Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a new record. Series XII was released on shiny disc just four days after the last episode was broadcast on TV, which in any normal circumstances would make you worry that the release would be a rush job. But due to the back-to-back filming of both the last two series and their accompanying behind-the-scenes shoots, the lead time on this package is the longest they’ve ever had.
The Series XI release set the bar pretty low for its counterpart. While the extras it featured maintained the levels of quality and entertainment value we’ve come to expect, it fell short of telling as comprehensive a story as any of its predecessors, and the significantly lower than average running time left us feeling a little short-changed.
Will the Series XII release seek to address those shortcomings, or are we in for more of the same? Let’s rip open the (sadly stickerless) cellophane and find out.
Just the two versions to collect this time: DVD and a standard Bluray, without the steelbook option like the last two releases. Presumably this is because the Series XIII episode titles aren’t available yet. I remain surprised that they chose the Everyone’s Kryten photo for the cover. It may have been the first image released, but more traditional shots were also in use, so I’d have expected something that covered the whole series rather than just one episode. As with the last release, the overall hue is very dark, so at least the brightness of the masks helps it to stand out.
Unlike the last release, however, there’s much more consistency in the layout and font choices across the two formats, with the only major differences being caused by the differing sizes of the boxes – the episode titles on the back being given a line each on the DVD, but listed in two batches of three on the Bluray, for example. It’s a small thing, but the consistency across the board does a lot to reassure me that more care and attention has been paid this time around.
That is until you flip the DVD cover to find that the alternative side contains several twitch-inducing deviations from the classic template. The same photo is used and all four characters are included, when really it should just be Lister and Rimmer. Norman’s Holly is the character on the spine, which means we’ve got a repeat for the first time in eleven designs. Worst of all, the bloody font on the blurb is wrong. It was fine last time, but not now, when all you have to do is hold it next to any of the old DVDs to spot the difference. Strictly speaking, the photo on the back shouldn’t have a border around it, the credits for the cast and Doug should be on the left, and the paint splodges on Lister’s sleeve shouldn’t be red.
It’s a shame that the colour is so similar to the last one, but it’s hard to avoid when the look is so consistent across the two series, and the Science Room has at least been give a more purple tint to help differentiate them on closer inspection. The silver elements have been given a nice drop shadow to help them stand out better than they did on XI, and at least the list of extras is substantial enough to fill the space this time.
While it would have been a safe bet to assume that the disc design would match that of XI, but be purple instead of blue, instead it simply mirrors the cover, using that same picture once again on both discs. I miss the days when there’d be a different photo on each disc; the only thing that sets them apart is the tiny little text detailing the disc number. In another change from XI, Disc Two is simply labelled “Extras”, rather than detailing them all individually – another small way in which the first impression is improved, emphasising the fact that the contents are too numerous to list.
But stick those discs in your slot and you’ll note that not much has changed since last year at all – the template for the menus is absolutely identical, with the same space graphics, the same wobbly Starbug shot, the same animation for the logo, the same close-ups of Red Dwarf for the buttons, and the title sequence once more playing on a loop. Even the sound effect when the numeral is added to the logo is the Series XI static burst instead of the Series XII taps and swishes.
Back in what I find myself increasingly referring to as the “classic” era, we accepted that the same basic menu design was often applied to two consecutive releases, so this isn’t a complaint as such – I certainly wasn’t expecting anything new this time around. But the difference is that the old menus were so good that you didn’t mind seeing them again, and they were detailed enough that they could be customised for each series pretty effectively just by swapping out some of the props and textures. It’s not that duplicating the menus is a problem, it’s just that it stands out more when said menus are a bit crap.
Interestingly, there’s a couple of extra clips appended to the title sequence that loops through – bonus glimpses of Rimmer running down a corridor, Ziggy doing a face, and Catbot ironing, inserted before the nuclear explosion, and then a shot of a one-thrustered Starbug at the end.
