21 years after its very first series, Red Dwarf returned to TV, in the form of a three-part mini-series called Back To Earth, which came out last week on Blu-ray and DVD. Does it return to its early zaniness, or fall flat like its last series?
Red Dwarf: Back To Earth picks up where Series X ended – Kochanski is dead, Holly is out of commission, and the inept crew of Lister (Craig Charles), Rimmer (Chris Barrie), Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) and Cat (Danny John-Jules) are alone again on the re-shortened Red Dwarf (which is explained in Series 9…) Water supplies are running low because Lister left a bathtub faucet on, and they discover a creature living in the water tank. After dealing with that, Katerina Bartikovsky (Sophie Winkleman), the former science officer of Red Dwarf, is brought back as a hologram and figures out how to send the crew back to Earth – except that they arrive in the present day and discover that they are merely characters in a TV show, in its final season – and they are to be killed off at the end. Following the plot of the series, they seek out The Creator to find a way to live…
Oh, if you are confused, wondering how you missed two complete series of Red Dwarf, don’t fret – there is no Series IX or Series X – but they changed the situations to be more in line with some of the early series, and conveniently “explain” the changes as having happened in the intervening 9 years in “episodes” not seen by the viewer.
Both the Blu-ray and DVD versions weigh in at two discs, so I am uncertain as to the differences, but the Blu-ray includes a 1080i picture (not 1080p, which I believe some early reports indicated), and DTS HD audio for the Director’s Cut of the main feature. This is a review of the Blu-ray specifically, but I believe they contain the same things.
The Director’s Cut itself isn’t all that much different from the original 3 parts – it is just edited together into a continuous feature, with a few things trimmed like any references to it being a three part series. Nothing new is added. The individual original episodes are available, but you have to find them under “Scene Selection”.
How does the new series fare? Well, the first time I watched it I really didn’t like it, much like Series VIII. It is in a VERY different style to begin with. No laugh track or audience, which unfortunately means that some of the more subtle jokes could land flat, especially to an American audience who may not get all the references (there is a Coronation Street scene in which the characters are talking funny, which I’m sure would make more sense to a UK viewer). It is also done single-camera style on location, except for the segments that are on Red Dwarf. This is a radical departure to what the Red Dwarf fans are used to.
However, on this second viewing, perhaps because I knew how it was filmed and presented, I found I was able to enjoy it more. So I urge everyone to give it a second viewing before prescribing judgment on it.
The crew get to cross over a bit. Craig Charles, who has been starring on Coronation Street for several years, gets to appear as himself on the set of Coronation Street where he is questioned by everyone but Lister (to avoid confusion). They also hang out on Coronation Street itself, which seemed to be treated both as a real location and a set.
Overall the characters did seem to slip back into their characters fairly easily. There were a few moments here and there that looked a bit rusty though.
Since most of the show was on location, the visual effects generally didn’t apply except for the first part and the very end. Red Dwarf is back to its original size and shape (in Series VIII it was elongated, which they called a “pencil”), and the familiar crew cabin is back – but you can see that at least in several places the set is in fact virtual (shot against a green screen). There is one set shown however that I thought was at least partly virtual (the look down a hallway with a door at the end), but as seen in some of the special features was not virtual per se – it made use of forced perspective and a model.
The discs are nicely screen printed with the Red Dwarf logo glowing in the background. When they load up after the initial BBC/copyright screens, a scutter will cross the screen and either give you the finger (one finger, for Disc 1) or the “English” bird (two fingers, for Disc 2). Then the menu is overlaid on the video of the long shot where the dimensional portal is being made and the characters are looking on.
Disc 1 contains the Director’s Cut and the original episodes, plus a commentary track on the Director’s Cut by writer/director Doug Naylor, and another track with the 4 main stars.
Also included is a High Definition Setup Guide to help you get how HD equipment optimized.
Disc 2 contains all the other bonus features, including:
“The Making of Back to Earth” and “The Making of Back to Earth Part 2”, in total just over an hour of behind the scenes footage. Find out how they came up with “Carbug” – and how they locked the keys in the car.
Smeg Ups – An enjoyable set of outtakes, full of “Yo Mama” jokes, a member of the royal family (Sophie Winkleman is now married to Lord Frederick Windsor) having problems rolling her Rs, and lots and lots of flubbed lines…
Featurettes – several shorter features – “The SFX of Back to Earth”, “Back to Earth Premiere”, “Cast Signing Session”, “Press Kit Video”, “Behind the Scenes Web Videos”
Trailers and Promotions
Photo Galleries – Hi-res production stills and behind the scenes shots. Plays as an automatic slideshow with the background sounds of Red Dwarf
I also understand there is an Easter Egg on the second disc, but I was unable to get it to trigger on my player, assuming it exists in the U.S. Blu-ray release.
Again, after seeing this a second time, I enjoyed it far more, likely due to the abrupt difference in style from what was expected. Although the extras are not huge, they do exceed the length of the feature itself and were enjoyable to watch.