It’s over fifteen years ago now that Red Dwarf Remastered was unveiled to a waiting public. Ever since then, Dwarf fandom has debated: is there something good about it, something laudable? OK, OK, we’ve never fucking liked it. But is it time, perhaps, for some quiet re-evaluation? Are the new CGI effects maybe not as bad as we thought? Does the film effect make the show look better? Maybe that cut dialogue was actually a pretty good idea in retrospect?
Well, no. Much as I’d love to be a contrary little shit, I’ve just re-watched all nineteen episodes and nearly died of a brain haemorrhage. Sure, maybe there’s some good changes that people have forgotten – and we’ll get to those later. But most of them still leave me blinking with bemusement, or shouting at the telly, or blinking with bemusement and then shouting at the telly.
Yet… there’s a part of me that feels an article like this is somewhat graceless. After all, from a UK perspective… we “won”. The original versions were those first released on DVD. Repeats on TV are always the original versions as well (aside from when Dave screws up and shows the Remastered version of Marooned). Doug Naylor himself has admitted that the project didn’t go as well as he’d have liked. At this point, sneering at Remastered doesn’t seem quite as useful as it did fifteen years ago, when it genuinely – if unintentionally – felt like these versions were indeed replacing the originals.
But then, G&T has never really worried about being graceless. So don your pixel-proof gloves, as we present: The Top 10 Worst Things About Red Dwarf Remastered.
10. A non-CGI Skutter
Let’s start with an old favourite. And yes, we were all a bit premature in whinging about “the CGI skutter” in The End. As is pointed out in Re-Dwarf, the excellent documentary on Remastered featured on the DVD set The Bodysnatcher Collection, the added skutter to the first Lister/Rimmer scene was a physical effect shot on bluescreen, and then composited in. How the effect was achieved is an important thing to get right, if you’re going to spend time criticising it. (For a genuine crap CGI skutter, we’d have to wait for Back To Earth).
Still, however it was achieved, there are reasons why this scene is so often reviled. During the very first scene of the entire series, when we’re first getting to know Lister and Rimmer, the Remastered production team see fit to throw in a badly-composited distraction that’s got nothing to do with the scene we are currently watching. As beginnings go, it’s difficult to get much worse. Indeed, it’s also difficult to see even what they were even trying to achieve with it… beyond the fact that it shows a remarkable lack of confidence in the original scene.
Re-Dwarf has a great section on this, which has the narration admit “Sometimes the chance to tinker maybe went too far”, and features a hilarious sequence of events where everyone denies knowledge of the change… before hitting on Doug Naylor taking responsibility. I’m not sure I agree with Doug’s point here, though, where he argues: “once you’ve fallen in love with something and you really like it, you don’t want to see it changed”. I think that can be applied to some things in Remastered – and I’ll give some examples later on – but it’s difficult to see this change as anything other than a dreadful mistake.
9. Polymorph Epilogue
It’s worth admitting at this point that the original ending of Polymorph isn’t exactly a high point in Red Dwarf special effects work. A very visible moving wipe in order to have the second Lister walk into shot again, and then when he morphs into the second Polymorph, the background changes behind him. It’s pretty shitty in all honesty… which they get away with because the joke is quite funny.
So unlike some changes in Remastered, I can at least see where they were coming from when they wanted to change it. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a less funny way they could have done it. A bad joke, badly written, splashed onto the screen in text form? Argh.
In fact, I don’t even need to critique it. I’ll leave it to Doug Naylor on the commentary track for Polymorph Remastered: “My memory is that the rework was funnier… but that clearly isn’t.”
As I watched Remastered whilst preparing for this article, I did plenty of tutting. I tutted at the squish noise added to Petersen’s arm poking Rimmer in the eye in Balance of Power. I tutted at the squish noise added to the skutter poking Lister in the eye in Confidence & Paranoia. “Come on”, I said. “This isn’t Bottom. You don’t get squish noises when people are poked in the eye in Red Dwarf. It’s a more realistic universe.”