Again, it’s that weird thing that, for us, these episodes are still fresh off the shelves, even though in reality they’ve been on those shelves for about a year and a half. I’ve still got two copies of each episode on my Sky box, but the image quality of the Bluray means that this is the version I’ll be turning to as I begin to soak the episodes in and revisit my opinions, which currently stand at GOOD, MOSTLY GOOD, ABSOLUTELY DREADFUL, MOSTLY GREAT, GREAT, GREAT. I think that’s above average overall.
Once again, there are only four chapter points per episode, and they’re not listed with amusing titles anywhere. And as we’ve come to expect from the Dave era, the ad breaks have been edited out, and the two parts of each broadcast episode smushed together. In most cases, this is fairly smooth and seamless, as the breaks usually came between two distinct scenes. The Skipper one is much more interesting, but I’ll leave the analysis for m’colleague John Hoare to cover in the near future.
What’s also interesting about Skipper is that the title sequence on the discs is very slightly different to the broadcast version. The shot of Starbug flying over a moon (you know, the one that doesn’t appear in any of the episodes) is replaced by a shot of it riding the time wave in Timewave. Is this an earlier draft of the sequence, and if so how did it end up here, and why is it only one episode that’s affected? Bagsy not me lining up the UKTV Play, Dave and Bluray/DVD versions of each episode to look for further changes. But on that note, the episodes all end with the old style endboard, without the new UKTV Originals branding that adorned the broadcast and the initial Play versions.
So the story so far is that things are mostly the same as last time, but with a few of the details polished where possible. But barely any of the above is actually important – let’s face it, from 2002 until now, the only real metric by which we judge a Red Dwarf release is the quantity and quality of the extras. It’s time for Disc Two.
The 28 Years Later Affair
First of all, while that’s not the most concise and elegant of titles, I’m grateful that the main behind-the-scenes feature at least has a title this time, instantly creating the impression that it belongs in the same bracket as the majority of its predecessors. It doesn’t, of course – like Series XI, it deals with the episodes in recording order rather than broadcast order, and the running time is still under an hour. It also suffers from a few of the same pacing issues, with some episodes given much more coverage than others.
However, it soon becomes apparent that the focus of the documentary is very different to its predecessor, with much more attention given to the smaller details of the scripts and storylines, as many of the broader production particulars remain as they were for XI. The more techy aspects are still covered, but it’s more of a flavour this time, whereby one or two examples of elements such as make-up, prosthetics, digital effects and lighting are showcased, as examples of each department’s work on the series. As we’ll come to, the other features on this disc are there to fill in the gaps, and as such T28YLA manages to cover for the lack of commentaries, which we’ll also come to, far more successfully than the Series XI doc.
It’s clear that there was a lot of depth to the cast interviews, which alternate between deep philosophical musings about the nature of the characters and the political angles to episodes like Siliconia and Mechocracy, to detailed dissections of tiny moments such as the Cat being pinned to a wall by his neck, or the difficulties that resulted from Mr Rat’s eyes being situated on the top of Danny’s head. How lovely too to see the likes of David Ross (at the BBC Lancashire studios in Blackburn), Norman Lovett (with his sprayed-on hair looking much better in the doc than it did in the episode) and Mac McDonald (aka Winston Churchill) pop by to say hello.
Plenty of brand new guest stars feature too, and the overriding theme is that they were all really chuffed to be there, particularly long term fans like Ryan Gage, Johnny Vegas and Ian Boldsworth. It was particularly heartwarming to see the love reciprocated for the latter, with Chris describing Ian/Ray as the best warm-up guy the show’s ever had. The only notable omission is James Buckley, although I can’t be sure I’d have noticed if I hadn’t read a comment pointing it out. One of his fellow mechanoids, Laura Checkley, is perhaps my favourite guest interviewee, simply because she appears with her mask on, and the combination of that visual and her endearing enthusiasm for the role makes for an amusingly bizarre spectacle.
