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A year is certainly a long time to wait for anything these days, but they say that a good wine ages gracefully. So it is with this reservation in mind that I gladly welcome the third DVD of this, dare I say it, ground-breaking science fiction based comedy television series. Each season of Red Dwarf continually marked a new direction for the franchise in that it lost certain memorable aspects, but then always came up trumps with other equally entertaining alternative elements to take their place.

Red Dwarf - Series 3
The inclusion of Kryten (played by newcomer Robert Llewellyn) effectively takes over the "loopy voice of reason" from Holly, which adds a different understanding to everything that takes place. Speaking of which, Holly has had a sex-change in the form of Season 2's alternate persona Hattie Hayridge. Then there's the landmark episode of Marooned where the actors and fans have rated it as one of their all-time favourites. This proved that drama and humour can take place within the confines of one room without the need for special effects (er, except to establish the environment they find themselves in of course). And for those who aren't completely familiar with each and every episode ever made, you will also notice that the rating has been bumped up to the less family-friendly M, for reasons that fans are already aware of.

Having just bought the Alien Quadrilogy DVD box set I am amazed how many parallels that this has with Red Dwarf, although ironically none of it has to do with aliens (since Red Dwarf purposely avoided all existences of them). For starters, Dan O'Bannon wrote the screenplay for (and starred in) John Carpenter's student film Dark Star, which was a parody of many sci-fi outings (but not on his later darker effort on Alien of course). He soon discovered that horror was easier to create than humour since there are about two or three different varieties of horror, whereas humour can be almost infinite in nature (as well as being exponentially exclusive to those of differing tastes to it). Subsequently, there haven't been too many sci-fi comedies produced in the 20th century, save for our beloved Red Dwarf.

You can read all about this in our interview with <a href=http://www.dvdanswers.com/index.php?r=0&;s=13&c=14>Doug Naylor</a>.

Episodes
Move on ahead if you want a spoiler-free experience of Red Dwarf Season 3.

3.1 Backwards
As Lister and Cat ask themselves the eternal question of whether Wilma Flintstone is sexier than Betty Rubble, Rimmer is in the process of qualifying Kryten to pilot the Starbug vessels. Before they know it, the two occupants of Starbug are sucked into a wormhole in which they land on a planet resembling Earth, however everything apparently goes backwards in this realm. Soon after, Lister and Cat search for their missing shipmates, only to find that their friends have in the meantime established themselves as the hottest troupe of Forward Performers known as srehtorB esreveR ehT. Rimmer and Kryten do not wish to leave their new life in the spotlight, however Lister and Cat must convince them otherwise, whilst also having to contend with their own new bodily functions since they arrived in this unbelievable reality.

3.2 Marooned
Holly warns the crew that they have been ambushed by five impending black holes nearby, so the crew must abandon ship until the Red Dwarf can navigate around the danger. Kryten and Cat opt to leave in Blue Midget whilst Rimmer and Lister take off in the oft-troublesome Starbug, only to end up crash-landing on an ice-planet. Stuck with only limited supplies and no means of communication, Lister struggles to stave off starvation and keep warm until they are both rescued. But with time running out, Rimmer and Lister confide in each other by revealing their innermost secrets and soon the inevitable sacrifices must be made to ensure Lister's survival, although not in the way that Rimmer thinks.

3.3 Polymorph
An unidentified organism boards Red Dwarf and the crew are at their wits end to combat this unknown and unrecognisable parasite before it can feast on their emotions. Able to change into anything at will to invoke a powerful negative response in its victims, one by one each Dwarf'er find themselves somewhat freed from their inhibitions, but know they must "twat it" before it takes them over completely.

Red Dwarf - Series 3
3.4 Body Swap
Against the sage advice of Rimmer and Kryten not to touch anything electrical on the ship, Lister uses the vending machine which sets off the Self-Destruct timer sequence. Since only a senior commanding officer is able to switch it off again, toilet-mechanic Kryten suggests that a Mind Swap with one of the commanding crew is their sole chance of averting this tragedy. After a thorough change of underwear, Rimmer talks Lister into repeating the procedure with him so that Rimmer can help Lister get back into shape. As it turns out, Rimmer gets the taste of the good life (or life in general) and effectively gorges himself close to oblivion before Lister can save his own body from a fate worse than mashed potato.

