Blightyvision: “Red Dwarf: Back to Earth”

Directed by Doug Naylor
Written by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor
Starring Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, and Robert Llewellyn

So we announced recently that “Red Dwarf” will be coming back for at least one more series on Dave, the channel currently re-running the original series.  The decision was based largely on the success of a three-part reunion miniseries aired Easter weekend 2009 (the same weekend as the Doctor Who special “Planet of the Dead”).  Thing being, the “success” of said miniseries seems to be really subjective when it comes to the fandom … and it’s one of those magnificent cases of the fandom deciding what the show should and shouldn’t be.

Allow me to explain.

If you never saw the end of the “Red Dwarf” series proper, it doesn’t matter.  They pretty well ignore it and just go on from where they left off back before the show essentially changed directions entirely, though it is apparently being counted as Series IX now.

So we have our main cast of four — Rimmer (Barrie), Lister (Charles), Kryten (Llewellyn) and the Cat (John-Jules) continuing their flight through space in the far-flung future.  While investigating a water shortage on the ship and finding a squid in the storage tank, they are also confronted by the hologram of a former science officer, whose meddling causes the boys to be flung into the past — specifically, Earth circa 2009.

While there — er, here — they discover that they are in fact characters on a television show rather shockingly called “Red Dwarf,” and that they are doomed to die at the end of the very episodes we’re currently watching.  As they try to come to terms with the meaning of their existence now that they know that they are not real people and have a limited lifespan, they set out on a mission to find Tyrell … er, I mean, their creator.

Thing is … all right.  There’s really no point in trying to say they ripped off Blade Runner, because, well, they totally did.  Though it’s probably not fair to call it a ripoff, and not accurate to call it an homage because it is so similar right down to lines and camera angles.  More than anything, it’s a straight-up love letter to the film that got Grant and Naylor writing in the first place.

Does that mean you can’t enjoy it if you haven’t seen Blade Runner? Absolutely not.  It’s a fine and interesting story, and falls pretty well in line thematically with, say, Dark Tower or “Princess Tutu.”  The problem seems to be the percentage of people who can’t enjoy it because they have seen Blade Runner. Reviews have described it as “disappointing to the point of being infuriating,” “self-indulgent,” and “painful.”  And all the negative reviews focus on the parallels-beyond-parallels to the original film.

But so do all the positive ones.

So what to think?

I have a hard time saying one or the other is right.  It’s a question of personal taste and what you hold sacred in your personal viewing.  A number of the negative reviews I read seem to be of the opinion that the referential humor (and non-humor) was almost egotistical, that “Red Dwarf” had no business getting heavy and trying to be something it wasn’t.  There’s likely some validity in that, depending on how you watch your stories.

This blogger, though, loved it.  I really can’t see any sort of egoism in a farcical show with a “nothing-is-sacred” attitude jumping off and one-offing, with great affection, the thing that inspired the creators in the first place.  To me and many of my regular viewing-mates, it was a pleasant surprise and was amusing throughout for the same reasons that other people panned it.  I can’t help wondering if, had its nature been advertised openly in advance, people would instead be giving it polite applause for “doing what it says on the tin.”

This all boils down to … your opinion of the show will depend entirely upon what you expect it to be, and it’s pretty much a 50/50 split.  And a dramatic one, at that.  And for better or worse, what you think of this will also affect how you feel about the new series currently in production.  Give it a chance, be gentle with it, and you might be pleasantly surprised.

“Red Dwarf: Back to Earth” is available on DVD from Amazon — the Director’s Cut, obviously.

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