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It’s possible that some people do not know what Red Dwarf is about (however I do think this is unlikely) so I am firstly going to provide an overview.

Red Dwarf is a Sci-Fi sitcom. Unprecedented in its time, this series quickly gained momentum and a cult following. It is the story of one man, David Lister, the last human alive and his life aboard the mining vessel Red Dwarf. Written by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, this series had a hard time ever coming to light. The final version of the script was given to the BBC in 1987 but work did not start on it until 1988 as the BBC were not happy with the style of the show, not the fact that it was set in space. Feeling people needed more to relate to in a situational comedy, Red Dwarf was left alone for a long time until eventually it was given a budget and a studio to work in up in Manchester. Work was halted several times due to the electricians strike but eventually the ball got rolling on the start of the best sci-fi sitcom on a space ship, ever.

Everybody's dead, Dave
Film
The package comes with two discs. Disc one features all six episodes from the first series and I will give a brief summary of each here:

The End
Although this is the pilot, the title of this episode signifies the end of the crew of the mining ship Red Dwarf. All killed by a radiation leak, the only survivor is David Lister who was placed in stasis for the remainder of the ships journey for bringing an unquarantined cat aboard. In stasis he was protected from both the radiation and the time that passed. The ships computer Holly (Norman Lovett) releases Lister from stasis after the radiation level has dropped to a safe level. Unfortunately this is three million years after the original accident. To keep him sane, the computer generates a hologram to keep him company. Unfortunately this hologram is Arnold J. Rimmer, Lister’s superior officer and worst nightmare. From here our intrepid duo find a creature that evolved from Lister’s cat. Three million years later the Cat (Danny John-Jules) is the coolest, best dressed, most self absorbed creature the universe has ever seen. So begins what will turn out to be an epic voyage which was cleverly written with “amazing” special effects. This is the start of Red Dwarf.

Future Echoes
In an effort to return to Earth quickly, Holly the ships computer takes Red Dwarf up to light speed. This produces some interesting results and the effect of these is reflected in the episodes title. A “future echo” is a glimpse into the future. The faster the ship travels, the further into the future these visions become. They start with echoes of things just about to happen, and then progress far into the distant future. This episode has possibly the cleverest script in all of series one with only Lister noticing the echoes when they first appear. Apparently the only way the writers could understand what was going on, was to draw pictures of the events, and even the director, Ed Bye, had a hard time with some sequences which meant the team would often find him laid on his back, trying to work out what was going on.

Balance of Power
Lister gets depressed. All his friends are dead (yes Dave, everyone’s dead) and he has been left with the power mad rule book waving “smeg head” that is Rimmer. Rimmer has hidden his cigarettes and is only allowing him one per hour that he works helping Rimmer inventory the entire ships food supply. Lister wants to see Kochanski (Claire Grogan) again who was the navigation officer on Red Dwarf. Lister wants to swap Rimmer for Kochanski for a few hours so he can “go on a date” but Rimmer is scared he will not get turned back on as Holly can only support one hologram at a time. The only way for Lister to get the holo-disc of Kochanski from Rimmer is to become an officer and then order him to surrender the disc. So begins Listers training to become a higher ranking member of the crew.

Waiting for God
On talking with the Cat, Lister is told about their religion. Cloister the Stupid is their God and in the three million years that have passed there were holy wars between both factions of believers and many died. Lister is positive that he is Cloister and sets out to prove this. Meanwhile Holly picks up a pod that was floating through space. Rimmer is delighted and starts the decontamination process so that the Quagaars (a name for the aliens he makes up) can give him a new body. This episode also stars the last remaining member of the Cat race aboard Red Dwarf played by Noel Coleman.

I'm gonna eat you, little fishy!
Confidence and Paranoia
Lister takes a trip to the officers decks aboard the ship only to find out later that Rimmer had not finished decontaminating them. He becomes very sick, but with help (of a sort) from Rimmer and the ships service droids (known as the skutters) he becomes well again. Or so he believes. While sick, all his hallucinations materialised as real events, so when he dreamt of it raining fish, the sleeping quarters filled with haddock. This leads to the creation of Lister’s Confidence and his Paranoia. Confidence  tells him how great he is, how smart he is and what a success his life is while Paranoia makes him feel bad about himself by doing such things as pointing out what might be a urine stain on his trousers. If they are both present then Lister must still be sick, but it is hard to convince him of that when his Confidence is telling him he is so great.