3.5 Timeslides
As Lister contemplates his solitary place in the universe, Kryten discovers that much of the ship's inventory has mutated including the photo-developing fluid used to process film. Unexpectedly, this has the benefit of bringing everything inside the picture frame to life and the crew discover that history can be altered by changing the outcome of the image. Rimmer and Lister realise their future lies on the road to riches and thence try to outdo each other by being the first to invent The Tension Sheet, but not everything goes according to plan.

3.6 The Last Day
Being the current owner of the already outdated Kryten service droid, Diva Droid International advises Lister that the replacement model is on its way and that his older variant must pack itself away and shut down permanently. Kryten surprises Lister by saying that he should not be concerned since Kryten knows he will be well rewarded in Silicon Heaven, then Lister decides to give Kryten a send-off to beat all send-off's. However, at the moment of truth, the crew resolve to save Kryten against this new and improved construct that is programmed to "deactivate" its predecessor. But with the new model having spent so long in space, are the crew safe in presuming that it won't harm humans as well?

Video
Effectively, the quality of this image is the same as that found in Season 2. The most notable improvement goes towards the colour scheme, although this has more to do with the change in art design to get away from the drab grey motif. The same interlaced video technique is utilised which makes for a slight blurry effect, though this is unavoidable given the source. The one thing that is always a pleasant omission on all of these DVDs so far (including the deleted scenes archive interestingly) is the lack of analogue tracking errors or obvious editing marks therein. However there are a couple of other niggly artefacts that were obviously inherent in the master tapes.

Black levels are slightly better than in the previous discs with shadow detail also nicely rendered throughout; definitely better than watching grey corridors all the time too. It has to be said that there is an inconsistency in the lighting levels that can make some scenes blander than others, so this may prove a bit off-putting. There are hardly any major MPEG artefacts to speak of, not even in the troublesome wall areas or fast moving objects like the Giant Orange Swirly Thing in Backwards. Grain too is rather a non-issue but is still an underlying presence in most of the shots, although the same footage within the documentary below exhibits this flaw quite considerably.

The major concern of the image in general is the colour-gradation occurring between fine lines of contrast, such as grill apertures and the gold jewellery worn by Cat to name but two. There is also a slight presence of image blooming only in a couple of darker areas due to the limited rendering scope of the cameras and the video equipment used to record it; this might have been better realised by using film instead (haha, on their budget?). The DVD blokes behind this remastering are to be congratulated on rendering such a problematic video.

Red Dwarf - Series 3
Audio
At the risk of sounding like a parrot, this is the same soundtrack as remembered from its original television broadcast days. However when it comes to on-set dialogue, decipherability of the vocals is purely determined by the environment in which it is recorded. Unfortunately in cases like The Last Day, this was quite problematic unless some major ADR work were to have been afforded instead.

The echo-riddled processed sound, if not the general ambience of metal corridors, makes for some indecipherable vocal delineation unless you are totally on the ball at the time. This shortcoming seems to be more present in this series than in the last two, but I have no doubt that we won't hear the end of it in the future DVD releases. Overall, dialogue is discernable when nothing else occurs around the characters onscreen, but thankfully there's the subtitle stream to finally help avid Dwarf'ers work out what was really said all those years ago. Music is well realised and does not overwhelm the mix, while the sound effects do their job admirably without the need to lurch for the volume control constantly.

As for the audio commentary, the DVD guys must have taken my suggestion to lower the main feature soundtrack so that it isn't nearly as distracting when listening to the actors reminisce etc.

Extras
The supplemental material takes a different turn from the earlier discs of Seasons 1 & 2 whereby there is a more structured insight into each of the episodes for the main documentary. This alone improves upon the less focussed previous entries for Series 1 & 2 since these were more of an overview or summary of how Red Dwarf first began life 3 million years ago.

One disc one, the audio commentary has two additions and one omission, that of Holly's alter-ego Hattie Hayridge (losing Norman Lovett) plus the reconstructed Kryten played by Robert Llewellyn, to natter on with Craig, Chris and Danny. Sadly, this feels like a step down from the last two commentaries and even Mr Kryten has a hard time coming up with anything terribly exciting to recount. Much of their dialogue is spent remembering that they were actually involved with Season 3 in some way and having the usual dig at each other, especially with Robert's appalling Canadian accent. Whilst there are some interesting tidbits on occasion to savour, you will have to dig them out with a toothpick in order to enjoy them.

