TV: Red Dwarf X

FOR MANY sci-fi fans, the biggest revelation of the year was not the decision to write out the Ponds in Doctor Who, but the announcement that science fiction sit-com Red Dwarf would be revived for the second time in three years.

The news also filled many fans with a slight hint of dread. Many will remember 2009’s effort to do the same thing; a three-part mini-series called ‘Back to Earth’ which divided the opinions of critics and viewers. Less of a sit-com and more of a comedy drama, the three episodes lacked the laugh-track that had been typical of pre-revival Red Dwarf and relying too heavily on the special effects budget, something that the earlier series had notably lacked. It probably says a lot about the commercial reception of the series that the ‘Making Of’ documentary currently holds a higher rating on IMDB than ‘Back to Earth’ itself.

Compared to ‘Back to Earth’, however, Red Dwarf X is a triumph. It’s far more faithful to the old series, for a start; indeed, a new or casual viewer might have difficulty telling an episode from Red Dwarf VIII and Red Dwarf X apart, notwithstanding the inevitable ageing of the cast. The feel of the program is lovingly recreated, right down to the tin-can special effects, and the cast seem a lot happier to actually be making the program, their on-screen chemistry once more at the forefront of the humour. Of course, there are several huge changes with the new series. Firstly, it’s no longer aired on the BBC, but on comedy channel Dave, which means there are advertisement breaks. This takes a bit of getting used to, but once you’ve got past the constant interruption of car insurance adverts, it’s easy to ignore. Secondly, only six episodes have been produced, making it longer than the 2009 revival but two episodes shorter than the final original series of 1999 (although, tellingly, the same length as series one to six).

In short, Red Dwarf X is the modernisation that Red Dwarf deserves. It manages to both remain faithful to the style of the much-loved series whilst still adapting it for a slightly more modern audience. Perhaps the first aspect is what makes it so successful as a revival; looking at other recent revivals, there seems to be a pattern of success. Doctor Who was successfully brought back to life in 2005 after eight years away from the small screen (the TV movie still counts, I’m afraid). Absolutely Fabulous returned in late 2011 after seven years. Both revivals were successful, and both were notably keen to adhere to the style of the older series (with the exception of Doctor Who’s massively increased budget and special effects department). It seems as though we Brits are generally accepting, if not wary, of revivals of old shows, as long as they remain faithful to their predecessors. We want the nostalgia and integrity of our old favourites to remain intact. We want them updated, not changed. We want our old shows to fit in to our modern world without completely ignoring the previous one.

This is where Red Dwarf X really succeeds, and, if fans are willing to give it the chance it deserves, it should prove a worthy addition to the world of Red Dwarf.