Ups. Outs. Broadcast. VII. VIII. Good? Read.
Just The Smegs, then. A release that the idea of which even split the loyal G&T audience down the middle – both Smeg Ups and Smeg Outs, as released on VHS in the 90s, the broadcast episode of Smeg Ups as seen on Red Dwarf Night, and the Series VII smegs (as seen on the Xtended video, and VIII smegs (as seen on the two VIII VHS releases). A bumper collection of hilarity for a cheap, cheap price – or a lazy milking of the fans’ engorged teats?
First of all, it can’t be said often enough: the title of this release is brilliant.
The cover, however, I’m not so keen on. I really like the covers on the original VHS releases – the idea of the garbage disposal is very clever – but they also scream mid-90s, which means that they wouldn’t be suitable for reuse here. But they do mean that the cover of this release has something to live up to.
Unfortunately, the front cover here is just… well, a bit dull. The film strip is fine, but hardly striking, and the digital lettering makes it look oddly dated, and a bit ugly – which is the same problem VIII had with some of its on-screen captions. It works, but nothing more than that – which is something you can’t say for any other Dwarf DVD release. Not even Just The Shows, whose minimalist covers are a thing of beauty – albeit perhaps not suitable for a release such as this.
I can’t help but feel that a nice piece of artwork, like Beat The Geek had , would have been a nice way to go here. Sure, this is supposed to be a budget DVD – but part of the reason I would enjoy owning this when I already own most of the material twice over in various forms is to have something nice to put on the shelf.
The back cover is much better designed, and is an excellent introduction to the contents. But: why the hell is the R in ‘RED DWARF’ in red on the spine? It should be the other D!
Open it up, and you get the DVD checklist and the merchandise leaflet, as with the Bodysnatcher release – and the picture disc itself, in the same style as the cover and menus. Ah, yes, the menus:
Functional. Two static screens; one for the main features of Smeg Ups and Outs, and one for the bonus items. Unfortunately, however, these are the first menus on a Dwarf release that I dislike – the green digital text is back again, and the pictures of Kryten and Lister aren’t particularly good quality. The Just The Shows menus were beautiful in their own right – these look, dare I say it, slightly tacky. And whilst I can see what they were trying to do – slightly wacky pictures, in an attempt to reflect the contents of the release – I just don’t think it works. Maybe something along the lines of selecting options from the Red Dwarf mainframe would have been better – that would have tied it into the linking material of Smeg Ups and Outs really well.
But hey, they’re clear, and they work, quickly and easily. Whilst there are chapters for the specials, there are no chapter selection screens – but to be honest I never use them anyway. (The chapter points themselves are well-placed – one at each major Kryten link.) And bonus points for the Subtitles option – unlike The Bodysnatcher Collection, you simply switch the subtitles on and off from the main menu, rather than the faff of going to a separate screen.
SMEGAZINE: The potential must be there to release a video of out-takes, mustn’t it?
GRAHAM HUTCHINGS: I’m a bit anti out-takes, to be honest with you. I think it’s cheap television and very passive, and I think you get fed up of seeing people falling over and stumbling over their lines. There aren’t very many actually, there aren’t many brilliant out-takes. – Interview with Graham Hutchings, Smegazine Issue 13
Wrong, wrong, absolutely brimming over with wrongability. They’re great. You can reduce it down to the level of seeing people falling over and stumbling over their lines if you want, but that’s just simplistic and wrong. They don’t even fall over that much, for a start; the stumbling over the lines is usually the prelude to an amusing adlib; it’s only passive television if you let it be (although one could question what’s wrong with watching a bit of passive television in the first place); whether something is cheap television or not is irrelevant, it’s how entertaining it is; and finally, there are a great many brilliant outtakes here. It’s hard to figure out how he could have been more wrong. (Still, at least he attempts to come up with a decent argument, rather than just making snide asides. Howarth, Lyons – report to my office.)
I have fond memories of watching Smeg Ups on Christmas morning in 1994. That was the year that I got into Dwarf, during the repeat season that year – and I don’t think I’ve ever been that excited about a video before or since. Just the very idea of outtakes from my favourite show got me hyped up – but when you start watching it, what’s great is that they’re so fucking funny. From the moment of the “Stone!” outtake onwards, you know you’re in safe hands.
I love these for so many reasons – not least of which is that it’s just a joy seeing the cast mucking around and bouncing off each other. When Danny misses his cue after Chris’s “Stay alert!” line – the fuck up is funny in itself, but what makes it is Chris’s reaction to it. I find outtakes funny at the best of times – but when you’ve got a cast that’s as versed in comedy and adlibbing at this, rather than just looking embarassed and awaiting the retake – that’s what makes Dwarf outtakes so special.
