February 1988. Star Trek: The Next Generation had recently launched, but was still a couple of years away from UK screens, where TV science fiction consisted of Kirk-era repeats and Doctor Who. Yes, the first time round – Silvester McCoy and Ace, specifically.
This was the world into which the BBC chose to launch the Jupiter Mining Ship Red Dwarf; possibly a risky move given the extent to which Doctor Who was struggling to survive at the time, but the Dwarf succeeded, largely by being both good sci-fi and a good sitcom.
So for no other reason than that I’ve been a fan since I was a teenager, let’s take a look back over Red Dwarf – starting, of course, at…
The End is slightly different to most Red Dwarf episodes, having to do all those things a pilot episode should: set the scene, introduce the hero (Lister), kill his nemesis (Rimmer), evolve his pregnant cat into a sentient humanoid, allow the ships computer to degenerate into something less stable than a ZX81, and squeeze 3 million years into a single 30 minute episode.
The End is one of the better early episodes, and both the humour and the sci-fi elements have aged pretty well. The story centres on the relationship between Lister and Rimmer which is the core of the series; the laughs flow easily from the characters and the science fiction doesn’t descend into the hard to believe silliness that bothered some episodes.
It’s not, however, a perfect introduction to the series as a whole; Kryten didn’t join the crew until series 3, and the Cat only appears at the end of this episode, and is a long way from the character he developed into in later seasons.
Another thing The End does – and one which is of particular interest to this blog – is introduce us to the cultural and religious history of Felis sapiens, when the Cat tells of learning in kitty school about
the Holy Mother, saved by Cloister the Stupid, who was frozen in time, and who gaveth of his life that we might live; who shall returneth to lead us to fuchal, the promised land.
It’s a throwaway line really, there only to give Lister a purpose – finding Earth and fulfilling his Fijiian dream – and Cat a hint of a back story. A little bit of a religious cliche to resorteth to King James Version English, but that, too, probably just hints at the overall view the show will take to religion.
Hot on the heels of Star Wars, series 1-3 were digitally re-mastered for the show’s 10th anniversary and in an attempt to increase foreign interest. Like Star Wars, the results of the re-mastering are decidedly mixed.
The original DVD looks very grey and washed out at times, and the enhanced colour on the re-mastered version is a welcome addition. Some of the added CGI… not so much. In some cases – the unnecessary and very out of place skutter, the backs of peoples heads at the funeral – not at all. And although the later style credits are a lot more exciting, I prefer the more low-key, 2001-esque opening of the original. Or maybe that’s just nostalgia.
The sound was re-mastered too, most notably Holly being booted up again to re-record his lines. Interestingly, during this process he adds the words
just before Lister issues the order to return to Earth, building on the ‘Lister as God’ motif and foreshadowing its further recurrences within the series.
And that is one of the main things I’ll be picking up on as we follow the boys from the Dwarf on their ongoing misadventures. Look out Blogosphere – the slime’s coming home!