Red Dwarf: The Bodysnatcher Collection Review
Writing to the Friar's Club of Beverly Hills, Groucho Marx said, "Please accept my resignation. I don't care to belong to any club that will accept me as a member." I doubt he had Red Dwarf in mind but I quite agree with him as regards the show, one that eventually came to be written solely for the benefit of those who had persevered with it to that point. An ever-dwindling number of fans, so it happened, who might have justified their persistence by quoting Ian Faith. "I just think that...their appeal is becoming more selective!" As Red Dwarf the mining ship looped space and time so too did Red Dwarf the series only it did so gags, situations and characters, forming something of a singularity itself such that it damned outsiders to wondering if they've stumbled into some Joycean experiment with language, only one set on a spacecraft with a smartly-dressed descendant of a common house cat.
Back at the beginning, Red Dwarf was a decent and sometimes funny sitcom that went some way to proving that there is good comic potential in science-fiction. Not that, at this stage, Red Dwarf makes much of its genre roots, more that, at this stage, it was a traditional sitcom in a less-than-traditional setting. Even the characters were not so dissimilar to those of a suburban romp involving mother, daughter, father and son with Holly (Norman Lovett/Hattie Hayridge) and later Kryten (Robert Llewellyn), the Cat (Danny John-Jules), Arnold Judas Rimmer (Chris Barrie) and Lister (Craig Charles) occupying the roles that Patricia Garwood, Dee Sadler, Martin Clunes and Daniel Hill and William Guant did in No Place Like Home, albeit with the kind of personal hygiene that would make the average BBC1 audience blanche.
Set on a spaceship six miles long by four miles wide, Red Dwarf opens with Lister being placed in suspended animation for numerous offences against the rest of the crew, notably Arnold Rimmer. Whilst in stasis, an on-board leak of radioactive Cadmium-2 kills everyone on Red Dwarf. Millions of years pass and Lister remains in suspended animation. His pregnant cat, who was sealed in the cargo hold, evolves into a humanoid creature with the kind of habits particular to its species - a love of fish, a tendency to cough up hairballs and such a sense of vanity as to shame a supermodel - while Holly, the ship's computer, keeps Lister safe until the radiation level reduces to a level that is safe. After three million years, Holly lets Lister out of stasis, who finds himself all alone, surrounded by little piles of dust that were once the crew. Sensing that Lister needs company but limited by his hardware, Holly can resurrect only one member of the crew as a Hologram. Knowing that Lister spoke more to him than any other member of the crew, even if most of those conversations were telling him to, "Smeg off!", Holly resurrects Arnold Rimmer. Three millions years have not made Rimmer any easier to like.
Series 1 of Red Dwarf begins with Lister, set free after three million years, finding himself alongside Rimmer once again and, not quite counting the Cat, no one else. But the long journey back to Earth can't begin just yet, not when Red Dwarf has been accelerating for the last three million years. As it approaches light speed, the crew begin to see into their own futures, which would be surprising enough were it not for Lister seeing his own death. With that in mind, Lister decides to go on a date with the woman he had fantasised over three million years ago when she was still alive, Kristine Kochanski but that would mean replacing Rimmer as the one and only Hologram. Rimmer, in spite of not actually being alive, is the superior officer and refuses this request so Lister decides to do an exam to be of sufficient rank or order Kochanski to be the ship's Hologram. Later, Red Dwarf intercepts one of its own garbage pods, something that Rimmer believes is of alien origin. Having so much fun watching Rimmer work out what the object is keeps Lister and the Cat very amused...and prevents them from telling Rimmer what exactly it is. While Lister fends off his own confidence Rimmer moves in with a clone of himself but ends up hating him. Who could blame him...or them?
