High & Low: Back To Earth featured image

Back in 2008, when Red Dwarf turned twenty, it was very much a former television programme. The last new series had finished almost a decade earlier, fans had finally accepted that the long-proposed Movie was never going to happen, the regular DVD releases had come, gone and done a lap of honour with The Bodysnatcher Collection, Dimension Jump attendance had fallen off a cliff, and while there were still regular updates from The Official Site and the odd dribble of merch every now and then, the general feeling was that Red Dwarf was a show that should be talked about in the past tense. And that was sort of ok. We’d come to terms with it, although we were all more than a little worried about what the fan community would look like at the next milestone anniversary without any fresh stimulus to keep us going.

But when Red Dwarf hit 25 in 2013 and 30 in 2018, the landscape could barely have been more different, thanks to what happened towards the end of that twentieth anniversary year. There had been muted whispers that maybe some new stuff was being planned, then the cast started dropping hints, and before we knew it, it was official: Red Dwarf was coming back for four new specials on Dave. It didn’t quite work out like that, of course, but from that moment on, a dormant but never dwindled fanbase woke up.

It was on 2nd February 2009 that the wider world started to pay attention too, a date that would go down in history as Headfuck Monday. It became apparent that whatever it was we were expecting from this new venture, we were wrong. The following months were crazy, confusing but most of all incredibly good fun. Rumours swirled, details leaked, location filming was spotted, the publicity juggernaut chugged into life and G&T visitor numbers exploded, including, we’re reliably informed, members of the cast and crew checking in on location during breaks in filming. Millions of fans began making preparations to come together – whether physically or online – for the big day.

Friday 10th April 2009 was the day when the experience of being a Red Dwarf fan changed forever. And that was ten years ago today. TEN. YEARS. Red Dwarf has been back for almost exactly as long as it was away, and the new life that’s been breathed into the fandom during the last decade, with Back To Earth having begat three full new series and (hopefully) counting, has left me in no doubt whatsoever that it will endure far far beyond the lifespan of the show itself, whatever that turns out to be.

But push me in front of a car if those three little episodes, broadcast nightly over the course of an Easter weekend, weren’t incredibly divisive. So let’s mark the tenth anniversary of Back To Earth with an edition of High & Low, running the rule over both the very best and very worst elements of the project, whilst also looking at it with a decade’s worth of hindsight, reappraising where applicable, and pondering its place and role within the long and varied history of Red Dwarf.

As with everything else on G&T, this is very much a personal view on the topic, and not necessarily representative of the site as a whole. My opinions on specific bits of Back To Earth have varied over the last ten years, but I’ve always regarded the specials with a great deal of affection, to an extent that’s slightly at odds with what seems to be the current consensus. So let me try and examine why…

10. “Nine Years Later”

Part One

One of the best decisions made in the production of Back To Earth is made apparent within seconds of the first part starting, with one simple caption that solves a whole heap of problems. When you’re resurrecting a very popular  TV show, there’s a careful balance to be made between servicing the hardcore fans and attracting a more casual audience. Get it wrong and you have 1996 Doctor Who, get it right and you have 2005 Doctor Who. And while many fans may have understandably gnashed their teeth at the lack of resolution for Series VIII’s cliffhanger, the screentime required to recap and resolve it right at the front of the show would have left the majority of viewers scratching their heads and most likely reaching for the remote. Their memory of the show is a simple set up of four guys alone in deep space, not as prisoners of the resurrected crew going round kneeing Death in the balls, so Back To Earth plonks them comfortably straight in to the expected status quo, instantly laying the path for the rest of the Dave era to follow.

9. The Little Moments

Multiple Parts

Cheating with this list already, as when I rewatched the Director’s Cut for the first time in a while ahead of writing this article, I made notes on loads of funny little moments that made me smile. Unlike the original 52 episodes, every detail of which is firmly wedged into my brain due to repeated exposure as a child, when I think of episodes from this century, it’s the big scenes and wider themes that come to mind, which makes dipping into them occasionally so rewarding. So I’m grouping together all those once-forgotten moments that make me appreciate Back To Earth a little bit more, including but not limited to: the timing on “not level”; Rimmer’s nonchalant whistling while the crew are attacked; the psi-scan flashing up “bit crap”; the phrase “your stupid fat ferrety face”; Kryten going down to Dirtville; Lister’s face when he’s posing with the Too Weird For Words poster; the fact that the DVD synopsis in the show matches the actual DVD; and Rimmer wanting a sitcom in a biscuit factory.

8. Price Smashers

Part Two

The first actual scene to make the list, and it’s the first scene to take place in “our” dimension. I’ve always felt that Part One was the weakest of the bunch – which was the consensus in the Silver Survey but not the more recent Pearl Poll – and that Back To Earth only really gets going after the main story kicks in. It’s certainly a strong start to the premise; even now, it’s still pleasingly unsettling to see our beloved characters exposed as the fictional creations that they are, interacting with the real world for the first time, via the excellent psi-scan based takedown of the amusingly odious Mike Mellington. Bonus points too for the camera tracking Kryten’s slide continuing after he crashes, and having to come back on itself. Incidentally, I’m only including the initial scene in the electrical department here, as I feel the rest of the Price Smashers section drags a little – once they’ve found the DVD and figured out what’s going on, you just want them to get out there and explore.

