Eighth Dimension

Red Dwarf VIII brought together the new and old. reddwarf.co.uk takes a look under the hood of this finely-tuned series.

A densely populated space ship. A prison. A world of rules and regulation. Hang on, are we sure this is Red Dwarf?

Eighth Dimension

It's so easy to highlight the changes for Series VIII. The fish in that barrel don't stand a chance. Yes, Lister is no longer the last human. Yes, Rimmer's alive. No, they are no longer alone in an unpopulated universe... but just hang on.

Lister hasn't been the last human for a long time. Kochanski showed up last season. No? Okay, how about Ace Rimmer? That guy popped up in Series IV. He was a living, breathing human being. Or how do you feel about the umpteen people encountered during time travel?

Ah, really? These don't count? Dimensional equivalents are exceptions; ditto anyone not from our time stream?

Then bog off - cos the Red Dwarf crew were reconstituted from leftover genetic material by nanobots. As far as they're concerned, time just carried on - to start with they have no idea that they've skipped three million years. If you want to talk time-streams, these guys are paddling up the wrong tributary.

What Series VIII presents, more or less, is the flip-side of Stasis Leak. Instead of Rimmer going back in time, the Red Dwarf crew have all been brought forward in time. Plucked from the moment before they all died and dumped three million years and God knows how many miles from home.

Rimmer being alive? Again, not the hugest of deals given his development in Series V, VI and VII, where a hardlight drive did what a psi-moon, a holo-whip and a quantity of squid ink had already done - make his interactions possible, just to tell the story.

Eighth Dimension

There is an argument that it's 'not the same Rimmer' and that's true enough. It literally isn't. That Rimmer is off trying to save universes somewhere.

It's interesting to note that, often, those bothered by this 'new' Rimmer are the same ones who say they wish Cat would return to being a more kitty character. The new Rimmer has none of the original's experience, and is all the more weasily for it.

As for the unpopulated universe... well, do I really have to say it? Almost every Red Dwarf episode involves meeting someone. From Lister's Confidence and Paranoia to crazed simulants and holo-crews, the Dwarf universe didn't stay under-populated for long.

So, let's get past the superficial differences and look for a moment at what Series VIII did incredibly well - reworking the core styles and themes of Red Dwarf.

Rimmer and Lister as bunkmates, for example. Yes, their relationship was about more than location, but anyone who's shared a flat will know just how much more intense a relationship becomes when thrown into close quarters. How great to have them back and bickering.

Eighth Dimension

But this isn't simply a return to an old style. Series VIII suggests that, despite the antagonism, Rimmer and Lister have a lot more in common than people, even they themselves, realise. They're both amazingly immature. It may come out in different ways, but their very natures mesh in fundamental ways.

This was something suggested right from the very start - in Series I we hear how Lister put Rimmer's name down for experimental pile surgery, and how Rimmer tied Lister's locks to the bed then set off the fire alarm. Very grown-up.

It's not something anyone (save Doug Naylor) considered, but of course these two would bond over these similarities if forced into the right situation. That situation turned out to be prison.

Suddenly, and so appropriately, Rimmer and Lister are partners in crime. Combining their immature, practical-jokey natures and turning them on a new enemy - authority. The prison guards, the ship's captain.

Eighth Dimension

Again, they always shared a contempt for those higher up. Lister, most obviously, with his inability to follow any given rule... but Rimmer, too, only respected officers to their faces. Oh sure, he wanted to be one, but he never liked them. And how surprising is that when his father was such a military monster?

So, with Rimmer and Lister's relationship not only re-established, but cleverly developed, what of the other characters?

Kryten throws up a terrific issue that, until now, nobody had considered - that, by any normal standards, the crew's adventures had become utterly bonkers. Sci-fi be damned, the tales of the crew to date read like the ramblings of a lunatic to anyone remotely part of a 'normal' society. Rimmer stripped and oiled by handmaidens, Lister snogging a giant insect, Kryten hallucinating a cowboy town? Come on...

Eighth Dimension

Series VIII thus throws the light of the 'normal' on our adventures. (In much the same way the Buffy episode Normal Again did with hallucinations. 'You think you're a vampire slayer, the chosen one... Seriously?' And this itself isn't a million miles away from what Dwarf itself did with Back to Reality.)

Because Red Dwarf was always built on misfits. Characters of massive flaw and huge contradiction. Characters that could only thrive where there were no people - because, given the choice, there would always be brighter, smarter, saner characters.

Then there's Kryten's classification as female. Again, old-school Dwarf has always mocked the way rules and regulations don't quite mesh with real life, never account for the variety of the real world. Thus a lack of male genitalia marks Kryten out as female. Despite the fact he doesn't have female genitalia either. It's what happens when those Space Corps Directives start to matter again.

Of course, people don't know what to make of the Cat. He's medically bizarre, a whole new species. But then, there's a lot of bizarre stuff out there - it just mostly cropped-up after the crew died.

