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For those people who relegated this BBC Manchester TV production to the distant space-dust way back in 1988, now is your chance to give Red Dwarf another go ... unless you're still dead-set against anything that uses those two ugly abbreviations - Sci & Fi.  Whenever I've mentioned this show to my friends they usually say "Red What?" or possibly "Oh yeah, maybe, no I don't think so".  After having discussed this very issue with another mate of mine, he said he was not immediately taken by the show simply because he had no idea where any of it was coming from, and after 5 seconds of looking at it decided that he would never watch it again.  Of course, I reckon his attention span is less than that of a goldfish since the show had no "instantly redeeming value" in it for him.

But if you're the kind of person that enjoyed Galaxy Quest, then I know you would enjoy the insane antics of the Red Dwarf crew - you just need to spend a bit of time getting familiar with the characters and situations first.

The creators of this show are the same kind of people who love the limitless bounds of science fiction, but at the same time can acknowledge the absurdity that this genre can often go towards when placed back into the context of everyday reality ... or to put it a bit simpler:  "Monty Python In Outer Space".  And as much as this show takes itself about as seriously as Kryten's groinal socket, there are still some über-fans out there who will want to nitpick over all the infinite timeline event inconsistencies which plague this now popular TV Series ... unfortunately, they must be the same persons who take this obsession to similar extremes with Star Trek.

The Intelligence Test strikes again ...
The reason that Red Dwarf has stayed in the hearts of its fans for so long is because it refuses to conform to the conventional way of thinking with every known genre (inside the realm of deep space and virtual reality simulators) and to always outthink its audience as to what could possibly happen next.  But, as with most long-running TV shows, its quirky qualities and unique appeal have finally found a mainstream following.  But despite this show's inevitable evolution from cult-pop to mass-pop status, there was always another rabbit left to pull out of the hat to challenge our preconceptions (if not misconceptions) about what is entertaining.  Sort of reminds me of another turn-of-the-century production that was made right here in Australia - Farscape - bring it back, please!

And just for fun, here are some weird coincidences and "spot-that-actor" situations :-
[*]Mac McDonald plays the ever-recurring character of Captain Frank Hollister, he has also appeared in the occasional Hollywood movie (including a Future cop in The Fifth Element and a German soldier in Top Secret!)
[*]Robert Bathurst plays the one-off character of Todhunter (who is continually referred to in future episodes), he went on to play David Marsden in the brilliant TV show Cold Feet
[*]Alan Rickman was mentioned by Grant & Naylor to have reluctantly read for the part of Lister, ironically though he is cast as another reluctant TV actor, Alexander 'Dr Lazarus' Dane, in the movie Galaxy Quest

Episodes
Smeg, has it been 15 years since Red Dwarf got lost in the black void? (otherwise known as our dull & dreary lives).  I was just finishing high school when this first came out - half my lifetime away already - but I didn't actually get into the show until Series Three appeared when Kryten became a regular character.  And speaking of school, I suppose you could deem Series One as being a huge history lesson that will teach you where each character fits in and why there are only 3 of them on a ship that's supposed to house 169 crew members (or is that 1,167?)

WARNING!  Spoilers will ensue :-

1.1 The End
This is a distress call from the mining ship Red Dwarf ... All the crew are dead ... Yes Dave, everybody's dead, everybody's dead Dave.  A radiation leak has wiped out the entire crew, except for the hapless human Dave Lister (Craig Charles) who was initially sealed in the stasis booth for breaching quarantine regulations by smuggling in a pet cat named Frankenstein - then after 3 million years Lister is revived to discover that he is the last human being alive.  The ship's computer Holly (Norman Lovett) decides on a way to keep Lister sane by resurrecting his old bunkmate and immediate superior Arnold Rimmer (Chris Barrie) as a Hologram for the trip back to Earth - an excercise in futility some might say.  Lister wonders why Holly couldn't have brought back his wannabe-girlfriend, Christine Kochanski instead.  Meanwhile, a strange looking but sharply dressed cat, known as Cat (Danny John-Jules), makes the grandest of entrances to the unnerving of the two crewmembers left on board.  It's revealed by Holly that this animal evolved from Lister's pet cat into the lifeform they see before them now, after the original (pregnant) Frankenstein was safely sealed in the hold away from the radioactive contamination that occurred a few ice-ages ago.  So begin the epic adventures of the Red Dwarf crew for the next few years to come ...

