Thursday, September 1, 2016

Red Dwarf Series IV Overview

To a comparable extent to Series III, Series IV of Red Dwarf feels like the show at, perhaps, its most "friendly". There's not a great deal of interpersonal conflict between the characters, when they're in mortal danger it's not treated in a particularly dramatic fashion, the science-fiction concepts are comfortably vague and unrealistic, and they meet a variety of oddball characters. I'd almost be inclined to say that, despite dealing with some reasonably weighty themes in several episodes, this is Red Dwarf at perhaps its most pleasantly light-hearted, as opposed to, say, the farcical comedy of Series VIII.

Series IV increases the amount of time the characters spend off the ship, visiting other locations and travelling either aboard the now-ubiquitous Starbug or through other means. It more firmly establishes a wider universe, as we begin to discover, as Red Dwarf makes its slow return journey to Earth, a galaxy littered with the detritus of an extinct human civilisation, the artefacts of which now are scattered across space. The show comes up with more and more interesting ways to have guest characters despite the lack of humans; this series notably first introduces the term "GELF", Genetically-Engineered Life Form, as well as the concept of simulants as danger lurking in deep space, both of which would become staples of the show in future years.

A couple of episodes explore Kryten's character, a couple explore Rimmer's and one juxtaposes Lister and Rimmer's attitudes towards war and violent conflict. The series also sees the previous storyline being adjusted somewhat in order to accommodate ideas Grant and Naylor developed in the Red Dwarf novels: the idea that Red Dwarf had a crew of over one thousand people, and that Lister had, in fact, had a brief relationship with Kristine Kochanski rather than simply admiring her from afar. Both of these ideas would resurface more prominently in the Doug Naylor-only era from Series VII onwards. Series IV also sees, for the first time, an episode adapting a story from the novels rather than the reverse, as the "pool with planets" concept originated in the novel Better Than Life.

Series IV, to the best of my knowledge, sees few design changes relative to Series III, as the show's look seems to have been firmly established at this point. I think Lister gets his even bigger furry hat in this series, which I think rather suits the character, and Cat has some particularly bizarre outfits, particularly in "Justice" and "Dimension Jump". I've often thought that Kryten has an extremely rectangular head in this series, but the mask is obviously an improvement over the previous iteration. The series also has some excellent models, including the DNA Ship, Justice World and Ace Rimmer's ship, the launch sequence for which is very pleasing.

If Series IV has any particular problems, they might be found in a couple of structural issues with the writing for some episodes and some location choices. I would argue that the ending of "Camille" is a bit too derivative (much as "Back to Earth" would be 19 years later), "DNA" doesn't entirely follow through with all of its ideas, and "White Hole" quite clearly feels like two different stories jammed together. The location work used for Justice World and Waxworld in "Justice" and "Meltdown" respectively is not entirely convincing. Other than that, I would say that Series IV is a solid string of interesting and entertaining episodes and a strong continuation of the show's Series III reworking which, as usual, introduced some now-classic concepts to the show's ongoing fabric and featured some of the show's best set pieces.

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