7. The kids on the bus

Part Two

Lister is the de facto protagonist of Red Dwarf – it’s him who’s the last guy alive, and everyone else is there because of him – but it’s surprisingly rarely that his character is explored in any great depth. In Back To Earth, his emotions take centre stage, and his conversation with two young fans makes for a funny and unexpectedly touching scene. So many of us first fell in love with Lister as wide-eyed children, so despite the inherent risks involved in using child actors, they were the perfect representatives to tell Lister just how fondly us observers regard him, and to give him renewed hope and purpose. Plus I really like the way the little boy says “kiss her, I would”. Incidentally, if you’re wondering what the two kids have been up to in the last decade, he was a regular in Doctors for a while and later in the second series of In The Flesh, and she was in Over To Bill.

6. Landing Carbug

Part Three

I’ll always hold a special place in my heart for Carbug. Incongruous? Maybe. Stupid? Most definitely. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it’s at the centre of some of the most surreal and memorable moments of my life as a Red Dwarf fan, most notably the aforementioned Headfuck Monday, and the time it turned up in the middle of Berkeley Square with three quarters of the crew in tow. Its screentime in the show is more minimal than the pre-publicity suggested, and the highlight is undoubtedly the opening scene of Part Three, where the crew give parking a car the full procedural checklist treatment, which is more than they do with an actual spaceship most of the time, complete with Cat playing with a child’s toy steering wheel. It’s a very dumb joke, but the kind I lap up, and there’s room for any type of humour in Red Dwarf.

5. The Creator

Part Three

I must admit, my first reaction when The Creator was revealed on-screen ten years ago was slight disappointment that it wasn’t the actual Doug making a cameo. But clearly, Richard O’Callaghan is great in the role, and his presence, along with his big Tyrell Building plonked in the middle of London, is confirmation that whatever dimension the Dwarfers are in, it’s not ours. As the denouement of the main story, it certainly does its job of wrapping up mysteries and moving us forward to a climax for both plot and character. The fantasy death scene, in which half the Fan Club team of the time appear as extras, is stylish and fun, and Lister at the typewriter causing the crew to speak in typos and Kryten to repeatedly walk into rakes is another example of my type of humour. But above all, it marks Lister taking back control of his own destiny, realising that he wants to live again and doing something about it. Even if that something is strangling an old man to death. Incidentally, if you’re wondering what Richard O’Callaghan has been up to in the last decade, he was in Red Dwarf X.

4. The Memorial

Part One

It’s Lister being emotional once again – the one thread that holds Back To Earth together, and this is the first such scene in the specials. It’s a bold move to put such a quiet and reflective moment so early in the opening episode, but it’s there to establish that this version of Red Dwarf isn’t afraid to go to places the old version wouldn’t – not that there weren’t emotional scenes in the show before, of course, but rarely with this kind of tone, and never with one of our heroes crying actual tears. It’s an opportunity for Craig to do new things with a character he’d first played twenty years earlier, having no doubt grown and improved as a proper actor in that time. And alongside Lister paying tribute to those he has lost, how lovely to see the show take the opportunity to remember one of its own, with Mel Bibby’s picture making a posthumous cameo.

3. Noddy

Part Two

There are often caveats when explaining one’s love for Back To Earth. Because the thing with the photo was a funny idea that went on far too long, I’m not nominating the comic shop scene as a whole, but specifically the character of Noddy, brought so memorably to life by Not Mark Benton. It was perhaps a bit route one to write a comic shop owner as an anti-social weirdo, but the performance makes the weirdness endearing and amusing, with Noddy doing very odd things with total nonchalance, such as the gag with him not listening to music when they walk in. His phone call to Reg Wharf is a masterclass in repeating a joke for so long that it starts off funny, stops being funny, then becomes funny again. And Kryten’s response of “that’s not us sir” when he references something from Star Trek is perhaps my favourite of all those little almost-forgotten moments.

2. Coronation Street

Part Three

It was the single most intriguingly insane detail of Headfuck Monday, and indeed the entire pre-broadcast period. It was the centrepiece of the specials, and if the engagement figures for this tweet are to be believed, the most ambitious crossover event in history. Lots of people hated it. I don’t care. I love Red Dwarf, I love Coronation Street, and I love the Red Dwarf crew being on Coronation Street. Imagery from two of British TV’s most iconic series clashing together in the name of comedy. Simon Gregson is absolutely brilliant (top fact: the only two acting roles he’s ever been credited for on TV are Steve McDonald and himself in this), as is Kryten “chuck pal love sir”ing his way through a conversation with the now-significantly-more-famous Michelle Keegan.

But it’s Craig Charles coming face-to-face with his own face that provides possibly the most memorable moment of the whole mini-series, and almost certainly the funniest joke, as the most notorious incident in any of the cast’s post-Series VIII lives is hilariously tackled head on. Incidentally, if you’re wondering what Steve McDonald and Tina McIntyre have been up to in the last decade, he’s got married four times (twice to the same woman), sold the pub, bought it back and sold it again, while she had an affair with Peter Barlow and then got murdered by his wife’s brother.

1. Kochanski turning up

Part Three

For a start, it’s a small miracle that they managed to keep Chloe Annett’s appearance in the specials a secret all the way up to broadcast, considering how much scrutiny the fans were putting the production process under, and how such surprises usually end up on Twitter within minutes of the recordings wrapping these days. She’s not actually playing Kochanski, strictly speaking, which is probably why it’s such a successful cameo – while the character as portrayed in Series VII and VIII has a great many problems, very little blame can be placed with the actress. The way she’s used here, as an unattainable icon – a living personification of Lister’s infatuation, rather than her actual self – is arguably a trickier job to pull off, but she excels.

