Worst to Best
Red Dwarf
Back To Earth

"Back To Earth" was effectively season nine of Red Dwarf, a three-part special that aired in April 2009. Audience response was so strong to the special that it ultimately led to the series being recommissioned.


by
THE ANORAK
NOVEMBER 2018


The special can be ordered online from Amazon. In the meantime, please join me as I rank the three episodes from worst to best...

3 Part One

Back To Earth was a three-part special that aired on the Dave Channel over Easter 2009. Although this was the first time the series had been made without the BBC, it wasn't quite a complete break from the corporation, as the BBC have a 50% share in Dave, and have later included the Dave episodes on their IPlayer facility.
     The special aired over three consecutive days, and although the opening night's 2.36 million viewers didn't quite stick with it, the concluding 1.24 and 1.20 million more than justified continuing with the programme. Although at the time this special seemed like the final nail in the coffin of Red Dwarf, it can be appreciated more with the hindsight that it actually led to the series being recommissioned with, to date, 18 new episodes.
      it's easy to look fondly on this special now it's not the story that ended it, but the show that brought it back. Doug Naylor gives it a filmic look on a budget, his direction thoughtful, and, greenscreen aside, it looks terrific in parts. That said, the Dave Channel episodes are far from the show at its peak, and the cast, all past forty, lack the same vitality and energy they once had.
     Red Dwarf was always a curious hybrid of a show - a sci-fi sitcom - and consequently it always only worked with a studio audience, the cast's timing hurt without it (Danny John-Jules particularly). Comedically this first episode is a washout, so much so that it's possible to believe it was recorded in front of an audience, and was met with stunned silence. Yet it's harmless and inoffensive enough, a victory lap that - while perhaps slightly undeserved after the debacle that was season eight - would take the hardest of hearts not feel some affection for.

2 Part Two

The second instalment sees the crew realise that they're all fictional TV characters. While quite a nice idea, this kind of postmodern, self-reflexive content was passe by 2009, a time when it was rarer to find a programme that didn't acknowledge its own artifice rather than one that did. There are some good moments in this one, including the series jokingly pretending it had excellent, (unseen) ninth and tenth seasons, but other parts, like a SF shop owner who finds them all hysterical, go on way too long.
      Chris Barrie hasn't been ideally served by most of the Dave Channel offerings, which cast his character as the one-dimensional "sitcom" version of Rimmer, more Back In The Red than Thanks For The Memory. Although it's later revealed that the events of this story are a joint hallucination, seeing Rimmer coldly murder another hologram is significantly out of character, and Rimmer's line about "in what way am I hilarious? Name one way in which I'm hilarious" does, in 2009, exist as a valid question.
      Those anal enough to wonder how the future still had video cassettes (as seen in several early episodes, including Me2 and Better Than Life) get an amusing, in-series explanation for how this came to pass as the cast see some DVD boxes in stores. While it's the kind of anal, fannish side of Doug Naylor that later gave us a recreation of the first scene from The End and the original bunk set, it's a nice "Easter Egg" for long-term fans.

1 Part Three

Back To Earth was shot from 31st January-8th March 2009, and inevitably a scene where the cast meet themselves has them encountering Craig Charles on the Coronation Street set. Had it been made six years earlier then they would, perhaps, had the budget reached to it, have met Chris Barrie on the set of one of the Tomb Raider movies. It's curious to imagine what the cast thought of Charles's stardom elsewhere being so heavily featured, though it's to his credit he was prepared to go along with mocking himself so savagely ("I've gotta get back to the Priory!")
      It's debatable what the crossover is between Red Dwarf fans and Coronation Street viewers, seemingly a very small Venn Diagram result, but Simon Gregson does, sadly, have more chemistry with Charles at this stage, despite continually using a biro as a prop. While Coronation Street generated the majority of the special's publicity, it's a Blade Runner homage-cum-parody that takes up the bulk of the episode. While perhaps ill-advised, there is a certain poignancy in the crew wanting to live again, and not cease to exist.
      Acting as a sequel to Back To Reality, the episode once again shows Naylor's lack of fresh ideas, though there's a nice cameo for Chloë Annett as a hallucination of Kochanski. The search for Kochanski was eventually going to inform season ten, and she was referenced in four of the episodes. However, budget restraints caused this not to happen, and this is, to date, the last appearance of the character in the series.