Documentary stalwart Doug is on particularly good form, and with no major behind-the-scenes headaches to recount, he instead takes the opportunity to open up about his motivation and inspiration for certain ideas. I certainly empathise with his jealousy of people with normal jobs, if not his desire to become a dog, and was greatly amused by him describing himself as a supplier of “the good shit” when it comes to people who seem to love criticising his work. On that note, there’s a possible attempt to head off any potential criticism about Cat killing Telford being out of character, although that turned out to be much smaller than some of the other debates this series generated, which shows it’s not always easy to predict how fans will react. Doug also provides the funniest line of the documentary: “If Hitler were reincarnated somehow, there’s no way he’d be able to be a recording star.”
As well as the interviews, the main feature is of course the little glimpses of life in the studio, with Nathan Cubitt’s monopod on hand to capture every intimate detail. It’s great to see the cast working through the grenade joke on the set of Cured, witnessing the spark of the idea, the improvisation and the refinement. Danny’s mechanoid dance was a comedic highlight, along with Craig corpsing every time Mr Rat did anything, and the fact that Steve Coogan is clearly visible on the set of Red Dwarf at one point, but everyone’s much more interested in John Pomphrey. There’s even a back-reference to a previously unearthed intimate moment – the M-Corp section starts with Danny quoting his 1988 self complaining about how he should be the one to do a “comedy spray”. Possibly the nerdiest in-joke ever to be committed to shiny disc.
Many of the big behind-the-scenes revelations, such as how Norman’s return came about, and how the cast drove Doug to write The One Where Everyone’s Kryten, have already come to light since the interviews we recorded, but there’s still much to be gleaned from the doc. We learn that Craig is to blame for the Mechanoid Liberation Front acronym gaining an I, that Robert was ill with a “leaking cock” during the filming of Timewave, and that the ending to M-Corp wasn’t recorded on the night because there wasn’t time for Craig to change into his retro costume. Most substantially, the ending to Cured could have been very different, as it was originally intended that Professor Telford was Hitler in disguise all along. This really is a cracking documentary, and my only complaint this time round is that I still want more of it.
It ends on a self-reflective note, with cast and crew wondering if recording twelve episodes in a row was a good idea or not. The consensus is that it probably was, as making Red Dwarf is knackering anyway, and they’d really got into their stride by the end. When you consider that the final three episodes of XII are perhaps the strongest of the twelve, that makes sense. Interestingly, Doug and Richard both seem adamant that any future series would benefit from having an extra week dedicated to rehearsals between each recording session. Slowly but surely, the process of making Red Dwarf is continually being tweaked in pursuit of perfection, and once again the prospect of further episodes is being talked about with a decent amount of certainty.
So while the documentary has made great strides in making up for the disappointments of the Series XI release, sadly the deleted scenes are still not up to scratch. The duration is a measly eight minutes, only eleven individual moments feature, and once again we’re lacking any captions or commentary for context. In fact, the scenes all run into one another, making it feel like a compilation instead of a complete collection. Perhaps there simply wasn’t very much footage removed from XII – which would tally with the short running time of several episodes – but given that there were deleted scenes from XI that never saw the light of day, there’s no way of knowing, and the presentation of this package doesn’t help.
Indeed, a couple of the moments featured aren’t really deleted scenes at all, but are instead storyboard versions of effects sequences, put together with commentary from a cast member to fill in the gaps for the audience. This is not a complaint, as it’s great to see these temporary fixes preserved for posterity. Many of the excised snippets are brief, particularly the one from Mechocracy, which is strangely inserted between the Cured and Siliconia sections. The most substantial cuts are the pair of criticism addicts from Timewave, who weren’t brilliant but equally not the first thing I’d cut from that episode, and the extended entrance for Mr Rat, which is hilarious in itself, but a well-judged edit, as the version in the final episode has so much impact.