Me<sup>2</sup>
The climatic episode of the series follows on from the previous episode in which Holly has turned off several unnecessary systems so that two holograms can be supported. On finding Kochanski’s disc, Lister is thrilled and places it in the machine to generate a hologram of her. Unfortunately the sneaky goit that is Rimmer has replaced the required disc with a copy of his own holo-disc meaning that there are now two Rimmers onboard, hence the title. The Rimmers get along like a house on fire and start to drive Lister mad, however it is not all happiness for them. Meanwhile, Lister finds and watches Rimmer's death video, which leaves him some investigating of his own to do.

Each character is spot on in this series, and it is hard to imagine anyone else ordering a “beer milkshake” for breakfast other than Craig Charles. Rimmer would easily be the most aggravating room mate ever and Chris Barrie excels at being a snide and hypocritical “smeg head”. Holly’s unexcitable voice and drole sense of humour are the epitome of a slightly senile ship’s computer while Danny John-Jules’ self absorbed, fish eating, sex mad Cat is exactly how I now imagine all cats really are. There is not too much to say about the series without spoiling jokes or giving away the ending of episodes for people that have not yet seen them so without further ado I shall move on.

Video
This is the very essence of a series on a tight budget and so it was not recorded on particularly expensive stock and it does show. It is also 14 years old which does not help, however the team behind this DVD have done a great job. There are very few artefacts present and while there is a reasonable amount of low level noise, compared to the VHS version this is fantastic. The cheapness and slightly poor quality of the stock lend themselves to the shoe string budget that this series was made on and so I cannot really say a bad word about it. Occasionally there is too much mpeg compression resulting in slightly blocky areas of colour but I noticed very few of these. It is presented in 4:3 as it was originally filmed in and will not get any better than this.

Exercise, smeg head style
Audio
Presented in Dolby Digital Stereo, anything more would have been a crime against the show. I would imagine the fans would have stormed the BBC if they had even considered upmixing this to 5.1 and I am glad they didn’t. The sound for the most part is clear with slight hiss appearing occasionally but this does not distract from what is essentially a heavily driven by dialogue presentation. The computer gonks, beeps and the odd explosion are at a reasonable sound level so as not to distort and again add to the production values rather than detract from them – there is nothing like Lister screaming “Smeggin Hell Rimmer!” coming at you nice and cleanly through your home cinema set up.

Extras
This is going to be the crux of this review. Many fans out there know who stars in Red Dwarf, and what happens in which episode so this is the section they will have been most waiting for.

Each episode comes with a full length commentary track by the cast (Charles, Barrie, John-Jules and Lovett) which are excellent. They bounce off each other constantly and you can clearly tell they get along well. It is entertaining to hear them all talking normally, especially Danny as it is hard to not expect him to Scream “AAAAOAOOOOOWWW” and then ask everyone how he is looking. The commentaries are fun and entertaining. They talk about the on screen action, take the mickey from the set and cast alike with several digs at the weight of the ships captain. Craig’s phone goes off in the middle of the first episode – the consummate professional as always. I can’t recommend these enough as they are all excellent and yet another reason to watch the whole series again. There is also a bonus commentary for the first episode by Rob Grant, Doug Naylor and Ed Bye. However this is more of an interview and the fact that The End is playing on screen has little to do with what they talk about. They discuss the creation of the concept and how it went from pub to screen. Ed seems to be conducting the interview while Rob and Doug talk over each other, and fall about laughing. In parts this is interesting but not what I was expecting which I felt was a shame.

