I have to admit, I normally do have a tinge of sadness when I finish reviewing a series of Red Dwarf, as I look back and recognize that, while I do have these episodes at my disposal at any moment, that’s another chapter closed in my progress of reviewing every episode of one of the greatest shows ever made.
This time, though, it’s not really a tinge of sadness as much as a sense of melancholy about the end of the series. Why? Well, let’s put it this way…
This might be the worst series of Red Dwarf.
I’m serious. I knew from the moment Lister messed around with Kryten’s programming that this series was going to be the first series that I would not give a decent amount of praise to. After “Barely a Joke”, this series sealed another milestone: I had grown to hate this series. Hate it. It’s probably the worst group of episodes in the history of British TV (except for maybe “The Twin Dilemma”).
Why? Well, let’s romp off the reasons… after the break.
One, the CGI. It was barely passable by 1997 BBC standards. Watching it in 2014 was actually pretty painful on the eyes.
Secondly, there were far too many plots per episode… and strangely enough, the pacing went as fast as a glacier. Adding on to that, some plots made no sense. Kennedy’s assassination and the Nano-bots, anybody?
Third, and probably most damning against the series, the characters. This requires a whole new set of bullet points.
- There was no consistency to Lister’s character, at least at the start of the season. “Tikka to Ride” had him act in such a callous and insensitive manner as to make the Sixth Doctor look like a patron saint! “Smoke Me A Clipper” shows him get kind to Rimmer. “Ouroboros” showed him as an egotistical sleazeball. The rest of the episodes showed him barely have any character… maybe still being a lovestruck moron who wants to get Kochanski. If those episodes did, it was too simple, too little, and too late.
- The Cat is a character that runs on the acting power of Danny John-Jules and funny lines. There were few funny lines, so the Cat was a wash. The development he got with his cat senses was scarcely seen in this series. They blew so much on the eye-gouging CGI that they had to scrap an episode that would’ve developed him.
- Rimmer is gone, and goes out a hero in “Stoke Me A Clipper”. This removed what many consider to be the heart of Red Dwarf: Rimmer was one of the most complex characters in TV history. When he left, the conflict and the character comedy went as well.
- Kryten was thrust into some strange love triangle that reduced his character to a simpering, blubbering, jealous mess. “Beyond A Joke” showed him at a level so low that you feel no sympathy to him later in the episode. It’s an insult to his character, which actually had realistic, funny depth in earlier series.
- Kochanski… oh, Kochanski. I can see where Doug Naylor was going with the character: he wanted to see how a posh-ish person would work aboard a ship full of neurotic people. Yet, why didn’t it work? Because Kochanski was underwritten. There was no depth to the character: she had it all, then she’s on a ship with a bunch of morons. Rimmer had depth. We saw him as it was revealed that his family and his “mates” have damaged his life, shaping his neurotic, selfish character, yet we also saw that he had the power to break the mold he was supposedly set in. Kochanski had little depth. The conflict with Lister isn’t nearly as deep with Rimmer’s was: it wasn’t set in the battle within the lower classes, nor was there subtle social commentary. It was just typical sitcom conflict. That’s why Kochanski failed in her first series as a character: they couldn’t make her interesting.
Lastly? The series wasn’t funny. Most of the comedy was sitcom jokes, of which a relatively low fraction of them were actually funny. Too much thought was put into the sci-fi that was ultimately boring to watch, if it made a lick of sense.
Positives? Mmmm… Well, for one, I will admit that “Epideme” is quite underrated: it felt like an episode that wouldn’t be too out of place in the “Golden Years” of the show. “Tikka to Ride” had a decent plot: the execution was just poor. “Stoke Me a Clipper” and “Blue” could send as decent send-offs of Rimmer, also. Whether you look at him as a tragic figure or someone who deserves everything that went to him could help you decide on what episode is better. (Both work equally well).
That, and I will admit that Paul Alexander actually did a decent job with his work (barring “Nanarchy”, although I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt as it was an episode that felt unnecessary.) I will admit that trying to shake up Red Dwarf in the way that the writers did was a risky maneuver. Shame it didn’t work out.
Oh, and the acting is pretty much perfect all-around. Chloe Annett settles into her role from moment one, making the best of a tragically underwritten character. Robert Llewellyn also puts tons of effort into his acting, given the difficulties his role holds: shame the episode he wrote was rubbish, and that I blame on Doug Naylor’s rewrites.
There’s no one person to blame for the fall that this season endured. I guess that Doug Naylor could be blamed, given that he seemed to meddle with scripts in the end (such as “Beyond A Joke”), but the benefit of the doubt could be given; he lost his longtime writing partner, the actor of the most beloved character asked to leave, and there was a three-year hiatus in between episodes. Obviously, the writing of the characters may have gotten a bit rusty. The BBC could also be smacked for extending the show to eight episodes per series and not funding the series appropriately. However, the Beeb had no control over the effects, and they still had to deal with budget issues.
Ultimately, I chalk up Series VII as a failure… but one that could’ve been a success. The ideas were there, as we saw with “Epideme” and “Tikka To Ride”. It was just executed poorly, and the dynamic between the characters was tragically disrupted.
And look at that. We’re almost done with the reviews of the first 51 episodes of the show. Incredible. We have one more season to go… and from what I’ve heard, it’s a doozy.