Red Dwarf VIII Review
Dateline: March 15, 1999
Caution: This review will contain spoilers (noted below). If you don't want to know what happens in the eighth season of Red Dwarf, don't read past the warning.
This has been the best season of Red Dwarf in a long time. Unlike some previous seasons when it seemed the writers suddenly realized they had six episodes to deliver and just borrowed on what worked before, a great deal of forethought was put into the eighth season, bringing the series back to its roots, as well as having a lot of originality. The very best aspect is the return to the original Lister (Craig Charles) and Rimmer (Chris Barrie) relationship. This may have seemed difficult after the episode last season where Rimmer, like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, metamorphosized into all-round action man Ace Rimmer. It would have been irritating to have the same character lapse back into his annoying ways, but the new story arc introduced this year gets around this in a very clever fashion. We get to see Lister and Rimmer as they were back in the very first story, indeed, much of this season plays out as if the events of that episode (Lister hiding his cat and going in stasis, the drive plate going and killing the entire crew) never happened. And it works! After several seasons of Dave Lister's Adventures In Space, we are back where it all began, with he and Rimmer as the lowest ranked crew members of a huge starship - although they soon discover this isn't the worst position they can occupy.
Also back, providing one-liners wherever they are needed, is the original Holly, Norman Lovett. Because he hasn't been around lately, I thought his jumping in with a satirical comment on the action was jarring, but then realized that was what he had always done originally (when not delivering exposition dialog to keep the plot going). The series also plays on the fact that Lister has experienced a lot in the past seven years of his exploits, has grown as a character, and no longer has making Rimmer's life a living hell as his raison d'Ítre (though of course it inevitably happens through the course of events anyway). The production values are excellent, with great costumes, sets, and scenes full of extras. The ambitious CGI work does look a bit phony at times, but in a BBC comedy series, one can't really complain.
Individual episode story reviews below.
Back In The Red - Part 1
The series goes back to its roots, literally and figuratively, as the new season of Red Dwarf gets off to a bang. The last season ended with the nanites (microscopic robot machines) rebuilding the missing ship, although a final punchline was getting the scale a bit off. This is quickly sorted out but not before a race through the airducts and a hilarious sight-gag involving a rat. The nanites have done too good a job and not only recreated the ship (according to its original design specs and not the Jupiter Mining Corp's money-saving revisions - a handy device to explain changes in the ship) but resurrected the entire crew! However from the crew's point of view, they never died, hence Dave Lister and company have a lot of explaining to do when he crashes Starbug into the cargo bay. But who is Lister's only help when he is unable to explain the fantastic events that have occurred? Roommate Arnold Rimmer, brought back to the life along with the rest of the crew, and unaware of his previous fate. This is the Rimmer from the first episode, the officious, Lister-hating, ambitious but hopeless loser. His scenes with Lister are the heart of the episode, particularly as he has recalled every grievous trick perpetrated upon him, whereas Lister has actually grown and changed in his years in deep space. Chris Barrie demonstrates why he is an essential element in Red Dwarf and how his absence in episodes last year revealed a missing essence to the series. But Lister knows how to play even this Rimmer, and easily tempts him with knowledge that will allow him to cheat his way to the top (don't forget in the first episode Rimmer covered his body in crib notes in an aborted attempt to pass the engineering exam). It was a relief during this season the writers resisted killing off Rimmer to resurrect him as a hologram again. Having a Rimmer who is substantial and can interact with his environment (and vice versa) is much preferred. Rating: 8 (out of 10)
Back In The Red - Part 2
Rimmer, using the information supplied by Lister, attempts to get a promotion from Captain Hollister (Mac McDonald). Overly confident, he introduces an even newer "Rimmer salute" which takes nearly a minute to complete! Despite Chris Barrie's original profession as an impressionist, one has to admire his talent for physical comedy as his hand sweeps all over in its mad wave. He also takes advantage of the sexual magnetism virus he found and soon finds himself the object of affection of every female crewmember. Meanwhile, Lister, Kryten, Kochanski, and the Cat are put on trial for unauthorized use of a Starbug, but manage to escape the brig (with help from the luck virus) and don disguises as the "Dibley" family, completely with buck teeth and black mop hair. As the middle of a trilogy, there's more plot than jokes here, though Chris Barrie makes the most of his part. Rating: 5
