So. You're back. Again. Yes, yet again.
I mean Red Dwarf may only have managed ten seasons in 24 years, but is there any other show, in any genre, that has returned from oblivion so many times over such a long stretch? And with pretty much the same core cast throughout?
Because these days the series' survival is what keeps it being such a joy. In the old days I loved Red Dwarf because it was so well thought through and cryingly funny, but ever since season seven, for me, it's been a case of forgiving its faults and loving it unconditionally. Did I say "for me"? Well, no, I think most of us started feeling this way about it at some point…
This latest six-part run has been the cheapest-looking of the lot - even more so than season one - but the scripts have made a marked improvement since the awkwardness of Back To Earth. It's all a bit formulaic now, more character-orientated, and less about fun science-fiction ideas, but still certainly worth watching.
Trojan firmly starts the series on the right foot. We're back to the cheapy studio-audience sitcom style of season one again, albeit with lacklustre picture-quality and remote direction, but the script and performances effortlessly overcome this. There's no sense at all of this new series being a revival - it's just the next one. Awesome.
2. Fathers And Suns
A drunk Lister attempts to anticipate his sober choices the following day. Meanwhile the ship's new computer system anticipates everyone's choices forever. Meanwhile everyone tries to work out whether Siamese sisters are waistless.
An accident with a Swedish flat-packed gene-rewriting device sends our heroes back in time to Jesus' day. Here they blunder into the man himself, where the resultant foreknowledge convinces him to prevent Christianity before it becomes so evil. Yes, what starts out as Red Dwarf at its most fearless gradually loses ground as the author starts getting his characters onto a soapbox. Jesus' running from his death might have made more sense, but I guess this pre-Christian world didn't have nasty things like crucifixion. Ultimately Lister does briefly concede that Christianity is not the bad thing after all, but rather the people who abuse it. Glad he caught up. Fun episode otherwise.
Oh no, it's episode four, which is the one when author Doug Naylor tends to run short of inspiration and start flagging. This is good fun all the way through again, but the episode doesn't seem sure what it's about. You could do a whole episode on quantum entanglement, or being perpetually wrong, but here the two great ideas cramp each other, resulting in little realised potential for either. Still worth watching, doesn't bode well for five and six though.
5. Dear Dave
With a title that might work better on episode two, this is this season's really slow episode. Lister and Kryten appear to have forgotten the many other humans who now share space with them (eg. The rest of the crew presumably), but that's par for the course in this carefree series. For example, the Rimmer-seeing-Lister-bonking-Kryten joke from Polymorph also gets revisited without any of the characters remembering it. The high point in this one has to be the highly contrived game of charades, which absolutely sizzles with life. Chris Barrie keeps fighting to keep a straight face again! This is most definitely a good sign.
6. The Beginning
Now this is what I mean by the series still missing a co-writer's input. Here we have a valid story with a great in-genre solution, running jokes, and a character's personal journey to underpin it all. And yet, there is just no mistaking the lack of gags available to fill-out the episode's running-time. There's a significant splurge in the budget this week, with a good dozen extra performers, most of them even speaking, yet almost everything the simulants have to say is laboured. The joke about not mentioning the resolution to season eight's cliffhanger falls flat on me too. As I said at the top, I got into Red Dwarf partly because, in the early days, it used to be so well thought through…
I really hope there's more Red Dwarf on the cards. These guys still have the rest of their lives ahead of them!
(available, for a reasonable few dollarpounds, here)