theRemastered VHSes were released, the original ones are withdrawn, they start showing up on BBC TWO and the satellite channels instead of the originals, they start appearing in excerpts in documentaries, and the Remastered ships appear on all new merchandise… collectively, it gave completely the wrong signal. Luckily, with the original episodes released on DVD, we’re well past the point where the project is anything to be upset about.
Re-Dwarf has everything – all the participants interviewed, relevant clips brilliantly comparing the original and Remastered eps (and fuck me, I really prefer the original colour of the Series III bunkroom, rather than the regraded shots), rushes clips from the Remastered shoot (including blue-screen chess pieces for a never-used replacement of the chess game in Queeg – how obscure it that?), blue-screen CGI shots, and loads of lovely little extra bits (the highlight being shots of the original Remastering notes, listing the areas they wanted to improve). It’s by far the best bit of documentary-making across all of the Dwarf releases. How far have we come since Launching Red Dwarf again?
But perhaps the best bit of the docco – apart from crushing Norm in the edit – is Doug’s final comment, on the fans not liking the Remastered episodes: “To be fair, they did have a huge amount of fun and debate ripping it to shreds, so it wasn’t completely a waste of time.” Which is fucking hilarious, and perhaps shows that Doug understands fandom rather well.
OHMYGOD. Pictures from both sets of Series 1 rehearsals! Behind-the-scenes shots of Series 1 and 2! NAKED SKUTTERS! A veritable treasure trove of stuff, that I could sit and talk about all day. But I will say one thing: I really like some of the unused Dwarf redesigns featured here. Not sure quite how well they would have worked on-screen, or in the context of the show, but as designs they’re gorgeous. And yeah, whilst I have problems with the Remastered ship designs, the detail on the physical models themselves is fabulous.
My standard complaint with photo galleries is that the photos themselves aren’t usually presented as well as they could be – they’ve often got a huge border around them. This problem was at its worst on something like the Red Dwarf IV DVD, with the ridiculous polaroid borders. Certainly the result is far better here – and yet there’s still a border round the photos that would have been best removed. This is most obvious on photos which are longer vertically than horizontally – there’s a large gap at the top of the screen, on photos that are already small. Why not just make the buggers as big as possible?
I can’t help but feel that the Doctor Who DVDs have found the best way to present photo galleries – as moving video, full-screen. This sometimes has its own problems when it cuts off part of the picture – but done right, it’s definitely the best way to present galleries. The colour photos on The Invasion DVD recently had me cooing in a way that they probably wouldn’t if presented how they are here. Certainly, some of the design drawings of the Remastered ships are actually better presented in Re-Dwarf!
But I don’t want to complain too much – it’s lovely just to see the photos. If you’re one of those people who finds photo galleries boring, don’t skip this extra – take a look. You’re missing out on a good chunk of Dwarf history otherwise.
Well done everybody!
We’ve held back on talking about the Mobisodes on G&T – instead of judging them from the website, we thought it was only fair to judge them on the medium for which they’re intended. But the presence of one of them on the DVD gives me an excuse – and I’m not keen in the slightest. I just don’t see the point in replacing beautifully-shot live action stuff with cheaply-done animation. I’m just not keen on either the animation or the character designs – it almost certainly works better on a phone, but blown up to full size here they look horrendous.
Here, it’s the “Red Alert” scene from Legion – done exactly like the original… but with the sparks added to the sign near the end. I appreciate the sentiment that has gone into it – add something for the hardcore fans, so there’s something new there – but that doesn’t help when what’s added is so awful. It’s the equivalent of the over-explaining of the jokes that sometimes happens in VII/VIII.
Still, at least it doesn’t take up much disc space.
Fantastic. As ever, some people seem to review deleted scenes on how successful they are – which is compeletely the wrong attitude to take. They should be judged on how interesting they are. And these are bloody interesting.
Paradise Beach, Better Than Life – the original version of the scene later reshot on a golf course. (Well, the first half anyway, before they gave up.) And Norm saying the phrase “This has got to be paradise, this has” on the WINDIEST PLACE IN THE PLANET is worth the price of admission alone. Even I’m glad they re-shot this…
Sauna, Bodyswap – Robert Llewellyn’s famed first day! And, if you’ll forgive me for a second: AAARRGGGH HIS ACCENT AAARRGHH. I think we can safely say there was some major rethinking of Kryten early on in the production of Series III – it’s just a shame Robert hasn’t talked about the change anywhere. Kryten really does come across as twee. Up there with the most fascinating deleted scenes ever unearthed for the series across any of the DVDs – it’s incredible that this tape has been recovered.
New Gordon, Better Than Life Remastered – Phil Philmar replacing Gordon Salkilld, this is actually presented as a completely-edited scene, monitor shots replaced and all – indicating that this got pretty far in the process before it was dropped. Why anyone would want to replace Salkilld’s performance is anyone’s guess – he’s fucking hilarious – but Philmar does a decent stab at it. The extra gags work OK – hardly brilliantly, but then since when did Better Than Life need gagging up? – but in the end it’s just an exercise in pointlessness. Still, fascinating in its own right.
