Red Dwarf has returned!
I’m a big Red Dwarf fan (as you might have guessed when I named it the number one sci-fi sitcom ever made) and so I figured I should share my feelings on Trojan, the first episode of Red Dwarf X.
It has been thirteen years since the last series of Red Dwarf, and as we begin Trojan, it really feels it. The cast look older, the budget seems to be a lot thinner and there’s something about the sets that seems a little contrived.
A lot of the look of Red Dwarf X seems to be manufactured to push our nostalgia buttons. This isn’t a bad thing, but it doesn’t sit as comfortably as previous years where the show changed it’s visual style every couple of seasons but never seemed out of place. I suppose I would best sum up the effect of returning to the series as “authentic but awkward.” A lot of effort has clearly gone into making a show to looks right, and yet it never seems as comfortable in itself as Series 6, which introduced an entirely new setup to the series and yet felt more natural than ever. Later on in the episode, the crew visit a derelict ship which feels even cheaper and despite being a lot more showy, it lacks the character of sets of the past, seen in episodes like D.N.A or Legion.
These initial impressions carry on to the cast, costumes and even the writing. At first, everything feels a little forced. Similarly to the Back to Earth specials from a couple of years ago, Red Dwarf X returns to the cast of series 3-6. No attempt is made to resolve the cliffhanger of Series 8 which isn’t a bad decision, but it does create a few nitpicky problems for long term fans. Lister refers to himself as the last man alive, something that was certainly true for most of the series but isn’t certain after the end of Series 8. I bring this up, not to be pedantic, but because the show itself seems unclear. While no other humans turn up in the episode, we are introduced to another hologram, serving on another Space Corps ship, who makes no mention of the fact that we are supposedly three million years in the future. While we’re on the subject, why can people touch holograms now? Rimmer’s hard light drive seems to have been adopted across the universe now. While Red Dwarf X returns us to the most familiar cast and setting, it presents us with something of an unknown universe. Maybe this isn’t important to the series, but for fans of the series, it might be a bit distracting.
However, that’s a lot of the bad out of the way pretty quickly. Despite initial awkwardness, which could be as much to do with the 13 year gap as anything else, the show hits its stride after a few scenes and the writing settles down into a nice pace.For example, the episode opens with a routine about traffic accidents in 70s Sweden that involve a moose. It’s a funny joke that gets carried too far, too fast and we’re only a couple of minutes in. The back and forth pangs of pushing too much for “dwarfy” humour. The flip side to this is that when the joke pops up again later in the episode, it is easily one of the funniest, most natural moments of the show. This is a pattern that characterises Trojan. It’s hit a miss, and gives the impression of a writing team that are trying a little too hard to hit all the right notes, but when it works it’s a joy to watch. The great jokes might not be plentiful, but they’re truer to the best of the series than anything from Series 8 or Back to Earth.
Where the episode really falls down is in plotting. The jokes, and a good dose of nostalgia, are carrying this episode but the main plot involving Rimmer’s brother and a derelict Space Corps vessel feels rushed and choppy. It’s a nice episode to open on, but nostalgia will only take an audience so far, so the plots will have to get stronger in weeks to come.
Red Dwarf X opens in perhaps the best possible way. It meets the audience’s basic requirements for a Red Dwarf episode but it doesn’t get anyone’s hopes up. It is funny and at times it is very clever, but it is never particularly ambitious. When it works, it works well but it is far from a complete return to form. However, it promises that the show still has legs and that it could still go places from here. In this respect, it performs much better than the feeble Back to Earth. It entertained me for half an hour, it made me laugh, and I am looking forward to the next episode. After 13 years, can we ask any more?