People smarter than me will know what’s coming. Bodyswap appears, with Cat getting poked in the eye… and the original version has a huge great squish noise dubbed over it. The colour drained from my face. GOD DAMMIT, I’VE BEEN WRONG ABOUT RED DWARF, AND I DON’T LIKE THAT ONE BIT.
It’s a point which is worthy of consideration. Which changes in Remastered do I not like because the change actually makes the programme poorer, and which changes do I not like just because they are different? It’s impossible to say for sure. In fairness, it’s not like my rewatch of Remastered has brought complete blanket condemnation. For instance, let’s take a random moment in The Last Day. There’s an added music cue going into the scene with Lister studying Kryten’s manual… and I really liked it. It felt like it should have been there all along. So it’s definitely not like every single change is something which makes me grind my teeth to oblivion.
However, I fully admit there is a grey area in the middle – one that I would love to pretend wasn’t there, but I can’t in all honesty do so. Whilst writing this article I’ve genuinely tried to think why I don’t like something, and make sure that I haven’t fallen into the above trap. Have I succeeded? I hope so. But I feel duty-bound to offer the above health warning… if only to prove I’m aware of the potential problem.
Oddly enough, I felt the above issue more with different sound effects in the show more than any other change to Remastered. Every different beep and boop jarred with me… maybe more than it should have done. Still, there are certain changes I know why I dislike. The added hiss on Cat when he “makes himself look big” in The End I really think just feels pasted on and at odds with the picture – and just distracts you from the visual joke. The sound of the hammer hitting Rimmer’s hand at the end of Better Than Life is changed to something resembling a clang: hardly the sound of a hammer hitting flesh. And the hugely noisy second Rimmer alarm in Queeg I just don’t think works at all – it’s funnier just having the alarm go off again, insistently. The urge to add an extra joke doesn’t serve the scene well.
In fact, “over-egged” is the phrase I keep coming back to in Remastered. The extra draining sound effects added to the Polymorph’s attacks, you would think, would be inoffensive enough. But when Lister is suckered – isn’t it just funnier and punchier to end the scene with the comedy splat of the sucker?
But to symbolise all the bad additional sound effects in Remastered, I’m going to go for the off-screen crash when Rimmer attacks Cat in The End… for the simple and oft-repeated reason that you spend the next five minutes thinking “Hang on, I thought he was supposed to be a hologram?” Of all the episodes to add something like that, picking the one which not only explains what a hologram is, but is also one of the extreme few which actually makes a point of things being able to pass through Rimmer seems like an odd choice… and well deserving of a place on this list.
You thought I took an age to get to a very simple and obvious point there? You’re clearly inexperienced with my amazing writing. Hang in there, you’ll think I’m completely brilliant by the end and want to have sex with me immediately.
7. Hologram Malfunction
An interesting one, this. A lot of the replacement effects in Remastered I dislike because I think the effects are just plain bad. This one – interference added to the malfunctioning Rimmer in Queeg – is actually pretty well done. The effect is nicely overlaid on Chris Barrie, and the timing of the whole thing is pretty much perfect.
But it still deserves a place in this list. The reason? It’s plastered all over Chris Barrie’s bravura performance in the scene, and just obscures it. Again, the changes in Remastered trample on the comedy: the very worst possible thing they could do.
(Oddly enough, the siren sound effect was also removed from throughout this scene in Remastered – an effect which did a perfectly good job of selling the danger of the scene, without obscuring Barrie’s performance. Ah well.)
6. Black Card/White Card
Balance of Power
Well, I did rewatch every single episode. There are so many to choose from. The cut “Sir!” after Lister’s “…and I do respect ya” to Hollister may well be Craig Charles forgetting his line… but like numerous things that have gone wrong whilst shooting audience sitcoms over the years, he rescues it and makes it work anyway. (I’ve always interpreted it as Lister remembering he needs to call Hollister sir… slightly too late).