Plus, of course, the original ending to Siliconia, in which Lister, Cat and Rimmer perform Baby, Don’t Be Ovulatin’ Tonight. This really is quite something, although I’m not sure what. The song has been retconned as an original Lister composition, and following on from his success with The Indling Song, it mostly consists of verbs that rhyme with the one in the title. I’m not sure how I’d feel if this was part of an actual episode, but as an isolated scene it’s pretty funny, thanks to the technical quality of Danny’s harmony part, and the comedic quality of Chris’s.
Ah, now despite the similar running time, this one is an improvement on last year. The snappy editing has been dialled back a notch, allowing for a lot more breathing space to savour and enjoy each fluff. Highlights include Robert/Kryten suddenly noticing the absence of a camera, a montage of prop-based clangers including Craig as Captain Lister failing to pick up a burger, and Chris accidentally going Geordie. A more old-fashioned comedy accent is adopted by Craig and Robert when the latter accidentally says “Mr Limmer”, but let’s not go into that. This feature also manages to clear up one of the few remaining mysteries from this production block – the source of that Series XI publicity shot of Cat and Lister both laughing on the sofa. It was, of course, taken during a Smeg Up that happened in a different series.
The Speed of Dark: Lighting Red Dwarf
So now we move on to these extra behind-the-scenes features, which we knew nothing about until a couple of weeks ago. Very little fanfare has been given for them, and they’re very much there for the hardcore fans. First up is a very thorough look at how Series XII was lit, including how much DoP Ed Moore likes to tit about whenever the behind-the-scenes camera is nearby. Ed talks us through how he and his team used a vast amount of LED ribbon in place of traditional studio lighting, demonstrates the control and flexibility that this gave them, and there’s even a how-to-guide from Ziggy Jacobs-Wyburn and Nick Dale, allowing you to make your own Red Dwarf style light boxes at home.
As the type of fan that likes to obsess over every detail of the show, this feature is right up my street, although that’s not going to be the case for everyone. Across these extra extras, there isn’t quite the level of polish and tightening that’s given to the main documentary, with some sections feeling a little repetitive, and no real impetus to move the narrative forward with any urgency. Instead, the desire seems to be to give the fans absolutely everything that’s not being used in the main doc, allowing the interested parties to wallow in their geekiness, without making any attempt to court those who’d never watch a feature on lighting in the first place. It doesn’t make for the most dynamic seventeen and a half minutes you’ll ever watch, but then if it was done in the same style as the main doc, we wouldn’t be getting seventeen and a half minutes of it.
Lighting Red Dwarf – Then and Now
But that’s clearly not enough about lighting, as here’s a twenty-three minute conversation between Ed Moore and who Ed Moore would turn into if he quantum skipped back to the Series 1 era, John Pomphrey. This is an absolute joy, with that podcast-like appeal of hearing two friendly and knowledgeable people talking at length about a subject they really care about. Ed is rightfully reverential of John, but equally John seems genuinely impressed with Ed’s work, and so it’s another of those heart-warming love-ins, with the pair happily swapping war stories and indulging in vast amounts of mutual praise.
While there’s again a bit of a lack of polish that separates it from classic era features like Settling The Score or Building A Better Universe, it’s right up there as one of the great extraordinarily esoteric extras of all time. How apt that it should have happened as part of Series XII, which itself reached back into the show’s illustrious history in order to tell modern day stories. Now, in addition to Norm, Mac and David Ross, another legend has returned to say hello.
A Font to the Senses
This is graphic designer Matthew Clark’s turn to show off his work, as indeed he has been doing on Twitter during the course of the series. His portion isn’t as big as Ed Moore’s, but he uses it well, with lots of juicy details to freeze-frame and pore over. You get a real insight into his working process, and it paints a picture of a man who’s only happy when absolutely every detail has been filled in as comprehensively as possible. Designs that you see on-screen for seconds – if at all – are packed full of in-jokes and in-universe specificities, making the world of Red Dwarf that little bit richer with every prop, print-out and sticker.
