Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Red Dwarf Series III Overview

Series III is when the look and feel of Red Dwarf would come to be a bit more "settled". Grant and Naylor would take a more hands-on role in production, and a new look in terms of both costumes and sets was established through the work of Howard Burden and the late Mel Bibby respectively. The show also built upon some of Series II's tonal shifts to delve further into an action-adventure setup in addition to the sci-fi comedy, with a new rock-guitar fast-cut opening sequence reflecting the shift to a livelier universe than the one found in the first two series, now featuring strange space phenomena, genetically-engineered monsters, time-travelling developing fluid and deranged domestic androids.

The series is also noteworthy for two major cast changes: the recasting of Holly with Hattie Hayridge in the role and the casting of Robert Llewellyn as Kryten, turning the guest role portrayed by David Ross in Series II into a regular character and making the show more of an ensemble piece. The cast move further towards being a sort of squad or team, with their computer in support. Perhaps it's just that I knew he was coming, but Robert Llewellyn fits in effortlessly as Kryten, and the character feels like a natural addition to the cast. Holly has less to do than ever, unfortunately. I wonder, had Norman Lovett's travel arrangements been sorted out such that he could stick around, if he would have moaned and complained enough that Holly got a bigger role.

These changes also make for a bit of a departure from Series I and II's common focus on long conversational scenes between Lister and Rimmer in which they spar with each other and discuss their various life experiences. While one episode, "Marooned", is still devoted to this, these staple scenes only really crop up elsewhere in Series III in "Bodyswap", in which they largely service the plot, and "The Last Day". Supposedly this was to a degree instigated by a somewhat poor offscreen relationship at the time between Craig Charles and Chris Barrie, although the extent of this seems questionable. Craig Charles seems to attribute such a situation these days largely to his own immaturity at the time, although Chris Barrie charitably seems to accept some of the blame, describing a "competitive" environment in rehearsals. I get the impression, in any event, that stories of friction between them may have been somewhat exaggerated, and it's probable that Grant and Naylor wanted to change things up anyway. It seems highly unlikely to me that "Marooned" would have been made if the show was to any extent trying to avoid having the two actors doing that kind of one-on-one material together.

One thing I've noticed about Series III on rewatch, if I was to criticise it for anything in general, is that at times it can be a bit, well, "twee". Things like "the Red Dwarf shuffle", Smeg and the Heads and the "special mechanoid menu" come across at points as rather corny from a modern point of view, not unlike Miranda the Mermaid or some of the female-opposite jokes from Series II. I'd also argue that "Backwards", "Bodyswap" and "Timeslides" are all rather gimmicky episodes in which a central effects-driven conceit dominates the story, and not necessarily to its advantage. On the other hand, at times Series III can be quite dark and character-driven, as Lister faces apparent death with only Rimmer for company in "Marooned" and when Kryten confronts what he believes to be his doom in "The Last Day".

As is usual for Red Dwarf, the strongest episodes are those which explore the characters and what makes them the people they are, which is something we get in the two episodes I just mentioned, along with, to an extent, "Polymorph". Nonetheless, there is still a lot of good model work and the location shooting is, by and large, effective, and does not demand too much suspension of disbelief. Series III sets the standard for what Red Dwarf would find itself most consistently comfortable being, yet I feel reasonably confident in arguing that these were still early steps, setting a foundation for the show to improve in subsequent series.

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