Tying all these together, of course, are the Kryten links. These have come in for criticism in their time – and yes, they’re not the funniest thing in the world. (Indeed, I did cringe slightly at a few of them on that aforementioned Christmas morning – and that was long before I was as sneering and cynical as I am now.) But they’re occasionally amusing, incredibly likable, and tie the show together, so they certainly do their job. There’s the odd annoyance – the lines “2X4B – such a jerky middle name. Why didn’t they just call me Cecil and have done with it?” seem to misunderstand what was funny about that joke in The Last Day in the first place, and stuff like “So, let’s log-on and meet the crew in this first section of bloopers – which I have decided to call ‘the first section of bloopers'” is just weak – but then something amusing like the idea of a “24-hour groinal attachment emergency callout” comes along. Or, when introducing the Gunmen bullets outtakes: “And you know, some of the people who are helping with this shot had been to university. Extrordinary.” A mix then, but they’re hardly a disaster by any means. And Llewellyn’s performance is great.
Indeed, the links are an odd thing in themselves; a rare example of a character existing halfway between our world and Dwarf‘s. (The only other examples I can think of are Kryten’s “Last week on Red Dwarf“ at the beginning of Nanarchy, and the PBS idents on the VIII DVD. Can’t Smeg Won’t Smeg fits into the Dwarf universe at a pinch, I would argue.) The fact that it doesn’t feel remotely awkward or odd – on that score, at least – shows how skilful the writing of the links generally is, even when they sometimes don’t quite deliver on the comedy front.
Still, the quality of the links isn’t everything; the flow of the material is the main attraction here. Compared to the series-by-series compilations, it just works a huge amount better as an entertaining piece in its own right. The perfect example of this is the section with Danny forgetting his lines – individually in the main series releases, it’s relatively amusing – but edited together one after the other here, the cumulative effect is fucking hysterical, with the line “Anything else coming Mr. Cat?” topping the whole thing off. This can’t be stressed enough – it’s the editing that makes this release, and it’s something that the series-by-series releases by their very nature couldn’t hope to emulate.
Also included is the”original ending of Series VI” – this was especially great to see when Smeg Ups was first released, as it was incredibly rare to see cut stuff from TV shows back in 1994. In these days of DVDs, it’s easy to forget just how amazing it was to see at the time. Of course, with the VI DVD now on any fan’s shelf, the impact of it is dulled – but still, it’s fascinating to compare for a moment the version of the original ending shown here with its fuller presentation on the VI DVD.
In Smeg Ups, the ending is nearly exactly as broadcast – except we fade from the explosion of Starbug, straight to the additional Margaritas scene in the mid-section. The VI DVD version, on the other hand, doesn’t have the final sound mix (no music or explosion sounds), includes an additional shot in the cockpit of DEAD LISTER, has extra footage in the corridor of everything fading back to normal (and Rimmer saying “Smeg! I’m a hero!”), doesn’t include the model shot of Starbug exploding, and fades to the Margaritas scene straight from the corridor. The Smeg Ups version is far smoother, but less interesting and frankly sanatised, wheras the version on the VI DVD is very much rougher – but more truthful to that original ending, which would not have included that final model shot. It’s tempting to draw the conclusion that DVD has made audiences have become more accepting of seeing rough footage in context, although it’s also true that they were probably trying not to jar the audience too much in the Smeg Ups version, it being part of a larger whole. It’s interesting to ruminate why they didn’t include the additional corridor footage, though. It may be nothing more than trying to keep rushes transfer costs down, or maybe it was just forgotten about, and all they really remembered was the famed Margaritas ending. Or maybe “Smeg! I’m a hero!” made them cringe as much as it does me…
The thing that still interests me about the Smeg Ups version of the ending though, is the additional Starbug in the top right of the model shot, which is missing in the broadcast version. It certainly makes sense in context – the Starbug we see is the other Starbug exploding, whearas ours survives – but was it a deliberate choice to include that version in the Smeg Ups? Or was it an accident? Presumably, both shots were created at the time of making VI – but why? I’d love to know the story behind this, although I doubt anyone remembers now.
Incidentally, did anyone ever get to the bottom of the statement made in Howarth and Lyons’ Programme Guide. which stated that the actual Margaritas scene was missing from Smeg Ups? Did they get a preview copy with an early edit – or were they just MAKING THINGS UP, as they did with their inaccurate description of Six Of The Best? (Which was, for your information, about the hologram – they assumed that the hologram included was the one stuck to the side of the case, whereas in fact one was included in the case. Clearly, this means they should NEVER HAVE BEEN EMPLOYED AGAIN.)
Back to the DVD, then. And unfortunately, there are a couple of edits made to this release compared to the original VHS version. The first is in Kryten’s link giving the ’10 Most Asked Questions About Red Dwarf‘; when the question about merchandise comes up, instead of the advert for the various bits of merchandise Kryten gives in the original release, we instead get an ad for reddwarf.co.uk, and mentioning some of the new merchandise – with shots of the website, and an all-new Kryten voiceover. The edit is pretty well done, and certainly no more jarring than the original at this point, where even then it was obvious the voiceover was done separately.