Or if you want edits bigger than a single word, there’s the chopping down of the scene on the golf course with Lister and Cat in Better Than Life, which cuts both the Marilyn Monroe and the mermaid encounter. It’s not like either of these sections are CLASSIC DWARF – well, I’ve always had a soft spot for the stupid mermaid gag, but whatever – but the cuts simply cause more problems than they solve. The scene is now rather pointless and short with two of the key gags cut; worse still, as the final tag of the scene is gone, a hugely awkward slow-motion shot from earlier is pasted in to hide the edit. It just looks appalling. Whatever they were trying to fix, they ended up with a problem far worse – a common problem throughout Remastered.
Then there’s edits which were apparently made to stop the programme feeling “dated”. When Rimmer says in Timeslides: “The possibilities are enormous! They’re mind-numbing! We could go back in time and avert major disasters!”, the Lister line “What, you mean like persuade Dustin Hoffman not to make Ishtar?” is cut; leading to the odd situation where the feed line is kept, but the joke isn’t. It also seems a weird cut anyway: I’m not the world’s greatest film buff, but even I know about Ishtar – leading to weird second-guessing about what had or will become “dated”. But then, what’s wrong with a joke that not all an audience would get anyway?
Other edits just seem completely pointless: I could double the size of this article by listing them all. Sticking to just one more: the callback gag of Holly counting down incorrectly in Parallel Universe at the end of the episode is snipped. Why? Why cut a decent joke?
But having considered each and every cut, I keep coming back to the cut black card/white card material from Balance of Power. It’s another edit which seems entirely pointless; it’s genuinely difficult to work out the rationale behind the cuts. Indeed, it’s so difficult that some have speculated that the cuts were made purely to allow more time for special effects: something easily disproved by the fact that other Remastered episodes run longer than Balance of Power.
Obviously I find the material funny, or it wouldn’t be in the list. But what bugs me the most about the cut is that the whole discussion is exactly what the episode is about: the balance of power between Lister and Rimmer. The callback to the joke when Lister reverses the tables… it’s the essence of what the episode is doing. At least with some of the cuts you can see what the team were thinking. But funny material that directly links into the theme of the show? I find it utterly incomprehensible.
5. Blue Midget/Starbug Chase
You all know I could write a huge section on this. But instead, I’ll just say that a project where this:
Is replaced by this:
Is a project which has gone wrong somewhere.
4. Replacement Holly
In 1987, Norman Lovett shot his Holly scenes in front of an audience. Ten years later, he was asked back to re-record a lot of his lines, to seamlessly edit back into the show. With no audience to bounce off, and looking ten years older. What could possibly go wrong?
This has to go down as one of the biggest follies of Red Dwarf Remastered. The text track tells us that even more Holly footage was re-recorded but ultimately not used: but what was used is quite bad enough. Yes, the extra jokes inserted into a few episodes I don’t think work, and yes, Lovett’s performance is flat; the latter can at least be partially blamed on the lack of audience. But the idea that you could cut between footage where Holly is on a monitor in the background, and then cut to close-ups shot ten years later, and expect it to all work seamlessly is… not the brightest idea that anybody has ever had.
Then there’s the re-recorded Holly episode introductions; all of which seem to sum up the misguided attitude towards the scripts. Discussions about Felicity Kendall’s bottom being replaced by Marilyn Monroe’s have been had so much that even I’m bored with them: suffice to say that the changing of the line “we flew around that one a couple of times” – complete with joyous pause beforehand – to “we flew around that one a few times” damages the joke for me almost as much as the name change. Flat delivery, sure – but “a few times” doesn’t sound as funny to me either. Less specific, more general – and comedy is often in the specifics.