But once again it’s Lister taking centre stage, and Craig Charles acting his chops off. There’s one main reason why this sequence is my favourite in the whole of Back To Earth, and that’s for the way it made me react on first viewing: it made me cry. Red Dwarf had only ever done that to me once before, when I was seven years old and unable to process the drama of the Out Of Time cliffhanger, and I love that my favourite show has now gained the ability to make me react in new and different ways. It still makes me well up now, partly out of empathy for Lister and partly out of admiration. It’s undoubtedly my love of the show and of the character that makes it resonate so much, but watching Lister come to terms with who he is and how he wants to live his life, while reappropriating his young fans’ description of him as a new raison d’être as he strolls back to reality… it’s joyous, heartwarming, life-affirming stuff. It’s a celebration of Red Dwarf‘s central character, and by extension, Red Dwarf itself.

And that, in a nutshell, is what I love about Back To Earth, but as always seems to be the case with modern day Dwarf, it’s not unconditional love, and there’s plenty of flies to contend with in this particular ointment…

5. The CGI Ship

Multiple Parts

The visual effects throughout the specials are, let’s face it, a bit of a mixed bag, but nevertheless an impressive feat considering how numerous they are, and how quickly and cheaply they had to be made. The virtual sets may look a bit shonky in retrospect, but they were an absolute necessity, and many of the big set pieces like the Tyrell Building, the dimension cutter and the massive hangar it’s situated in, are impressive pieces of work from Mike Seymour and his team of Australian prodiges, as are the smaller touches such as the cup that stops in mid-air and the sheer number of TV screens to comp stuff on to. But the tiny little low-res Red Dwarf, only ever seen as little more than a speck in the distance in order to disguise its shoddiness, is simply not up to scratch. It comes across as an afterthought, which is a great shame. Thankfully this was a one-off for what would subsequently become the Dave era, and at least it’s the right shape.

4. Ironing Sneezes

Part One

God, the first half of Part One is so slow. I remember thinking so at the time, but it’s even more apparent on a rewatch, when you’re waiting for the good stuff to turn up. As already detailed, I like the memorial scene, but the stuff in the diving bell really drags, and there’s not many laughs to be found in any of the various sleeping quarters scenes. The very opening sequenc is the worst, though. Our first glimpse at these beloved characters in ten years, and they’re right back at the worst extremes of their Series VIII personas, needlessly bickering about nothing and pulling stupid pranks, all while barely showing any of the warmth or depth that we know they’re capable of. It’s exactly what I feared the follow-up to Series VIII would be, and thankfully it’s an area that Series X-XII largely steered clear of.

3. Blade Runner

Multiple Parts

Full disclosure: I’ve never seen Blade Runner properly. We attempted to watch it on the Saturday afternoon of Back To Earth weekend, figuring it might be an idea to bone up, but I think I fell asleep. So I don’t possess a great deal of knowledge or affection for the film, which I’m aware puts me in a minority among Red Dwarf fans, most of whom probably got a lot more out of the various homages and references than I did. But that’s the problem. Aside from the question of just how big an influence Blade Runner even was on Red Dwarf, compared to Dark Star or Alien for example, it feels at times like a big in-joke that I’m not party to, and it’s a sad state of affairs when you feel excluded from the show you’ve basically dedicated your life to. The Nose World scene is largely unfathomable if you’re not aware that it’s a pastiche, and I remember it put me in a foul mood on the night. In a one-off celebration of all things Red Dwarf, why give over so much screen time to pay tribute to something else?

2. Killing Katarina

Part Two

Thematically, Rimmer needs to get one over on Katarina at some point in the story. Much like how the despair squid created a very personal idea of hell for each of its victims in Back To Reality, the joy squid gives everyone the thing they desire the most, and each character gains some sort of personal development from the experience, which is going to improve their lives afterwards. Lister goes on a voyage of self-discovery, leaving with a renewed lust for life. Kryten is able to let the truth about Kochanski out, assuaging the pervasive guilt that had clearly been causing so much stress. The Cat… erm, gets a new suit when he goes through the portal, so there’s that. And so with the squid having created the character of Katarina primarily as an adversary for Rimmer, the purpose was clearly for him to fight back and win the day. But did he have to do it by pushing her in front a car?

I’ve never bought Katarina’s little speech about murdering holograms being fine, which is used to justify what Rimmer does. If holograms shouldn’t be considered as real sentient beings, then every emotion we’ve ever felt towards one of the finest characters in sitcom history is invalid. But the bigger issue is that of a rare female character’s life meaning so little that she’s killed off the instant she’s served her purpose, and that nobody seems to care, especially considering what was to follow on that theme. Only the fact that she’s merely an hallucination saves this from being extremely dodgy territory, but we didn’t know that at the time, and crucially neither did Rimmer. Kryten killing a cop was what drove him to utter despair. Rimmer killing a woman he doesn’t like is what drives him to utter joy.

