Red Dwarf Review: "Back to Earth"

Airdate: 10-12 April, 2009

Synopsis: It’s been nine years since Rimmer kneed Death in the pelvis on board a burning Red Dwarf. Since then, Red Dwarf seems to be back in order… albeit empty again. Holly is out of commission, flooded out thanks to Lister. Kochanski is dead, and Lister is still in mourning. After noticing low water supplies, the crew discover that a giant squid is in their water tank. Said squid is rapidly replaced by a former crewmember, Katerina Bartikovsky, who declares that Rimmer’s run time is to be terminated due to his incompetence, and that Lister (with the help of some squid DNA) is to go back in time and repopulate humanity. Learning that they inhabit an “invalid” dimension, the crew (and Bartikovsky) are sent to a “real” dimension- Earth 2009, where they learn they are part of a mere TV show.

Review: Ten years is a mighty long time in between episodes- essentially, a generation change. The internet became a true necessity, the economy rose and fell, terrorists committed high-profile attacks in London and the Northeastern US (amongst other locations), London had begun to prepare for the Olympic games, there were two American presidents, the office of the UK PM changed hands, and the popularity of the Labour Party slowly cratered… amongst other events.

Once BtE premiered, it polarized fandom beyond any fears. Those that didn’t love it hated it.

So, the question is, can Red Dwarf still hold it’s own after a 10-year hiatus (and 15 years since the last truly great Red Dwarf episode)?

Well, let me put it this way: I liked it quite a bit more than I was expecting to. Or maybe I was so let down by shlock like “Krytie TV” and “Pete” that anything would be an improvement! More after the break!

Let’s get this out of the way first; yes, I know that there is no studio audience to record laughter. Honestly, it was barely a problem, and only at the beginning. Once you get used to it, it’s actually pretty decent.

Red Dwarf has broken the show’s sense of reality before. “Back to Reality”, which is widely considered Red Dwarf’s magnum opus, managed to both deconstruct and reconstruct the reality that Red Dwarf is set in, by examining the innermost fears of the characters. This movie goes about it a different way, smashing the fourth wall and exposing the characters to the new reality- ours. It’s actually incredible how well they adjust to modern-day London, especially given the fact that their origins are at least 150 years out from their birth. (Granted, the Cat’s species evolved to the point of humanoids, but still.)

This episode goes meta in a way that few others have done before- continuous references to previous disasters, the Carbug, scenes involving the “Creator” (who, without giving much away, looks a lot like Alan “Fluff” Freeman), you name it.

Not arf good, pop pickers!

As I’ve mentioned before and again while reviewing this show, Red Dwarf is very character driven. This movie tends to put character in the background, though, in favor of the plot. However, this does not necessarily mean that character development is poor in this episode- it’s just not too much of a priority. Much of the development for Red Dwarf has been focused on Rimmer, to the point where it could be argued that Rimmer was the main character of Red Dwarf. Series VII, for all it’s faults, wanted to rectify this by giving Lister the centre role (Rimmer was only in 4 episodes, only two of which featured him as the main character). However, that was botched by the inconsistent writing of Lister- he was either written as a bland “nice guy”, a one-dimensional slob, or a jackass. By the time the ship began disintegrating in “Only the Good…”, you kinda didn’t care much about his fate (I certainly just wanted the series over at that point.)

This episode’s portrayal of Lister is a bit more in line with the classic seasons. Sure, he’s still a disgusting bum who has the odd callous tendency, yet it’s not overt enough to make him unlikeable. I actually felt for him- first time I said that in a long time. After all, Doug Naylor finally seemed to somewhat recognize why people loved Lister- he might be a bum, but he’s so well rounded, so prone to bravery, that he’s likeable. Still, I felt that there could’ve been more scenes that showed a more compassionate side to Lister (some scenes I wondered why he stood idly by), but you take what you can here. It’s a reintroduction to the character we know and love.

Rimmer didn’t get too much. In fact, he seems a bit much of a one-note jerkass. I didn’t mind this two much- most of the comedy with him is hysterical, and it does provide for a decent reintroduction before a potential new run of episodes. Same with the Cat, although his actions through the episode lead to an epic payoff. Kryten wasn’t used too much, sadly- they could’ve done more with him.

Now, what about new characters? Really, there are two that need to be mentioned. First, the one that starts the plot- Katerina Bartikovsky. For a “one-shot” character… I dunno. I feel that they could’ve fleshed her out a bit more. Still, I’ll take her no-nonsense character over Kill Crazy any day of the smeggin week!

This episode also served as something of a crossover with Coronation Street, Craig Charles’s other show. It wasn’t officially a crossover, per se, but it effectively blurred the lines of “reality”… much like the rest of this three parter.

Look, I’m not going to call this a masterpiece. Red Dwarf has gone far deeper, bent the fourth wall better, and has made more jokes that hit. But, I’ll appreciate this for what it is- a reintroduction to our favorite characters, in hopes that we might get one more series with them.

It was pretty successful in that department- ratings topped 2.7 million for the first part, and averaged out to 4 million watching part 1 over the weekend. This was the highest rated program on a British digital network ever. Part 2 hit 3 million, and part 3 hit 2.9m. By all accounts, despite the lukewarm reaction, BtE was a success.

Trivia:

  • As I noted before, this episode writes Holly out by flooding the electronics that comprise him. Norman Lovett, who was asked to clear his schedule for his scenes that never happened, swore off the franchise for good. While he has since reconciled, “Fathers and Suns” had a new computer installed. Whether he will appear in XI remains to be seen.
  • This episode showcases an interesting answer to why VHS’s are present in the early episodes of Red Dwarf. You see, people were too dumb to know how to place the DVD’s back in their boxes, and they were small enough to get lost. Kinda ironic, given that DVD’s themselves are in a decline- replaced by digital downloads.
  • Admittedly, thanks to advances in technology, the CGI isn’t half-bad. It wasn’t eye-piercingly terrible as it was in VIII.
  • Carbug is stupid. It’s also hilarious.
Favorite Scene: Part Three is probably the best part. I particularly loved the ending of that part- it’s pretty damn awesome.
Least Favorite Scene: I found the scenes in the department store a bit more tedious to sit through.
Score: 7.
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