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Things just get better all the time, don't they? If the news of the Star Wars Trilogy on DVD wasn't good enough, along comes another season of Red Dwarf! It has already taken two years to possess half of these glorious sci-fi sitcoms on such pretty-looking discs, so we only have that much more time to wait before the rest is finally sitting on our bookshelves. The fact that between Season 4 now and Season 5 later will be filled by Star Wars IV, V & VI only makes the wait that much sweeter.

Red Dwarf - Series 4
Ever since Red Dwarf started, each episode has always exhibited yet another turning point in originality of humour and revelations for each character. In Season 4, Kryten gets a girlfriend and also experiences human emotion for the first time, Rimmer escapes a jail-term which would have lasted much longer than his maddening stint on the future terra-formed Rimmerworld, the concept of a White Hole is addressed, extreme opposites of alter-ego's come face to face in the same dimension, then the concept of a silicon heaven is established even if the human alternative is deemed not all it appears to be.

The artistically drab grey motif of Season 1 is what established the true mental state of Lister's sole existence in the universe, but not nearly enough viewers would want to have involved themselves in this ominous environment. Therefore each series brought about changes not only in the visuals but also the comedy, although some fans have constantly criticised Red Dwarf's "evolution" as it were. It's one thing to not fix what ain't broken but it's another to keep flogging a dead horse.

The Series
Move on ahead if you want a spoiler-free experience of Red Dwarf Season 4.

4.1 Camille
Kryten is being taught how to lie from the greatest expert on the ship, namely Lister, however the training is a lot more difficult than either of them had ever expected. Kryten then assists Rimmer in responding to a distress call but, against Rimmer's firm Space Corp directive command, Kryten heads towards the unstable area to look for survivors. A female mechanoid not unlike Kryten himself (starring actor Robert Llewellyn's girlfriend no less) is retrieved (an almost eerie parallel to Kryten's own rescue). However things are not what they appear to be since she appears to be different things to different people. Her secrets are soon revealed and Kryten must convince her to return; to do that he must take the noble stance and lie, Casablanca style.

4.2 D.N.A.
It doesn't take much to go wrong for the Red Dwarf crew, and the discovery of a DNA “transmogrifier” only helps to confirm their ability to smeg things up good and proper. With Cat at the helm of this device, Lister is transformed into an array of different animals. Inadvertently though, Kryten turns into human form where he is initially overjoyed at achieving this lifelong desire. But his newfound range of emotions is way too much for him to handle and it is up to Holly to work out the controls and change him back. But as you would expect, fiddling with someone's DNA is fraught with danger, and laughter.

4.3 Justice
Kryten takes on the role of nighting-droid to care for Lister after he contracts space mumps, making him look like a caveator-bag turned inside out. Meanwhile, Holly recovers a roaming life-capsule launched from a prison facility that held both security personnel and your typical top-of-the-line psychotic armour-plated killing androids. Not knowing whether this holds the officially badged female officer or an insane neck-spitter, the Dwarf'ers bring the container back to the complex just in case it is the latter. They are then mentally probed by an automated Justice Zone field to determine if they have had any past criminal indiscretions. Not only do they find themselves dealing with Rimmer's self-guilt before he became an "H" long ago, but also discover how Newton's second law does not always hold true in this environment.

Red Dwarf - Series 4
4.4 White Hole
In the vain hope of helping Holly regain her 6,000 IQ with the help of a bread-obsessed Talkie Toaster, Kryten and the gang wire them both up and flick the switch. Holly becomes brilliant again but at the expense of a slightly reduced lifespan; about the same time as it takes to hard-boil an egg actually. Meanwhile, the crew discover the presence of a White Hole that is throwing out everything that is usually sucked in by a Black Hole. Can Holly save the universe from certain destruction, or will they entrust life as we know it to Lister's drunken pool-playing with planets in place of billiard balls?

4.5 Dimension Jump
Better brush up on your culinary skills, because someone wants a smoked kipper for breakfast. In an alternate universe, supreme space pilot and extremely attractive head-turner Ace Rimmer is chosen to further humanity's understanding of existence by operating a craft capable of inter-dimensional travel. He will encounter an infinite variety of his other selves and just so happens to crash into Red Dwarf's Starbug containing one Arnold 'Judas' Rimmer. After saving Cat's life from a fate worse than polyester, Ace does everything he can to involve Arnold in his macho endeavours to no avail. With the help of newly christened Dave 'Spanners' Lister, Ace saves the day once again and takes off in the fruitless search of an even more pathetic Rimmer.

4.6 Meltdown
Kryten decides to go through the R&D branch of Red Dwarf and comes across a prototype matter rematerialising device. After the crew's safety concerns by Kryten from fiddling with unknown gadgets are appeased, it takes them to the nearest planet with a breathable atmosphere. As luck would have it, this world is inhabited by theme park wax-droids which have become self-aware and a battle has been waging on for eons between the pacifists and war-mongers. In steps Rimmer to lead the peace-loving characters to victory, however his Napoleon-like battle plans are not exactly what you would call textbook.

Video
As expected, the quality of this image isn't that much improved from its previous incarnations except maybe for one thing; resolution. This isn't so obvious at first, but the composite blue-screen effects shots now do not exhibit the distinctive video-dot crawl that surrounds each object or actor superimposed over the background plate as in previous series' episodes. This alone eradicates what can be a troublesome visual deficiency when attempting to suspend one's disbelief that something is actually there when it really isn't. The best example of this improved technique is in Dimension Jump when the characters are waving goodbye to Ace Rimmer in his spacecraft.