The second series begins with Red Dwarf answering an SOS call and meeting the robot Kryten, a metallic butler with an overactive guilt chip, something that Rimmer takes full advantage of. The crew take some light relief in the Better Than Life video game but find that Rimmer's neuroses ruins their fantasy world. Much as they dislike him for that, they still celebrate the anniversary of his death only to find that four days are missing. What could have happened? A gap in time is discovered on the sixteenth deck of Red Dwarf, leaving Lister and Rimmer competing to change history. Lister wants to put Kochanski with him in suspended animation...Rimmer has the same idea! While Queeg 500 takes command of Red Dwarf, the crew test the Holly Hop Drive, which should bring them back to Earth but, instead, takes them to a parallel dimension where the Red Dwarf is run by an entirely female crew. Lister, true to form, gets drunk and sleeps with himself...and finds himself pregnant!
In Series Three, Kryten is now a member of the crew. Rimmer teaches him to pilot Starbug but they fall through a hole in time to an Earth of the late-eighties, a place where time runs backwards. On a frozen planet, Lister is left burning his beloved guitar for heat while, back on the ship, the crew fight an alien who drains emotions from its victims. Meanwhile, Rimmer suggests to Lister that he be allowed to borrow his body for a time. Unfortunately, Rimmer takes even less care of Lister's body than does Lister. Kryten then discovers that he has the means of entering the past via photographs. Once more, Lister sets about changing history, this time telling his past self, no matter what, to never considering going into space. Finally, the Red Dwarf receives news from Diva Droid International that Kryten is to be upgraded to the Hudzen-10, who has been alone in space for thousands of years. The crew decide to hold a goodbye party for Kryten.
So much for the episodes, what about these being remastered editions. Ten years ago, the BBC and Grant Naylor Productions decided to remaster the older episodes to give them a look consistent with the seventh series of the show. Even this viewer, perhaps from not having that strong a memory of the show, was able to tell that the scenes of the Red Dwarf and the Starbug flying through space was new, with background planets shown in these versions that would have been beyond the rudimentary effects budget of Red Dwarf. Again, the Blue Midget hops across planets in a way that would have been out of Red Dwarf's original scope. The commentaries on the set explained that much more was different, including a new title sequence, a new stereo mix, a cropping of the original 4:3 image to make the show widescreen and the filmisation of the picture to make it look closer to the BBC's current comedy shows.
Only these first three series were remastered, after which any further work on Red Dwarf was cancelled. What you think of what the BBC and Grant Naylor Productions did will depend on how fond you are of the original shows. As one who has no particular emotional attachment to Red Dwarf, either in original or remastered flavour, I wasn't upset either way. Had 2 Entertain included only the former, viewers might have complained at the lack of remastered versions while, in only releasing the latter, there is the suggestion that fans of the original won't much appreciate the tinkering. My one criticism of this set is that the actual CG they've used isn't of a particularly high standard. It compares well to the effects of the original show if one is looking for a side-by-side comparison but all it really does is to delay the inevitable aging of the material.
As to the actual release, what we have is a reasonably presented set of eighteen episodes (plus bonus material) that does much to squeeze six episodes onto each disc with commentaries. Unfortunately, though, all this remastering seems to have escaped the attentions of whoever produced these DVDs as the chopping down of the 4:3 image to a widescreen picture has made the journey across to DVD non-anamorphically, meaning that we now have a cropped widescreen picture within a fullscreen frame. Why'd they bother? I don't really know as this flaw in the transfer has left Red Dwarf looking a good deal less impressive than it ought to have done. Very much in spite of the remastered description, the picture remains soft with a certain amount of blurring and a lack of colour in the first series leads to colour bleeding, too much contrast and a fuzziness in subsequent series. None of this would have mattered very much had it not been heralded as something different but it was and although the BBC clearly did make an effort to clean up Red Dwarf from the video masters, it's not quite the success it could have been.
Again, the stereo remix doesn't add anything to Red Dwarf. Like the picture, it's only really noticeable in the completely new CG sections of the remastered episodes with there being no obvious difference between a mono soundtrack and the stereo. However, the dialogue is generally clear throughout, the audio effects are often excellent thanks, I suspect, to the BBC's history with its Radiophonic Workshop and with radio comedy and the music remains strong. Finally, there are English subtitles across all episodes and (commentaries aside) the bonus material.