The second edit is rather more complicated, and needs a bit of background. What isn’t generally known about (mainly because people are too busy worrying about things such as WAR and FAMINE) is that there are actually two different versions of the Smeg Ups VHS. The original release included a Kryten link about a competition; after the section near the end of the video, where we see shots of the studio audience from the end of Gunmen, there was an additional Kryten link:
KRYTEN: Competition Time! Win the chance to appear in the next series of Red Dwarf as an extra, by answering three simple questions. You will find the entry form inside the cassette case of this video. Now, you have to be over 18 months, and under 106 to enter. One – what did one of the Psirens use as a full stop? Two – what attachments can I plug into my groinal socket? Three – what was odd about the ship’s parrot? So, enter this competition and you could win the chance to appear in a serious smeg up in a scene with me.
Cut to Starbug cockpit:
LISTER: Because the ident computer says they do. Stacked to the gills.
KRYTEN: It’s true sir. Rogue simulants always carry a lor-la-lor-la-lor-la-lor-la-lor-la-lor-la-lor – ching ching ching!
This is followed by Kryten’s link “Well, I can’t sit around here all day – I’ve got get out the smeg hammer and loosen Mr. Lister’s underwear”, as seen on the DVD.
Now, this G&T thread indicates that there was a second release of the Smeg Ups VHS, with this entire section missing – presumably released once the competition had closed. In that version, the whole lot is lopped out, smeg up at the end and all. On the DVD, the entire competition link is missing as well – however, the “ching-ching-ching!” smeg up has been included, in the set of smegs just before the cut link (sandwiched between Chris Barrie’s Lester Piggott impression, and Craig’s “Voyage to the bottom of the sea” pissing about – making a third version of Smeg Ups in all. Whether this was prepared back in the 90s, or – as I suspect – it was changed for this DVD release to include the missing smeg up, I can’t say for sure.
I have to say, these edits bug me. I can totally see why they were done – to make the release more relevant to people buying the release today. It’s true that outdated merchandise information and competition details won’t be of interest to the casual viewers who this release is aimed at – and there’s obviously problems giving outdated compo details anyway, especially with the current furore. Moreover, I can totally see why they wouldn’t want to pass up the opportunity to plug more recent Dwarf merchandise and the website – especially when the franchise isn’t perhaps in the best state its ever been in.
On the other hand, the purist in me hates the edits. The main series releases were merticulous in providing the episodes as broadcast, in their original form. For me, I can’t help but wish that the new “as broadcast” should be “as originally released”. Anything else erodes the release’s value as a historical document of the time – and to me, Smeg Ups is just as important as the main episodes of Dwarf. I hate them being chopped about in this way, even if the major competition edit was done back in the 90s. But admittedly, the factual nature of this release brings up special issues that just aren’t a problem with the actual episodes of Dwarf.
The solution then, would have been to include the missing material as an easter egg somewhere on the disc – with the appropriate disclaimers beforehand, obviously. This would have solved the problem neatly. I admit that it’s very few people who will be concerned about this – most people simply won’t give a buggery. But I care, I’m afraid, and it’s my review.
Still, enough moaning. It’s easy to forget, in these days of DVD extras, what a revelation Smeg Ups was back in 1994. Material like this for TV shows was incredibly rare – the odd clip on It’ll Be Alright On The Night was all you got, and you certainly never got sustained material about one show like this. I suspect it was, directly or indirectly, the impetus for a lot of the direct-to-video TV specials that came out in the second half of the nineties. Certainly, the excellent Bottom Fluff is almost certainly directly inspired by the release – even down to including deleted scenes. But is it a coincidence that things like Unbroadcastable Have I Got News For You – not a bloopers collection admittedly, but an episode of the show exclusive to VHS – came out merely a year later? I suspect not. Smeg Ups proved that exclusive VHS-only material based on TV shows could be profitable – and that’s an important legacy.
But forget the historical perspective for a moment – the show stands up today.Smeg Ups is a joy, from start to finish. For all the links that aren’t quite as amusing as they think they are, it remains a hugely satisfying viewing experience – again, far more so than the series-by-series Smeg Ups on the main DVD releases. It’s just bloody entertaining, and one of my favourite pieces of post-1993 Dwarf. A triumph.
And my favourite outtake? The crew BULLYING A CHICKEN.
