On 17th July 2019, just over six months since the Red Dwarf Series I-VIII Bluray set was first released, replacement discs for Series III and V finally fell through the letterboxes of complaining customers. On the original release, the entirety of the third series and the second half of the fifth were rendered in the wrong frame rate, resulting in blurry movement and grainy pictures, basically the equivalent of accidentally applying a film effect. This subject rather dominated our original review, which lead to a minor lobbying campaign for a fix. The BBC acknowledged the mistake in February, and assured us that new discs would be ready in “approximately six weeks”. Twenty weeks later, were the new editions of these nine episodes worth the wait?
As before, I’ve watched one sample episode from each series, side-by-side with the DVD version to compare the differences. And upon sitting down to watch Polymorph, my first impression was that this was a genuine improvement, with much richer colours than before and a less washed-out look overall, the only cost being some loss of detail in the darker sections of the screen. This only really applies in the officers’ quarters though, as the results are mixed whenever the gang are in the science room. In the initial movie-watching scene, Rimmer’s hair looks unnaturally auburn, whereas when the lighting’s much brighter in the later post-Polymorph-attack scene, his skin is far too white and lacking contrast.
It’s another mixed bag with the cargo deck scenes – much less grainy than the DVD version, but everything’s much darker, so less can be made out. The bits we can see do have crisper detail, so it’s a score draw overall. The only other notable difference is that peacenik Rimmer’s beard is darker than before, the mundanity of this observation perhaps indicating that while on the whole it’s a decent attempt at bringing the always lower-quality Series III up to scratch with the rest of canon, there’s not much to write home about.
Series V seems to be the same story; the first three episodes already looked decent on the initial release, and I can report that Quarantine follows suit – subtle refinement here and there, rather than anything too radical. The grade brings out more detail in the “Moosebase Alpha” model sequences, which is obviously a welcome touch. Holly’s background acting is also improved by the increased contrast making her facial features easier to pick out. Lanstrom’s hex-vision is a much brighter red, making her eyes less visible behind the effect, while the green of the quarantine suite is much more lurid, which helps to present it as a deeply unpleasant space to live in. Lister’s black eye looks a lot nastier too. And Chris Barrie’s make-up-disguised coldsore is a lot more noticeable in a higher resolution.
So does any of this change the conclusion to our original review? Well there’s certainly a lot less wrong with the set now that this enormous error has been fixed. The majority of the series can now be classified as either being an improvement on or at least equal to previous versions, and the only major quibbles now are questionable design decisions and the odd mistake and/or inconsistency. While it’s frustrating that the cock-up happened in the first place, which is only exacerbated by it taking so long to fix, there’s now less reason to be hostile towards the endeavour, but on the other hand there’s still nothing to get too excited about.
Now that it contains the full fifty-two episodes at a serviceable quality in addition to all the extras, we’d now say that it’s worth getting if, for some reason, you don’t already have all the DVDs. But if you do, then this really is just for the collectors – there are improvements in quality, but also corresponding issues in places, so it still can’t truly be considered a “definitive” version of the series. But at least it’s not actively worse any more, so there’s that.