1. Well, it’s not really Red Dwarf, is it?

Multiple Parts

It is, admittedly, the biggest problem with Back To Earth. No matter how much you like it, you can’t truthfully say that it’s up there with the very best of Red Dwarf, because it shares so little in common with everything that came before and since. It can’t be the best Dwarf if most of the on-ship stuff takes place on weird virtual sets, giving it a strange other-worldly feel. It can’t be the best Dwarf if it doesn’t have a studio audience, damaging both the atmosphere and the chemistry between the four main performers. It can’t be the best Dwarf if it’s a two-part story lopped sometimes clumsily into three slightly-too-small portions, or indeed wedged together in an unwieldy and imbalanced Director’s Cut. And as much as I love me a bit of meta-fiction, and as well as I think Back To Earth pulls it off, it can’t be the best Dwarf if it’s *about* Dwarf,  really.

But there’s two things to consider here. Firstly, that Red Dwarf has been many things to many people over the last thirty-odd years, and there’s not a fan in the world with the right to say what the show can and can’t be. And secondly, Doug would probably agree with the above points. Back To Earth wasn’t the type of thing Doug wanted to make as the latest incarnation of his magnum opus, it was what he had to make with the timescales and budget he was given. He said as much at the time, and he’s proven it since by making three full series that adhere much more closely to the style and subject matter of the first six. Back To Earth wasn’t the continuation of the original series we expected it to be, but Trojan was. Back To Earth was just a little detour.

With that in mind, much like how I stopped being so angry about Series VII and VIII as soon as they were no longer the most recent series, I’ve been slightly saddened by the reputation that Back To Earth has picked up in the last decade. Received opinion would have you believe that the majority of Red Dwarf fans absolutely despise it; it’s become known as an aberration that should be ignored and mocked. But that’s not what many of us felt at the time, and it’s certainly not how I feel now. I’m not blind to its many faults, and I’m definitely not denying that it’s extremely divisive, even within the G&T team, or that the negative reaction probably has outweighed the positive overall.

But given how completely and utterly it stands alone from everything else produced in the twenty years prior or the ten years since, we should see it as the curious collectors’ item that it is – a tribute to Red Dwarf, rather than something that’s necessary a part of it – and judge it in that context. It’s a love letter to the series that we all adore so much, and just look what it’s done for us as a fandom. For me personally, it was the start of something brilliant.

Back To Earth was the first time that G&T was a fansite for a current TV show, and it was utterly exhilarating. New Red Dwarf was being released into a world that now contained YouTube, podcasting and social media, and in researching this article I’ve been reminded of just how much fun we had with it. Our Twitter feed was launched in order to cover the Berkeley Square event, which also provided our first video feature, before we converged to record nightly DwarfCasts immediately after watching each ep. We even interviewed some of the cast and Doug Naylor, and more importantly, it was a great honour that G&T was the place that so many fans gathered together for to experience the build-up, the broadcast and the aftermath. It was such a special time.

Since then, we as a community have done it all over again for three glorious six-week periods, and I really really hope that we’ll do it once or twice more. But none of it would have been possible without Back To Earth and what it did: resurrecting a decade-old property on a semi-obscure digital channel that pretty much only did repeats, and turning it into a huge ratings success. Dave’s gamble paid off handsomely, and they’ve grown hugely over the last decade on the back of more and more original commissions, including eighteen further episodes of Red Dwarf. This is Back To Earth‘s legacy. The Dave era is a mad impossible dream that logically should never have happened. As much as you might want the contents of Back To Earth to be expunged from the record, you can’t deny its pivotal role in Red Dwarf‘s history.

55 comments on “High & Low: Back To Earth

Scroll to bottom

  • Very good write up. I can’t quite believe its been 10 years since BTE aired. I remember not particularly enjoying it at the time (episode one especially) but I’ve grown to enjoy it over the years, always preferring to watch the Director’s Cut when I do.

    You’re right in that it’s not Red Dwarf as we know it, but its very important for what was able to happen after that. It’s also very impressive how they managed to pull it off so quickly and with so little money. You think of the problems X had for example, and yet BTE is proof it is possible to do something pretty impressive when under sever constraints and things not quite being as you’d hoped.

    I’ve seen Blade Runner two or three times, and I don’t particularly enjoy it as a film, but I think you can enjoy BTE without having seen it (I certainly did at the time it aired). Whilst there are obvious references to the film, there’s nothing I don’t think you need to understand from Blade Runner to inform BTE. Though I do wish they hadn’t leaned so heavily on Blade Runner. I know Red Dwarf has done it before, BTE in places feels like it is trying to re-create Blade Runner rather than take the themes and write a story that involves our crew.

    It had never occurred to me the CGI ship in the distance was to hide it being entirely naff, I thought that was meant to be a deliberate directing choice to symbolise something … how far away we are, how lonely space is … I dunno.

    So 10 years ago today I’d have been in the middle of my 24hr Red Dwarf marathon watching through all 8 series in prep for BTE. I was in the chat rooms over on TOS and had people join in with me, some stayed the course. Others came and went as they slept, worked etc.

    It was really fun watching everything in order and chatting about it all with other fans, as well as chatting shit about other stuff as we do int he forums here and over on Discord now. One of the people in the chat was a big Discworld fan, and from talking to her I read some of the books.

    Series VII, after 16 hours of Red Dwarf and having been awake since the Thursday morning, was an absolutely slog to get through. Nothing engaged me with it. I can and do enjoy VII, but at that point it was really tough.

    Which made VIII a breath of fresh air. As shot as it is, as least it tries to be funny and does have jokes. Really helped perk me up for the last few hours as we approached 9pm on the Friday.

    Then I sat through BTE in absolute silence and didn’t laugh once. It was so disappointing at the time to have had such a great build up chatting for 24hours with fans and watching the show and everything, to sit in my room in stony silence as episode one played out.