A New Model Army
In place of the traditional compilation of raw effects footage, given that much of the material for XII actually appeared as part of XI’s feature, instead we get a more authored piece on the model shoot for the series, with DoP Nigel Stone talking us through the process as we see it unfold, along with Andy Rolfe and Peter Seymour Howell of the Magic Camera Company and of course our old friend Mike Tucker. It’s always a thrill to see Mike and his Model Unit buddies Nick Kool and ‘Rocky’ Marshall in the vicinity of a Starbug, and this is no exception.
Of particular interest are the details of how the various teams worked together, with different people responsible for the build, the operation and the shooting of the models, rather than it being all under one visual effects umbrella as it was in the old days. As Ed and John discussed in the lighting feature, many of the techniques remain the same, even though the technology has changed, and the trick is always in finding the balance. Another fantastic feature that feels like the target audience is precisely me. I don’t think we’ve ever seen quite so much model nerdery all in one place.
Flying By Wireframe
Meanwhile, this feature covers the digital side of the visual effects, including stuff from XI as well as XII. Painstaking 3D modelling, compositing and digital clean-up is never going to be quite as much fun to watch unfold as middle aged men smashing toy spaceships around, but at least this feature gives us some much needed context to the rough versions of the shots. The last DVD just had a compilation of comps in various stages of completion, but this feature takes the additional step of actually telling us what we’re seeing, and how it’s all done, which unsurprisingly helps a lot.
In Space They Can Hear You Scream
With lighting, design, effects and editing ticked off, sound is the last remaining techy area to cover, with Rikki Hanson guiding us through issue after issue after issue that all the other departments caused him. From ceilings that were too low, to ceilings that were too high, to sets that completely blocked the boom operators’ view, and the difficulties of hiding a radio mic within costumes that weren’t designed to incorporate radio mics. Poor bugger.
The Sands of Stuntbug
And Rikki presumably wouldn’t be happy with the sound on this final mini-doc on the list, which starts off noticeably quieter than everything else on the disc, and later involves Phil O’Connell having to shout over the sound of a 3D printer in action, which is admittedly hard to avoid when the piece is about how 3D printing works. We see the whole process, from scanning to modelling to printing to clean-up, and that last part is particularly satisfying to watch, as the protective white powder is dusted away to reveal the model buried underneath. As with all these extras, it’s serving a very niche audience, but if you’re part of that audience, this content is gold.
What’s Not There
Yes, sadly we can’t quite ditch this unwanted section of the review just yet, as despite huge strides in the right direction, the standard set by the original releases is still slightly out of reach. The main thing is, once again, the lack of commentaries – something which Doug acknowledged this time last year, but which hasn’t been resolved this time. There’s still no isolated music cues either, and some of the traditional features that did return for XI, namely the collection of trailers and the image gallery, have gone missing once more. There’s no leaflet or booklet of any kind, not even one advertising the latest merch or whatnot, and the sticker community is still woefully neglected.
But hey. This time last year, I was glumly reflecting on how even Red Dwarf wasn’t immune from the general decline in the quality of physical media releases in recent years. While the Series XII release clearly suffers from the same lack of resources as the Series XI one, leading to similar issues with all the headline features, it handles the problem much better. From simple things like a keener eye for detail, to refinements like the change of focus for the main documentary, to the unexpected inclusion of so many extra bonus features, it all adds up to an overall package that leaves me a lot happier than I was a year ago.
Unlike XI, it feels just as jam-packed as the original releases – even if the running time doesn’t quite add up, the important thing is that when I got to the end of Disc Two, I didn’t feel like I’d been short-changed this time. Whether these cobbled-together extra bits have the same rewatch value as the classic features of old remains to be seen, but for now at least, we can conclude that just as the episodes became more refined towards the end of the mammoth XI-XII production run, the same is true of the Bluray and DVD releases.