Well, we’re here. Series VIII. The last of the 51 episodes commissioned by BBC Two. To steal a line from Russell Wilson, it’s been a long road, getting from “The End” to here.
Now, Series VII had received a lukewarm reception amongst fans, many of whom (including yours truly) deriding it for shaking up the formula in a manner that replaced an interesting character with a bland, static character; replacing the beautiful models with low-quality CGI; mishandled almost every character; and, maybe most damning of all, syphoned the depth out of the show in favour of stock sci-fi plots and sitcom humour.
So, how was Doug Naylor to appease fans after such a radical change? ANOTHER RADICAL CHANGE!
First off, a combination of the love of his work on Series VII and sudden emptiness in his schedule (The Brittas Empire had been cancelled) convinced Chris Barrie to reprise his role as Rimmer full-time. A hole in the cast dynamic had been filled… seemingly, at least.
Doug Naylor seemed to have tired of the “Starbug putzes around in space” storyline of the past two series, and desired to bring the “small rouge one” back. Yet, he also had been watching Series I-III for the remaster (side note: stick to the originals). For some reason, he wanted to elaborate on the conflict between Rimmer, Lister, and Captain Hollister. So, it was decided to make it so that the core four (plus Kochanski) were no longer alone.
To facilitate this, Red Dwarf was essentially turned into a prison comedy, allowing Rimmer and Lister to interact with the Captain and others.
Yet, the actors that played Petersen, Selby, and Chen were not available on a regular basis. All of them had become successful and couldn’t fit the show into their schedule. Ultimately, new characters had to be created, such as Kill Crazy (played by Jake Wood) and Warden Ackerman (played by Gavin McTavish).
Strangely enough, a combination of an eight-episode series plus a low budget meant that two stories had to be stretched out. “Back in the Red”, originally an hour-long two parter, was transformed into a 90-minute three-parter. “Pete” (originally titled “Captain’s Office”) was also transformed into a two-parter, changing from an episode dominated by Lister and Rimmer’s troubles with Captain Hollister into one where the crew have to fight… a dinosaur.
The end of the series was actually devised to be used in case the series wasn’t renewed. The crew would’ve wound up back at Earth, wrecked up the place, and traded insurance details with the few remaining people to restore damage. It was going to be epic… until Doug Naylor took a look at the budget.
Thus, another finale had to be devised, which had four, count em, four endings planned. The one they went with was actually whipped up at the last minute.
Ultimately, this series proved to be controversial, much like VI and VII were. It’s worth noting that, over the course of the series, half of the viewing audience left. “Back in the Red” premiered with 8.05 million viewers. By “Only the Good”, only 4.24 million were still tuned in.
Initial reception was relatively positive, claiming that the show had “returned to form” with the return to more comic strips and Red Dwarf. Now? Well, fan site Ganymede and Titan did a survey in 2013 to commemerate the 25th anniversary of the first ever Red Dwarf episode. The bottom 5 episodes? All from Series VIII.
Overall, Series VIII took a beating in the poll, ranking as the worst series overall. Unlike VI, which shook it’s initial controversial reception to become relatively beloved, and VII, which always seemed to be derided, VIII has gone from being a relatively beloved series to one that is considered the death kneel for Red Dwarf.
So, what else is there left to lose? May as well dive in.
Oh, one thing: this series has two multi-parters. I have decided that it would be best if I reviewed every storyline, rather than every episode. I’ll still give the episodes separate grades and note the difference between the parts, but it will allow for the reviews to have more of a “flow”. Also, it might be a while between reviews.
Anyway, like always, EPISODE RUNDOWN!
- Back in the Red: Yup, the crew are back in Red Dwarf… and risk jail for stealing a spacecraft and transporting stowaways on board ship. Lister has to get through to a resurrected Rimmer to help the crew escape. However, the resurrected Rimmer has none of the knowledge and development of the previous Rimmer; he’s still pompous and egotistical. One thing leads to another, and the whole of the crew are trapped in a series of unfortunate events that land them in jail… but for reasons not related to the shuttle crash.
- Cassandra: The crew, now jailed, are signed up to join the “Canaries”, who go into dangerous situations, as they are expendable. While on a “canary” mission, the crew meet Cassandra, who can predict the future… and the deaths of the crew.
- Krytie TV: Kryten, upset that his physical construction has placed him in the female quarters, is knocked out by several unsavoury prisoners and reprogrammed to start his own TV service, just so the unsavoury prisoners can get video of the women’s quarters. With his new programming, Kryten becomes a ruthless media mogul.
- Pete: Lister and Rimmer have driven Hollister spare one too many times. After an incident involving medicines, spuds, and hair loss, the two are placed with a psycho with a bird. Meanwhile, the Canaries come across a device that can transform people. The two combine… and create a dinosaur.
- Only the Good: A ship-eating microbe is brought onboard. As you could guess, the microbe begins to eat the ship. A shortage of escape pods means that the prisoners are left for dead. Rimmer, however, realises that he could try and find the cure for the microbe.