The second special, first released in 1995, and mostly consisting of outtakes from the first three series, with the odd one from IV (unlike Smeg Ups, which only had material from IV-VI). And the first thing I noticed about Smeg Outs is the title sequence itself. Firstly, a few of the clips in the title sequence don’t actually make it into Smeg Outs itself – just why did it take us until 2004 to see the kippers scene cut from Dimension Jump properly? And secondly, the actual Smeg Outs title at the end of the sequence is very oddly done – a cut, awkwardly off-beat to the music, to a faintly crappy still caption. This contrasts sharply with the professional way the Smeg Ups title is done – faded properly, in-time to the music, and animated. It’s odd. And this slight feeling of oddness is symptomatic of Smeg Outs as a whole.
The show sees a slight extension to the format from Smeg Ups – as well as the smegs and a deleted scene, we also get footage from Dimension Jump ’95 and the full edit of the unfortunately immortal Tongue Tied. The former is a delight – Robert Llewellyn telling the best-ever version of Craig’s encounter with horses on Gunmen (“Eh, let’s hit it and see what happens!”), Craig Charles being amusing with a young kid (“Where are you from?” / “England…”), and Norman Lovett doing some great stand-up (“And Norm – when I’m doing a poo – don’t stare at me…”) – and I just wish there was more of it. (Someone should collect up as much video footage from past DJs as possible at some point, as they’re an interesting record of Dwarf fandom that’s in possible danger of being lost.) Also, what’s easy to forget now is that at the time, this was the first time in seven years that Norman Lovett had appeared in a GNP produced show…
The latter however, is… dull. I’ve never been hugely keen on the song at the best of times – it works fine in the episode, with the odd amusing moment, but anywhere outside that and it starts getting tedious – but it wouldn’t matter so much if they just played the video through once, and had done with it. Unfortunately, they don’t. They include a great big chunk at the start, and then a short snippet a bit later, and then another section, and then finally the full thing. It feels like padding – and that’s because that’s exactly what it is. If they were trying for some kind of linking device, then it’s superfluous – that’s what the Kryten introductions are for. It’s fair to say that I never noticed this at the time – but I was younger then, and goddamn it, I notice it now. What is worthy of note, however, is that the version of Tongue Tied in Smeg Outs has the animation from the 3 Bears in there – but the full version in the extras on the Series II DVD doesn’t. So, it’s nice to finally have it on DVD, for completist reasons at least.
Like Smeg Ups, there’s also a deleted scene included – the cut start of Marooned, with Lister, Cat and Kryten playing strip poker. Unlike the deleted scene in Smeg Ups, this scene is presented in exactly the same way on the Series III DVD – indeed, given the missing rushes tapes for Marooned, and the slightly-too-quick fadeout of the scene on the Series III DVD, presumably the scene was taken directly from Smeg Outs itself. Again, these days we’re rather spoilt with deleted scenes, and so it loses its impact somewhat – but at the time, I found the scene far more interesting than the deleted VI ending, simply because the effects work is so horrendous. What especially intrigues me is that they managed the head-on-a-table gag brilliantly with Rimmer in Stasis Leak – and yet were unable to replicate it properly here!
(It’s also interesting that there’s a smeg up included from Marooned that includes dialogue that never made it to the show, and isn’t included on the III DVD, as they couldn’t find the tape. Which suggests it was probably lost or misfiled during the making of Smeg Outs.)
Onto the smegs themselves, then. And one thing that’s different about Smeg Outs is that there is audience laughter over the location and pre-record scenes, unlike Smeg Ups – see, for instance, the material shot on the beach for Better Than Life. Clearly, they were aiming for consistancy with the stuff shot in front of an audience – but I personally don’t like it. I love the wonderful feeling you get during the pre-record scenes, when it’s just the crew reacting – for a start, you get a proper sense of what it was actually like on-set during the outtake, which the additional laughter erodes somewhat. And there’s a wonderful camaraderie you get when it’s just the crew and cast reacting on-set – see Kenny Everett’s Thames shows. I do wonder why they bothered to do it – the way Smeg Ups worked is perfect, and they didn’t need to change it.
But what intrigues me is – is this laughter genuine, from showing an audience the outtakes? Or is it simply laughter taken from elsewhere? You would hope it would be the former… but I can’t help but think it’s probably the latter. The Smeg Ups project happened after Series VI, and Series VII wasn’t yet recorded when Smeg Outs came along – so unless they showed the outtakes to an audience especially for the video (unlikely, frankly, given the expense), or it was shown at a convention to record a laugh track (not something I’ve heard happened, and surely it would be difficult setting up the microphones in a convention environment), it must be, for want of a better word, fake. Canned. Which is just intensely irritating.
The actual clips, however, are great. This is from a time when the actors were less comfortable with an audience and with each other, and so perhaps the hit ratio is slightly less than Smeg Ups – but they’re still fantastic. Craig leaning into shot and grinning when Chris fucks up his line will never bore me, no matter how many times I see it. Or Chris making faces about the floor manager. Or David Ross polishing a sound guy. Or: “You certainly will, you little git.” Not only are they amusing, but they also give a great insight into the making of the show, and what it was like on the studio floor, and what the cast were like. Compare the embarrassed face of Craig Charles in some of the Series 1 outtakes to his confidence in the VI stuff in Smeg Ups.
