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Red Dwarf – Back to Earth review

Submitted by on April 15, 2009 – 5:30 pmNo Comment

red-dwarf-crewOkay, I’m aware that the comeback three-part Red Dwarf special is not technically a film but it is approximately 90 minutes long (in total) and I felt like reviewing it!

reunites the Red Dwarf crew: Rimmer, Kryten, Lister and Cat after the non-existent ninth season of the show. It was bought back to the screen by the cable channel “Dave” in the UK as the BBC clearly saw no more life in the series.

They were wrong! Over 2 million tuned in to see the Hologram, the bum, the funny shaped one and the Cat get up to their old again in the first of the three parts! So, after promises of a Red Dwarf film in the pipeline (for the past ten years), how does the show measure up to series gone by?


Dave Lister, the Cat, Arnold Judas Rimmer and the ever-pompous Kryten finally get back to Earth. Unfortunately as they do so, they realise that they are all just characters in a popular TV Show. They all have to chase down their creator to discover just how many Red Dwarfs there are likely to be left!


Firstly let me say that I am a true fan of Red Dwarf. Naturally when I say that, I mean I am a fan of the first six series. The final two series simply didn’t feel as tighter and as humorous as they could be. It could be argued that the reason for this was the lacking of ’s involvement in the last two series. Doug Naylor is clearly a capable and amusing writer/producer but the later series feel somewhat shy of tighter editing. The reason for Grant’s departure from Red Dwarf? Well it is rumoured to be because of a disagreement (assumedly with Doug Naylor).

The seventh season (under Doug Naylor’s ) decided to lose the live studio audience and so we had a show that we were used to a laughter track and inexplicably, it was gone. For me, this decision was the beginning of the end of Red Dwarf. For many, this removing of “canned laughter” only helped the franchise but I somehow feel alone whilst watching Red Dwarf now; whilst before I felt in good company.

carbugDespite these criticisms though, I’ll admit that overall I have always enjoyed Red Dwarf and was in a good mood when I discovered that the series was returning (albeit for a three part special). I saw the promotional shots of “Starbug” and had feared for the show somewhat! I knew they were on a tighter budget (being made for a cable channel) but for them to replace the model of Starbug with a bright green customised Smart Car, I feared the worst! My fears, it seems were misplaced though as there is a perfectly reasonable (albeit illogical) reason for the customised “Carbug” and it simply wasn’t on screen as a replacement due to budget constraints!

sophie-winkleman-red-dwarfIn series seven the character of Kochanski (Lister’s interest/obsession) was taken over by Chloe Annett. I felt that this was another of Red Dwarf’s mistakes as she didn’t quite with the Dwarf crew. In the first episode of Back to Earth though, we are introduced to a new holographic character played by Sophie Winkleman. Instead of being an annoyance, she simply fits in. In fact she fits in better than Annett’s Kochanski ever did! Winkleman’s dynamic with Barries’ Rimmer is hilarious. She doesn’t have many lines but makes every one count!

There is a massive influence from Blade Runner throughout the shows and although it starts off very subtle (the cat leaving origami everywhere), it soon turns into a neon light pointing out the very fact! I’m sure at one point it is mentioned on screen several times. This is a shame as I felt quite superior to my friends at one point; sitting in front of the TV laughing at Rimmer, Lister, Kryten and the Cat run through a market and shot down through panes of glass in slow motion! I had just hoped to see a blatant stunt double shot but we were not given it.

Overall Red Dwarf – Back to Earth is a demonstration piece. It self promotes almost in every scene; showing merchandise, DVDs and SFX magazines with “Red Dwarf” emblazoned on them. These shows it seem, merely shout out to the TV channels: “We’re back and we’re as popular as ever and we want this franchise to continue!“. For my part, I am with them. Red Dwarf should return. Each of the actors manage to slip back into character with ease; their chemistry between each other shines through the banter on screen.

My one true criticism though is that of length. If anything, Back to Earth has shown that a full length movie is not right for Red Dwarf. Back to Earth was merely an elongated episode. It didn’t deserve being stretched uncomfortably over three episodes. It would have been a tighter edit into a 2 part show or even a single episode. This is the difference between Doug Naylor and the “gestalt entity” Grant Naylor (Rob Grant / Doug Naylor). Grant Naylor’s Red Dwarf would have been tighter in the edit and had bursting at the seams. Doug Naylor (whilst just as funny) lacks the comedic focus of the first (better) classic series of this iconic programme.


Whilst Back to Earth is a welcome but temporary return to the Red Dwarf crew, you can’t help feeling that it has been stretched over three episodes when it really should have only been 1 (or perhaps 2).

Sophie Winkleman joins the crew and is a welcome addition. Her chemistry with the Red Dwarf posse is something that Chloe Annett never had. Despite this though, the last scene with Lister’s determination speech brought a tear to my eye. Only truly great comedy series can accomplish that. If you have seen it, then watch it again. If you have yet to see it, then seek it out on DVD in the coming months. Red Dwarf has returned and hopefully it is here to stay!

Rating: 4 out 5

(Click here for an interview with Doug Naylor about the show’s possible future)

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