Review By Paul Mount, 4 out of 5 >

With the last few series having been distinctly lacklustre it’s easy to forget just how good the original three or four years of RED DWARF actually were. With perilously low budgets, the focus of the writing was on the characters and their interpersonal relationships. It was only later that the money increased ?the first signs of increasing BBC confidence are on show in Season Two with more effects work and some outside filming ?and the series lost its edge and became another high-concept science-fiction series with a few lame jokes thrown in for good measure. Early RED DWARF, like the very best British sitcoms, was about disparate people locked up together in a love-hate relationship, sniping at each other, battling to get the upper hand but ultimately relying on one another more than any of them would care to admit. RED DWARF isn’t really so far removed from the likes of STEPTOE AND SON with the cheesy Lister (Charles) acting as the lowlife anchor figure dragging down the ambitious Rimmer (Barrie) whose own character deficiencies get in the way of his dreams ?as well as the fact that he’s dead and actually only exists in hologram form, of course.

RED DWARF 2, impressively presented over 2 DVDs by those nice people at the BBC, sees the first flourishes of the unfettered imaginations of series creators Grant and Naylor. The Dwarfers leave the confines of their ship for the first time and the six episodes explore some hoary old SF clich??virtual reality games, alternative dimensions, computer overintelligence ?and balance them nicely with genuinely funny dialogue and interesting situations. The whole look of the show is much improved from the rather drab, grey first season. Barrie and Charles have clearly settled into their roles, John-Jules is the perfect support as the fashion-conscious Cat and Norman Lovett is by turns dry and knowing as Holly, the ship’s omniscient (but rather dim) computer. The android Kryten, later to somewhat dominate the series when portrayed by Robert Llewellyn, makes his first appearance here and it’s easy to forget how good David Ross was in the role. Six quality episodes then, probably about the best of the Dwarf in terms of both story and genuine comedy.

THE DISCS: A nice quality image is balanced by a slew of impressive extras. The cast have a raucous time commentating on the episodes, there’s an A-Z of the series (first shown on BBC2’s RED DWARF night a while back), some deleted and extended scenes, outtakes, raw FX footage, the full-length version of ‘Tongue Tied’ the song which opens the last episode of the second series, a revealing interview with Doug Naylor and an Easter Egg so well hidden I can’t find it. Well worth your money and that neat spine design suggests that if you buy one you’re pretty much obligated to buy ’em all.

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