The links in Smeg Outs work better, generally, than in Smeg Ups – there are less flat jokes, and the stuff with Spare Head 3 is genuinely great. There’s also a wonderful moment with Kryten throwing away one of his question cards and angrily declaring “So stupid!”, which is precisely 27465% funnier than it sounds written down. The appearance of Lister livens things up as well. Perhaps the great joy of this release is revisiting the show and noticing all the things I never spotted before – the carrier bag that Spare Head 3 is carried in has “Bibby’s” emblazoned on the side.
Speaking of which, here’s something interesting: five of the links are clearly shot at a different recording session to the others. This is something I NEVER NOTICED at the time, but when skipping chapters on the DVD, it becomes immediately obvious – the background set looks slightly different, Kryten is framed differently, and the lighting is totally different. Skip between chapters 7 and 8 and you’ll see immediately what I’m on about. The links occur during the last half of the programme, and the most bizarre example comes in the ’10 More Most Asked Questions About Red Dwarf‘ section – the bit introducing the original clip from Backwards is from one session, whereas the shot a few moments later introducing the reversed version is from the other!
It’s especially weird because links for a direct-to-video production aren’t the kind of thing you’d expect two different sessions for – you’d think it would be done as economically as possible. So the question is: what links are the reshoot – those five links, or the rest of the material? And more importantly, why was it reshot? (I have to say, I think the links that make up the majority of the footage look far better than those five odd links.) There’s a STORY here, and I want to know what it is.
Onto the edits then, – because yes, Smeg Outs has been edited too. The merchandise section has been changed again – to be fair, extremely cleverly, with Robert’s spiel about the books following on directly from the new material, and then cutting back to the visuals mid-sentence so it all flows together. Again, I’m not really that happy that it’s been done, although I totally understand why – but the actual edit is really well done.
Unfortunately, however, the competition details have also been edited out again. And unlike Smeg Ups, this is kinda a big deal for me – because, erm, it means my favourite Kryten link in the entirety of Smeg Ups/Outs has been cut! The edited link is as follows; stuff cut out is like this:
KRYTEN: And now it’s competition time! Tum, tum-tum tum tum tum TAAA. Yes, indeed, Mr and Mrs Viewer. You could win a night on the town with Spare Head 3!
KRYTEN picks up SH3 from out of his bag and holds him with the back of his head facing camera.
KRYTEN: Or a day on the set, for two people, on the next series of Red Dwarf. The choice is yours.
SPARE HEAD 3: Eurgh, it was horrible in that bag, it smells of mackerel!
KRYTEN: All you have to do is answer the following questions…
SPARE HEAD 3: I will not be a prize!
KRYTEN: Do shut up.
SPARE HEAD 3: You can’t just give me away, I’m blood! I’m family!
KRYTEN: Shut up!
SPARE HEAD 3: I will not end up like a nodding bloody dog on the back shelf of someone’s car! Have you got that, ya great Jessie?
KRYTEN: You’re going to be a prize, like it or lump it!
KRYTEN tosses SPARE HEAD 3 behind him. SPARE HEAD 3 continues to grumble continuously in the background.
KRYTEN: Question 1. What colour was Duane Dibley’s tooth brush?
SPARE HEAD 3: Who gives a *mumble*
KRYTEN: Question 2. What did the dispenser give Lister instead of a bacon sandwich with French mustard and black coffee?
SPARE HEAD 3: A knuckle sandwich!
KRYTEN: Question 3. How long did it take for me to panel beat my head back into shape?
SPARE HEAD 3: NOT LONG ENOUGH!
KRYTEN: And the competition address is at the end of this video.
SPARE HEAD 3: *cough* *grumble*
KRYTEN: Incidentally, the winner of the last Smeg Ups competition was Kara Williams of Gwent, South Wales. She will be an extra on Red Dwarf VII, most likely playing a cloth which we’ll use to mop up Mr. Lister’s curry.
SPARE HEAD 3: Yeah, if she’s lucky
KRYTEN: Now time for some more bloopers.
I’m not sure how well that comes across in text form – but on-screen I find it hysterical, and even just reading that over again has made me do a big LOL. Spare Head 3’s reactions to Kryten’s questions in particular – they have me on the floor. It’s just glorious – it’s the one bit of linking material that I think reaches the comedic heights that the series itself managed. You can’t really get a feel for it just by reading the transcript – a lot of it is in Robert’s fantastic performance. It’s by far by favourite linking material across any of the Smeg Ups releases. And it’s all bloody cut!