Then, from Better Than Life, there’s the removal of “Personally the only thing that keeps me going is the thought that we are over sixty billion miles away from the nearest Berni Inn.“ Now, it’s worth noting that it was between 1988 and 1997 that the name Berni Inn disappeared in Britain, and there’s an interesting discussion to be had about how valuable the reference is to keep. I love the little glimpses of UK suburbia present in Rob and Doug’s early work, which gradually fade away throughout Red Dwarf – and I think you always stand to lose more than you gain by replacing them, whether you’re thinking about overseas sales or not. But when you replace that joke with “The highest form of life is man, and the lowest form is a man who has a train set”, then any nuanced debate flies out of the window. It’s difficult to see that as anything other than one of the single worst lines in the whole of Red Dwarf.
(Interestingly enough, on the deleted scenes section on The Bodysnatcher Collection is a series of unused Holly introductions, which were going to be used in Remastered, but ultimately rejected. One of them goes: “The ship is powered by a giant ram scoop which sucks in the currents of space and converts them into fuel. Obviously the ship couldn’t be petroleum-powered because then all the supply decks would have to be used to store all the free glass tumblers we’d have collected.” Yes, it needs rewriting to be far punchier, but the basic joke is far better than the “train set” line.)
3. Observation Dome Music
Better than Life, Thanks for the Memory, Queeg
One of the biggest problems I have with Remastered is its endless, endless music changes. Altering the music for when Lister goes into stasis in The End to the Downton Abbey theme is only the start of the meddling. There’s a cheap library rip-off of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” added to Lister biking around in Balance of Power – which just drags me right out of the scene. There’s the removal of Craig Charles’s “Cash” from Timeslides, presumably because it has the temerity to mention a Filofax. There’s the removal of the variation of “Tongue Tied” from the Stasis Leak hotel scene, robbing us not only of a fun and appropriate bit of music, but also of a subtle link between episodes. It’s difficult to see how any of these changes improve the show.
What almost made it onto this list is the reuse of the same three or so music cues for the shots of Red Dwarf itself in Remastered, rather than the wider variety of cues used in the original series. I don’t know why you’d want to lessen the variety and thus make them more boring, especially when you’re actually adding ship transition shots where none existed before, so they’re going to be used even more. This practice reaches its height during Rimmer’s punctuation speech in Waiting For God: the original uses a piece of music perfectly suited to Rimmer’s pomposity, and thus makes the inevitable undercutting the mood by Holly far funnier. Not for the first time, a change in Remastered actively interferes with the joke.
But to represent all the music changes on this list, I pick: the removal of the Observation Dome music in Better Than Life and Thanks for the Memory – and also from the end of Queeg. It’s difficult to think of a better piece of incidental music in the whole of Red Dwarf – and one which perfectly suits those scenes. To replace it with a generic “sad music cue” is… well, I’m back to using that word “incomprehensible” again. I have no idea why you would listen to it, and think “Well, that has to go, obviously.”
One big problem with Remastered is the constant blandifying effect a lot of the changes have: often removing things that are special or unique about Red Dwarf, and replacing them with more generic things, or cutting them entirely. Red Dwarf‘s music, especially in its earlier series, is the best soundtrack I have ever heard in an audience sitcom: and crucially, nearly all the cues reference the main theme tune in some way, tying the series together beautifully. By replacing it with generic library music, something specific to Dwarf is lost: all it can do is blandify and reduce. The fact it manages to blandify and reduce three of the best scenes in the whole of Series 2 is even more infuriating.
2. Red Dwarf model
OK, OK. It’s worth acknowledging right at the start: yes, the replacement ship effects in Remastered weren’t supposed to be CGI. Back to the ever-reliable Re-Dwarf documentary: a real physical model of the new Red Dwarf was built… and then the production found out that the model was too big to shoot with motion control, and so it was scanned in and recreated in CGI. Something that nobody really wanted to happen – least of all because it strained the CGI budget even further.
Except… I’ve never really understood why anybody was dissatisfied with that original Red Dwarf model anyway. Doug says on the documentary that him and Rob “expected it to be a big, horrible ironmongery-type mining ship, but we didn’t expect it to be in a big massive block”. He goes on to explain that in-universe, the ship would probably have been built in sections, joined together – hence the pencil-shape. But that pencil-shape just gives the ship a sleekness that I don’t think befits a “big, horrible ironmongery-type ship” – and no, neither does the set of boosters at the end, either.