They broke the Golden rule - never work with animals
An interesting inclusion is the 20 minutes of deleted scenes from this series. These are not outtakes which are later on referred to as Smeg Ups, but proper scenes that were filmed and then removed for whatever reason. Most of these were removed because of time restrictions and a brief message is played before the start of each detailing why it was cut which is a nice touch.
Already available on VHS, the outtakes labelled as Smeg Ups, are classic problems encountered when filming a sitcom mostly involving people messing up their lines, or problems with the set. Obviously only the series one clips are included, so its good to assume that each following series will have these attached.

Launching Red Dwarf is a newly filmed documentary charting the progress of the series from conception to execution. It is a mix of several interviews which is easily detectable since everyone’s clothes change regularly however it actually works quite well, which is again testament to the loving way that this disc has been created by the fans, for the fans.

There is some special effects footage, presented as a compilation of clips showing how the main effects are worked towards being created. It shows what little budget was available, and how they managed to cope. A short photo gallery is included with some interesting concept art of the skutters and the original purchase order from 1987 to build an eight foot long model of the space ship. The section entitled Model Shots is exactly that –the raw unedited and soundless shots of the Red Dwarf models used. It starts with a brief section of text explaining how these effects were created (by moving the camera around the object rather than moving the object past the camera). It lasts for nearly six minutes.

A short featurette simply entitled Drunk is a compilation of clips from all the series of the cast downing pint after pint after pint. Then this moves to how they are after these big nights out – the hangovers kick in. It is a brief yet entertaining short which charts the consummate drinking that is a crucial part of mostly, Lister’s persona.

The original BBC trailer for Red Dwarf is included, making you wonder how it managed to get any viewers at all. Old trailers are bad. Luckily, even though this is poor, the series is still a classic.

A slightly odd inclusion is a reading of two chapters for Grant Naylor’s book Red Dwarf - Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers read by Chris Barrie. The book is essentially the first series from what I remember, and Barrie’s reading (complete with comic voices) is of the start of episode one and from an episode which appears to be an extended version Me<sup>2</sup>, involving the two Rimmers and their plans to fix up the small Nova 5 ship and their ludicrous exercise regime. Naylor’s books are always fun and this should be enough incentive to get the book sales up for Christmas.

As you might already know, Red Dwarf was a huge success in Japan where you can do such things as partake of a curry in the Red Dwarf restaurant while watching your favourite episode. Included on this disc is the entire first episode overdubbed in Japanese. Probably not too useful for many of you, but it made me laugh. It uses the “new” CG title sequence which is nice as even though it was bad, for completeness I was happy it was included. I never thought Red Dwarf would have been a hit over there, but I can gladly say I have been proved wrong. Finally, the isolated music cues are available. These start of with the main theme and titles and move on to the background music from each episode, some recognisable and some not. I was glad to hear that the Rasta Billy Skank was incorporated here. All in all there are forty six different pieces of music for your enjoyment.

Those shades are far too cool for Lister
I can’t end without mentioning the menus. Each is nicely animated showing parts of the ship traversing to each section with audio clips from Holly and Talkie Toaster played over the theme tune. I liked the packaging as well. The case has a disc holder in each half so that when opened the discs are both properly secured. The actual securing mechanism is a little tight, but I much prefer doing it this way than the flappy middle section that other discs employ to secure the second disc. Each series has a small part of the sleeve on the spine which I am reliably told, when placed together will form the Red Dwarf logo in full. I liked this idea a lot and it will look smashing on my shelf. My only gripe is that the unaired US pilot was not included (presumably due to copyright issues) which was a shame as I think the fans would have liked to see how the series translated into American.

Overall
I wonder why I am actually writing this as I would imagine that all serious fans of this series have had this on pre-order for months – I know I did. However it is possible some people didn’t realise this was released and so to you I say “Get to the shops!” This is an excellently presented series with decent packaging and wonderful extras. This is not my favourite series, but I had forgotten just how good it really was. The characters evolve quite a lot through the years and so seeing them as they were in the first series was a real treat. I cannot wait for the rest of the show to be released over the coming months and years.

If you haven’t already read it, then I heartily suggest you check out our interview with <a href=http://www.dvdanswers.com/index.php?r=0&;s=13&c=14>Doug Naylor</a>.


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