The competition edit on Smeg Ups irritated me – but I could see why it was done, and I’m aware that I’m in a huge minority in objecting to them. Same with all the merchandise edits. This however, really, really annoys me intensely – the first time a Dwarf DVD has even come close to doing that. I have no idea whether this is a new edit for the DVD, or whether it was – as I suspect – done back in the 90s for copies made when the competition closed. But it doesn’t really matter when it was done – all I know is that some of my favourite material is missing.
Am I overreacting? Possibly – I’m sure most people won’t care about this. But for me, it was the one link that I was HUGELY looking forward to seeing again, and the fact it’s not included really disappoints me. It’s just a real shame, and something that I feel hurts the release very much. At the very least, it should have been included as an easter egg (there’s certainly more justification for keeping this section than any of the other edits) – or better still, it could have been kept as part of the main feature, but with a disclaimer either before the show, or on-screen during the link. A bit awkward, maybe – but ANYTHING would have been better than deleting the funniest material in the entire show. This goes beyond me getting annoyed for purist reasons – I completely understand why the other edits were made, even if I don’t agree with them. But this edit just plain hurts the show, and for me badly – there’s no doubt about it. What’s worse is that with the removal of this material, the whole, erm, “plot thread” of the competiton announced at the start of the show no longer makes any sense at all! (For what it’s worth, Kryten’s voiceover recapping the competition at the end of the video is also cut.)
Smeg Outs then, for various reasons, is perhaps a less fufilling viewing experience than Ups – but it remains an excellent feature. With the added elements, Smeg Outs sometimes comes across less like a blooper show, and more like a Red Dwarf-themed magazine programme. Which is absolutely fine. But that damn edit…
Onto the bonus menu, then:
Smeg Ups Broadcast Edition
As seen on Red Dwarf Night. Half an hour of smeg ups from 1-VII, with all-new links recorded with Robert, Craig, and Chris. (It’s just a shame that Danny couldn’t have been involved.) To be honest, I’m not that keen on the links – Chris is quite funny, but in keeping with the time the special was made, Craig seems to have forgotten how to play Lister, rendering his stuff nowhere near as funny as on Outs. The script isn’t that great either – there’s a vaguely amusing Channel 5 joke near the end, and the odd line that makes me smile, but the material is rather thin. For me, it all has little of the warmth that Ups or Outs has that allowed them to get by, even when some of the material was dodgy. This is especially odd when you’ve got three people to bounce off.
The most notorious thing about this special – albiet on G&T and NOWHERE ELSE – is the redubbing of Danny’s line in the introductory smeg, from “NOEL EDMONDS!” to “Smeg ups! That’s gotta be smeg ups!” I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I find this incredibly annoying. The smeg ups are supposed to be “real”; to edit reality in this way is just really irritating, despite the fact that it’s obvious why it was done – to act as an introductory line into the titles. (To say nothing of the fact that the term “smeg ups” wasn’t even in use when V was shooting…) Mind you, what I really want to know is where the hell this piece of dialogue comes from – was it especially recorded? If so, when? Danny wasn’t involved in the day’s shooting of the links for this special…
As well as this, what’s interesting is that most of previous audience-less clips from Smeg Ups now have audience laughter on them, to fit in with the rest of the material. Again, is it real? Fake? It was shot before the rest of the Red Dwarf Night shows, so it can’t have been shown to an audience then. I suspect it’s fake stuff, which again, irritates me intensely. But whether it’s fake or real, as I said above, I think pre-recorded and location stuff should be allowed to stand on its own, as it was at the time. Take the laughter added to the outtake of Chris getting jammed in the door with a bazookoid – it’s far funnier when you just hear the crew laughing.
On a more positive note, the title sequence is marvellous. An odd mix of the Remastered Lister and the original series ship (why they didn’t use the Remastered ship I don’t know, as it would have been the obvious thing to do), “THE SMEG UPS” added to the side of the ship. It’s absolutely beautifully done – one of the best pieces of effects work ever done for Dwarf. Just lovely.
It’s interesting to note that this show was originally meant to be broadcast at Christmas 1997, and indeed was finished and delivered in time for this – eventually, it wasn’t shown then, and made it to our screens on Red Dwarf Night. I have to say, it would probably have come across to Red Dwarf fans better as a nice treat for Christmas, rather than a chunk of RDN – the former would have felt like a nice surprise, wheras the latter felt a bit too much like recycled material to take up half an hour. (Although it’s important to remember that RDN was intended for a more general audience than just Dwarf fandom.)