Back In The Red - Part 3
A few tried-and-true plot devices are recycled here, including a virtual reality world that everyone is trapped in. There is also a lot of exposition in order to set up the rest of the season: Lister and gang are sentenced to two years in the ship's prison. That said, there are some brilliant set-pieces including Cat doing a dance number with a shuttle craft, a claymation sequence featuring caricatures of each of the cast, the Captain revealing a secret, Kryten classified as a female prisoner because he has no genitalia, and (my favorite) Rimmer demonstrating how prison toilets enforce privacy: you wear a blindfold with "Occupied" written on it. Rating: 6
The first stand-alone episode of the season firmly establishes the characters-stuck-in-prison story arc. Lister inadvertently volunteers everyone for the "Canaries," which he thinks is a musical group, but turns out to be the expendable heavy-risk prison squad that is sent into dangerous situations before the valuable crew members. This of course gives the cast a chance to muck around in new ships and situations while still in prison. First up is a deserted underwater ship Red Dwarf has discovered. The Canaries are sent in to find out what happened to the crew, and we are introduced into recurring character Kill Crazy, whose enthusiasm for action takes him out before he gets out of the shuttle. The gang discover Cassandra, a sentient computer that can (annoyingly) predict the future. It spoils everyone's day by saying all the Canaries except for Lister, Kryten, Kochanski, and the Cat will be dead in an hour. Rimmer finds out he'll be dead in 20 minutes from a heart attack! With an acknowledgment to the first season episode "Future Echoes," the gang tries to avert fate in this funny episode that kicks off the new format with some great one-liners. Rating: 7
Kryten's classification as a female prisoner gives him access to the women's shower, which is exploited by the other prisoners who turn him into a pay-per-view video peddler. Kryten's new personality views exploitation over all else, and he is not adverse into roping Lister into embarrassing situations in this parody of the British "gotcha" show You've Been Framed. Meanwhile Lister and Rimmer try to be model prisoners in order to file a successful appeal - only it's not what Rimmer thinks it is for. There's also a clever parody of old black-and-white B-movie invasion films. Rating: 6
Pete - Part 1
On another reconnaissance mission to a new ship, the gang get their hands on a "time wand" that can digitize time to speed it up or reverse it. Meanwhile, the guards challenge Lister and his friends to a basketball game in this homage to prison sports movies. Lister rigs the game with the help of the scutters, but he and Rimmer continue to run afoul of Captain Hollister who finally throws them in the hole. Using the time wand, the others help them escape but inadvertantly turn another prisoner's pet sparrow Pete into a tyrannosaurus Rex which traps them in the cargo bay. The best jokes are derived from the various viruses Lister introduces including one that eats all clothing and hair, and another which wildly stimulates male potency. Rating: 5
Pete - Part 2
It's up to the gang to trap Pete the dinosaur and return it to its original state. Lister's brilliant plan is to create a huge cow vindaloo which has unfortunate side affects to the poor beast which it perpetrates repeatedly on an increasingly beleaguered Captain Hollister. There are too many different unrelated plot threads, including one involving Kryten's runaway artificial penis. Rating: 4
Only The Good ...
Rimmer is on probation as the Captain's aide, although he still hopes (despite his prison record) that someday he'll become an officer and get his own ship to command. Meanwhile, Kryten and Lister try to one-up each other in a series of escalating practical jokes. After a fight lands Lister and Rimmer in the infirmary, the others use this as an attempt to finally escape. However the ship has taken on a new virus which is breaking it down and after the order is given to abandon ship, only the prisoners are left to fend for themselves. Kryten sends Rimmer to a mirror universe in order to get the antidote, and there Rimmer discovers he is Captain and Hollister is now his aide. He gets the formula but it won't work in our universe where he is now trapped with the others already gone. Death comes to claim Rimmer in his last moments with the ship disintegrating around him, but Rimmer figures "Only the good die young," knees Death in the groin and runs off. A caption says "The End" but then "The Smeg It Is." The best gags are Kryten's unfamiliarity with female biology, Rimmer picking a fight with a candy dispensing machine, and his attempting to get it on with a woman in the mirror dimension who turns out to be his sister! Rating: 7