Culture Clash: Does Red Dwarf Need a Reboot?




I like to take the side of reason in these Culture Clash debates. Reason tells me that the X Factor is bad, that vinyl records actually have a lot going for them, and that Sonic the Hedgehog games will probably never be any good again. Reason also tells me that Red Dwarf Series X should be the most atrocious pile of space junk since… well, since the 2009 mini-series reboot of Red Dwarf.

But when it comes to Rob Grant and Doug Naylor’s most famous creation I just can’t bring myself to be so realistic. Sure, the series experienced a gradual decline over the its original ten years, and 2009’s reboot is best forgotten about, but to hell with all that cynicism, because Red Dwarf X is going to be the best damn situation comedy set on an intergalactic mining ship three million years in the future EVER!

I admit, there’s certainly plenty of nostalgia involved in this decision – Red Dwarf was my gateway drug to harder geek material – but the series has enough potential in it to warrant at least another series. It’s won itself millions of devoted fans over the past twenty years, thanks to its generally excellent jokes and frankly brilliant characters; Robert Llelwyn’s Kryten, the most socially inept android in this or any other Universe, remains one of the best characters in any British comedy. It’s this cult appeal that means it’s almost like a more obviously comedic Doctor Who – another beloved series which ran out of steam and was revived to brilliant effect much later on.

If the shows writers can stop falling back on the silly time travel plots and the badly handled sentimental stuff that plagued series eight, then there’s no reason the show shouldn’t reach its previous heights. It might be best to go ‘Doctor Who’ style and get a rotating cast of guest writers to pen the episodes (could they get Simon Pegg to write one? Neil Gaiman, maybe?). There’s so much potential here, and so much to draw on already – an established cast of excellent characters, a unique setting that allows for plenty of creativity, and a core audience that absolutely loves the show – that if writer Doug Naylor focuses on penning tightly scripted and straight-up funny episodes then it should be a hit. There’s even a bit of a gap in the market at the moment for traditonal, ‘filmed in front of a live audience!’ sitcoms. What could possibly go wrong!?

Well, the jokes could be bad, the acting half-assed and writing plain poor, that’s what could go wrong. This argument is hinged on ‘could’s, ‘should’s and ‘maybe’s, but in the end, even if it is a terrible turgid mess, it’s not going to detract from my enjoyment of the original episodes. So there’s every reason to get excited about Red Dwarf X. And if you’re not, the problem is obvious – you’re just a massive smeg head.

— Joe Henthorn

I can just see it now – Rimmer massively overdoing his humorous salute, Lister pretending that the acting tutorage he received in preparation for Coronation Street gives him license to try it out in a science fiction sitcom, Cat being less agile than he was over ten years ago, Kryten switching to ’flogging a dead horse mode’ and Norman Lovett taking to the internet to bemoan his not being asked to return, before (rightfully) conceding that the episodes are crap and he didn’t want to be in them anyway.

Now, where have I seen this before? Oh yes, in 2010. Oh yes, and in 1998, when the show came back from a lengthy absence, sans one half of the writing team. When will Doug Naylor realise that the story of ‘the boys from the Dwarf’ is now ‘the fifty year old men from the Dwarf’, and is so depressing that many want to quietly take Red Dwarf into the woods, shoot it squarely in the back of the head and have a modest ceremony? Now of course, for the first two series’ especially, Red Dwarf’s excellence was always rooted in the aimlessness and tragedy of a man, a hologram, a humanoid cat and a supercomputer with nothing further in life except to irritate, annoy, and then the grave. What a perfect and poignant ending that series six would have been – the audience will never know what happens, safely assuming that they eked out the rest of their lives alone. How is this ruined? By the 2010 specials, where Lister is in his forties and no more mature, love lorn and with no pleasure in his life. M’colleague Joe Henthorn crudely cites the success of Doctor Who’s reboot as proof that Red Dwarf can work. He seems to forget that Doctor Who’s return was not accompanied by Sylvester McCoy hobbling around on a cane and unable to roll his R’s without sending his false teeth soaring out of his face.

The ageing is disconcerting not only viewers like myself, who no longer find the bickering between Lister and Rimmer funny because they are now as bored of it as the audience. There are the die hard dwarvians who will endlessly pick apart the biggest continuity error in history just waiting to happen; that Rimmer has aged despite being a hologram, and undoubtedly stress themselves out filling in the blanks themselves or filling web forums with reasons why any new episodes are definitely not ‘part of canon’.

In fact, Doug Naylor has shown enough disregard for the timeline that he and Rob Grant expertly mapped out as to toss into the growing, yellowing grass what made the show special. In series 7 he brought back Kochanski, the unseen centre of Lister’s turmoil, a dead but omnipresent, outlook changing character up there with Daisy Renton in JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls. In series 8, he brought back… the entire crew of Red Dwarf – Lister was no longer the last human being in existence, which was central to his importance as a character. And then, in the specials, they returned to Earth, albeit whilst in a hallucinogenic state.

All of those previously unreachable utopias have been reached, and there is nothing left to motivate the crew. Not only will the jokes and stories be crap, but there will be nothing left to appreciate in this battered, skeletal horse of a comedy show.

— Ronnie Rowlands

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