NOTE: Nothing to do with condoms, promise.
Well, folks, the wait is finally over. Three years since the Back to Earth miniseries and THIRTEEN smegging years since it graced our screens as a regular series, Red Dwarf returns for its tenth season on Dave.
For those of you new to the show and have no idea what I’m talking about, Red Dwarf is a really rather brilliant sci-fi/comedy from the UK. Aboard the mining vessel Red Dwarf, a radiation leak kills the entire crew except for Lister, who awakens three million years in the future to find that he’s the last human alive. He’s not completely alone, however. Red Dwarf is also home to Cat, a humanoid who evolved from Lister’s pregnant cat, and the holographic version of his prissy and uptight bunkmate, Rimmer. Later on, the android Kryten joins the crew as well.
The first thing I noticed is just how little things have changed over time. Sure the picture is now 16:9, but everything else from the sets, costumes, right down to the laugh track is pretty much the same as it’s always been. Had Red Dwarf been airing new episodes continuously over the last decade and a half I might have been annoyed with the lack of evolution by now, but after so long away that familiarity is comforting. Red Dwarf is very much an 80s/90s series whatever the copyright date might say and it wears it proudly on its sleeve.
Even Red Dwarf‘s vision of the future is decidedly retro. It’s a mining ship, so everything is gritty and used. No chrome in sight. Movies are still watched on triangular vidtapes, phones still have aerials coming out the top; the whole affair feels charmingly outdated.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the episode isn’t really much to be proud of. Rimmer, who is now looking very old indeed for a hologram, is once again studying for his AstroNav exam to advance in the Space Corps and show up his hotshot brother, of whom he is extremely resentful and jealous. Meanwhile, Lister tries to navigate through the automated telephone service from hell in an attempt to order an automatic drink stirrer. The crew then stumble across the Trojan, a derelict military ship with broken down engines. They receive a distress signal from none other than Rimmer’s brother (also a holographic person), and Rimmer decides to use Trojan to convince his brother that he’d become a Captain as well.
There’s some good fun to be had here with Lister and Cat having a nice little back-and-forth about the most common cause of car crashes in 1970s Sweden, and Rimmer’s program locking up due to a resentment overload is a hell of a lot of fun. I also got a kick out of just how far Lister took his dedication to ordering the damn Stir Master, taking the wretched phone everywhere with him, no matter how inappropriate the situation. The dialogue is still pretty damn sharp, even if it doesn’t always have the best jokes to go along with it, but that combined with the actors is enough to make for some hilarious moments.
Both the A and B plots are nothing new. Being put on hold for a stupidly long time is one of the oldest sitcom plots in the book, and lying to a relative to impress them is old hat as well. Putting these things in a sci-fi setting doesn’t make it much more interesting.
Despite a rather run of the mill plot, I think the appeal of “Trojan” lies in the performances of the Red Dwarf cast, who fit right back into their old roles like they’d never left. Craig Charles (Lister) and Danny John Jules (Cat) in particular feel like they haven’t aged a day and in their scenes together it’s clear they haven’t lost their rapport with one another.
I’m extremely happy to have the series back on the air, but once you get past that initial squee of seeing old friends again, the episode brings nothing new to the table. “Trojan” is ultimately enjoyable, if a little flat, and I look forward to the remainder of the season. New viewers might want to go back to the series’ heyday in seasons 2-6 to see what all the fuss was really about, but if you’re at all curious, now’s as good a time as any.