DVDs in Review - # 23 - Red Dwarf I: The Original Series

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Chris Barrie as Arnold Rimmer
Craig Charles as Dave Lister
Danny John-Jules as "The Cat"
and Norman Lovett as Holly

The Show:

Red Dwarf is one of those shows that almost never was, at the time of it's conception the concept was pretty much unheard of. The BBC didn't really do much Sci-fi and they certainly didn't consider the concept of a Sci-Fi/Comedy to be worth pursuing. So the show very nearly didn't happen. But, fortunately for us it eventually did and the rest is history.

Red Dwarf is the story of Dave Lister - the last human left alive, Arnold Rimmer - the hologrammatic recreation of his former bunk mate, "The Cat" - a creature that evolved from Dave's pet and Holly - the (now senile) ships computer. The first series starts with the events that lead up to Dave's predicament and deal mostly with his attempts to adjust to his new life. It's a very slow paced, character driven sitcom that is mostly powered by the interactions between Dave and Arnold. Over the course of the series Dave discovers he's the last human alive, that he's been in suspended animation for over three million years, his pet cat's descendants evolved into human-like creatures and he was the creator of an entire religion (plus the cause of religious wars.) He also experiences visions of the future, intense hallucinations that become solid and not just one, but two Rimmers.

The first series's style is very much a traditional British sitcom, you have the dysfunctional 'couple' who's interactions drive most of the story alongside the 'wacky' characters who provide either exposition or just comedy. The characters are all deeply flawed and actually quite an unpleasant bunch. Dave Lister is essentially the laziest slob in existence ever, 'Cat' is little more than vanity on legs, Holly is alternately senile, sarcastic and occasionally cruel and Arnold. Well Arnold Rimmer (Chris Barrie) is the centerpiece of the show, a deeply flawed individual who's a petty minded, rude, cruel and pathetic little jumped up snot of a man. A distillation of the worst roommate you could ever experience combined with everything unpleasant you could experience in a superior. It's a tribute to the man's skills that he can play such a nasty little toad and still be sympathetic and likable.

The performances from the other actors range greatly, Craig Charles is very inexperienced at this point in his career and as such the bulk of the work tends to lay on Chris's shoulders. But it's not like he's bad, he's just not fully grown into the role at this point. Danny John-Jules is fantastic as the Cat, but this isn't difficult for him because the role is a very physical one and as a dancer he's eminently suited to it. As for Norman Lovett; he's superb as Holly, selling the right balance of senility and comedy into his performance. He's nothing more than a talking head/voice over but his presence is easily the equal of the rest when he's performing.

It's also worth mentioning the model shots at this point, all of the work for exterior shots in the first series of Red Dwarf is done entirely with model shots and it's a tribute in this CGI infested age just how realistic (if you can call a ship in space realistic) they look. On the other hand, the interior sets are decidedly simplistic and ropey but that really adds to the charm of the show. Rather than making space travel look all flash and shiny Red Dwarf manages to highlight how mundane the truth of working in space would become with it's dull grey minimal sets. They look cheap, but it's the kind of cheap that works. Adding to the series rather than taking away from it.

The first series is a slow start and is not the best example of the show, it's in fact a very different beast when compared to the one that starts to evolve in series 3 (and peaks in series 6), but it does contain some absolutely classic comedy moments and it's a superb piece of character driven comedy. There really is (almost) no better place to start experiencing Red Dwarf than here.

The Other Stuff:

Red Dwarf I: The Complete Series is one of the BBC extravaganza products. One of those creations where the producers of the DVD set have pulled out every single stop and attempted to provide the most complete experience possible. The set comes in a single plastic DVD case with a spine that is designed to sit on the shelf and build up a complete version of the Red Dwarf logo. Inside it contains two discs, one that has the six episodes (complete with excellent commentary) and a second disc that contains an obscene amount of extras. In total the viewer gets:

Cast Commentary
Writers & Director Commentary - Episode 1
Deleted Scenes
Smeg Ups (Outtakes)
The Original Trailer
A documentary titled "Launching Red Dwarf"
The "Drunk" Featurette
The Japanese version of "The End"
Raw footage of special effects
Isolated Music Cues
Talking Book Chapters
A Photo Gallery
Hidden Easter Eggs
and a Collector's Booklet.

All the stops have been pulled and it adds over 90 minutes to the experience (plus another 2 hours if you watch the episodes with the cast commentary - something I would recommend). So you get an amazing deal for the price.

Speaking of which Red Dwarf Series I is currently available from Zavvi for the astronomical price of £7.99. Which is 4.5p per minute without considering the extras or the commentary. It can also be purchased in the 3 for £18 section

The Final Word:

While the first series of Red Dwarf is essential for fans of the show, it's not the best of the bunch. It's an enjoyable two hours of television and is something you'll come back to watch on many occasions as it's light enough to pass the time and funny enough to be enjoyable. It's one of the price pieces of my collection and something I go back to at least once a year for a rewatch.

The Final Score:

I have to give it a 3 here, it's better than average but the series changes and improves so much later on that the first series doesn't compare. A solid start that does grow into something really special.


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