1.2 Future Echoes
Holly's well-laid plans go a little bit awry when he chucks a U-turn and heads back to Earth at faster than the speed of light - this has the side-effect of producing what is called Future Echoes - these are flashes of the future which become more distant as time goes on.  Lister is the only one to notice these at first, but Rimmer soon sees some as well and would rather that maybe Lister should have been there for one of them ... especially when Rimmer witnesses his colleague dying in the most hideous, hideous way!

"Well it probably IS déjà vu, it sounds like it!"
1.3 Balance Of Power
As time wears on for poor ol' Lister, his place in the universe seems even more lonesome than ever as the realisation of his predicament hits home.  Rimmer doesn't help Lister's depression by pulling rank on him all the time to perform routine maintenance every chance possible and even Lister's cigarettes are somehow held to ransom if he doesn't comply with Rimmer's orders ... no matter how mind-numbingly boring they are.  Lister feels the need for some other human companionship, female preferably, so he asks his bestest pal Rimmer to give him Christine Kochanski's hologramatic disc, but Rimmer refuses since Lister will probably turn him off forever if he did this - surely not?!?  The only way Lister can get what he wants is to outrank Rimmer by becoming an officer, although probably not in the way you might be thinking.

1.4 Waiting For God
Lister discovers a new form of reading that doesn't involve his preferred method of literacy - pictures - this one uses smells.  It comes from the Cat's library, as does his "Bible" that lays out the almost mythological beginnings of life for the Cat-People.  Lister soon discovers that their God, "Cloister The Stupid", is actually himself ... He who is prophecised to emerge from the light and take everyone to Fushal (the light that comes from his Stasis Booth and Fushal being Fiji).  Unfortunately for Lister he finds that the Cat-People had once enacted a civil war over whether they should wear Red Hats or Blue Hats.  Meanwhile, Holly retrieves a mysterious pod and Rimmer suddenly believes that it houses aliens, but the new God in town is more privy to its contents.

1.5 Confidence & Paranoia
Lister visits the off-limits Officer's Deck over a bout of nostalgic depression, however he soon becomes sick when a mutated virus within these confines infects him in a very weird way.  After a few prods and pokes from the newly Rimmer-trained medical-skutters Lister is well on the way to recovery, but not before his many halucinations about raining fish and exploding bell-ringers inexplicably become "solid".  Eventually, Lister's Confidence and Paranoia take human form which is never a good combination to have in one room and Rimmer wants them off the ship immediately.   Of course, Confidence sweetly charms his way into Lister's psyche making him believe that he can do anything, but Paranoia provides the constantly irritating speed-humps in the road of life for Lister.  What will ultimately become of the two embodiments of Lister's personality?

1.6 Me<SUP>2</SUP>
Lister finally manages to find Kochanski's disc with the help of the now-demised Confidence, although he soon discovers what this disc actually contains - another Rimmer.  Now there are two of them on board and Lister cannot believe he fell for such a rouse.  The two Rimmers move in together and everything is hunky-dory for a while, until the new Rimmer antogonises himself for how wretchedly pathetic his life (and death) has become.  Meanwhile, Lister discovers Rimmer's "Death Video" showing the last few minutes of his life ending in the words "Gazpacho Soup".  The original Rimmer visits Lister after having a bit of a tiff with himself in the next room, Lister then asks what the Soup thing is all about but Rimmer will not reveal its true meaning, much to the aggravation of Lister.  The situation between the two Rimmers hits flashpoint and Lister takes charge by deciding which one of them must go, but Lister also has an ulterior motive for his intervention.

Video
I'd love to give the image a better rating since this is the best that a home video format has ever seen for Series One, but the reality is that it will not be technically superior to the remaining seven Series.  So all of the ratings will hopefully reflect the general improvement that should be apparent for each subsequent 2-disc Series sets.

