The Smeg It Was

Over the course of April 10 through 12, untold millions of people worldwide observed the resurrection of something that once had died but now is risen, in perpetual hope and expectation of its eventual return in glory.

I am talking, of course, about Red Dwarf: Back to Earth, a three-part miniseries that marked the first new Red Dwarf to be made since 1999.

I don’t need to tell you I’m a Red Dwarf fan — my three computers are named holly, kryten, and queeg, after all. I first discovered and fell in love with the series back in high school, when the local PBS station would air Red Dwarf, Red Green, and two episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus in an epic two-hour block on Sunday nights. I believe they eventually stopped doing that because federal law prohibits PBS from airing anything that awesome.

Back in 1999, Red Dwarf season 8 ended (after Rimmer kicks Death in the groin and tells him that “only the good die young”) with the words “The End”, followed a few seconds later with “THE SMEG IT IS”. Alas, until this month it was the end. There was no season 9, and the movie never got made.

All hope for new Red Dwarf was lost, until I stumbled across by chance the Red Dwarf page on TV Tropes a couple days after Easter, and noticed the tiny little paragraph closing the write-up:

A three-part story Back To Earth was recently aired across the Easter Weekend of 2009 on digital channel Dave, putting an end to the complete lack of any new TV or book output since 1999.

The next step was obvious.

So, was Back to Earth worth a 10-year wait? Sort of. (minor spoilers ahead)

Part 1 starts off is textbook Red Dwarf, with things having reverted back to the premise of the pre-seasion 6 episodes (though taking place 9 years after season 8): just Lister, Rimmer (a hologram again), The Cat, and Kryten aboard the titular Red Dwarf (with Holly’s absence given a brief hand wave). Nothing great by any means, but not bad either.

The transition from the fight with the giant squid in the water tank to Katerina‘s appearance is very clumsy, and though the abruptness of it can be explained in light of the reveal in Part 3, surely there could’ve been a cleaner transition between the two. Even ignoring the impossibility of the Red Dwarf supporting two holograms at one time (especially seeing how it happened in the last two episodes of season 1), the rest of Part 1 does little other than to set up the premise of Parts 2 and 3.

The storyline that fills most of Parts 2 and 3 is sort of weird. Remember that scene in Spaceballs where the bad guys watch a VHS copy of Spaceballs to figure out where the heroes are? It’s sort of like that, but stretched out over half an hour.

More specifically, the crew get sucked through a swirly thing into the “real world”, which is eagerly awaiting the premiere of Back to Earth. They find a promotional DVD case of the three-parter, and while there’s no actual disc inside, they learn from the back of the case that Back to Earth is the end of Red Dwarf. Since in the “real world” universe they’re just fictional characters, they’ll cease to exist once Red Dwarf has ended, and so they seek out their creator to plead for more life. Hilarity ensues.

This level of self-referentiality is tough to do well, especially as the backbone of the entire plot. While Back to Earth manages well enough, being set in the “real world” loses some of the feel of being Red Dwarf. Which isn’t to say there isn’t excellence to be found within; take, for example, this scene that mercilessly spoofs the magical image enhancement capabilities found in TV shows:

Also, you just know someone in Britain is making a real-life Carbug.

Oh, and lest you think my constant scare-quoting of the “real world” is some sort of spoiler, I’m doing it because of the one infuriating difference between the real real world and the “real world” as shown in Back to Earth: the “real world” apparently got ten seasons of Red Dwarf instead of eight. Lucky smeggers.

In any event, it’s obvious that just as Back to Earth is about the Red Dwarf crew asking the show’s creator to keep making episodes, Back to Earth has the ulterior purpose of testing the market for interest in, well, new Red Dwarf episodes, and not-so-subtly asking The Powers That BBC to fund it.

Maybe the whole “ten seasons” thing wasn’t an error but a promise — the half of Grant Naylor still working on Red Dwarf has apparently said he’s not interested in making season 9 but is interested in making season 10, whatever that might mean.

And we all saw how well season 8′s promise of more Red Dwarf turned out. But one can hope for new life, and isn’t that what the Easter season is all about?

Well, that and Peeps.

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