It all began when the crew of the Jupiter mining ship Red Dwarf were killed by a blast caused by a badly sealed drive plate. Dave Lister, safely sealed in a stasis booth, along with his smuggled black cat Frankenstein were the only survivors. Revived three million years later, Lister is probably the only surviving member of the human race. Trouble is, he's not the best representative humanity has left. As a curry-stained lay about, he is undoubtedly the scruffiest, smelliest individual ever to slob around the universe.
At the time of being smuggled on board the ship Frankenstein was heavily pregnant and, safely sealed in the ship's cargo hold, gave birth to litter after litter of kittens. With no predators or annoying humans to stroke them after the best part of three-million years evolution the cats evolved into a new form of intellient(ish) humanoid life; the Felis sapiens. Adopted by Lister as a replacement for Frankenstein, Cat owns an extensive wardrobe of what he believes to be hip clothes and loathes anything happening to his hair. He also longs to to get close to real women.
Kryten is series 4000 mechanoid. Constructed in the twenty-fourth century by Diva-Droid International, he was originally supplied to the Nova 5 but was adopted by the crew of the Red Dwarf after the Nova 5 crashed. A god send to Lister, he washes and irons his underpants and is by far the most intelligent member of the crew, helping them out of many life threatening situations. He also has the tendency for his head to explode, hence the supply of numerous spare ones.
At best an incompetent fool, it was Rimmer's failure to correctly repair Red Dwarf's drive plate correctly which caused the blast that killed the ship's crew. Rimmer also died during the incident, but was revived as a hologram to help keep surviving crew member Dave Lister sane. Mind you, with his personality perfectly reproduced, so is his fascination with twentieth century telegraph poles, love of organ music and morris dancing. He's sure to keep Lister sane, but a calling to replace his dashing, but dieing, alter ego Ace Rimmer, sees him leave Red Dwarf in series seven.
Joining the crew of Starbug is Lister's ex-girlfriend Kristine Kochanski. However, she is from a parallel dimension which is inhabited by a Lister who is the complete opposite to his current curry consuming persona. Unfortunately for her, she's ended up being marooned in our dimension when a tear in a dimensional tunnel is caused by an attack by a GELF ship. Kristine loves cottage cheese, and much to Kryten's annoyance, has the habit of leaving the salad cream out of the fridge. And with this crew, she's going to have a hard time keeping sane and being accepted as one of them. Mind you, watching her underwear spin around in the ships tumble dryer is a pleasant diversion for the normally bored crew.
- Tikka to Ride The crew come back from the dead to learn all the curry supplies have been destroyed. Ignoring causality, Lister goes back in time and end up in Dallas, November 1963
- Stoke Me a Kipper Rimmer's dashing alter ego, Ace Rimmer, arrives on Starbug terminally wounded, asking Rimmer to take his place as the swashbuckling guardian of the Universe
- Ouroboros When two realities converge, the Dwarfers undergo their most terrifying ordeal yet - they bump into a real, live, human woman who's attractive and nice. It's Lister's ex-girlfriend Kristine Kochanski
- Duct Soup When the generator and its back-up go down in the middle of the night, the crew have to crawl through the mile long labyrinth of service ducts to restart their engines, discovering a few surprises along the way
- Blue Lister finds himself missing Rimmer - until Kryten takes him on "The Rimmer Experience", a virtual reality ride featuring highlights of the departed crew member's much-loathed life
- Beyond a Joke Kochanski takes the crew into the Artificial Reality suite and transports them to Pride & Prejudice World hoping to educate them in the subtleties of this literary masterpiece...
- Epideme A strange, intelligent virus has impregnated Lister. When his attempts at sweet-talking the disease into not killing him fail, he realises he'll have to submit to Kochanski's disarmingly simple cure
- Nanarchy The crew searches for nanobots in a laundry hamper to restore Lister to his pre-viral state. What they find is the answer to who stole their spaceship, Red Dwarf, and why
Budget restraints meant that the use of motion control and 35mm film was pretty much out of the window, so standard 16mm film stock was used which was then "tidied up" to give the illusion of a superior video source. And the bizarre thing is, it works too well with a picture which is bright and colourful with a high level of detail. However, the general transfer quality is degraded somewhat than normal and there are a few instances where grain can be a bit of a problem. The CGI and model effects can also look a bit ropey at times too, although this is part of the fun of the series. Overall though, the transfer is a bit of a disappointment, but given the age of the problem and its budget limitations you can't really go complaining too much.