In many ways, the issue is a microcosm of Remastered as a whole. The makers have gone on record as saying they wanted to make the show glossier, more cinematic, more Hollywood: and it’s difficult not to see the redesign of Red Dwarf itself as an extension of that goal. But in doing all of that, you’re taking away a large part of what makes Red Dwarf unique.
Yes, I think the CGI shots are awful compared to the originals. But even if that ship had been shot as a physical model, by the Model Unit we all know and love, I still think it would have ended up in this list. Pencil jokes aside, I just don’t think it suits the show. Maybe what we got originally wasn’t what the writers would have liked; but I still can’t think of a more brilliant design. A great hulking brute of a ship.
1. The film effect
With these kind of articles, I often find it difficult to pick a Number 1. How the bloody hell you can actually choose a favourite episode of Red Dwarf, or a favourite effect, or a favourite expression that Chris Barrie pulls is beyond me. It’s an embarrassment of riches.
However, picking my least favourite thing about Red Dwarf Remastered was easy. A bad effect, or a snipped bit of dialogue I like will generally only annoy me for a few seconds. But the film effect added to Remastered is plastered over every single frame of live action footage. By its sheer ubiquitousness, it has to be Number 1.
Now, there isn’t room here for an in-depth discussion about video-look versus film-look in television. It’s a complicated subject, with many different factors. You can tell that by the discussions people have about higher frame rates: “It’s less realistic… no, it’s more realistic… yes, but the fact it looks more realistic actually makes it look less realistic… erm, where were we again?”
I would argue that video-look really suits audience sitcom, and a film-look often has a distancing effect which isn’t helpful to the comedy. But none of that really matters for Red Dwarf Remastered. It’s simpler than that. You’re trying to take footage recorded in an analogue TV studio in the late eighties, which was shot and lit for video-look, and which was never meant to have a film-look applied… and trying to make it look like film. It was never going to work. You only have to compare the difference in quality of Remastered to Red Dwarf VII, which was shot and lit for a film-look to be applied, to see the proof of that.
A good example of this is with comet tails – the streaks of light tube cameras create when you have moving bright lights in a scene (or simply a moving camera). That’s very specifically an artefact of video from that era, and not something you can fix when you throw a film effect over something. You end up with the worst of both worlds, and two sets of artefacts.
I must admit one thing somebody once said about the film effect has always stuck with me. True, the frame rate was halved – but also, there is an aggressive colour grade going on which brings out the colour of the programme rather more. What would Remastered have been like if the film effect itself had been dropped, but they kept the colour grade? It’s difficult to know for sure. But the Special Edition of the Doctor Who serial The Curse of Fenric – which indeed is video-look, no film effect, but with an aggressive colour grade – suggests the results would have been at the very least interesting.
Ultimately though, adding the film effect pretty much says one thing: “we’re embarrassed about this looking like a BBC audience sitcom made in the late 80s”. Seeing as that’s exactly what I like about the show, it’s not surprising I find it objectionable. I still can’t get into the minds of the overseas buyers who think it made the show look better though… beyond perhaps suggesting that they had a rather fixed idea of the kind of way television should look.
But we’re into dangerous speculation territory there. Let’s leave all the hatred behind, and look at what some people thought was impossible: the Top 5 Good Things About Red Dwarf Remastered. Dare I tell you I could have done 10? (I genuinely could, you know.)
5. Bodyswap Xtended
One of the joys of Remastered is seeing original footage shot at the time which we would otherwise never get to see. Examples include the end of Kryten showing our hero driving off on his bike, and extra arguing from all the doubles at the end of Stasis Leak. Some of them work, some don’t.
