Red Dwarf X: The Beginning review

Pete waves a fond goodbye to Red Dwarf X, which closes on a dramatic and emotional episode. Here's his review of The Beginning...

This review contains spoilers.

10.6 The Beginning

And with this final episode of Red Dwarf’s tenth series, a billion-piece jigsaw suddenly falls into beautiful place. Last week’s episode, Dear Dave, was a plot-light, self-contained piece that used only the regular sets and very little of the budget. And within the first few seconds of this episode, as we get a beautiful shot of Io Polytechnic, we start to see exactly where that show’s budget went. 

The flashback to Rimmer’s education is an unusual start to an unusual episode, and one that immediately lends it extra scope. Philip Labey and Simon Treves are very convincing in their roles as young Rimmer and Rimmer’s father respectively, and it’s a fun teaser which leaves you wondering exactly how it’s going to tie into the rest of the episode. 

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Back aboard Red Dwarf, we open not with Lister but – in a change to the now-established format – with Rimmer, and an unwelcome visitor… Richard O’Callaghan plays Hogey, the Simulant who immediately endears himself with his manic obsession with duels across time and space. 

There have been many criticisms amongst fans of the fact that Red Dwarf X seems to take place in a much more populated universe than previous series, and the presence of Hogey – combined with his pre-existing relationship with the crew, all of whom are wonderful in their weary dismissal – is unlikely to change this. However, he’s an instantly memorable creation, and even with his short appearance here he quickly establishes himself as the honorary fifth/sixth/seventh Dwarfer (delete according to personal preference); in the likely event of another series, he has to be near the top of the queue for a return guest appearance. 

Hogey is really just the jumping off point for the main story, which sees the Dwarfers attacked by a Simulant Death Ship, led by the charismatic Dominator. Red Dwarf X’s guest cast has been almost universally strong, with only Kerry Shale’s performances in Fathers and Suns giving any cause for concern, but they’ve saved the best for last with Gary Cady, who comes across as marvelously sinister, petulant and unhinged all at the same time; the scene with the sword is one of many comedic highlights in the episode. 

Doug Naylor has revealed that this episode was adapted from the script for the currently-abandoned Red Dwarf: The Movie, and it shows; while Red Dwarf X has been pretty firmly in sitcom mode for much of the series, this instalment sees it head for a more dramatic, emotional and action-packed tone which should satisfy some of this series’ critics. 

Fortunately, the fact that the crew are in the same place for most of the episode means there are also plenty of laughs, and perhaps the biggest of these comes with the brief (and interrupted) discussion of the events of the end of series eight. It will probably come as a disappointment to some, as it’s been heavily implied by several people involved with the show that this episode would reveal all about the events of Only the Good…, but as long as you’re not too desperate to find out what happened, it’s a solid woofer. And if you are bothered by it, try to remember the old Mystery Science Theatre 3000 credo: ‘It’s just a show, I should really just relax’. 

This should probably also apply to the issue of which Rimmer we’re seeing, given that he refers to both his death in series one and the events of series eight… Official site webmaster and fellow DoG contributor Seb Patrick has suggested that he’s an amalgam of the two, and it seems like as good an explanation as any; as with the gap between series two and three, several things clearly happened between series eight and ten that aren’t particularly important for understanding the stories they’re now trying to tell. 

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Whichever version of Rimmer it is, it seems like a very odd move placing him in charge of military strategy. I understand that Rimmer has the fascination with military history, but in the past it’s always been the sort of thing they’d sit down and figure out as a group. It’s one of a few slightly out-of-character moments in the episode, such as Kryten’s reaction to the hole in the ship, or Cat’s insightfulness. That said, the latter is a rare and tender moment for the two characters in the show who have perhaps the least in common. 

As the episode reaches its climax, it very much becomes Rimmer’s story. The revelation about his father is a surprising moment (Not just for the parodying of Star Wars), and although perhaps slightly diminished by the fact that Trojan contained a similar revelation, for long-term fans it’s one with a big impact. Rimmer’s burst of sudden self-confidence is a really satisfying punch-the-air moment, as is his echoing of Lister’s final line from the very first episode. 

The episode’s title suggests that this is the birth of a whole new Arnold J Rimmer; I suspect this definitely won’t be the case in the event of a Red Dwarf XI, or at least that the change won’t be too drastic. It’s pleasing that the character at least had this one moment of unbridled bravery though, after a last-minute edit took it away from him in series six. 

There’s no possible way I could review this episode without discussing Bill Pearson’s model work. If this was a cut-down version, or at least a chunk of, a movie script, then Pearson absolutely made it feel like one. From the stunning Death Ship and Annihilators to the incredible asteroid belt sequences, Pearson can’t be praised enough for easily some of the best effects the show has ever boasted. Likewise, composer Howard Goodall pulled out all of the stops to make the last ten minutes feel every bit as tense and action-packed as they would have been on the page. 

At the time of writing, there is no official word on the commissioning of a Red Dwarf XI; I suspect a lot will rely on DVD and Blu-Ray sales. If The Beginning is to be the last-ever episode, then it’s a wholly fitting last hurrah, and a decent note to end the show on (Doug Naylor has clearly learnt his lesson about cliffhanger endings). 

I hope it’s not the end, though; whilst Red Dwarf X has had its critics, and not everything they’ve tried has been successful, the fact remains that they clearly have tried, and have produced six episodes of something which is a lot more deserving of the budget and airtime than much of the UK’s current sitcom output. 

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There are many good reasons why Red Dwarf will probably never be able to quite recapture the magic it once had. But with the framework they’ve now got in place, the lessons they will have learned from this run, and actors and writers who are clearly both passionate and reinvigorated by the series, I’d really like to see just how close they can come.

Read Pete’s review of the previous episode, Dear Dave, here.

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