  • I absolutely loathed it on broadcast, considered it lower than VIII. After a re-watch of the whole show a year later (with my girlfriend in tow, her initial viewing laughter boosting my enjoyment of the classics) that led to my realising just how much I hate VIII, it felt refreshing in contrast. I still don’t think it’s very good, but it’s important: not only in bringing the show back and launching the relationship with UKTV, but also because it showed Doug could write for the characters again, rather than using them purely as vehicles for one-liners as he did throughout most of VIII. In places, at least, it definitely feels like Red Dwarf, even if it’s not great Red Dwarf.

    Interestingly, I find the dramatic stuff over-written and performed and don’t rate it all. Give me the observation dome scene in BTL over Lister forcing out a tear over Kochanski any day. That said, my most hated bit is Kryten mistaking the post box for an android. It’s absolute bollocks, sub-VIII wacky humour that makes no sense at all. Horrible moment.

  • Happy 10 years living in a quantum universe created by an hallucination of the boys from the dwarf.

  • Great article. I remember looking forward to BTE hugely (not least as it premiered on my birthday, which made it feel like an extra-special treat), and even though it has its faults I was delighted just to see new Red Dwarf on the telly.

    Maybe that’s why Part One has always been my favourite of the three – something of the excitement of that return still sticks with me.

    If I was to pick out my own personal ‘High’ for BTE, it would be that it made it so that Series VIII was no longer the end of Red Dwarf, and corrected lots of the things I didn’t like about that series – not just moving on from the cliffhanger but also making Rimmer a hologram again, making the ship the right shape, making the crew alone in space again, removing Kochanski… It felt like a much-needed reset button after VII and VIII took the series slightly off-track.

  • Brilliant piece.

    I love Back To Earth. Yes, I can see all its flaws, and I agree that the Director’s Cut version is a leaden lump, but at the time it thrilled, excited and moved me like nothing else.

    I feel sorry that it has suffered such indignity all these years later – Doug has been awful about it, and to actually have it *pulled* from circulation is INSANE. I don’t think it’s been transmitted for three or four years now, has it? Never streamed or been On Demand anywhere in the UK. Just wiped from existence.

  • Ah, the memories of getting super-hyped for this as a 16 year old (even though I wasn’t engaged with the fandom at all then). The initial excitement that “Only The Good… ” wasn’t the end, the disappointment at how mediocre Part 1 was, the mixture of relief and satisfaction at Parts 2 and 3 being much better, despite an eye-rolling ending and an overall messy story. It was quite a ride, and regardless of how all over the place Back to Earth was in terms of quality, I’ll always be happy we got a proper celebration of the show, especially as a building block for the series to come.

    It’s interesting to hear you lay out how each character got some kind of positive experience or journey out of the Joy Squid hallucination, as I’ve always held that the episode completely drops the ball when it comes to evoking that idea. I’m not sure the points in favour actually make sense, but at least there’s some semblance of it in there.

    So, Rimmer may well have been happy about murdering Katarina, but Katarina only existed in the hallucination anyway, so it’s hardly a net positive.

    Lister doesn’t really start experiencing happiness until he finds out he’s in a hallucination (except for the bus kids stroking his ego), which I guess is valid but is a pretty risky way for the hallucination to work. Why not just make the artifice obvious straight away if that’s the only way to experience the happiness that keeps you asleep?

    For Kryten, I suppose the hallucination did force him into a confession, but he could have got to that point on his own, and as far as “joyous fantasy” goes it’s kind of a weak offering.

    For Cat… well there’s nothing for him anyway.

    On the whole though, giving the main characters the in-hallucination story of “you’re not real, oh and also you’re about to die” is so overwhelmingly depressing that any actual positivity they get from the experience is a blip on the radar (until they wake up of course).

    They don’t even get much flattery from being beloved comedy characters, because basically everyone just tells them that Red Dwarf sucks and nobody cares about it.

  • Completely with you on the BladeRunner stuff. I’d never actually seen it, maybe watched it once since BtE.
    My feeling over that weekend was pure elation that New Red Dwarf on, disappointment that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to, then guilt for being a bad Red Dwarf fan for not adoring it and rewatching half a dozen more times over what was left of the Easter weekend. I’d not loved Doctor Who that weekend, so I hated myself for having let SF fandom as a whole down.

    I’ve since gone back and watched it a few times, obviously, but for me, I do think that it’s more 1996 Doctor Who; I wouldn’t want it not to be there.

  • I was living and working in Watford in 2008 when Bobby raised his eyebrow and suggested that Red Dwarf may yet return on his Llewtube channel. I wasn’t yet a G&T regular so over the next six months my main source of news was the Dave website (featuring diaries from the cast, now sadly offline) and TOS. I finally caught the trailer with Rimmer discussing 21st century talent shows on Dave while visiting a friend on Holloway Road. Nobody shared my massive enthusiasm but I sat down all excited at my parent’s house ten years ago to watch episode 1. I didn’t laugh much (maybe the ‘bit crap’ joke got a titter, but it felt so good after the disappointing series VIII. Episode 2 made me a bit sad and angry – I’m afraid I was one of those ‘this is League of Gentlemen Apocalypse’ people. Also I resented the blade runner stuff just as I’d resented the dinosaur shitting stuff a decade previously. I wanted Red Dwarf to be Red Dwarf. I didn’t watch part 3 live because I was on a tin pot radio station with the band I was in performing a couple of live tracks. Late that night I got the beers in and watched the last installment with my flatmate and loved it to the extent of staying up through the night watching VII and VIII.
    A few months later I got friendly with a hypnotherapist (Donald) who introduced me to Dwarf Casts. I loved the instant reaction episodes and dug into the archive. This encouraged me to go to my first DJ since 1998 and visit G&T every single day.
    These days I think Back To Earth might be my favourite Dave era episode of all because Lister’s character and journey take centre stage. I’ve been thrilled to get all hyped up with you all over X, XI and XII too of course. I was hoping for some BTE content today so a very big thank you for this marvellous article!

