DVD Review: 'Red Dwarf X' - 25 Years Of Curry, Dead Spacemen, And Cowardly Holograms

If you want to feel the passage of time, don't pay attention to your own (eventually) creaking joints or the gray in your hair: look at the faces of the band you've been listening to for years or of your favorite actors in a long-running TV show. In my case, it's seeing the years at play on the actors (and jokes) of the British sci-fi comedy series "Red Dwarf" which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year across ten seasons in the DVD release of "Red Dwarf X."

In the years since my teens, when the misadventures of the last human in the known galaxy and the hapless crew of the Red Dwarf were fresh, funny, and weird in that Douglas Adams-by-way-of-shopping-mall-punk way, I've seen many (many) better-plotted and thought out sitcoms. After three years off the air (and another ten before that), maybe it's a combination of nostalgia and love of these actors and their characters, but I can't quit you, "Red Dwarf."

Let's travel all the way back to 1988, and the beginning of the series, which sees beer-swilling Jupiter Mining Company vending machine repairman Dave Lister (Craig Charles, you've seen him on "Robot Wars," probably) wakes from imprisonment in stasis to find that three million years have passed and the the crew of the Red Dwarf have been wiped out by radiation exposure. In order to keep Dave from going mad with loneliness, the ship computer selects the crew member Dave knew best, Arnold Rimmer (Chris Barrie) resurrecting him as a hologram (not knowing that the fellow vending machine machine repairman was the person Lister liked the least). Over time, the duo discovers Cat (Danny Jules-John), the sole descendant of the humanoid cats descended from Dave's stowaway pet, and later they bring the prim mechanoid Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) on board to help with the cleaning up and to explain all of the sci-fi bits.

In the seasons since its debut, the show has explored the strange circumstances of Lister's birth (in a roundabout way, Dave did the nasty in the past-y before Fry), learned more about Rimmer's daddy issues, run afoul of homicidal mechs, gone back in time, been reunited with their crew, lost the crew again, all the while encountering various versions of the love of Dave's life, Kristine Kochanski (played by various actresses over the years), and generally made a mess of things across time and space.

In many ways, very little has changed leading up to the tenth season, which sees Rimmer dealing with a near fatal bout of envy as he attempts to impress the hologram of his brother, ("Trojan"), Dave offering himself some tough love in "Fathers and Suns," while a Dear John letter from the past offers a chance for fatherhood ("Dear Dave"). Series co-creator Doug Naylor, who wrote and directed this season, more or less mines the general uselessness of the crew while sneaking in some stabs at character development (a subplot seems Dave trying to improve himself) while ignoring threads from previous seasons (Naylor jokes that fans still want to know how the crew survived the unresolved cliffhanger at the end of season eight).

It's pure joke-mug-wait for studio audience laugh humor, and to most audiences who didn't grow up with the show, it can seem kind of stale (Rimmer scrunching up his face and rolling his eyes into the back of his head stopped being funny around '92). And that's actually why it's kind of comforting. These actors have been working together for so long that they've formed a natural, easy rhythm built on casual nastiness and putdowns. You won't find a lot of depth here, and the edge has come off the show which was an antidote to the bright, serious science fiction like "The Next Generation" (dark and weird sci-fi is kind of the norm now).

In the end, nostalgia is what brought me back to the series and nostalgia is why I still love it. While I can't recommend this season to newcomers (fans will dig it, though), I do advise you head over to Netflix and see the nearly perfect first and second seasons of the show to get why it's inspired 25 years of love.

Special Features

  • We're Smegged: The Making of 'Red Dwarf X' (2:02:22): This lengthy, frank look at the troubled production of the series' tenth season, taking an overview of "Red Dwarf X" in its entirety while also highlighting memorable/most difficult moments in producing each episode. From the beginning, we see the whole thing is beset by delays, actors' unavailability, creator Doug Naylor's ambitious decision to shoot it like a feature film in front of a live studio audience, and any of the thousand or so things that can go wrong in a sci-fi TV series. As a longtime fan of the show, it was easy to get swept up in a wave of affection for the cast and even Naylor (who has more guts than sense, it seems), as they return to the show they all so obviously love.
  • Deleted Scenes (29:05): A collection of snipped bits from this season's six episodes, all presented in the order of their placement in each episode with optional commentary. Hey, you get to see the guys running around against some unfinished VFX.
  • Smeg Ups (12:48): This season's blooper reel--one of the points made in the "We're So Smegged" doc was how the performers had to get acclimated to being in front of an audience. You can see here how they fed off of it even as they flubbed their lines.

"Red Dwarf X" is available now on DVD from the BBC.

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