There's a lot here. The first disc begins with Bodysnatcher, a story that was due to be in the first series but which was dropped. The story would later be used as a basis for Bodyswap in the third series but it is presented here as either a series of storyboards with a reading of the script by Chris Barrie or as a slightly longer audio version (also by Barrie and based on the same reading). The storyboard version includes a commentary by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, who explain why the story was dropped from the first series. Keeping with this line, this DVD set also includes an alternate version of The End, the episode that started it all. Again, Grant and Naylor provide a commentary and are honest with why the episode as it was first presented doesn't quite work, their excuse being that there were no jokes and that their weakness in writing character-driven material was that no one knew the characters.
The Beginning (69m57s) follows The End, it being a making of the series with contributions from all those present at the time, including the cast, director Ed Bye and producer Paul Jackson. It could so easily have been a rose-tinted view of the series but what's most interesting about it is hearing Jackson talk about his confrontation with Craig Charles over his tardiness, the failure of the first filming of the pilot episode and how no one much cared for the show in the beginning. But The Beginning only takes the making of Red Dwarf only so far, which takes It's Cold Outside (69m55s) to look at how the show got its second series (and more), how Norman Lovett left the show and how simple errors led to the cast and crew's fury at great gags that were ruined during filming. There's rather more in this feature on the special effects than in The Beginning but this rather dry middle section is son past in favour of the behind-the-scenes comedy.
On to the second disc and with this containing the six episodes of the first series, there's little room for anything else. However, this set looks at the remastering of the first three series of Red Dwarf in Re-Dwarf (21m02s), which uses 'before' and 'after' shots to illustrate what happened during the process, how the videotape degraded over the years and how CG rendering was used to make the series more attractive to overseas markets. This disc also includes a Red Dwarf Mobisode (36s), a Gallery and DVD Credits. There are also Commentaries on The End (Ed Bye, editor Mark Wybourn, sound supervisor Jem Whippey and VFX artist Chris Veale) and Me² (Doug Naylor and Ed Bye) as well as What's Different?, text tracks on all episodes that detail changes between the original and remastered versions.
The third disc in the set includes four Deleted Scenes (1m22s, 1m29s, 1m39s and 1m27s), two of which date from the original production, including one in which bad weather ruined an external beach shot. Other bonus material includes Raw FX Footage (14m39s) that dates from the remastering, Original Model Shot (53s), Tongue Tied Archive (1m50s and 3m40s) and what the producers of this DVD call The Most Embarrassing Interview In The Universe Ever (6m01s). That's probably fair given that it's Alan Titchmarsh on daytime television in an interview from 1991 but, instead, it refers to Rob Grant and Doug Naylor covered in fake snow talking to a clearly disinterested Titchmarsh about comedy and science-fiction. This is accompanied by a Commentary by Grant and Naylor who are rather disparaging about their 1991 selves as well as daytime entertainment but do have an interesting story about a hearing a television presenter peeing in the cubicle next door. Finally, there are two Commentaries, one on Kryten and another on Better Than Life (both Naylor and Bye). Again, there is a What's Different? text track across all six episodes.
Finally, the fourth disc concludes the set with Script Extracts from four episodes illustrated by storyboards and read/performed by Chris Barrie. The four episodes are Dad (8m31s), which was the potential cliffhanger for Series 3, Lister's Father (2m03s), Infinity Patrol (1m11s) and Rimmer's Dummy (42s). All of these Script Extracts feature a Commentary. The bonus material continues with Super 8 footage from behind the scenes of Series 4 (4m52s) and two Trailers/Promos for the remastered editions of Red Dwarf (6m54s and 5m24s), which, like Re-Dwarf, features a comparison of 'before' and 'after' shots. Finally, there are Commentaries for Polymorph and Bodyswap (both Doug Naylor and Ed Bye) and yet more What's Different? text track across all six episodes.