Red Dwarf has kicked off its first full series for 13 years with "Malware", an episode that focuses closely on Rimmer and his various hang-ups. After the abomination that was "Back To Earth" (the 2009 mini-series) this episode had a LOT to prove to stop a lot of people turning off after the first 5 minutes. It had to restart peoples faith in the Dwarf franchise, as after such a long break many people, including some hard core fans, thought perhaps it would have been better to leave this in the past. So how did it do?
Well, as a kick-off, the opening credits gave the older watchers misty eyes as they thought back to the early 90s, as the style closely matched the middle series of the original run. New watchers wouldn't really care about this though, and to be honest pretty much every audience manages to get past even the most atrocious credits, so lets move on to the program itself.
The opening scene has Lister and the Cat interacting, and straight away the atmosphere feels more comfortable and less forced than "Back To Earth", as if this series directly followed on from 1999. There was no long-winded explanations about how they got where they are or their adventures up till now, which is good as it allows new viewers to be comfortable with tuning in without a huge wealth of background knowledge. Later in the show we have a mention of Kochanski (Lister's old on-again off-again girlfriend) but it's a single line for a joke rather than a complicated reference to an obscure occurance. The Cat's characterisation is flawless as he completely misses the point about mooses causing accidents, while the actor Danny John-Jules has lost none of his moves in the intervening years, proven in the first 30 seconds as Cat smoothly enters the scene.
The conversation between Kryten and Rimmer about his failure to pass the officer exams again, coupled with how he copes with this failure, brings back some plot points of the early series of Dwarf and looks like a deliberate attempt to get back to that style of comedy. The recording in front of a studio audience really energises the actors and makes this scene work really well, while it could have fallen quite flat if filmed in the style of the specials. The audience gives a live feedback to the actors about how they should deliver their lines, and lets the timing fall into place naturally. However, one or two jokes here felt laboured, with the book gag going on for at least 3 lines beyond its appropriate ending.
Going through each scene analysing would become boring, but these first two were the ones that had to stand up to the most scrutiny, and while there was the odd line out of place or that didn't quite work, they reassured me that Dwarf was back on track for being funny, although not yet perhaps laugh-out-loud hilarious.
There were some general faults with this episode, as Lister being on the phone for 24 out of 28 minutes really limited his effect on certain scenes, with the Cat reduced at times to trailing him around, almost as if the writer didn't really know what to do with the characters at this point. This could be, however, because there were two guest stars, one of whom was Rimmer's own brother. Some brilliant acting by Mark Dexter made us automatically accept him as related to Rimmer, albeit it with him being the more successful brother. The idea of making holograms crash when they become resentful worked brilliantly when bringing these two long lost brothers together, as well as actually saving the ship by overloading a simulant (another idea resurrected from the old days).
Basically, it feels like they've never been away. Obviously the set has been updated, as have the special effects, and the waistbands on various characters are stretched further than the relatively thin plot, but they don't feel like aging actors trying to recapture characters they are past playing, they feel like they have been trapped on the ship all this time, growing older, getting more annoyed with each other, and someone has reconnected the TV cameras so we can see them once again. I'm looking forward to episode 2.
By Christie Sims