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Friday, 27 August 2010

Red Dwarf Just Never Gets Old

When I was a kid, I used to think I was so cool because I could call people Smeg Head - what I believed to be swearing - without adults telling me off for using bad language. Red Dwarf - the BBC space comedy - coined this phrase and offered it to me on a plate. I vividly remember watching Timeslides (1989); the episode when the 'Dwarfers' obtain the ability to travel into photographs as easy as stepping into the next room.

This must have been one of my earliest memories, since when this aired I would only have been about three years old. But remember it, I do. I didn't get some of the jokes; ones about sleeping with girls, drinking beer and eating curry (so MOST of the jokes, then) for years - I was far too young! I remember catching the odd episode now and again over the next few years, but my next vivid memory of the show would be Quarantine. More specifically, Arnold Rimmer's terrifying (at that age) "infection" and, more specifically still, MR FLIBBLE. That Penguin-Hand-Puppet scared the shit out of me. 

And when the BBC aired "Red Dwarf Night" on Valentine's Night 1998, memories of my childhood came flooding back once more... It's odd to think I watched more Red Dwarf on original broadcast when I was too young to appreciate it than I did when I was older (series 8 being a particularly sore point to me at the time - it seemed awful - now though, it's just as enjoyable as the older series). When I had a bit of spare cash some time ago I bought the "Just The Shows" DVD collection. Every episode ever made (at the time) in two box sets. I've been re-watching them all recently, in bed, which is what has prompted me to talk a little about them here.

For those who don't know the show - if you're even still reading after all that nostalgia - it's very easily explained. Set in the near(ish) future on the Jupiter Mining Ship "Red Dwarf", Dave Lister, a humble every-man technician - is sealed in a stasis prison for breaching ship policy on keeping animals on board when he is found to have been keeping a pet cat. 

Three million years later he is awoken by the ships senile computer, Holly, who explains that there was a radiation leak soon after Lister's incarceration which killed the entire crew in an instant. It had taken three million years for the environmental radiation to settle to a bearable level. Accompanied only by a hologram of his annoying bunkmate, Arnold Rimmer,  the most obnoxious, arrogant and useless man on the ship, and a humanoid life form evolved from his pet cat, Lister's hilarious, cringe-worthy and often exciting adventures make up the show. Later in the show's run other main characters emerge in the form of, firstly, Kryten - a rescued sanitation droid with dreams of breaking his programming and living a human life - and later, Kochanski - the navigation officer on Red Dwarf, stranded in this dimension from an alternate one; she is also the show-long object of Lister's desire.

The series has built up its own mythology - not quite on a par with that of Doctor Who or Star Trek in terms of scale or longevity, but cherished just as much by life-long fans. The word 'Smeg' has stopped being a white goods manufacturer or penile secretion for many and is now solely a soft-and-acceptable alternative to the fuck-word. I used to manage a local band called 'Skutter' - named for the three-fingered ship maintenance robots in the show. Some of the more unlikely, yet most effective alien races come from Red Dwarf. The GELF, Rogue Simulants, the Curried Man, Psirens... all worthy, more or less, of a space in our geek-minds along side Borg, Cybermen and Klingons (in my opinion, of course). 

The last series of the show, as I mentions above, was not quite as good as the previous seven (a case of not enough material, really). 

It saw the crew finding Red Dwarf - which they had lost (or had stolen, by persons unknown) at the end of series five - reconstructed by nano-bots, along with it's original crew (including the much missed, and now completely  alive Arnold Rimmer, who had left the previous series to fulfil his destiny as space-adventurer Ace Rimmer - but that story deserves a blog post of its own! Maybe I'll write it one day soon). It ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, that suggests a "back to the origins" future for the crew... But the wait for answers - although a long time in arriving - was worth it. The Dwarfers returned last Easter in 'Red Dwarf: Back To Earth' - a meta-comedy which sees the crew on Earth - on Coronation Street (where the actor who played Lister, Craig Charles, now played Lloyd the Taxi-Bloke) - trying to track down their creators (Grant & Naylor) who, they think, are the only ones who can tell them "how the story ends". 

Again, with hope, the mini-series (which aired on Freeview channel Dave - which a minor character jokingly tells Lister "is named after you") ends with something of a cliffhanger. Watch it and see for yourselves! So what, then, of the future? Well, co-creator Doug Naylor said in interviews - even before Back To Earth aired - that he would like to make more episodes. Indeed, Craig Charles confirmed (whether he was allowed to or not) on BBC Radio 2 some months ago that there will indeed be another two series, brand new, with the original cast and to be filmed from January 2011 onwards. The show will be broadcast on Dave. Presumably, just as it did when Back To Earth was shown, the new series will break all viewing figure records for the channel. 

Whatever happens, we get more... which means my collection is incomplete. When I get paid I will buy Back To Earth... and I will sit here, with my beer and my curry, scratching my custard-stained, tee-shirted chest and twiddling my Earth Thumbs until the new series brings Dave Lister, Arnold Rimmer, Cat, Holly, Kryten and Kochanski zipping back into my life. Thanks for the memories, to everyone involved! Now, "I can't sit around here all day. I have to get the Smeg-hammer out and loosen Mr Lister's underwear!"