How do the all-new Christmas mobisodes hold up?
Remember those rumours of a Red Dwarf Christmas special, after Red Dwarf VI? I certainly don’t – I wasn’t part of
And yet here we are. After years of no new Rob or Doug Dwarf, barring deleted scenes, this year we’ve had the incredible Bodysnatcher – and now we’ve got Red Christmas, a brand new two-part mobisode (each part roughly a minute apiece) from the new Dwarf mobile service – and written by Doug Naylor himself. A full review of the entire mobile service will appear on G&T in the new year- but for now, what is Red Christmas actually like?
As I’ve said before, I’m not really that keen on the animation style of the mobisodes – I don’t like the character designs (they don’t seem to capture the essence of the characters we know and love at all), and the animation style itself doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. But when watching the normal mobisodes, it’s difficult for me to ignore these problems – in essence, you’re watching TV with great production values being turned into something with not very good production values, which seems somewhat of an exercise in pointless (from an artistic point of view at least). Here, however, I was prepared to cut them a little slack – like it or not, this is inevitably going to be a project with budget restrictions, and more importantly, technical ones (the frame rate is obscenely low in order to make them quick to download, and the sound quality is pretty dire too). If the material is great, then I can forgive the limitations of the format.
Unfortunately, the problems start straightaway. Part 1 kicks off with the short ‘Red Dwarf On Your Mobile’ sting, and we get a shot of Red Dwarf, and… erm, Father Christmas and his reindeer turn up. And instantly, it doesn’t feel like Red Dwarf. Santa can exist in terms of being a waxdroid on Waxworld in Meltdown – but not here. Mythical figures just don’t show up for real in the Dwarf universe – there has to be some kind of scientific explanation. (The Psirens are explained as shape-changing GELFs, for instance.) If anything, it should be a mechanoid disguised as Santa – which would be shades of Futurama perhaps, but it’d work.
Each universe has its rules, that aren’t meant to be broken. The Brittas Empire gets away with all kinds of crazy stuff – including killing your lead character, sending him to heaven, and then resurrecting him from the dead – and yet come the sixth series, with creators Fegen and Norris gone, the punchline to the second episode Body Language consists of an alien plant beaming up into space. It just doesn’t fit into the Brittas universe, and smacks of the writers thinking any old crazy shit would work with the show – which just proves they didn’t quite understand it.
Admittedly, follow the rules too closely and you end up with a stagnant and unimaginative show – and the best shows, if done correctly, break the rules to stunning effect, with the format-breakers being some of the most memorable episodes of some shows. But in Red Christmas, it doesn’t seem to be done with any knowledge of what’s being done, or – crucially – for a very good reason, and so it just feels wrong.
And yet it wouldn’t matter if it was funny. Unfortunately, the rest of the first part is a conversation between Rimmer and Kryten, which just… isn’t. Santa breaks in, the sensors warns of an intruder, and Rimmer and Kryten think it’s aliens (Father Christmas, because of the bulbous sack on his back) and demons (the reindeer – because of the hooves), and wonder what to do. And we immediately fall back into the same problem that VIII has – reusing an idea that worked the first time, but extending it until it breaks: “Sir, I’m shaking so much my nipple nuts are practically unscrewing themselves.” To me, it’s just not a funny line – it sounds like a joke, it’s got the structure of a joke, but it just isn’t one.
The other dialogue is passable – but passable doesn’t equal funny, and there’s just not a single line that makes me laugh here. Kryten’s “According to the ‘who’s-just-sneaked-on-board-computer’…” is the best thing on offer, and it doesn’t even crack a smile for me.
Come Part 2, and our intrepid twosome decide to flush the intruder into space. Unfortunately, they soon find out the truth as Father Christmas goes flying past the window, and so… erm, the whole crew play charades with the reindeers. Seriously. With Santa giving advice as he flies past the window again. It’s certainly one of the most bizarre sights I’ve ever seen in anything Dwarf-related, and for that alone perhaps worth watching – but really, this is not the Dwarf universe. It isn’t anywhere in the vicinity. It all makes for rather a contrast with Smeg Ups, where they managed to make the Kryten links work in the Dwarf universe whilst still acknowledging our own – a ridiculously tricky job. Here, they don’t even manage to stay within the confines of the Dwarf universe properly for a couple of minutes!
Yet, if it was funny – truly funny – then I could forgive all that. I could handwave it as a new direction for Dwarf, or something. But it just isn’t. This is a long distance away from the cleverness of Bodysnatcher – and whilst perhaps it’s unfair to compare the two, when the running times are so vastly different, it’s unfortunately irresistable. What I would have liked to have seen is just a dialogue sequence – as Doug himself thought halfway through the production of the famed Blue Midget dance sequence: “Why didn’t I just write some funny dialogue?” I really wish he’d just done that here.
And what makes it all even worse is that I can’t even make out Father Christmas’s screamed last line – the punchline to the entire episode – because of the poor sound quality!
Are there any good points to the episode? Well, it includes the original version of the Red Dwarf ship, which is pleasing (expected now, perhaps, but remember there was a time when it seemed like we’d be stuck with the Remastered ship forever), and Rimmer panicking about aliens is a nice hark back to the Rimmer we know and love. Indeed, Rimmer’s “Excellent” after Kryten’s suggestion to flush the intruder into space is probably the best thing about the entire ‘sode. But beyond that, the whole thing is just faintly embarassing to watch.
(Incidentally, the TOS on-set report tells us that only Chris Barrie and Robert Llewellyn were involved with the mobisode – we can only guess as to why Danny and Craig aren’t involved, but budget issues presumably played a part. Lister does get one line in the final scene though – “Er, an action film” – presumably it’s Chris Barrie doing the voice.)
God knows, I want the mobisodes to work. I want new Dwarf back on our screens at some point, in whatever form as long as it’s good – and if these are a success, then we’re one step nearer. Moreover, this is the first opportunity we’ve had for new, ongoing, in-universe stuff for Dwarf, in whatever form, since 1999 – and I’d love something like that to work. But this is just a nothing – it’s not funny, it’s not entertaining, and it’s just doesn’t work for me in the slightest. Worse still, the fact it’s so short means that no momentum gets going at all.
I will admit to feeling a bit guilty about this review. As a Dwarf fan, I want to see the franchise succeed. I don’t want to put such a downer on it. And I hope that I’m not the only person round here who is going to watch it – it would be unfair for a single review to put everyone off round here, and it’d be nice to get some informed debate going. And I hope there are future all-new mobisodes, as I think there’s real potential to come up with some good stuff. But as for Red Christmas – no sir, I do not like it. And I’m not convinced I’d like any Dwarf where two reindeer pulling a cracker is part of the episode. Just because you can do anything in animation, it doesn’t mean you should.
And the worst thing? That it makes me slightly worried about the kind of new Dwarf that we might get in the future all over again – fears that Bodysnatcher had allayed. I can only hope that it’s the mobisode format that has caused the problems I have with the show… but at best, I can view this as an experiment that failed.
At worst… it’s too hideous to contemplate.