  • I want to hear so much more about Donald the Dwarfcast-binging hypnotherapist. I would certainly like to nominate him for Hypnotherapist Of Fame status.

  • Sadly Donald only lives in my head. I loved it when the penny dropped and I realised that the G&T crew were the same guys who made TM:YNYN which was one of the best parts of the VII DVD.

  • The effects are probably the most impressive the show has ever had and it certainly was a joy after so long to see the show back as just the 4 guys with their classic style outfits, which the cast managed to get back into character really well considering they had 9 years off.

    There was the odd funny bit here and there like the detonating with nuclear fusion joke and the psi-scan joke, but for the most part i think the writing of back to earth does feel a little tired and the concept of the characters finding out they are just tv characters, who then need to find their creator so they won’t die, that leads to them finding out they were actually part of a joy (happy) squid hallucination… is kinda poor story telling, especially if you compare it to alot of the previous RD stories which managed to pull of better in much less time..

  • Thanks for another great write up Ian!

    Pretty much agree with everything you’ve mentioned. I remember being quite impressed watching it at the time, but then, as now, I tend to focus on production elements, VFX, design etc on a first viewing – and there’s some fantastic stuff in there. I still find that giant cargo bay virtual set very impressive, and it’s a bit of a shame that the subsequent series haven’t attempted anything similar (with the possible exception of the ‘Universe’ scene in Krysis).

    Also, the more I’ve thought about it over the years, the more bizarre it seems that the whole thing turns into a Blade Runner homage. As many others have mentioned, there’s one Ridley Scott film that has a proven and visible influence on Red Dwarf, and it’s not this one…

    Definitely time for a rewatch I think.

  • I’ve never found Back to Earth particularly funny, and haven’t rewatched it in a long time (possibly not since before series 10 was broadcast) but I’ve always been glad it exists, and very forgiving of its problems. This was a comedy without many really good jokes – and yet that bothered me less than it should, because my affection for the characters and setting, and the fact it got produced at all so long after the end of VIII and the movie’s development hell, more than made up for it.

    Before Back to Earth was broadcast I had seen Blade Runner only once, several years earlier, in its Director’s Cut version. But I’d forgotten most of the film, so I didn’t realise at the time quite how many elements of BTE were parodies or references. For example, the Nose World Chew/Swallow section was completely lost on me. I think I was only made aware of things like that when they were mentioned in the Dwarfcasts released on the evening of broadcast.

    I’d also forgotten that Blade Runner includes an image enhancement sequence, so I just took the BTE scene as a joke at the expense of the many Enhance Button scenes over the years, rather than a reference to one specific example. In fact, contrary to Ian’s opinion of it in the article, that was probably my favourite joke in all three episodes: one of those times where the very fact it’s going on for so long becomes the joke.

    I’d been lurking on G&T since very early in the site’s history (I first encountered the site when it just aimed to be a collection of Simpsons Archive-esque episode capsules), but the broadcast of Back to Earth was what prompted me to finally register to post comments.

    Something else that just came to mind: I remember that the ancient second-hand Freeview box we had at the time didn’t receive Dave (or Film4 and a few other channels), so I went out and bought a new one just to watch BTE.

  • I feel that point #1 on the Lows, is just a massive one that it, er, dwarfs everything else. There’s gigantic chunks of Red Dwarf that I don’t like at all, but the vast majority of the time, the show is at least *trying* to be Red Dwarf, even if it’s doing a piss-poor job at it. But Back to Earth…I don’t even know what it’s trying to be.

  • God, the high points you’ve listed here make me yearn for another special. But then listing the high points of XI/XII would make me yearn for a regular XIII too, I would think. I just yearn for more Dwarf. But Back to Earth is really something special to me, I think it’s fantastic for the most part and it tops X for me. I’d forgotten some of the little moments like the camera continuing to follow Kryten and having to double back, that’s just great stuff.

  • The Katerina thing – I get you, but Katerina was never really real in any way, really. She was a figment of Rimmer and the gang’s collective imaginations. And her little speech about killing holograms being fine isn’t really supposed to be the most convincing argument for us, the viewer, or for the universe at large – it’s supposed to be enough to convince Rimmer to do it, giving him his little moment of happiness. No one actually “died”, and the speech wasn’t trying to convince anybody other than Rimmer himself. It is a bit dodgy that killing a woman he doesn’t like would make Rimmer happy, but then Rimmer has -never- been the most morally centered and righteous character ever. He’s been a bit off ever since the deleted elbow-titting scene from episode 01, right up to a light bit of ableism in the latest series.

    Also, no audience -improved- Back to Earth. One of my biggest complaints for XI and XII, and one of the biggest complaints for VIII, is how much of it is the cast, and in parts Doug, bigging it up for the audience on the night, giving us at home a lesser experience. It’s all a bit panto in the modern series, and the cast are acting -like they’re in a sitcom-, which they never did before VIII.

