Six Of The Best

Red Dwarf Series VI changed the direction of the show forever. But here are some things you may not have considered...

Welcome to a series that ditched the very ship that gave the show its title. The series that removed a character so long-running it had actually been through two different actors (of two different genders!). The series that made the insubstantial hologram solid, and locked the flighty feline in with the humans. Welcome, in short, to Red Dwarf VI.

Six Of The Best

So the fans asked for more bunkroom-based dialogue scenes, a bigger role for Holly, and more stories set aboard Red Dwarf herself. They didn't get what they asked for - but the real question you have to ask yourself is 'do people know what's best for their show'?

Oh, sure, we can give you an opinion afterwards - we know whether we liked something or not. But ask any writer trying to please a fan base, and they'll tell you that it's as tough to write the next instalment of a long-running series as it is to write the first. Because there comes a point where everybody thinks they know how to make this thing - and, when they review the new edition, you can be sure they'll let you know just what you did wrong... by not doing it the way they wanted.

Check out any Bond movie review. After the third film, almost any example you find includes a caveat that, if they'd done it this way, things would have been a lot better. 'This way', of course, being the way the critic would have gone - usually an attempt to return the series to what are perceived as its roots.

Six Of The Best

But that way lies insanity - and, worse, repetition. By trying to recreate past glories, a show eventually suffocates on itself. Self-awareness and continuity are fine, but the best long-runners find ways to update the formula.

(It is at this point that I urge anyone interested to look at series like Blackadder, Buffy and Bond - who genuinely do take chances with the system every series/era - and contrast them with series such as Friends and Friday the 13th - which don't.)

Ironically, in order to avoid repetition between series, Red Dwarf VI developed an episode formula that would repeat over and over for the six-episode run. Every week, following a slick dialogue scene re-establishing the main characters (and delivering some snappy gags), the crew pile into the cockpit to face a potential emergency. From there, it's on to the encounter itself - either by landing on it, crashing onto it, or docking with it.

Six Of The Best

The bonuses are obvious. Worrying less about the 'basics' gave the writers time to concentrate on the bigger ideas. Production costs are kept down by re-using key sets with the same basic lighting set-ups. Plus it facilitates running gags - meaning Rimmer's relationship with the Space Corps Directives established in Series V's Quarantine would never be the same again...

Along with this structure, the danger levels for Red Dwarf also went up. Setting the entire series aboard Starbug brought our boys under more immediate threat. Just as Speed 2 could never be as nerve-jangling as Speed - because an out-of-control bus will always have a more immediate terror factor than a tearaway cruise liner with its own swimming pool and shopping mall - so the enclosed 'Bug would always be more vulnerable than the old gigantic red trash can with no brakes and three millions years on the clock.

With their plentiful supplies eradicated, the crew could no longer afford to simply hang around and kill time. No longer could Lister while away the hours with a one-man bubble blowing contest, no more were unicycle polo or Durex volleyball on the entertainment schedule. This series they had a job to do.

But what does this more action-orientated set-up do for the character side of the show? Well, despite what one might expect, Series VI does pull one Dwarfer back into frame, front and centre. Dave Lister. The last human. Remember him?

Six Of The Best

By this point, it could be argued, Lister was becoming somewhat left behind. While Rimmer's character was explored to the full in the already action-packed Series V, Lister's personality occasionally seemed to have taken a forced leave of absence. When there's evil afoot, GELF backside to kick, who has time for gags about curry and personal hygiene?

Well, Series VI proved there to be room aplenty. Dave Lister snaps back into focus after a full series as a more standard (if still occasionally bewildered) space hero. His very re-introduction in Psirens is an utter joy - reminding him who he is really does seem to bring him back to something like his old self. When Legion offers Lister a room tailored to his individual requirements, it's another blissfully physical restatement of character.

But - we don't see the other guys' rooms. We hear about them, true, but for the most part, Series VI holds back on the extremes of Cat, Kryten and Rimmer. More and more, they first and foremost facilitate the narrative. Cat, now forced to be over-exposed to 'humans', loses much of his catty nature. Kryten is once again driven to deliver much of the exposition, as he was in Series V; and poor Rimmer, deprived of the soft-light status that made his ghastly personality over-compensate, is given only rare moments to twinkle.

Six Of The Best

Still, twinkle he still does - they all do - at key moments. Rimmerworld could have been a huge and glorious display of character traits, had the budget not been so lacking at that point. (We arrive at the titular planet extraordinarily late into the episode, compared to, say Terrorform.) But his cowardy exit earlier on has the old magic in spades.

Six Of The Best

Likewise, Kryten's personality is given the first heavy nod since Series IV's DNA with the brief but significant cameo by his creator, Professor Mamet. And certainly his drunken sheriff, like Cat's Riviera Kid, represents a significant 'alternate view' not seen since Demons & Angels or perhaps even Dimension Jump.

Six Of The Best

As with Series V, there are compensations for this focus shift. The credible threat, the life-or-death situation, really does enhance our views of these guys - and, in some cases, it brings them out of themselves. Selfish interest is overridden in times of extreme conflict, and our boys dig deep into their personal resources.

Thus Kryten outsmarts Legion, kills the final Psiren, and beats the computer virus at the climax of Gunmen; and Rimmer snatches up that bazookoid at the end of Out of Time with all the oomph of Bruce Willis in Die Hard... but with so much more triumph given his nature and history.

Six Of The Best

And that ending? Well, a cliffhanger of epic proportions, despite only being conceived in the edit. But with a fan base having to wait three years for a solution, by the time we arrived, the conclusion had already been predicted and re-predicted. Usually the obviously solution was stated - "I know an unreality bubble when I've spent 25 minutes in one".

But then... well, that would be predictable, wouldn't it?

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