Holly Intros, Remastered – shades of Hattie’s unused intros on the Series III DVD! Out of the five, one of them is quite funny – “Additional: the ship is powered by a giant ram scoop, which sucks in the currents of space and converts them into fuel. Obviously the ship couldn’t be petroleum powered, because then, all the supply decks would have to be used to store all the free glass tumblers we’d have collected” – but even this is scuppered by Norm’s delivery just not being as good as it is in front of the audience. The others just don’t really work as scripted. Again though, fascinating to see.
Raw FX Footage
Nearly fifteen minutes of the stuff. Not the most fascinating of effects footage we’ve ever had – in general, CGI isn’t as interesting as physical models to look at in this way, and too much of it is just part of the episodes themselves – but there’s some interesting unseen shots, including that replacement first shot from The End. Certainly, I don’t think it works very well – it’s an interesting experiment, but nothing more – but it’s perhaps odd that this didn’t make it in, but those bloody skutters did, as this is at least a more convincing effect than that. (Mind you, with that commendable section on the skutters in Re-Dwarf, we should probably lay the skutter cheap shots to rest now.) And – ooh, new shots of close-ups of Blue Midget’s legs!
Original Model Shot
The one and only physical model shot done for the Remastered series, first shown by the FX Boys at Dimension Jump XIII – the end credits flyover, which was replaced with Chris Veale’s version. Re-Dwarf says that this is partly to do with the shot not having a starfield in the background (because of the lack of studio space?) – but it also has to be said that if they’d only used the physical model for one shot, it would have clashed horribly with the rest of the shots of the Dwarf ship. (Not that that seemed to have bothered them in other areas. Hello Norm.) And it is a beautiful shot. Significantly more beautiful than the shot used in the original, un-Remastered episodes? I would have to say no – and the boosters at the end mean that you can’t do that beautiful down-and-across movement at the end of the shot, which robs it of some of its majesty.
Tongue Tied Archive
Let’s get one thing straight – I’m not a Tongue Tied fan. I certainly don’t find it overtly offensive, but I’m just not that enamoured with the song, and I think it’s probably the weakest bit of Parallel Universe. Only Craig holding his testicles provides any amusement for me.
Two versions of the song are included here – the first being the Son of Cliche version. It’s certainly interesting historically, but it’s not nearly as amusing as I remembered it. Certainly not representative of the quality of Son of Cliche. Remind me to badger BBC Worldwide again about getting the series released…
The other is Howard Goodall’s demo – a snippet of which was heard on Settling The Score on the Red Dwarf VI DVD. (I wonder if Howard has a demo for the main Dwarf theme in his archive? Probably not – I suspect it would have been dug out by now otherwise.) And fuck me, if it isn’t by FAR the best version out of any ever released. You can really see what he was trying to do with the backing track that Danny… well, ruined. If only a full version of the song could be made in this form, with Howard’s original idea. But on the other hand… maybe it’s time the bloody thing was put to rest now.
I’ve made fun of the Danny version before – but it is a shame that the rights to his version couldn’t be obtained, as it would have completed the collection. Still, it’s not like it isn’t out there.
The Most Embarrassing Interview In The Universe Ever
Rob and Doug, interviewed by Alan Titchmarsh on Daytime UK. And, before we go any further: ROB GRANT’S GLASSES AAAARGH.
Now, I’m used to watching crappy old magazine shows, and I’ve definitely seen far more cringeworthy stuff than this – but still, the clash between them and the world of Dwarf is most amusing, and Titchmarsh is pretty fucking appalling by any standards. “How do you come up with those weirdos, like Kryten and Cat?” Or how about “When are we seeing Red Dwarf back, are we getting a second series?” – after Series III HAS ALREADY GONE OUT. Still, it’s not just a cringefest – there’s some genuinely interesting snippets here. Have Rob and Doug ever said that Rimmer and Lister are based on themselves before? If they have, it’s passed me by.
The commentary from Rob and Doug – previewed at DJ this year – is fucking hilarious, with Rob talking about how he went rigid when he glanced at the audience full of old women, and Doug telling a brilliant story about a female presenter following him into the toilet. I could just listen to these guys talk all day, about anything at all.
It would be remiss of me, however, not to point out that the “circa 1991” date on the menu is sort-of-but-not-quite incorrect – it was actually the 14th December 1990. Which I suppose is “circa 1991” technically, but y’know…
Ooooh. Pride of place goes to Dad – a meaty piece that is very amusing and shows a lot of promise, whilst not quite as successful or amusing as Bodysnatcher – but then as a partial script which never had a polish or made it to rehearsal, you wouldn’t expect it to be. It has a slightly weird feeling to it, but let’s face it – in the nicest possible way, because I love the series, which episodes in Series III don’t? The concept of “format” seemed to have bypassed Rob and Doug for that series, more than any other.