"Waaaoooo!  These are mine!"
As everyone involved with the show has already admitted to, Series One is about as colourful as the grey that adorns every hallway in the Red Dwarf ship (the question is whether it's Military or Ocean grey).  Spots of colour do come up every so often as a welcome relief to the drabness, but there's not much else worth mentioning except for the Cat's wardrobe which changes in nearly ever scene, but even these are quite dull comparitively.  The blacks are, somewhat unsurprisingly, only a dark kind of grey which really shows the moderate-budget production values afforded, however the outside shots of the Red Dwarf tend to exhibit the darkest of blacks best.

There are some obvious video artifacts that are generated from a super-imposing of layered-effects shots which is purely the result of the video technology of the time, but there are virtually no film artifacts in the model footage.  Unfortunately, slight MPEG-blocking does creep in every so often as it tries to keep up with the relatively soft-focus of the episodes here.  Overall, you probably wouldn't expect much more from the source material.

Audio
This is the original stereo mix (with all its faults, nooks and crannies) but it still serves its purpose well.  The dialogue is easily intelligible, the sound effects are adequate but will hardly blow you away and the surrounds only seem to serve the music and little else than that.  As much as I would have a loved a beefier soundmix, the reality is that 98% of what we hear is verbal exposition so we only get the absolute essentials here.

Extras
First things first ... the DVD cover spine.  It looks as though our friends at Village Roadshow have decided not to provide (or couldn't get the rights to?) the partial Red Dwarf logo from the original R2 DVD release.  This image was meant to spread right across the entire eight seasons of DVDs so as to make a completely standout recognisable RD-symbol across your cherished DVD library.  However, we do get something else in place of this (but it's not nearly as desirable) - a silver-embossed 3D-style version of the Red Dwarf logo on the front and back of the DVD cover, which looks much like the ABC symbol seen between programs aired here on Oz TV.

Luckily, we have been given the 12-page colour booklet that also graces the R2 DVD package.  Whilst this is not much more enlightening than what fans already know about the show, it will help to fill in some gaps for the newcomers who have often wondered what the fuss was all about when Red Dwarf first hit the airwaves.  But as you may already know, Series One had a "second coming" of interested fans when the initially more successful Series Two and Three were eventually broadcast.  I look forward to each further Series' booklets.

The menu system is simple enough although it's probably a little too "clean" for my liking, a bit of dirt and grime wouldn't have gone astray in the visuals.  Navigation is pretty much trouble-free and even the simplest of P.E. teachers and car-parking attendants should be able find their way around no problem.

Disc 1
There is a cast commentary for all 6 episodes from the four main cast members - Lister (C.Charles), Rimmer (C.Barrie), Cat (D.John-Jules) and Holly (N.Lovett).  This is probably as informal as you can possibly get - these guys pretty much take stabs at each other about their acting techniques as well as the various paraphenalia that they wear on the show.  Only now and then do you get a gem of information that you've never heard anywhere else, but the majority of this talk seems to be one of just kicking back, laughing at the jokes they hadn't heard in years and talking about what they used to get up to at various times of the shoot.

Alright dudes, who's up for a game of "What's That Computer?"
It must have been a lot of fun for the cast to reminisce over these episodes with some very fond memories, but personally speaking it's another thing to actually listen to the commentary when the cast re-directs our attention to the next joke or quip in the pipeline all the time.  I find that I am continually distracted one way or another by what is happening onscreen that I fail to keep my attention on the comments being made by the cast ... either that or maybe the level of the original soundtrack is too high so that it overtakes the commentary recording.  I feel a revision in the sound levels of future commentaries is warranted for this reason - we have subtitles after all.

A writers & director commentary by Rob Grant, Doug Naylor and Ed Bye plays over the first episode (The End) only and isn't at all screen-specific - they discuss the inspirations and ideas that developed over many years towards the TV show itself.  This almost has the feeling of someone who plopped in a home video of the first episode and the three of them just chatting away whilst taking little or notice of it running on the TV.  But it's a very insightful look into their long-term desire to bring this very unique genre (sci-fi comedy) to the small screen.