To be honest, I expected to enjoy this special rather more than I did upon revisiting it. Smeg Ups and Outs have stood up well – but I’m less enchanted with this. The smegs themselves work fine – but suffer from not being as cleverly put together as in the previous specials. The section that works best is the one about professionalism – but the rest meander along, with little to link them together. (And as the links are included on the VII DVD, then it’s even more of a shame that the show isn’t more than the sum of its parts, like the other specials are.) Still, for completists sake, I’m glad to have it, even if I wouldn’t choose to watch it over the other shows, so kudos to GNP for including it. I’m pretty sure the casual buyer might wonder what the fuck it’s doing on here – “What, all the outtakes that exist elsewhere on the disc, just with different links?” – but for all its faults, I’m glad it’s on here.
Series VII Smeg Ups
It’s smeg ups time. Again. This is the VII smeg ups, as taken from the Xtended video, Kryten link and all. This is exactly the same as the smeg ups collection on the VII release, bar the titles, so there’s little added value apart from convenience for the hardcore fan to include it here – but then, that isn’t really the point. This is clearly included as part of the release’s remit to be a companion piece to Just The Shows, so it’s only right and proper that it’s on here.
As for the smegs themselves – I find them slightly lacklustre. There’s the odd amusing moment – I like Chris getting a faceful of flame – but I don’t find them as entertaining as the previous six series worth. At least part of this is because there’s no interaction with the audience – but, then, I enjoy the pre-record stuff in Smeg Ups, so it’s not just that. It’s a nice insight into the production – and on the plus side, the production team finally seem to have got past adding laughter to the outtakes of this entirely pre-recorded series, so all you get are the genuine reactions from the crew at the time – but unlike the others, I don’t feel the need to keep going back and rewatching them.
Series VIII Smeg Ups Byte One/Byte Two
Yes, in two parts – this is presented exactly as it was split across the two VHS releases, weird speeded-up title sequence and all. Interestingly, the VIII DVD didn’t just take the two parts and stick them together – the smeg that ends Byte One (the amusing “I’m gonna cut off both his bollocks with me left hand!”“, ruined by Danny bleating on about how it’s a classic five seconds after Craig’s said it) was stuck at the end of the VIII DVD Smeg Ups compilation, rather than showing up in the middle – presumably as the fade-out gives a nice ending to the piece. A nice bit of work that nobody noticed before now.
These I find much funnier than the VII outtakes – not as funny as the ones for the first six series, but there’s some good moments in here. Of course, this also reflects my opinion of the series, which isn’t a coincidence. I do think the actual material is funnier here – but also, I feel more well-disposed towards VIII than VII, which is going to help me find any outtakes funnier. (I’d be interested in the opinions of people who prefer VII over VIII as to whether they also prefer the smeg ups of VII.) There’s some good stuff here – the highlight for me has to be Kryten exiting shot during the dinosaur trying to break the door down in Pete, which is impossible to put into words, but is fucking hilarious. Oh, and you feel really sorry for Ian Masters as Birdman when he, erm, takes a load in the face. And look – it’s an outtake from the Cesiumfrancolithic Myxialobidiumrixydixydoxhidexidroxhide ending of Only The Good… – which nobody really talked about much before the VIII DVD.
One thing that does annoy me here is a bleeped “blow” in the word “blow job” from Chloë Annett. I’ve generally avoided the issue of the bleeping in these specials – let’s just say I understand why they did it, it’s just that I have an issue with how swearing is viewed in wider terms in society – and at least the bleeps don’t usually interfere with the meaning of what’s being said. But here, I was genuinely confused as to what was meant – most of the time, the language is incidental to what’s actually funny about the clip, but here, it’s the entire point of it. And come on – Series 1 of Men Behaving Badly got away with a blow job at 8:30 on ITV. Not literally, of course. That would be… quite wonderful. Still, bleeping it was a decision taken back when the VHS was released, so I haven’t got an issue with the DVD replicating it – I suppose, if there was a time it should have been removed, it would have been on the VIII DVD.
Anyway, great stuff – again, of most value to those treating the release as a companion piece to Just The Shows, but I’m glad it’s on here – and it’s nice to have them as they were on the VHS releases. Although incredibly oddly, you can’t actually pause Byte One of the VIII Smeg Ups, whereas you can with every single other feature on the disc. A mistake in authoring, by the looks of it, which is a bit of a shame.
It’s probably time we faced the elephant in the room, then – the lack of new smeg ups on this release. Or rather, the white elephant: because I don’t really care. Yeah, sure, it would have been nice – but we’ve got new outtakes in the main series doccos in the standard releases, and on Bodysnatcher. We also know there are rights issues with including certain material. (It’s also true that if they had included fifteen minutes of new outtakes on here, then people would have complained that they were being forced to buy the release!) It’s just not something that bothers me.
However, the lack of contextual material is a shame. The first Smeg Ups special especially is a historically important piece, and I yearn to know more about it. A documentary would have been financially out of the question – but just a text track could have filled in the gaps. How did the project come about? What was Robert Llewellyn’s involvement in the writing? What was BBC Worldwide’s attitute to the project? How well did it sell? What was the shooting like? What does Doug think about it now? And whilst I can dream of a commentary with Doug Naylor, Ed Bye, and Robert Llewellyn, a text track would have solved this relatively cheaply. Or if not that, how about a short booklet, giving a bit of context for the release?
