Sunday, 1 February 2009

Lithium Carbonate On Standby, Sir.

(How impressed was I when I Googled to find the name of the compound and discovered it was a genuine mood stabilising drug?)

This post contains the odd spoiler for the new Red Dwarf, except that it doesn't because it's going to be dreadful and therefore cannot be 'spoilt'.

Now, you may remember a while back I expressed my joy that the BBC had opted not to pour any more of my money into the comedy black hole that is Red Dwarf. For those of you who hate hyperlinks, I am a big fan of Red Dwarf, but I am a proper fan which means I thought series 6 was good but not great, series seven was alright, and series eight was unmitigated shite. (Alright, fine, mitigated shite. But basically still shite.) My point here is this: I have yet to see any evidence at all that Doug Naylor is capable of writing Red Dwarf well on his own. Now, he's had ten years to write a single hour of television, so one would hope that this time he's come up with something good, but all that would prove is that one hadn't seen this trailer:

I've not actually seen this trailer on TV, so it's entirely possible it's the work of an insane fan with too much time on his hands. Certainly it's not made by the producers of the new Red Dwarf episodes, but the person who alerted me to it plays Kryten, so my first instinct is to trust it. In any case, if it is official or the work of a knowledgeable fan, then we can infer the following:
  1. Neither Norman Lovett or Hattie Hayridge is in the new Red Dwarf. As in series six, Holly does not feature.
  2. Kochanski has been written out, or at least isn't in it any more.
  3. The new episodes are not set on Red Dwarf. Or Starbug. Or in space. That the crew make it back to Earth in the new episodes is known. In fact, to be honest, we seem to be looking at Steptoe And Son In Space On Earth, which I'm pretty sure has been done.
Once again, I have to say, this is not Red Dwarf. I hate to bleat on about this, but Red Dwarf is about a group of people trapped on a spaceship dodging mildly silly sci-fi phenomena and nasty aliens. It is not a prison show. It is not Only Fools And Robots. If you want to make those things then you do that, but don't try to sell it to me as Red Dwarf, because that will just anger me.

Being realistic, I am going to watch the new episodes. Watching TV is very easy since we got the DVR. It's not something I'd stay home to see. But I'll watch it. And here is what I want to see, bearing in mind that filming has started so it's far too late for anyone to actually listen to me:
  1. Clever humour. It is my experience that the best comedy combines a silly and surreal streak with a backbone of gritty realism. A program that's just nonsense all the way through is unlikely to hold my attention for long. (It can be done, but even Monty Python can't be called 'nonsense' all the way through.) I suspect from reading their solo writings that Rob Grant was in charge of the Clever and Naylor was in charge of the Silly. Both elements are needed for greatness (although Clever can work on its own). The Simpsons was very good at that for a long time. Now it just metes out Silly at random and hasn't done Clever in years. Red Dwarf is in the same boat.
  2. Clever sci-fi. I always thought the sci-fi in Red Dwarf was excellent. It avoided the Star-Trek nonsense of having loads of humanoid and interbreedable alien races and stuck strictly to Earth-borne life-forms, and it treated ideas like Backwards Earth and White Holes with a sensible look, again with a little silliness thrown in for good measure. The last series didn't. In eight episodes it managed exactly one good sci-fi plot. That won't do.
  3. A 'reboot' of the show starting at the end of series six. This doesn't, strictly, make any sense, but it's the best thing to do for reasons I will explain in the next list in my list filled post (which in retrospect may have been a mistake given the awful way our blog skin renders lists):
  1. Holly and Kochanski weren't in the end of series six. Starting there is therefore the best way to elegantly exclude them both.
  2. The time paradox bit at the start of series seven could easily be invoked again to explain the excision of the last two series from the continuity.
  3. Series eight (and, to a lesser extent, series seven) made no sense at all. The act of admitting they were mistakes by removing them from the canon in this way would be an encouraging symbolic gesture and would allow me to approach the show as I approached Obama's victory speech rather than as I'd approach a news report about a murderer living in the next flat.
  4. The cliffhanger at the end of series eight cannot be resolved. I cannot stress this enough: the established mechanics of the 'mirror universe' totally preclude any means of escape. One such escape was devised: it was included as an extra in the series eight DVD. Suffice to say that it to doesn't make any sense, although it does have one very good line in. And honestly, I don't want it to be resolved, because if we're only getting two new episodes I don't want the first one to consist entirely of Doug Naylor attempting to write his way out of a corner.
Bottom line: when I heard there was more Red Dwarf on the way, I was not excited. I have so far not been given any reason to get excited. I'll let you know when clips are released if my pessimism abates at all, and I've no doubt I'll blog about the episodes too. But don't expect me to be nice. As of right now, I'm very, very doubtful that I'll enjoy the new episodes.

Update: Dave's website has a photo of the cast. Rimmer has a big 'H' on his face, so they've obviously decided to go right back to basics with the classic setup (albeit minus Holly). In a sense that's encouraging: it could be a good sign that the show is returning to its roots (or at least, one of its better branches). Hell, maybe they have gone back to the end of Out Of Time. On the other hand, the attraction of Red Dwarf wasn't that Rimmer was a hologram or that Kochanski wasn't in it. If this is a continuation of the story as it was at the end of Red Dwarf VIII, then I worry that Doug Naylor has again massively missed the point of his own show.

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