Red Dwarf X: The first look

Steve Bennett watches the first episode

After the strangeness that was Red Dwarf: Back The Earth – the miniseries that revived the cult sci-fi comedy franchise three years ago – the crew are back for their first full series in 13 years.

And having seen the first new instalment in full today, I can report (with a minor spoiler alert for the rest of this piece) that, in one catchphrase of the episode, all is ‘hey ho, pip and dandy’.

It is, in short, like Lister, Rimmer, Kryten and Cat had never been away… just in stasis. Filmed in front of an audience, and with a plot that could have come from one of the earlier BBC Two series, the comeback for the Dave channel is a return to form.

The first few minutes, though, are not the most promising. We start in the familiar Red Dwarf setting with Cat, resplendent in purple pimp suit, bounding in with a triumphant Yeaaa-h!’ to find Lister reading a book of strange-but true trivia. It prompts a cringeworthy exchange in which Cat has to be preternaturally stupid to get out some corny lines – and the viewer might be forgiven for thinking the franchise was better off dormant.

Thankfully, though, this is just a bumpy takeoff, and we are soon in familiar territory, with the supercilious loser Rimmer awaiting – yet again – the results of another astronav exam which could elevate him from vending-machine engineer to officer status. No fan will need telling what the outcome is.

Rimmer’s resentment at his lowly status in life is central to the episode – it’s literally an all-consuming bitterness that causes his holograph technology to occasionally crash, his eyes, amusingly, becoming the ‘spinning beachballs of doom’ familiar to all technology users.

The jealousy for the life he could have had is exacerbated when Red Dwarf stumbles across a gleaming ghost ship, Trojan (also the title of this episode), once part of the Space Corps’ Super Infinity Fleet – either an elite fighting force, or in class-conscious Lister’s eye’s a squadron of overprivileged jokers. It is a particularly cruel reminder for Rimmer, as his brother served in that unit.

I won’t reveal any more of the plot – you’ll have to tune in to Dave at 9pm on October 4 for that. But there’s some space adventure, some funny character-led outbursts, a sly movie reference, and a generous smattering of funny lines, normally in the form of contrived metaphor.

This is pretty much the cocktail which made Red Dwarf such a success in the first place. Writer Doug Naylor – one of the original creators – has overlooked some of the grander sci-fi concepts and ignored any over-complicated ways to tie up storylines with previous series to produce a standalone episode which serves as a useful reintroduction to the characters that’s accessible to those new to the Dwarf. We’re still missing deadpan computer Holly – as played by Hattie Hayridge or Norman Lovett – but there are guest roles for Mark Dexter and Susan Earl.

There is no great reboot of the format, more of a back-to-basics approach, and all the better for it. And to whet your appetite further, here’s a teaser clip for the six-part series, whose other episodes are titled Fathers and Suns, Lemons, Entangled, Dear Dave and The Beginning

Published: 11 Sep 2012

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