Silly note: where is Cat being held? Who is he sharing a cell with, if anyone? We never find out, and it's a lack-of-detail I adore. Why? Because we've never bloody known where Cat sleeps! With the exception of a scene in Emohawk - where he slept in a bunk, but who knows if that was a regular thing? - Cat's sleeping habits have always been shrouded in mystery.

Eighth Dimension

Series VIII hooks back into a lot of these peculiar old-Dwarf beats. One of my favourites is how much scheming is going on. Back in the Red and Krytie TV both hinge on characters plotting things for themselves - something that, in Thanks for the Memory, Stasis Leak, Bodyswap and even the lost 'Rimmer stealing Lister's body parts' episode, was once part of the show's core.

Then we have Cassandra, an old-school Dwarf episode. So much so that it name-checks its key influence, Future Echoes. It's a classic time conundrum story, and we all love it when Dwarf does those.

What is sad is that the other big attempt to go old-school is less significant. Only the Good... has a great Dwarfy idea - character's dimensional-doubles (see Parallel Universe or Dimension Jump), matched with a simple video effect (see Backwards). So how come we get to spend so little time there?

It's a huge shame, because the mirror universe was proving to be fascinating. A genius professor Cat, Kochanski as a none-too-bovvered Essex girl. Even the deleted scenes are great, with Hollister further reduced to Rimmer's old level and a Lister of officer class and uncertain sexuality. Magnificent.

Eighth Dimension

What I would have given for more time there! For all our guys to hop over. Let's face it, this Kochanski is far more Lister's 'usual type' ("girls who say somefink rather than something"), and Kryten's relationship with Professor Cat might have been great for them... and annoying for everyone else.

It worked so well to show Rimmer another side to his existence, think what it might have done for the others. But, sadly, Only the Good... never had the time. Pity.

Time, indeed, was the enemy of Series VIII. When one swaps the multi-part Back in the Red for the DVD's feature-length edit, it's a powerhouse piece of work. As three episodes, it never takes off in quite the same way.

Together, though, it weaves quite the tale, hitting all the beats mentioned above - authority, the dangers of scheming, the return of 'society' - into a twist-turn story. One that gives every main character something interesting to play with. Set-pieces for all!

Eighth Dimension

Pete, meanwhile, was a sketch-show - deliberately formatted to bounce around in a circle. See Hollister, cause chaos, get caught. Lather, rinse, repeat.

And while it maybe hit the same beat too many times over its double-length run, Red Dwarf has always been part sketch-show. The writers forever thrived on set-pieces (the Wilma Flintstone and Hammy Hamster debates, for example). Occasionally they were nicked from their own previously-made radio sketches. (Tongue Tied, say, or Holly's teasing Lister that his mouldy sausages have taken over the Earth.)

Once again, it's not the departure it sometimes appears to be.

The final great shame in Series VIII is Kochanski's apparent reduction to 'representative of her gender'. While she never suffers the ignominy of 'damsel in distress', the stories of this series, many would argue, tend to focus on her being filmed in the showers, pre-destined to be bonked, in virus-induced lust-mode, or on her period.

The joke is that Series VIII is the series when Kochanski really started to work as part of the gang. Reduced to convict, brought down to the level of those around her, Kochanski begins to show how her character can really kick-in.

Eighth Dimension

She's finally given ridicule gags that the other characters have had for years - silly costumes, affected by rivalry and trickery - which, yes, includes that Fantastic Period banner. And the sexual magnetism virus.

Comedy, in Red Dwarf, is often synonymous with humiliation. Cat covered in head-pus in Justice, for example. You take the character who can't stand to have a hair out of place and splatter him with something ghastly.

Here, we take the up-tight female officer who wants her private life to stay private, and force it into the spotlight. Enforced hornyness in a lift, a menstruation banner, shown nude on TV. Like Rimmer's name-tagged condoms and secret love-doll, it's the exposure and embarrassment that makes it funny.

Meanwhile she gets some dialogue sequences that mesh perfectly. Check out the restored scene in the feature-length BITR where she becomes terrified by the prospect of prison. That's our girl, fitting in with the chemistry. Or the great one-liners she gets during the embarrassing time when Cassandra predicts she will sleep with Rimmer.

Eighth Dimension

Here she gets some of her best lines to date. Rimmer won't die? "Oh, but Cassandra promised!" Maybe she gets blind drunk to sleep with him? "That doesn't excuse my other four senses." When sexuality is the thing you keep quiet, it's the thing the comedy is obliged to expose.

This, and the fact that she's no longer in a position to just be bossy, is why, come Series VIII, Kochanski is working.

Indeed the whole of Series VIII causes one regret bigger than any other - it's the last Dwarf TV series to date.

Eighth Dimension

Following the attempts to reformat the show, to mesh effects, camera, audience, cast and a writer now working more-or-less solo, Series VIII keeps presenting the possibility of a very bright and inventive future on television. Something really, really interesting.

I hope we see it again before too long.

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