When Dave announced that it would be making a new six-part Red Dwarf series after 2009’s Back to Earth, it’s fair to say that many fans were cautious in their optimism; the three-part special had taken the characters down a much more dramatic route, and seemed to mark a shift in direction for the Boys from the Dwarf, one which took them away from their sitcom roots. Would Red Dwarf X continue this trend?
Put simply: no. Trojan, the first episode of Red Dwarf’s tenth series, immediately feels more like the classic show than anything that’s been broadcast in nearly twenty years, with a pair of opening scenes which each contain some strong jokes and build to neat crescendos for the characters. And yet, nothing here is without a purpose; both of these scenes contain gags that have superb pay-offs later in the episode – there’s one Cat moment in particular about halfway through the episode which is up there with some of the show’s greatest scenes.
It’s hard to say too much about Trojan without giving away the plot, but it’s a Rimmer-centric episode, with some ties to the past which will please long-term fans whilst not alienating any of the new ones. The entire final third of the episode is a treat, with lines and visuals that border on parody of another much-loved franchise, and some excellent guest performances from Susan Earl and in particular Mark Dexter, who brings out the worst in Rimmer in all the best ways.
Easily the star of the episode, though, is Danny John-Jules as Cat. Seeming far more comfortable in the role than he has for a very long time, Danny steals pretty much every scene he’s in, thanks in part to a script filled with some classic Cat lines.
One of the most talked-about aspects of the new series is the return of the live studio audience, and the difference is palpable; all of the Dwarfers have a sense of energy and fun in their performances that can only come when there is a crowd to seek approval from; and there are several jokes whose timing is visibly improved – one early Rimmer gag in particular is clearly drawn out for a moment or two longer than it might have been without a second wave of laughter to guide the performance.
Also returning after long absences are model shots, as well as specially-composed incidental music by Howard Goodall. As always used to be the case, these are used sparingly but effectively; Goodall’s score adds an extra punch to the scenes in which it appears, particularly towards the episode’s climax. And the model shots are little short of beautiful; this is Red Dwarf for the high-definition age, and clearly a lot of love and effort has gone into making the small rouge one ship-shape (pun intended).
The design is actually stunning all round; as you may have seen from the trailers, the action takes place in a more confined area of the Dwarf, redder than ever before. And it’s hugely detailed, with monitors constantly showing information and intricate set details that before would have gone unnoticed; if one series is going to persuade me to buy a Blu Ray player this year, it’s Red Dwarf X.
Trojan isn’t a perfect episode of Red Dwarf; there are a few jokes in the episode which are played a little too broadly, and at times the Lister subplot wanders into mediocre observational comedy. There are also a couple of slightly jarring references to 21st century life; that said, the first series of Red Dwarf alone contained references to Moss Bros, Kevin Keegan, Helen Shapiro and Norweb, so perhaps this is simply another aspect of the show’s early days making a return.
Because really, it does feel like a concerted effort has been made to take the show back to its early days. From the pleasingly Series 3-like appearance of the episode title to the small-scale, character-centric plot and barrage of jokes, you get the impression that Doug Naylor has been watching a lot of repeats on Dave whilst writing this new run, and that’s no bad thing.
This is Red Dwarf as it should be; four blokes (Well, one bloke, a hologram, a cat person and an artificial intelligence) in space, with humour that comes not from an increasingly outlandish set of circumstances (There’s no dinosaurs on this ship) but from the characters themselves and how the situations they find themselves in affect them. It’s fun, it’s funny, and if we can have another five like this then Red Dwarf XI (and beyond!) is going to be welcomed with open arms…
Red Dwarf X begins on Dave on Thursday the 4th of October at 9pm.
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