Since it's a terrestrial television broadcast, with the usual BBC budget restraints courtesy of our license fee, the 192 Kbps Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack is nothing special. The dialogue is reasonably clear, but since this series was not filmed in front of live audience (opening up the series to more extensive and outdoor sets) it meant that some of the punch lines were lost in the middle of recorded laughter from the screening audience. Sure, the sound editors did their best to balance out the sound levels, but ultimately, it's not the best sounding series of Red Dwarf and it lacks the edge of its predecessors. Still, if you're annoyed by the laughter tracks the extended versions of Tikka to Ride, Ouroboros and Duct Soup are minus the audience laughter track.
The menus across all of the discs are wonderfully animated with 3D CGI effects with various bits of the sets and plot points handily left laying about the place. And once an option is selected from the menu the whole screen rotates around to present the next menu. However, you need to keep your eyes well and truly open as some of the extras are on different menus which aren't that obvious to find. Still, it's all impressive stuff, and what's more, it's on a BBC DVD for a series which was made on peanuts. Extras wise, fans of the series are going to be in heaven. In fact, there's so many extras that the third disc is simply made up of them.
Each episode is accompanied with a Cast Commentary with Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn and Chloe Annett, with a guest appearance by Norman Lovett for the final episode Nanarchy. The commentaries are fun affairs with plenty of banter and laughter between the cast, with even the occasional interesting anecdote, but they do become a little tiresome after a while. It's also interesting that, considering he left after a few episodes, Chris Barrie is also on hand to provide a commentary. Whilst he likes to babble, he certainly goes much quieter once he's left the series and is quite possibly watching the screen as the rest of the cast continue with their ramblings.
The Tikka to Ride, Ouroboros and Duct Soup episodes all are Extended and there's the option to view the standard of extended versions. The Tikka to Ride episode also contains an additional Remastered Edition which allows you to see just how the Series VII CGI effects should have looked. And what's more, this feature is available on both original and Extended versions of the episode too. Talk about information overload.
Disc one also sees the lost Identity Within episode which was ultimately dropped and was replaced by the more wallet friendly Duct Soup episode. However, it's been resurrected here, albeit in storyboard form, and is performed by Chris Barrie. Running for forty four minutes, Barrie voices all of the characters with remarkable accuracy and it's quite an amusing storyline to follow. Over on disc two, the twenty minute Fan Films section contains the two competition-winning shorts made by fans. Whilst you can't knock the dedication, or madness, of the fans, these two short films are not the most exciting for things you're ever going to watch. But hey, filmmakers have to start somewhere.
Over on disc three, the main extra of the series would have to be the whopping ninety minute documentary Back from the Dead. Featuring a huge number of surprisingly candid interviews with all of the cast, the writers and the production team, it offers a interesting insight in the programme and the obvious friction occurring in the background as the writing partnership between writers Grant Naylor and Rob Grant disintegrated. Chris Barrie also talks about his, and in my opinion rather shortsighted, departure from the show whilst Rob Grant also briefly appears, albeit with a clip from a previous interview. Once the introductions and general chit-chat is out of the way the cast and crew then turn their attention to discussing each of the episodes in great, and hugely interesting, detail. There's plenty of clips from the episodes, behind-the-scenes footage plus details on the locations used for filming. There's also a funny moment as writer/director Ed Bye talks about being hounded by a fan at a convention show on how the time-drive worked. It's certainly a documentary which will be lapped up by the fans. Also, given its length, the documentary is also sensibly split into chapters which can be individually selected or played in one go.
