Much-loved sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf returns to Dave next month for its tenth series, and expectations for the show’s new run are high.
Billed as a return to Red Dwarf's early ‘90s best, the new series sees its makers eschewing the dramatic stylings of seasons seven, eight and nine in favour of a simpler, more obviously comedic approach.
But is the new series really a return to form? Well, on the evidence of its first episode, Trojan, yes... and no.
First, some positives. Red Dwarf X looks a million dollars and uses CGI to devastating effect. It’s been shot in HD and certain sequences (especially the sight of “the small rouge one” drifting through space) are positively cinematic. The sets look great and, frankly, as far as production values go, you’d be hard pressed to fault the new series.
The cast are all on good form too in Trojan, with Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Chris Barrie and Robert Llewellyn all giving enormously energetic performances. And despite 48-year-old Craig Charles joking that the new series looks like “Grumpy Old Men in space,” the Dwarfers all look fine (though the newly baggy-eyed Kryten looks a little tired), and all four actors clearly know what audiences expect of them.
Story-wise, it looks like it will please existing fans of the show’s mythology too, with the bulk of Trojan focussing on the Dwarfers meeting a character who’s been frequently referenced in previous series of the show.
The problem, at least with this first episode, lies in the breadth of its humour. While it’s understandable that the show’s had to re-introduce its characters and be made intelligible to viewers not previously acquainted with Red Dwarf (or people who stopped watching more than a decade ago), some of the writing in Trojan feels surprisingly pedestrian.
There's a strange reliance on catchphrases, running gags and references to everyday life throughout Trojan, none of which feel particularly true to Red Dwarf's past, and some of the dialogue practically clubs the viewer over the head with exposition. During the episode the characters often come across more like caricatures than the well-rounded individuals they'd evolved into by the end of the '90s, and, sadly, a lot of the jokes fall rather flat.
Humour is subjective, agreed, and there are some good gags and off-the-wall metaphors to savour, but, as much as I wanted it to be, Trojan just wasn’t on a par with classics like Queeg, Marooned, White Hole or Legion from the show’s past.
That’s not to say there isn’t potential for the new series, though. Indeed, clips from future episodes and rough plot outlines suggest that there’s a lot to look forward to in Red Dwarf X, but I found Trojan strangely underwhelming.
Other reviewers have called the episode “a triumphant and most welcome return to form,” and said that “Red Dwarf is very much back with a bang.” On Trojan's evidence, I can’t honestly put my hand on my heart and say I agree with those assertions. But I fervently hope that the rest of the series proves them right…