  • I didn’t and don’t like Back to Earth to be totally honest, but as a sacrificial foot to get crushed, but crucially leave a gap to return to, in Dave’s door I cannae argue with it.

    There were some good moments, some moments that seemed like they only existed to fill the time, and some crap moments but the fact that there are good moments at all is a miracle really considering budgetary, production and scheduling constraints, as well as the fact Doug probably hadn’t seriously sat down and written the characters in anger for a fair few years and the cast hadn’t performed them for donkey’s years.

    So as a viewing experience, poor. As a tool for giving Red Dwarf a chance to live again, top marks.

    On the CG, I’m with Paul, I thought it was a good idea which they could have continued.

    The cargo bay was great, and some of the other effects that maybe weren’t so impressive could be excellent now if retried with the improved budget and time.

    As for Blade Runner. I’m a special effects fanboy so I enjoyed it visually but never really got into the film itself until I watched Blade Runner 2049, which made me appreciate the universe a lot more and thus appreciate the original Blade Runner. So that might be sacrilegious to Blade Runner megafans but maybe watch the sequel first?

  • @GlenTokyo – Of the two films, I preferred Blade Runner 2049. Partly because of the amazing “WITHIN CELLS, INTERLINKED” baseline test scene, which for me was the best bit of either film.

  • I didn’t get to see IX until it was out for well over a year. Did not know of this site or any sites pertaining to Red Dwarf. I’m in the States and …. well, Red Dwarf just wasn’t and isn’t a “thing” here. I didn’t hear of RD until it was already at series IV, and when I went to buy a DVD of series one I had to SPECIAL ORDER it (at a cost of $65.00 too!!!)

    All that was just a little background about my views of IX/BtE. When I first saw it I was 1- Elated to see ANY Dwarf , 2 – Impressed with the sets and 3- Underwhelmed on the whole. Upon re-viewing multiple times it has grown on be by leaps and bounds. I loved the “twist” ending and the call back to the suicide squid. I thought Cats part was well done as well as Rimmers actually. Dave’s conversation with the kids on the bus ……. humanized him I guess is the word I’m looking for, more than any series since series 1 in my opinion. Kryten’s role was very good as always except ,as noted here by others, the terrible conversation with the mailbox. Shame on Doug for that execrable bit, a pan around of them marveling at the street would have worked better. ANYTHING would have worked better.

    Having said all that BtE is very enjoyable to me especially if I watch all three at once. To me, this IS the movie Doug has talked about for as long as I’ve know about the boys from the Dwarf. To me Back to Earth does not deserve the hate it gets from some quarters. Is it the best R.D.? Of course not, is it a filthy piece of distended rectum? Not by a long shot.

    Oh by the way, if the Blade Runner homage whets your curiosity about its origin I highly , very highly recommend reading the book it was based on : Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Phillip K. Dick

  • I honestly don’t think you can kill a hard light hologram by throwing them in front of a car anyway. I imagine that her image just shorted out due to the impact and she had her light bee embedded in the car’s grill until it finally fell out a couple miles down the road.

    …except that she is a just a hallucination of course, so what do I know.

  • Oh man, coming across that Bobby Llew video that night. I mean finding it, not ejaculating, but it was fucking exciting.

    Overall I find BTE frustrating. It falls between two stools because no, it isn’t real Red Dwarf, but it is kind of meant to be in that it’s what we’ve got instead of a Series IX. Something non-canon could have been a lot better, and still served as a way of getting a foot in the door to bring back the show properly. A celebration of Dwarf with the cast in character but not part of the series continuity, and have more fun with the meta stuff in the actual real world instead of the weird Blade Runner/real world amalgam.

    Pretty much agree with all of Ian’s Highs and Lows. Cat, Rimmer and Kryten trying to be all northern in the Kabin is brilliant. I also really like the character based meta stuff like Rimmer’s confusion at being described as neurotic and hilarious, and Kryten very baldly explaining it to him. More of that type of thing would have been infinitely preferable to all the Blade Runner references.

    > I’m afraid I was one of those ‘this is League of Gentlemen Apocalypse’ people.

    I found out the other day that in the last episode of Byker Grove, of all things, the characters realise that they and their world are fictional. The writers have decided to end the show, but supply the characters with magic paper on which they can write their own happy endings.

  • Bloody hell, that Byker Grove thing is insane. There’s a summary in the first post here.

    Think someone in CBBC towers found Richard Bacon’s stash when they wrote that. Absolutely batshit.

  • If I wrote for a TV show that was developed with as much care as Byker Grove was during its glory years, I’d be mighty pissed off if, years later, some twattish writer decides to end the show with a finale that amounts to “it was all a dream”.

    (I’d imagine the viewers were annoyed too, but I don’t think there were many watching by this point).

  • @Si – The comments in your screenshots look like they were written when Facebook used to show people’s names and their posts as one continuous sentence. That was around the time I first joined Facebook, and everyone used to write their status updates like that!