My favourite bit of footage however, is something that very much does work. Rimmer-as-Cat decides to play with his food at the end of Bodyswap… and the camera lingers for a few glorious extra seconds compared to the original version. Ending the episode with a bigger laugh than the original got: a genuine achievement.
4. Hollister Groin Action
As endlessly listed above, Remastered has various different re-edits to “fix” certain parts of the show. Most I don’t think work at all, a few I don’t think matter one way or the other, and then a few genuinely improve the show. Included in the latter section is the infamous inclusion of the originally deleted “Mc” from Rimmer’s “They’ve got less meat on them than a Chicken McNugget!”, but there are other subtle changes as well. Go back and watch the Rimmer/Lister bunkroom scene in Waiting For God where they discuss aliens – and note that an alternate take of Rimmer’s line “Aliens, Lister, who can give me a real body” has been dug out to correct a continuity error with the placement of Rimmer’s arms.
But my favourite example of this is in Stasis Leak. In which we get the joyful scene where Rimmer knees Hollister in the balls… except the original version of the episode misses the actual point of impact. The Remastered version fixes this, so we see the full ball-aching movement in all its glory.
Is the fix of a split-second edit mistake indicative of struggling for good things to say about Remastered? You could view it as that. I actually don’t think so: if I’d loved everything the project had done, I still think this would have been one of my favourite alterations. Taking something which always annoyed me about the original episode, and fixing it. That’s a Very Good Thing.
3. Tikka to Ride Remastered
That one where Rob Grant fucks off
Well, the tease for this was in my consistent mention of “all nineteen episodes”. The Remastered version of Tikka To Ride may not have been part of the original project, but a DVD extra eight years later – but tough shit, I think it counts.
The reason why it works so much better than the original Remastered project is obvious: with the original, you’re replacing beautiful model shots with sub-standard CGI. Here, you’re replacing bad CGI with pretty good CGI. Don’t get me wrong – if you were replacing the model footage of Series 1-III with CGI footage of this quality, I still think it would be a poor trade. But here, it works. You’re actually fixing a genuine problem with the episode (even if the original version of the sewage shot in the Xtended version is better than the replacement).
If only they’d had the money to remaster every single episode of VII in this way, instead of only doing it to the poor man’s version of Lemons. Hang on, is trolling an arrestable offence yet?
2. The Bodysnatcher Collection
It’s easy to forget that The Bodysnatcher Collection was never called that in the beginning. The project was announced as the DVD release of Red Dwarf Remastered. As the project went on, it was renamed – but the original hook was the release of the Remastered series.
Which means that without Remastered, we wouldn’t have got Bodysnatcher itself: probably still my favourite piece of Red Dwarf made since 1993. We wouldn’t have got the in-depth documentaries on Series 1 and 2: my favourite two making-ofs I’ve seen for a sitcom. And it’s easy to forget how much brilliant stuff is buried away on the discs: without Remastered we never would have seen the first scene Robert Llewellyn ever shot as Kryten, or the brilliant Rob and Doug commentary on The End: The Original Assembly, or, erm, The End: The Original Assembly, or the storyboard recreation of what was written of Dad, or…
The seeming failure of The Bodysnatcher Collection is dreadful; if it’d sold enough copies, who knows what brilliant stuff BBC Worldwide would have dug out of the archives for release? Instead, people cared so little for it that once it was burnt in a warehouse fire, it was allowed to stay burnt. But at least we got something like it once. And for that, we have to be grateful to Remastered.
1. Doug Naylor’s message to fans
“Do all the fans like it as much as the original series? I think there’s an argument to say a lot of them don’t – but, to be fair, they did have a huge amount of fun and debate ripping it to shreds, so it wasn’t completely a waste of time.”
– Doug Naylor
Indeed, Mr. Naylor.
You got through all of that? Have some sort of delicious biscuit. Next time sees the return of High & Low, and Jonathan Capps taking a look at the best and worst Red Dwarf-related books. Give your suggestions below, or you can hunt him down at his place of work and SHOUT THEM IN HIS STUPID FACE.