Infinity Patrol is a Dwarf version of this Son of Cliché sketch. It doesn’t work as well – partly because the name Jan Vogles is replaced by ‘Bill’, partly because it doesn’t have Nick Wilton in it, and partly because the concept really doesn’t fit into the Dwarf universe in the slightest – and it’s obvious why it was dropped. Still, you can’t wreck an idea this good – and Rimmer’s reactions are extremely amusing. Lister’s Father, meanwhile, is nice enough, but not especially funny – until you get to an absolute belter of a line at the end. (It’s also pretty shocking – and feels rather un-Dwarfy.) Rimmer’s Dummy is very short, and would have worked well enough as a throwaway gag – and mainly works because Rimmer is so unrepentant.
The commentary track for all of these, by Rob and Doug is fantastic, as usual – although I can’t believe I’ve just managed to use the word “usual” on a ROB AND DOUG COMMENTARY TRACK. The most interesting thing here is that both in the commentary and the It’s Cold Outside documentary, Rob and Doug give the reason the Dad script was dropped as being because it was about a whole set of experiences to do with fatherhood that Doug had, but Rob couldn’t relate to at the time. Which is completely different to the usual reason trotted out before – that the script was in danger of becoming offensive to women, and faintly homophobic. As the script is neither of these things, the other reason makes a whole lot more sense.
These are just a joy. It may be a well-worn cliche by now – but did we ever, ever think we would get to see stuff like this? Ah, the days when all we knew about Dad was a one line description…
8mm Film Reel
First shown by the SFX boys at DJ XIII, this is Peter Tyler’s five minute 8mm film showing behind-the-scenes of the model effects of Series IV and V, with a commentary from Peter himself – much in the vein of The SFX of Red Dwarf V with Mike Tucker on the Series V release. The best stuff comes first, with loads of footage of Dimension Jump‘s water scenes, shot in the water tank at Pinewood – it really makes you nostalgic for the days when model effects were more respected in the TV industry. But best not to start that rant. Anyway, it’s wonderful this has been dug out and given a wider audience.
Two long promos used to advertise the Remastered series, with a voiceover by Ed Bye. It’s a shame that the very short version as used in front of The End Remastered isn’t included here – yes, it’s substantially the same as the first bit of the first promo, but it would be nice to have, as it was a lot of people’s first exposure to the Remastered series. On the other hand, the presence of two meaty promos that we’ve never seen before certainly makes up for it.
The promos are the obvious thing – showing off the new visual effects, and some before/after comparisons. Most interesting of all is the differences in language that Ed uses between the two promos – the first uses more formal language, wheras the second – shown at the Brighton Showcase – is far more informal and jokey. A lesson in how different language is used to appeal to different audiences. It almost seems too transparent when they’re compared side-by-side – but, of course, that was never meant to happen. Again, it’s great these have been dug up and shown to a wider audience, rather than just being forgotten about.
Also: it was while watching these promos that I realised that one of the pieces of library music used in Balance of Power Remastered as Lister rides his bike is a complete rip-off of Smells Like Teen Spirit…
Two! On the Red Dwarf disc (or, Disc 2), go to the Bonus menu, highlight the DVD Credits option, go right and select. You’ll be treated to two bits that “fell off” previous Dwarf released – the famed “Souper” smeg-up, and one of the Xtended video introductions. HAPPY NOW?
The other is rather more special. On the Bodysnatcher disc, go to the subtitles menu, switch them on, and then go up to highlight the JMC stars, and select. You’ll get TEN COCKING MINUTES of audio of Rob and Doug talking about Spitting Image, and specifically the full story of them rescuing the show, and then how they got screwed over. By far my favourite easter egg on any of the Dwarf releases. Just brilliant in every way.
Truth be told… at the end of this fucking long review, I don’t really feel I’ve done this release justice. At the end of my VIII review, I pretty much knew the release back-to-front. I’ve spent five times longer watching this stuff, and I don’t feel I’ve quite got a handle on the material yet. Not only is there so much of it, but some of it is material that needs time to sit and ponder upon.
The highlight of the release is indeed Bodysnatcher. I wasn’t actually expecting that – loads of other things caught my eye instead – but it’s so fucking funny, and interesting, and well-made, and just goddam perfect. A new episode of great Dwarf is something to be treasured – and that’s exactly what Bodysnatcher is. For me, it’s worth the price of the release alone – and reinvigorates my interest in more Dwarf. The other highlight has to be Rob Grant’s return to the franchise – and his commentaries with Doug Naylor are truly magical, and something I thought we’d missed our chance on. Even the potentially weak point of the release – the Remastered episodes themselves – are saved by the text track and the commentaries.
The release is clearly a grab bag of weird stuff that undoubtedly appeals to the hardcore fan – but I really hope that it can crossover and interest the more casual viewer too. Not only because the release deserves it – but also because if weird things like this sell, then 2 entertain might take some risks with other programmes as well. We can only hope. Because the sheer effort that has gone into this release, and the results that’s produced, deserve to be rewarded.
It’s fair to say that Dwarf fandom can be an exasperating place to be at times. But this is the kind of thing that makes the whole thing worthwhile. It’s the kind of release that makes you fall in love with Red Dwarf all over again. And – incredibly, given the weight of expectation foisted on it – it’s everything and more that I hoped it would be.