  • While I agree that BtE hasn’t aged well, it was very thrilling for me at the time – it was the first new Dwarf I’d gotten to experience as it aired, after watching the first eight as a show that was long since over. One thing that really stood out to me, though, is that no matter how much I’d love to change things about it, it made me care about Lister again. I hadn’t felt that way since maybe Series III. Sometime around Series VI, Lister had been taking a level in dumbass that only got more irritating throughout VII and VIII. BtE made me like him again.

    re the Elation Squid: The main thing I took from it was, if I had spent my life believing I was entirely alone in the universe with no purpose, I’d be pleased to learn that there were people out there who wanted me to succeed and were rooting for me, whether I was fictitious or not, that’d make me feel really good. So I love Lister’s speech as he kills the Creator. “I was never alone! I just didn’t realize it! Now I want more life, smegger!”

  • re the Elation Squid: The main thing I took from it was, if I had spent my life believing I was entirely alone in the universe with no purpose, I’d be pleased to learn that there were people out there who wanted me to succeed and were rooting for me, whether I was fictitious or not, that’d make me feel really good. So I love Lister’s speech as he kills the Creator. “I was never alone! I just didn’t realize it! Now I want more life, smegger!”

    Its a nice idea, but there isn’t much set up for why that reasoning exists. Doug did attempt to throw in several moments like that like Kochanski, or lister realising he was never alone or refering to himself as cool (i think). but you never really got a sense alot of that stuff beyond kochanski was an issue in the first place.

    Doug in the commentary said the idea was that the 4 guys, Cat, Rimmer, Kryten and Lister had grown apart and this was a story about them coming together again. or something to that degree. but thats something else that i don’t think translated in the episodes.

  • Yes, the ‘coming back together’ theme isn’t explored that well. Lister seems to be going about a fairly normal activity (annoying Rimmer), Lister knows Kryten’s on holiday, so they must have been in touch, and Cat waltzes in without any fanfare. Frankly, it could have come from almost any episode in III-V (set details & quality of writing aside).

  • If they’d had Lister in his own bunkroom, and concluded with him moving back in with Rimmer, I’d get the intention, But like most of the “themes” in Back to Earth, it seems hastily thrown together when they got to the reveal. An Elation squid being a mate of the Despair Squid makes sense. The “elation” the crew get through the fantasy does not. If they really wanted to sell that angle, Blade Runner (probably the most notable “dystopia” film in cinema history) is a hilariously bad choice. I guess “It’s a Wonderful Life” was already taken, but if you’re ripping off Back to Reality anyway, why not rip off the novels too.

  • >The Cat… erm, gets a new suit when he goes through the portal, so there’s that.

    >For Cat… well there’s nothing for him anyway.

    But Cat’s joy from the hallucination is the whole meta aspect of the story? It’s stated very clearly in Part 2 after they arrive on Earth and discover that they’re fictional, when he says “All my life I’ve dreamed of going on a metaphysical odyssey! For years I never thought I’d get the chance!!” People always say that it’s not clear what Cat gets out of the hallucination, but it’s the most blatant of the lot, surely

  • Yeah, I mean, that’s been seeded in his character since episode one. Glad they finally paid that off.

  • I think when it becomes difficult to figure out what joy the characters were getting from the hallucination is when there is some logic issues with the whole joy squid concept being responsible for it all.

    When Lister says he had felt great since he got there… apart from the kids giving him an ego boost on the bus there wasn’t really anything to give Lister joy. the idea that they need to find their creator so they won’t die doesn’t seem like a joyful experience.

  • Still haven’t seen Blade Runner…. definitely felt a lot of BTE was (and is) lost on me.

    But i remember the BTE days of a decade ago (wtf!) very fondly indeed, for the experience of being a part of the fan community and following the developments on this here website more so than the episodes themselves.

  • Having an answer to it all/a purpose does bring people joy/security, it’s the heirarchy of needs and why so many people believe in conspiracy theories or astrology, so being given an answer as to who you are and why you exist would bring you joy, as would having the clear goal of finding your creator after years and years of drifting endlessly through space

  • Hey you’re imaginary, and you were created by someone who looks like a character from a movie, but it’s not the character from the movie – it’s just someone who was inspired by the movie to create you, even though your life up until this point has had no similarities to that movie. Oh, and the guy wants to kill you because reasons. But then you kill him, because it’s been preordained and you have no free will…but actually you do because this is all a fantasy and here’s some more mopey stuff from that film. Is this making you feel good, secure in your existence and not at at all confused? What’s that? You want to go back to moping around on your spaceship? Tough crowd.

  • Yeah, I mean, that’s been seeded in his character since episode one. Glad they finally paid that off.

    His interest in origami has been there since Lister first spoke to him though.

  • It remains to be seen whether the new series will acknowledge the
    bizarre final episode, in which the characters discovered they did not
    exist and were fictional creations in a television series.

  • It remains to be seen whether the new series will acknowledge the

    bizarre final episode, in which the characters discovered they did not
    exist and were fictional creations in a television series.

    Assume that’s from a recent Byker Grove article?

  • Can’t believe this is the way I found out that a Byker Grove reboot is (maybe) happening.

    I assume it will open with Dec and Ant going through the motions of their real lives as a superstar TV presenting team, when they begin to realise that their careers are too good to be true (“We won the Best Presenter award how many years in a row? That just doesn’t happen!”, “Remember when you got arrested for drink-driving, but after a while everyone just kind of pretended it didn’t happen?” etc.), and the first episode will end with Duncan and PJ waking up from their joy squid/Better Than Life-induced comas.

  • I’d argue doing a “she’s standing right behind me isn’t she” routine that was already probably pretty cliché sitcom material when Pete Part 2 did it a decade earlier deserves to be on the lows list.

Scroll to top  •  Scroll to 'Recent Comments'

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.