THE ONE WHERE Rimmer has to rescue his own (holographic) brother, but is determined to pass his astronav exams and become a captain before he does so. That, or lie through his teeth.
VERDICT This week British comedy went into a time warp. And you know what? Good.
Red Dwarf was back, and despite the wrinkles, the middle-aged spread (in a droid?) and the CG FX, it felt like we were back at the turn of the ’90s. Whether “Trojan” will – in future – be regarded as a classic episode or not doesn’t really matter. What is it – without any argument – is an important episode of Red Dwarf. After the critical and fan mauling that Red Dwarf VIII and “Back To Earth” received, it restored the faith. It proved that Red Dwarf still has it. It proved that Red Dwarf is not past it. And it proved that there’s still a lot of love out there for the Dwarf, because – if the reaction on Twitter was anything to go by – instead of disgruntled fans going in with a “go on, impress us” attitude, looking for hairs to split, people wanted it to be good and were downright deliriously happy that it was.
Confession: I didn’t really mind Red Dwarf VIII and “Back To Earth”. They clearly weren’t the show at its best, but I’d still rather have watched them than Not Going Out, In With The Flynns or My Family for a laugh. On the other hand, the back to basics approach in “Trojan” shows where the show was going wrong. After seven seasons you can’t blame the Doug Naylor for experimenting. But now we can be thankful he’s got experimenting out of his system. This was Red Dwarf back in the stripped-down format that suits it the best.
“Trojan” also bears out that old adage that “it’s not the budget it’s the writing that’s important.” Red Dwarf actually benefits from the scaling back. Whether this was an artistic or economic decision (the latter, you’d assume) is neither here nor there. It stops the show going for elaborate visual gags that cost a bomb, but aren’t half as funny as Kryten having a hissy fit, Rimmer pulling a funny face or a well-placed silly simile (“as small as the salad section in a Scottish supermarket” indeed).
Bottom line is: this was funny, engaging and well told. The running gags (the moose, Lister hanging on the phone for his Stirmaster) gather momentum and paid off beautifully. The “turning right” and seat adjustment sight gags were hilarious. The main characters all had various chances to shine and a bunch of great lines each. And, despite the confined space and budget limitations, there was, as there always has been, some good science fiction at its core.
The fact that the new sets and set-up aren’t explained doesn’t matter. And while the lack of any version of Holly (and only a mention of the scutters) is a shame, it doesn’t harm the show in any great way.
It wasn’t perfect. The opening titles looked like they’d been thrown together two minutes before the show aired. The opening gag about pig racing was worryingly lame, and a couple of the other early jokes fell rather flat. Naylor’s direction, meanwhile, doesn’t always match the quality of his scripts; occasionally there’s a feeling of “first rehearsal’ to the delivery while the pacing of some scenes was on the listless side. It just feels like it needs tightening up here and there, and not feel like a team who’ve been doing the same thing for 10 seasons defaulting to auto-mode.
But it’s good that it wasn’t perfect. Imagine if “Trojan” had been the best episode ever. The rest of the season could have been a let down. “Trojan” was clever enough to be bloody good, but with room for improvement. And you know what? There’s every reason to believe that this series can get better.
MOOSE LOCKDOWN We’re not sure if the Wikipedia entry for “Moose” was locked for editing before “Trojan” aired (why would anyone check, for heaven’s sake?) but it’s certainly been locked since. Are we becoming conspiracy nuts, or did somebody warn them that at around 9.15pm on 4 October, a few thousand Red Dwarf fans might all have the same idea to add a certain fact about the Swedish moose in the 1970s?
CLOTHES MAKETH THE MAN Those uniforms were Starfleet inspired, right?
FACE OF THE WEEK Gurning isn’t exactly the subtlest form of wit, but “Trojan” damn near turned it into high art. Though we can’t decide if Chris Barrie or Susan Earl (as the Stirmistress) should win the prize.
FNARR FNARR Maybe we’ve been watching too many Carry On films, but did anybody else snigger like Sid James at Crawford demanding she be given Trojan (also the brand name of a famous range of condoms) and the quantum rod so that she can start the uprising?
So many to choose from (it is a comedy after all) but here are a couple of our favourites.
Kryten: “He’s completely helpless. What are we going to do?” Cat: “I say we draw a moustache on him.”
Rimmer: “When we found Kryten he was a burnt out wreck on a junk heap.” Howard: “And you rebuilt him? Gave him something to live for?” Rimmer: “No, we just hosed him down and gave him a hat.”
New episode of Red Dwarf X air on Dave every Thursday at 9pm