As we eagerly await the release of the original series on DVD, we look back at the short-lived Remastered series and ask simply: why?
With the seventh series of Red Dwarf complete and the number of episodes up to 44, the fact that they were so close to the magical 52 episode mark played heavy on the minds of those over at Grant Naylor Productions. As soon as they reached 52, enough episodes for each week of the year, the programme could be syndicated and sold all over the world. This meant mega-bucks for GNP, and of course a big budget for the proposed movie.
But there was a problem. The vast majority of syndicated shows are American. And in the good ol’ U.S. of A., an average season lasts for about 22-26 episodes, not the meagre six or so episodes we get in the UK. Of course, the length of the series means that the quality sometimes suffers in American shows, but given that 52 episodes of an American show come from just two or three seasons, the visual quality and production values are usually even throughout. Therefore, it was a problem that 52 episodes of Red Dwarf represent 8 series, made over a period of 11 years.
The way they deemed suitable to remedy this was by re-editing the first three series. This was not, however, a new idea. Shortly before the recording of Series Four, Rob and Doug were interviewed by then-Better Than Life editor Nic Farey. This is what they had to say about the possibility of releasing Series One on video:
Rob: One problem we do have is that we think the production values aren’t nearly as good as we’d like them. We were trying things and making mistakes, and we asked the Beeb if they’d give us the budget to re-edit some of the shows, and they said there’s no money for it, so…
Nic: No, don’t do it!
Rob: Just put it straight out?
Nic: They tried to do that with some of the Thunderbirds shows. They’ve re-edited the first couple of Thunderbirds tapes, and it’s not as good.
Nic: People weren’t pleased. The fans wanted to see it as it was originally shown.
Rob: Right, yeah. Fair enough.
They (or, rather, Doug) obviously had a change of heart by late 1997, when the Remastered videos were announced. The first glimpse we got of their handiwork was as part of the 10th Anniversary celebrations on Friday, 13th February 1998, as BBC2 showed The End Remastered, along with a short promo showing what they’d done to the series. After another sneak peek in the A-Z the following evening, the first two videos were released on Monday, 16th February, with another video released every fortnight for five weeks.
The biggest change they made was applying a film effect to the episodes. Whatever your opinion on the use of this in British television, you cannot deny that this looked crap on Remastered Red Dwarf. Most shows that have a film effect applied, including Red Dwarf VII, are lit in a certain way so the end result resembles film as much as possible. Red Dwarf was lit for normal videotape, and as such the picture looks dark and grainy, with dodgy motion blur.
One of the most notable alterations was the removal of certain dialogue. George McIntrye’s speech in The End was barely a speech at all. The entire ‘Black Card’ sequence from Balance of Power, one of the best dialogues in the series in my opinion, was removed. One of the finest visual gags in Series II, Cat’s mermaid girlfriend in Better Than Life was completely obliterated.
With most Re-mastered episodes only differing from the original episodes by a few seconds, most these changes were done to accomodate extra effects – which added little or nothing to the plot. One of the main reasons why it is argued that Series I has dated slightly is that the pace is slower than later series. Yet these CGI shots slowed the pace down immeasurably. And frankly, to make a show look less cheap, you could do better than replacing the most expensive-looking parts of the show with inferior CGI. Some changes were done to remove various things GNP felt were less than successful, of course – such as George McIntyre’s speech at his funeral. But nothing can forgive the removal of the Black Card/White Card dialogue in Balance Of Power.
Another odd thing was that some of Norman Lovett’s dialogue in Series I and II was re-recorded. Some of this seems to be to remove any jokes with references deemed too English, e.g. replacing Felicity Kendall’s bottom with that of Marilyn Monroe, and some was too add a bit of extra humour to the character of Holly, particularly in Series I. However, these extra jokes seem out of place and forced, and they are not particularly funny. Also, the full-screen 1997 re-recordings of Norman Lovett sit uneasily with the 1988 version in the background – it jars horribly, and makes the show look far worse than it did originally, over-pixellation or not.
One of the good changes to have taken place in the Remastered series was the improved sound quality. Due to the age of the programme, the sound was monoraul, as so would indeed look out of place next to the stereo sound of Series IV onwards. However, this was marred by a series of silly non-digetic sound effects that were pasted over the top. Some of these were very distracting, particularly when important dialogue was taking place in the foreground. Others were plain awful, such as an off-screen Rimmer crashing into what sounds like pots and pans in The End, despite his hologrammatic status.
Some of the minor changes made were totally inexplicable. Drawing new pictures for the Cat Bible in Waiting For God, for example, thus denying us of very good Bayeux Tapestry-style drawings. Re-dubbing the voice of Rimmer’s Mum in Polymorph was also baffling, as well as totally out of synch in places. And as for the ‘epilogue’ at the end of that episode, I felt like throwing a brick at the telly.
After a while it became apparent that Series IV-VI would not be getting the same treatment. The videos did not sell well and the fans were not happy, just as Nic predicted back in 1990. When Red Dwarf VIII reverted to normal video, the fate of the Remastered episodes was in the balance, particularly in Back In The Red (Part One), when a reference is made to the ship changing shape. The ship in Series VIII was more or less the same as that in the Remastered series, so if the ship has cahnged shape since Series I, the Remastered series is not part of Red Dwarf continuity.
(This has been explained by saying that for Remastered viewers, the ship changing shape would only refer to the inside, rather than the outside of the ship. Not only is this very tenuous, but the lack of Remastered versions of series IV and V further adds to the confusion if you follow that route. And nothing explains why the Dwarfers encountered the original version of the ship at the end of Nanarchy, or why Starbug’s hanger looks completely different between the two episodes, or… <snip>)
These suspicions were confirmed when it was announced that it would be the original series that will be released on DVD. The series has been remastered again, however this is merely a process to clean-up the original picture and sound, which look a bit dodgy nearly 15 years on.
Wouldn’t it have saved us all this trouble if they’d have just done that in the first place?