Red Dwarf: Back To Earth review

The boys from the Dwarf return from TV hibernation to bend reality again...

How low did you set your expectations, then? Mine were exceedingly low. I really wanted to like this unexpected coda to the Red Dwarf universe, but then I remembered how I’d been so let down by the first episode of Series Seven. Given that memory, I thought that maybe, at least there might be a few good belly laughs. But then I remembered the first episode of Series Eight.

For me, Red Dwarf began falling apart when Rob Grant left and Doug Naylor was left to carry the baton. As proved by their two solo Red Dwarf books, Backwards and Last Human, respectively, Grant was the ‘jokes’ man, and Naylor was the ‘plot’ guy. Seasons Seven and Eight were knee deep in plot, but unforgivably light on jokes.

And that’s what I feared would be the case with the comeback. Yet, despite the hugely convoluted, complicated and somewhat plagiarised plot, the lack of continuity to the last ‘regular’ episode, the over-use of CGI, the occasional plot holes, and the ridiculous amount of self awareness, I was really, genuinely impressed by the whole thing. And, most importantly, I laughed. Repeatedly.

The opening scenes were a wonderful recreation of the old Rimmer and Lister dynamic as they wound each other up over trivial matters. I thought that this worked particularly well as we found ourselves back with the Red Dwarf that we knew and loved: one set, two actors. After this, Lister shows his emotions in a terrific scene, before Kryten and Cat emerge. By reintroducing each character at a time, I feel that Naylor was able to remind us of why we liked the series in the first place. Good dialogue, good relationship between the characters, and not being overly swamped by complicated plots. Yet.

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Even as the plot becomes slightly unwieldy, the characters remain well written throughout, and they’re also generally well-acted, too. Craig Charles as Lister was especially spot on (especially given that, nowadays, he can actually act) and he pretty much led the story. Chris Barrie’s Rimmer, the only notably aged member of the cast, also performed admirably, with only Robert Llewelyn’s Kryten and Danny John-Jules’ Cat occasionally seeming a little forced, but they seemed to grow back into their roles as the story continued.

The ability of the actors to make the material so very watchable was one of the story’s chief saving graces. Indeed, if I had seen the script for the episode online, I would probably have dismissed it as the ultimate in self-referential fanfic fan garbage. But it’s the fact that the actors can still play their parts so well that carried the thing with a joy that it didn’t necessarily deserve to have.

The plot, and beware – there are spoilers ahead! – involved our four heroes (no Norman Lovett as Holly this time) encountering what they think is a dimension-hopping alien. With the help of a ship’s hologram, they use the creature’s DNA to hop back to Earth. But it’s our Earth, in which Red Dwarf is a programme on the TV and Craig Charles works on the Coronation Street set. He also acknowledges his recent naughty-boy past with the line “I think I need to go back to the Priory,” upon encountering his three acting friends and his Space Aged alter-ego. Another excellent joke came with the repeated references to the ‘excellent’ Seasons Nine and Ten.

Eventually, the crew track down their creator and, as the story blends further and further into, variously, Blade Runner and the League Of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse, they defeat their creator by writing their own scripts for the events that are currently happening. To put it more bluntly, it’s Lister writing the scripts, which results in a wonderful sequence of Kryten being hit by multiple rakes whilst Rimmer does a little dance before repeatedly slamming his crotch into the edge of a table. It probably doesn’t seem that funny when written down, but it was played to perfection, as most of the scenes were.

The production looked great, too. There was a lot of CGI used – presumably for budgetary reasons – but it ended up making it look a little more professional than it might otherwise have done. I also didn’t have a problem with the laugh track. This wasn’t a laugh-a-minute story (it was too long to be), but was a very satisfying comedy-drama.

I felt that, being 90 minutes long, the whole thing felt a little slow, but the second half was definitely the stronger, which left a much better taste in the mouth, especially given the particularly clever, funny and rather sweet ending.

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I never thought that I’d want more Red Dwarf. I thought that it really had ‘jumped the shark’ with the Seventh and Eighth series, but on the basis of this, I do think that, with a few more ideas and maybe a few additions to the writing team, there could well be another series in it.

I’d certainly like there to be, anyway.