The easter egg is also here, but the relevance to the four-digit number that accesses it still eludes me - maybe someone can explain what it's for so I can then feel like a right Goit for not having worked it out sooner.  This 5-min featurette is a South Park style animation (although less animated) with Rob, Doug and Ed talking about the episode Future Echoes in which they reveal the critical reactions to it and the difficulties of filming such a complex series of split-screen effects (and acting) at a time when television productions barely used this technique.

Disc 2
The deleted scenes are a welcome collection of sequences that were cut mainly for pacing reasons, and some are even different filmings of the same script essentially.  It's not a bad way of furthering your already brain-packed knowledge of everything Red Dwarf, but it's obvious why they were removed in the end.  The jewel of this lot is "Rimmer's Eulogy" which, in normal circumstances, is delivered by someone living AND with great restraint towards certain truths about a person's life - however Rimmer tends to go in the opposite direction by blowing the truth all out of proportion.  The smeg ups are all Series One related and I'm afraid there's no new material here that hasn't already been seen in the previous outtakes VHS's available.

Launching Red Dwarf is an all-new 30-min documentary especially produced for this DVD which presents archival interviews and plots the course of Red Dwarf's beginnings as a radio serial to its eventual incarnation as a TV show.  The drunk featurette shows scenes from all eight Series that exhibit intoxicated behaviour by the ship's crew, including Kryten the mechanoid, all of which is set to the famous Chumba Wamba drinking-song - this featurette is not included in the R1 US DVD release because of legal issues over the song.  Interestingly, we get the entire Japanese Version of The End episode which shows the CGI-remastered Edition that was created for all of Series One, Two & Three a few years back - at least you get to see the major changes that were made to try and bring this 80s show crawling back into the 90s, much like what a certain filmmaker did with his Star Wars Trilogy (and don't miss the obviously added-in Skutters near the start, an in-joke to the aforementioned Trilogy ;).

The special effects raw footage is the original non-enhanced motion-camera controlled shots of the Red Dwarf mining ship.  There is also what I believe to be the entire set of isolated music cues from this Series, so you'll start humming the instantly recognisable tunes that belong to certain key sequences.  The talking book chapters are excerpts from the novel Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers read by Chris Barrie who literally voices all the various characters within (a skill which he is very deft in) - you can see more of his particular talent in one of the deleted scenes from the Series Two DVD, read my review of it later to find out which one.  The photo gallery is extremely sparse and is only worth a glimpse at best - surely there were more images available in magazines and such that could have been included here - then again, I guess there wasn't that much stuff being photographed at the time Series One was being produced.

It's Mr Beautiful and Co.
Summary
There are so many reasons why Red Dwarf shouldn't have gained a following, only because all the ingredients are wrong - the last human alive trapped in deep space (wrong), a dead man brought back to life as a hologram (wrong), an over-preened under-achieving feline-sapien who's favourite phrase is "How am I lookin'?" (not unusual, but still wrong) and a computer with less IQ than a smart glass of water (wrong) - but put them together, and you get a triple-fried chili-chutney sandwich - sorry, that line was in Series Two!

I'm assuming that the hard-core fans of Red Dwarf have just gone straight for the quality ratings below without even bothering to read any of my review - I don't mind since I would expect this from my fellow Dwarfers, but the review at least should help to convince your loved ones into buying the DVDs ;).  It's a terrible pity that we will have to wait until 2006 before the entire eight Series is out on DVD (as well as a particular Trilogy near the same time).

If you want the latest news on the Red Dwarf DVDs and theatrical movie, check out their official <a href=http://www.reddwarf.co.uk>;webpage</a>.  You can also read my interviews with creator <a href=http://www.dvdanswers.com/index.php?r=0&;s=13&c=14>Doug Naylor</a> and his comrade-in-arms <a href=http://www.dvdanswers.com/index.php?r=0&;s=13&c=15>Andrew Ellard</a>.


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