Disc two contains the rest of everything Dwarf'y. But as some people have already discovered, the newly produced graphical menu system has been causing some trouble for certain DVD players. The style is similar to that found on Seasons 1 & 2, although this time the text comes up via a streaming video process that is incompatible with particular units. Replacement discs have subsequently been issued that offer a text-only derivative, which I feel is less cumbersome and indeed easier to locate what you are looking for. Both of these menu system versions are available as standard in this Season's release and beyond.

Red Dwarf - Series 3
The Smeg-Ups (6 mins) are, as usual, eternally humorous with the actor's fluffed lines and equally hilarious model ships going wayward on takeoff, but again there is nothing new to discover here. The deleted scenes (30 mins) are somewhat less interesting than what their predecessors were but are nonetheless a welcome addition for those who just can't get enough Dwarf in their diet. There are two trailers that were used to promote upcoming TV episodes and retail videos for sale, the quality of which are extremely poor quality due to them coming from well-worn VHS tapes themselves. There is another music video compilation short this time entitled Food, set to James Brown's "I Feel Good". It is pretty much self-explanatory with footage from all eight series of Red Dwarf rating a mention each.

The newly generated documentary All Change (80 mins) starts off with a twenty minute summation of how Season 3 changed direction artistically, then each episode is delved into quite thoroughly. The experience feels a lot longer than the sum of its parts which makes for a genuinely entertaining source of information that you've always wanted to learn about. This new approach of creating an in-depth retrospective rundown for each season is a welcome change from the rather disjointed efforts from the DVDs of Seasons 1 & 2. It showcases many personal memories and inspirations from the time of filming and also helps to debunk certain rumours (some of which were created by the cast or crew themselves). The majority of interviews involve little-known anecdotes rather than any technical rundowns of how each episode was generated, although one exception is learning about Ed Bye's logistical nightmare just trying to film all the sequences required for the Backwards episode.

Hattie's DJ Diary is a home video trip down tribute lane using her own footage taped at the 2003 Red Dwarf Convention in Britain, which has fans and stars enjoying each other's company with candid comments and tongue-in-cheek humour. The photo gallery holds shots of official promotional images, VHS covers, model shots & schematics and test polaroids; quite fascinating stuff. There are another two talking book chapters of Chris Barrie reciting some Red Dwarf novels again, although it would have been better to provide these as a concurrent storyline for each disc rather than just some seemingly random entry. Better still, the isolated musical cues library is the complete archive of melodic warblings for Season 3, each of which are easily identifiable to the episode in question (only for the dedicated fans that is).

There is also the Mel Bibby tribute (8 mins), which has many verbal praises from cast and crew about his invaluable work on improving the look of Season 3 and beyond. The model shots (7 mins) are again some more raw footage of the various objects flying through space. The collector's booklet is another wonderful hand-held complement to these discs that makes great reading about the making of Red Dwarf in the comfort of your own bed, or wherever you choose to snuggle up with a book these days.

And last (because I wanted it to be), there is the entire episode of Backwards Forwards on offer for those who like to experience deja vu to the max. However, (I'm not kidding either here), when I wanted to fast forward to certain sections of this video my subconscious mind was always hitting the rewind button instead, which makes for a completely surreal experience. All those phrases that you originally thought were in Bulgarian are now decipherable as cockney-coloured English, although the main cast have learnt a new language. Unfortunately, the one slight oversight of this "new episode" is that there aren't any subtitles available, so it's even harder to watch most of it without any adequate translation. With video-playback technology advancing in leaps and bounds every day, this episode still could not be played backwards(?) from the first disc, hence the re-encoding of it here on the second disc.

And whether or not you could call this an easter egg, just play all of the episodes at once and wait after the second episode Marooned to be treated with an extra snippet of footage.

Red Dwarf - Series 3
Overall
The so-called "purists" will always argue that the continual change in comic stylings of this show insults the memory of the original series. My comment would be that if nothing changes in this world we would become very bored indeed, hence variety is the spice of life.

I've decided that nearly all of the seasons of Red Dwarf are to be given an almost equal rating at least in terms of plot, as it is almost impossible to distinguish which one is better than the other, although most fans will probably know when this will start changing. It goes without saying that this DVD set is yet another must-have for all fans of Red Dwarf.


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