On the 24th April 2002 I pre-ordered my copy of Red Dwarf Series I on DVD. Back then I had no idea what to expect. In fact back then I assumed we would have the re-mastered episodes and a few paltry extras.
The first bit of DVD news to creep on to the Official Red Dwarf site told us we were getting the original episodes, which was a huge bonus for the majority of the Red Dwarf fan base. More news then followed informing us of the wealth of extras to expect; commentaries, a documentary called “Launching Red Dwarf”, deleted scenes and more.
That is when I realised with a start that these DVDs were not only going to be great, they were going to be very special indeed.
And so on Saturday the 2nd of November all two disks of Red Dwarf Series I arrived on my doormat. Eagerly, and with shaking hands, I opened the wrapper, hurtled in to the front room and there I sat for a next 4 hours.
DISK I – Episodes I to VI and commentary
Well, we all know about the Series itself. It is quite obviously, the first, and at times it shows. The writing is as solid as any series to follow but some cracks in Craig Charles’ performance sometimes show (you can hardly blame him though, it was his first acting job). Chris Barrie is utterly fantastic in the role of Rimmer and Norman Lovett and Danny John-Jules nail the roles of Holly and the Cat brilliantly.
The image and sound have both been through a filter to give us a clearer presentation all round and its a world better than the technique used on the re-mastered versions. I know it sounds silly but I have noticed the odd word or two that, for some reason, I missed in the VHS version and picked up in the DVD version. This could be down to my knackered VHS copies, however.
The one thing that instantly stands out about this release though (mainly because it’s the first thing you come to) are the animated menus. They have been beautifully crafted by a company called Digital Deluxe and really are the mutt’s nuts. They use a CGI Drive Room for the main menu, complete with roaming Skutters and wonderful attention to detail such as a pile of fish boxes on the table. The mark of a big fan (namely Andrew Ellard) has definitely been made here. In another area you have six stasis booths for episode selection and a bank of monitors for the subsequent scene selection.
On disk II the bunk room is used for the extras menu and comes complete with extra bits of detail like Lennon and McCartney in their fish tank, Lister’s guitar, Talkie Toaster on the table, the Wall monitor and all of Lister’s posters. I could go on, but I will sum it up by saying that these menus are a total work of art and recreate the sets from the show in every beautiful and minute detail.
And now on the main draw of disk 1, apart from the episodes of course, the commentaries. While it’s a shame that Doug didn’t contribute along with the main cast members it certainly adds a much more personal touch having Craig, Chris, Danny and Norman going on about what the shooting was like for them along with all the funny stories surrounding the filming, rather than Doug dissecting every scene and basically picking his work to bits (which is, lets face it, what he would do). Having said that there is a bonus commentary for ‘The End’ featuring Doug Naylor, Rob Grant and Ed Bye (director) but this was taken from an interview CD given out with a box set of videos some years ago and it doesn’t even have any relation to what’s happening on screen. Slightly disappointing but nice for those who have not heard this interview before.
Going back to the main commentary and the chemistry between the actors has, quite obviously, not been lost, with some wonderful interaction (usually the rest picking on Norman or commenting on the size of Chris’ package) going on all the time.
Disk II – The Extras
The main menu is essentially the same as disk I, set in the drive room and with Holly blabbing into your ear.
The “Launching Red Dwarf” documentary is an excellent compendium of interviews, new and old, regarding the topic of getting Red Dwarf off the ground on to our screens. The most interesting part has to be the interview with Peter Ridsdale-Scott who was basically the reason Red Dwarf got on to the BBC. He loved the pilot and he got it a commission with BBC Manchester, along with Paul Jackson, and even persuaded the BBC to re-mount the project after the electrician’s strikes and all the money running out. I must buy him pint one day. The rest of the interviews are very good and include brand new interview material with Doug Naylor, Craig Charles, Chris Barrie and Danny John-Jules.
The rest of disk’s content (all accessible through the bunk room menu screen) is just as superb and includes the following:
Photo gallery – A little collection of images ranging from production photos to the original art work used on the VHS covers. Nothing we haven’t seen before, apart from the original requisition form to build Red Dwarf and some Skutter concept art that would be later used on a new t-shirt design.
Deleted Scenes – over 20 minutes of deleted stuff that, in the main, deserved to be on the cutting room floor. However it is worth it for the extra dialogue (some of which was used in the original pilot script) and an interesting continuity fix from Me2.
Smeg Ups – Nothing we haven’t seen before on the two VHS productions, Smeg Ups and Smeg Outs. You even get a few Series II Holly clips for good measure. Don’t ask why because I don’t know. Also, the ‘Souper’ smeg up scene doesn’t seem to be included, which is a shame.
Original BBC2 trailer – Ahh, original continuity. Fascinating stuff but it’s a shame we just get one of them.
“Drunk” Featurette – A mix of clips from all 8 series set to the music of Chumba Wumba with ‘Tubthumping’. Unsurprisingly the main theme of the clips are alcohol and its side effects. A nice little diversion and a concept that should be used throughout all 8 DVDs.
Japanese Version of “The End” – There’s no reason to have this on a British DVD other than to laugh at the novelty of watching scenes you know and love in another language. It’s interesting to hear the Japanese representations of the crew and the different tones they use for the gags. A nice idea that could have been more effective if they just gave us a clip or two.
Isolated Music Cues – Some wonderful music taken from the episodes. The pick of the bunch has to be the variation on the Red Dwarf music, entitled ‘Space Walk’, as used in the episode ‘Confidence and Paranoia’.
Special Effects Raw Footage – A lovely collection of the original 8mm film rushes of all the model shots done for the first series. The very fact that this is included shows the intention to cater for all grades of fans. Utterly brilliant.
Talking Book Chapters – Another filler feature but some effort has been made to make the clips of the audio books relevant to the happenings in Series I. Certainly a worthwhile addition.
In summary then: A fantastic start to the DVD saga and certainly a cut above any current sit-com DVDs. The best new Red Dwarf production since “Out of Time”.