Apart from this welcome advancement in video technology, not much else has changed. The same interlaced shimmer is present which can spoil an otherwise static image detail, but overall it isn't terribly distracting. Grills or stripes are especially prone to jitter and are basically unavoidable given the source material. MPEG artefacts are not all that problematic although they are still present in a very minute fashion. Colour becomes even more prominent with each series and the hues in this season are the most vibrant of all so far. Black levels are the deepest so far as is the shadow detail, now that the lighting has improved all-round for every episode. Other than that, pop the disc in and relive all those old Dwarf memories again.

Red Dwarf - Series 4
Audio
Frankly, I'm finding it much harder to find different ways of saying the same thing all the time - now I know how Ripley felt talking to that bureaucratic corporation in Aliens. The audio mix is just the same as we experienced it on the analogue TV transmissions of the old days.

Dialogue is mostly comprehendible even in the hollow echo-ey interiors found in the final act of Justice (no pun intended). The musical junctures are evenly balanced just as the sound effects are quite underwhelming in their sophistication and full-bodiness, although that said there is a lot of atmosphere to be absorbed from the Red Dwarf universe onscreen. The soundtrack is mostly a front stage directed piece with the surrounds only giving us a taste of things to come in later series, but again the subwoofer is about as likely to utter a sound as the cat is likely to fetch a stick.

Extras
As noted previously in the Season 3 DVD set, the graphical menu system on Disc Two is problematic on a few DVD players, therefore another simpler text-only version has been provided. This adds an extra button-click in accessing the supplemental material which can be slightly annoying. You keep expecting to come across the extras menu itself and instead have to choose between the two different navigation systems available, then bare through a separate animation clip before the menu proper.

Disc 1
The sole extra is the audio commentary which, like Season 2, seems to have the cast more comfortable with discussing the episodes they were involved in. This time they come up with more interesting anecdotes than what was attempted in Season 3, regular Dwarf'ers will know what to expect by now.

Disc 2
There is another all-new documentary entitled Built To Last (73 mins) that again summarises what Season 4 had to offer to its fans, then goes more in-depth into each episode. There are a couple of new personas here to fill out some wonderful trivia including the costume and make-up artists. Some remarkable facts come through that I doubt even regular fans were aware of, including the surprise revelation (to me anyway) of the comedy God Paul Jackson taking over as director when Ed Bye was struck down by a mystery illness. I say surprising because the cast and crew at the time had no idea he was coming and what is revealed here will have you tickled pink at their own shock of how things occurred back then. However, this is about all they ever discuss for this particular episode and not much else is mentioned within it, which is a major side road taken compared to the rest of this featurette.

Red Dwarf - Series 4
The Smeg-Ups (10 mins) are again nothing you haven't seen from the previous duo of video tapes that every major fan already owns by now, but there's nothing like a good fluff-up to get the endorphins flowing. The two trailers have been sourced from ancient retail VHS copies just as in the Season 3 DVD release and are once-only affairs. The music video compilation short entitled Lurve set to "Dizzy" by Vic Reeves contains footage from all eight series with the characters in various facets of affection or embrace (or worse). Knowledgeable fans may want to send the kids away when this one is playing (just think about Kryten with his groinal socket in Season 3 and Rimmer's return to Lister in Season 7).

The photo gallery is much more extensive with over fifty photographs on display from formal promotional shots to candid behind-the-scenes images. The isolated music cues are once again a delight for fans of the cheap but memorable background melodies that adorn the episodes. The deleted scenes (20 mins) are just as welcome to avid Dwarf'ers for their historical significance, but these ones undoubtedly support the case of "They Weren't Good Enough" and are ultimately not terribly interesting even as curious additions to possible comedy or character development.

The strange inclusion of Can't Smeg, Won't Smeg (30 mins) in this Season 4 DVD set is that it was created during Season 7 when the new Kristine Kochanski (Chloë Annett) was added to the mix, thereby not following any logical timeline of the Red Dwarf production. Nonetheless, it is a humorous (if rather manufactured) parody of a cooking show hosted by former G.E.L.F. Ainsley Harriott. Even though a lot of what happens here follows a certain scripting, the genuine part of the show has the actors (in Red Dwarf character) attempting to cook a delicious meal with Chloë obviously terrified of the concoctions that she has to taste-test at the end. And depending on what your threshold is in terms of entertainment, the comedic antics on show will leave you with either a good or bad taste in your mouth.

Ace Rimmer: A Life In Lamè has newly generated Holly’s commentary interspersed with scenes from Ace Rimmer's exploits over the three episodes he has appeared in; what a guy! As it stands, this re-edited footage loses all intended concepts surrounding the actions on screen, hence much of what he does means very little in this viewing and thereby loses all impact of his exploits in return. The Audio Book Clips are another two excerpts of Chris Barrie getting into his favourite pastime of voice-acting with more embellished accounts of the events that takes place in the Red Dwarf. Finally, the Model Footage is really one for completists who adore the laborious process of setting up filming environments. The end result of such hard work is to achieve the much needed shots which deliver that much-needed "crikey, are they really there?" assertion of the actors actually existing inside these spaceships. Finally, the collector's booklet helps to fill in the gaps left behind by the wonderful documentary(s).

Red Dwarf - Series 4
Overall
What else can you say about this TV show? Original, unique, hilarious, educational? Whatever the appeal is to its fans, this production is something that stands the test of time even if the fashions of the day do not. It's been a long time since we've seen cleverly scripted and directed episodes that can entertain its audience in the way that Red Dwarf can. Heck, the trend of so-called Reality TV doesn't even require a script to fill up the few remaining hours that we are usually so desperately lacking in today. If you are determined to waste your valuable time watching the idiot box, you can a whole lot worse than this.


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