Review: Red Dwarf VI DVD (2005)

DVD review for Film Focus film magazine
Written on Feb 20, 2005 by Blake Neale
(This was also the first review for this release published worldwide.)

Red Dwarf VI: The Entire Sixth Series [DVD]

Cast: Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules and Robert Llewellyn

Feature: A ‘now or never’ ultimatum from the BBC saw a fair amount of Red Dwarf VI being written and filmed with great haste. Some of the difficulties this imposed were experienced in the previous series, where scenes were being rewritten merely minutes ahead of being shot. Series VI’s production was all the more a shambles in this respect, with entire scripts arriving late on set. Not only did this rule out location shooting but also saw the actors heavily reliant on crudely made teleprompters. The final episode, aptly named Out of Time, was a strong victim of these conditions.

This should have done nothing for the series but weaken the storytelling and represent the whole production as visibly shoddy on screen. Yet Red Dwarf VI pulls magic out of a rather dusty, crumpled up hat and delivers us six perfect episodes of cracking science fiction comedy – true testament to the incredible talent of everyone involved.

The sixth series of Red Dwarf takes the show in an unexpected direction: Before resuming their search for Earth the crew must first recover their lost mothership (and on-board computer, Holly) – all from the confines of the smaller transport vehicle, Starbug. As a result of this shift in location and enforced claustrophobia a new dynamic is thrust upon the episodes, allowing the cast to spark off and play to their strengths against each other all the more.

Psirens briefly re-addresses Lister’s love for Kochanski (who died in Series I) in having her character appear as a gun-toting heroine figure alongside Anita Dobson. Only, it’s a ruse of a telepathically manipulative species that seeks to feast on the brains of anyone who falls foul to their trickery. As with later episodes of this series, the humour is far more physical than ever before.

Legion even sees softlight hologram Rimmer upgraded to hardlight enabling him to interact with his surroundings, which is put to full use for laughs – particularly in the dining scene and when Kryten attempts to bludgeon him into unconsciousness. Slapstick isn’t Red Dwarf’s dominant style of comedy but it is refreshingly used here to great effect.

The third episode, Gunmen of the Apocalypse, which went on to win the International Emmy, is unsurprisingly regarded as one of the best. It boasts film noir and Wild West themes thrown into the usual mix and truly pushes the limits of television programme making of the time. Lister’s attempt to masquerade as aliens, the Cat’s ace gun-slinging, and the final showdown in the streets of Laredo are notable highlights.

Emohawk – Polymorph II is both a sequel of sorts to a Series III episode and the writers’ response to the fans’ outcry for more Ace Rimmer and Duane Dibbley – characters previously seen in Series IV and V respectively. Although on paper the episode comes across as desperate to please keen followers of the series, it remains true to the spirit of the show and is a huge source of laughs.

Rimmerworld was originally to be a direct sequel to Gunmen of the Apocalypse but budgetary restraints saw the whole episode simplified. Instead, Rimmer gets marooned on a planet for six hundred years so tries to clone a fully-grown female companion using his own DNA. But as the title suggests, he ends up populating the planet with failed deviations of himself and in turn loses power to them.

This is the first series of Red Dwarf to have a full story arc, clearly influencing the writing of the subsequent two series. The final episode, Out of Time, further bridges this arc but boldly (given no seventh series had been commissioned) ends with a cliffhanger that went unanswered for another four years.

The final scenes are nothing short of breathtaking, perhaps the most dramatic ending to any sitcom since Blackadder’s Goodbyeee – though impressively puts various big name Hollywood productions to shame while it’s at it.

Extras: Surprisingly topping their previous successes on the DVD extras front, Grant Naylor Productions have again pulled out all the stops. The cast commentary is typically entertaining with nuggets of insight dotted throughout; the recovered scenes of such high quality most beg to be re-edited back into context of the episodes (Emohawk in particular has so many fantastic jokes cut only for reasons of time); the Behind-the-Scenes, Model-Maker and Raw FX footage utterly captivating; and The Starbuggers original documentary inspirational in how everything came together to form Red Dwarf at its zenith.

Final verdict: Where Series V managed so perfectly to blend science fiction theory with action, Series VI tends to lean slightly more towards the latter. This is not a hindrance to the series, as the flawless comedy is ever present and the whole concept is hinged on some massively inventive science fiction that the series is best known for.

An absolute must have if you’re a fan of the small rouge one but equally a mighty fine place to start if you’ve not yet dipped your toe.

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