The third disc also contains a Behind the Scenes section with two features. The seven minute Robert LLewellyn Video Diary sees Robert (AKA Kryten) wander around the set recording the cast and crew as they film the Pride & Prejudice part of the Beyond a Joke episode before heading back to the studio set and handing the camcorder to Craig Charles. It's extremely funny as you get to see some of the lesser known crew members, from the make-up team to runners, and there's plenty of good natured banter to be had all around. It looks like a great programme to be a part of. The CGI and model effects are then looked at in the five minute feature How Do They Do That? Filmed in 1997, this is a clip from a BBC show of the same name. Although a bit cheesy in the form a light entertainment show point of view, it's still a very interesting look at how the BBC visual effects team go about creating some of the key model shots with models which cost hundreds of, er, pence to build.
The Raw Effects Footage section does just that, looking at the various CGI and model effects created for the programme. The five minute Chris Veale CGI feature looks at the effects for the series. Made up of mostly last minute Starbug and space shots they were intended to bridge the story gaps. However, with no audio what-so-ever you are simply left to gaze in awe at the various blue screen and then composited shots. It all looks impressive stuff which is then rather degraded when placed in the television series. Quite why there's no audio commentary to go with this is beyond me, and the lack of one does take some shine off this feature. The twenty minute Model FX feature gives you the chance to see many of the model effects never used in the final shows. Again, it's all impressive stuff, but without any form of commentary this long feature quickly becomes rather tiresome. Finally, the four minute BBC CGI feature looks at a number of effects shots created for the series. Again, there's no audio commentary to explain what's going on.
The Isolated Music Cues section contains a collection of music created by Howard Goodall for the series. It's the first time some of these short tracks have been heard before as in many instances the final edit of the programme contained library music instead. You also get the chance to listen to the opening and main series theme. Oh, and if you're feeling a bit sadistic, you can also listen to Rimmer's Munchkin Song. However, this section is of limited interest really, but at least you can't complain of not getting complete look, and listen, at Red Dwarf. The Son of the Cliché section contains clips from two audio sketches from the Grant and Naylor radio show which formed part of the original concept for the series. It stars Chris Barrie, Nick Maloney and Nick Wilton and was original broadcast in December 1984.
Next up are Deleted Scenes from each of the episodes. Running for a whopping forty three minutes you've got virtually two additional episodes on the disc. All of the scenes are presented without effects or the final sound mix whilst the picture quality is also fairly poor. Mind you, some of the scenes last for mere seconds whilst the audience laughter track is also missing. I don't mind the occasional number of deleted scenes, but forty minutes worth of them is a little excessive to say the least! Fans of the series will probably enjoy every last second, but I soon got bored wading my way through the near inexhaustible supply of scenes.
The ten minute Smeg's Up section contains all the bloopers and cock-ups from filming series seven. Highlights would have to included the crew trying to get a donkey, plus rider suited in armour, to head towards the camera without it's passenger falling off or the donkey getting bored. As with most outtakes, some are better than others, but without the studio audiences of old, it's not as fall about laughing as it could be. The Stills Gallery contains far too many production, behind the scenes and various other design stills. Rounding things off is a Trailer for the series which, oddly enough, has been recovered from a home VHS recording whilst various Kryten Introductions are straight from the Xtended VHS release. It's not the most exciting section in the world, but it's a good place to round things off.
It's fair to say that Series VII is not the best Red Dwarf you'll see, but it still manages to be full of laughs and giggles. The only trouble is, they don't flow as fast and as smoothly as the previous series. Viewers new to the programme will probably be rather disappointed by the writing which, up until recently, was written by both Rob Grant and Doug Naylor. But after a bit of a difference in opinions Rob Grant left the writing team and it was left a number of writers to save the day. Also, Chris Barrie decided to call it a day to concentrate on other projects, such as The Brittas Empire, but he's hardly been busy with projects since. Perhaps he also had a bit of difference between the writers and/or some of the cast members.
With a whole host of extras, including a whole number of superb and detailed documentaries, extended episodes and a remastered opening episode, it will be a magnet for true fans of the series. And as a result, it will still sell by the ship load. Watch out, Smeg's up!
- Collector's Booklet