But we keep coming back to that name – Just The Smegs. It’s clearly intended as a companion piece to Just The Shows, and so a cheap release is exactly what we’re getting – and it’s hard to argue with £9.99 from Play. But then, the problem is that with Just The Shows, there is the option to buy the main series releases, and find out more about it – here, there is no other option. Maybe we’ve just been spoiled – and at a time when we’re given the wonderousness that is The Bodysnatcher Collection, perhaps we can’t begrudge a cheap release when that is the whole intention of the DVD. It’s not trying to be anything more than what it is.
Still, perhaps the subject could be covered in a Down Time article, as it’s a piece of Dwarf history that just hasn’t been examined in-depth. Indeed, it could be argued that an article might be more suitable than a text track. There’s just so much I want to know about the first two specials, that hasn’t been written about anywhere, and that I’m hugely interested about. Those odd links in Smeg Outs, for instance. To be fair, I never moaned about this at the time when the whole concept of the release was mooted – it’s the sheer quality of those first two specials that has made me realise I want to know more about them.
There has been criticism about the whole concept of Just The Smegs, as the series-by-series releases have included all the actual smegs themselves, and nearly all the material has been previously released. But to me, it does seem like needless controversy. For a start, for the casual buyer who just bought the Just The Shows releases, they don’t own the smegs in any other form – and so this makes an ideal companion piece. The format and content of specials means that makes sense to release it separately – and to those people I have no hesitation recommending this release. Two and a half hours of excellent entertainment.
For people who own the main Dwarf DVD releases, but not the original VHSes, I also recommend it if you enjoyed the smeg ups – they’re simply far more satisfying viewing to watch in this format than chopped up into series-by-series pieces. It’s important to remember that the VHSes have been deleted for years – not everyone will have them.
For those who own the original VHSes, like me, it’s perhaps a more difficult question. But I’m definitely glad I bought it – compared to the VHSes, it’s far better piccy quality, it takes up less space on the shelf, and it’s more convenient to watch. It’s up to you whether those advantages are worth £9.99 to you. To be honest, the improved picture quality makes it worth it on its own to my eyes – DVD has spoilt me, and I genuinely find it a shock to go back to VHS quality.
And yet I feel less enthusiastic about this release than I should. I don’t like the cover and menus – yes, it’s the content that matters, but something that’s beautiful is always nicer to own. The lack of even a text track or booklet to provide a bit of context is a shame – yes, that complaint seems to ignore the TITLE OF THE FUCKING RELEASE, but after watching the shows again I’m desperate to know more about them. Just a little context would be nice, in whatever form.
And unfortunately, sorry to keep banging on about this, but what about – THE CUTS. Or rather, that one specific cut – the alterations to the merchandise sections I can forgive, and the same with the omission of the Smeg Ups compo – and if it was just those edits, then I would probably have happily accepted them, even if they hadn’t appeared as eggs. But the removal of the compo from Smeg Outs really, really annoys me – because it’s one of my favourite moments in the show, just GONE. Whether it was edited back in the 90s, or is a new edit, is irrelevant. For the casual fans, it doesn’t matter – and to be fair, that’s mainly who the release is aimed at – but for the hardcore, it can’t help but rankle. The DVD releases should act as an archive of Dwarfy goodness – but this is one hysterical moment that’s slipped the net. It’s irritating. And it’s such a shame, when so much care has been taken with the main series releases to present them as originally seen. Perhaps more to the point, the main DVD releases have been merticulous in providing every little bit of Dwarfy goodness possible – down to the egg on Bodysnatcher giving a couple of missing moments that fell off in the edit. It’s a shame this approach wasn’t continued to the bitter end here.
The weird thing is, though, is that parts of this release seem to be partially designed for completists – yes, the main point of the release is for the casual buyer who bought Just The Shows, but the VII and VIII Smeg Ups are included with their original, VHS title sequences, and the broadcast Smeg Ups special is also there. But I care far more about the missing linking material than I do about the VHS titles. It seems an odd thing to do. And it could have been solved with some captioning, or relegating the cut sections to easter eggs. I’ll admit that I’m probably overly-upset about this, and I feel like I have slightly over-reacted in this review – but then I keep thinking back to the cut compo material in Smeg Outs, and giggling out loud. It’s damn strong material – stronger than any other linking material in any of the specials – and that’s why it upsets me so much. Even the casual fan is missing something special with that cut.
It’s a bit of Dwarf history that deserves to be reevaluated, and I’m glad to own it on DVD – but the niggles about the release prevent it from being something really special. A slightly mean: