Red Dwarf: Back to Mediocrity

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

LOOK THERE’S A HELL OF A LOT OF SPOILERS IN THIS ARTICLE BUT I AM TOO ANGRY TO CARE.

The end of Red Dwarf began with a promising first episode. I won’t pretend it was up to the usual standards of the series in its prime – it wasn’t – but it made a good effort. The events of seasons seven and eight were happily ignored, the crew were alone on a giant ship in the middle of deep space, they were interacting in a fairly funny manner during an encounter with a dimension-hopping squid that chose to take a nap in their ocean-sized water tank. True, there was a noticeable lack of Holly, and an overlong and overmaudlin scene to let us know that Kochanski had died again, but considering the depths the series had reached with its 7th and 8th seasons I can forgive all of this.

Things began to go south with the sudden and unexplained manifestation of a hologram of the ship’s hot Russian science officer after the four main characters are exposed to exploded squid juices. Suddenly, I was reminded of Back to Reality, an episode in which the crew apparently get back to Earth but are in fact hallucinating after an encounter with a mysterious squid. Given that this three-part epilogue to the show is called Back to Earth, and given that it begins with an encounter with a mysterious squid, I feel that I was justified at this point at feeling a certain amount of concern, a mild worry that everything subsequently onscreen would prove to be utterly inconsequential. The ability of the science officer to construct a deus ex machina portal to Earth using a mining laser and squid bits only increased my concern, as did the sudden leeching of jokes from the second half of the episode in favour of cleavage shots.

Matters only got worse with the second episode. It turned out that the crew couldn’t go back to their own Earth because technobabble technobabble they didn’t really exist. (That’s another plot point from Back to Reality, by the way). So they went to a parallel Earth very much like our own time, Rimmer shoved the science officer under a car because the ship could only sustain one hologram in the long term and she had made a convincing argument that it’s not ethically wrong to kill holograms (there’s the funny part of this episode, by the way), and the crew discovered their own DVDs on the shelves of a store.

Yes, you read that right.

Doug Naylor chose to spend the second episode of this epilogue whining about the death of Red Dwarf.

You see, it turns out that in this parallel universe there was a Season 9, apparently the best season ever (the death – or escape – of Kochanski and other events happened in this season, and that’s why Doug Naylor doesn’t need to explain what the fuck was happening in the last episode of season 8). The fact that Doug Naylor was responsible for the mediocre seventh season and abysmal eighth season leaves me absolutely baffled as to why he imagines that he is personally capable of delivering the best ever season of Red Dwarf in any possible dimension, but this is what we are expected to believe. What’s more, the characters find the DVD of Back to Earth and discover that a) they die at the end and b) they go on a quest to find their creators and beg for more life.

Now, this episode might have been funny as the better parts of the first epilogue episode, but I didn’t notice due to my sense of absolute rage at the self-indulgence exhibited by Doug Naylor. It is my feeling that any project such as Back to Earth should not act as a soapbox, but that is what he turned it into. It could have been an opportunity to write a satisfying conclusion to the series whilst celebrating its accomplishments, but instead it’s all WAAAH WHY WASN’T THERE A SEASON NINE WHY CAN’T IT GO ON FOREVER. This is incredibly undignified.

(By the way, the crew finding out their lives are nothing more than a work of fiction was a plot point in Back to Reality.)

My expectations for the conclusion were at an absolute nadir, as the second episode ends with the characters arriving at Coronation Street in order to find Craig Charles (for our foreign readers, Coronation Street is a soap opera that Craig Charles currently appears in). The first part of episode 3 involves unfunny-to-mediocre jokes about Coronation Street, although I was briefly amused by the bit where they acknowledge Charles’s unfortunate crack habit. Then it was back to shitty Blade Runner parodies as the crew went to meet their creator in a building not unlike the Tyrell ziggurat. (By the way, grimy 80s cyberpunk dystopias were a feature of Back to Reality). To give Naylor his due their “creator” is a parody of Tyrell himself, rather than Naylor strolling about denying the existence of Rob Grant, but the scene is still horrible because it’s devoid of jokes and depends entirely on Blade Runner references. I don’t think the series ever relied on unimaginative and lazy parody even in the darkest parts of series VIII – even with, say, all the nods to Alien in the Polymorph episode they didn’t go so far as to restage entire scenes and directly reference fucking property they are parodying.

And then Lister beats up Tyrell and yells about how he wants more life because HE HAS A RESPONSIBILITY TO THE FANS TO KEEP GOING. Demanding to be allowed to continue your TV series and then claiming that it is out of your sense of honour and responsibility and not because it’s the only profitable and good thing you have ever done is the height of televisual arrogance but that’s what the Dwarf crew and writers do here. This leaves me profoundly glad that the improv episode that was going to accompany this epilogue never happened.

After a long and boring sequence with a typewriter the characters finally fucking remember the squid from Back to Reality and consider the possibility that the squid they encountered at the beginning was a similar creature and get out of the hallucination, and quite frankly this couldn’t have come soon enough (and even then it takes far too fucking long to happen). Why they didn’t simply think “oh, very unlikely things are happening immediately after we’ve been exposed to squid guts, it must be another emotion squid” is never explained.

As a conclusion Kryten explains that the alternate universe exists because they dreamed it (I fucking hate quantum solipsism) and state that they hope that the people in that universe watching them find the show funny. Unfortunately, this is a somewhat forelorn hope because I was left sat at the screen in a state of frothing rage holding my middle finger up at the screen as hard as I possibly could.

Back to Earth is best experienced by watching the first part of the first episode and turning off when the magic squid disappears to another dimension. If you want a satisfying end to Red Dwarf, watch season 6 and just assume they die when their past selves kill themselves. It’s a time paradox, but so is their survival into season 7. I wish I could say this was the end to the continued rape of the show’s legacy, but I suspect that Red Dwarf will keep coming back to haunt us until Doug Naylor finally fucking dies; he’s already said he wants to make a season 10 (skipping over season 9 as a sly reference to the current debacle). Somebody please stop him.

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