- (Back to Earth, Part Two)
Back to Earth (later retconned to be Series IX at the release of Series X) is a three-part mini-series of the science fiction sitcom Red Dwarf, which was broadcast on the British television channel Dave in three parts from 10 to 12 April 2009.
They were the first new episodes of the show in almost ten years (see 1999 - 2009 Bridge) and mark the 53rd to 55th episodes in the run of the show.
Its status as the ninth series of the show was a matter of debate, in part due to plot elements within the Back to Earth story suggesting the ninth season occurred "off screen". However these comments were intended as a joke by Doug Naylor. The official Red Dwarf website states that Back to Earth was a special and not a series, and that officially, Series IX does not exist.
Original Airdate: 10 April 2009, Episode #: 53On Red Dwarf, nine years after the events of Series VIII, Lister and Rimmer are in new sleeping quarters together, with Rimmer being a hard-light hologram now (seemingly the answer to the last series' cliffhanger). Rimmer is trying to get the skutters to help him straighten some of his framed vending machine repairman awards. Lister pulls off an elaborate joke just to hack Rimmer off. He notes that they are onto their last tank of water, and starts to eat tomatoes he laboriously gathered from the supply deck. He explains that even though he hates and is allergic to tomatoes, it helps to save water. When Rimmer asks how, Lister sneezes onto a piece of clothing on an ironing board, and uses the moisture to iron. Rimmer is disgusted, but figures out that Lister is just trying to get to him.
After being lectured by Rimmer, Lister heads off to an Observation Dome with a bunch of flowers. He heads over to a grave marker, and Kochanski's picture. He then starts to read Sense and Sensibility to her grave. Cat then leaps in soaked and miserable and the two head back to Rimmer. Cat tells of his misadventures near the remaining water supply, where he was attacked by a sea monster with "testicles", which Lister translates to tentacles. Kryten returns from his holiday spent in a broom cupboard and they all decide what to do.
The crew go down into the Water Tank to face the creature, minus Rimmer who weasels his way into controlling the Diving Bell. Rimmer then accidentally makes them think they are being attacked, but once he realizes that it isn't there he returns to his car magazine. He then turns on music and grooves to it as the sea monster, a squid, actually does attack the crew down on the diving bell. As they struggle, Rimmer continues to be blissfully unaware of them until he finally realizes and brings them back up. Once out, with Cat holding one of its tentacles Lister carved off, Kryten surmises that it is a dimension hopping leviathan, that chose the Red Dwarf water tank for safety reasons. There is a flash of light streaking up, and the leviathan is gone, presumably to another dimension.
The crew get no rest as Kryten scans an incoming signal, and a holographic woman appears. She introduces herself as Katerina Bartokovsky (Sophie Winkleman), a Red Dwarf science officer who is here to take control of the situation, citing that Rimmer is failing as ship's hologram. Katerina makes plans to replace Rimmer (implying that there is a similar Space Corp Directive to Space Corp Directive 005 regarding Holograms) and to bring Lister home to restart the human race. She intends to use the dimension hopping abilities of the leviathan's tentacle that Cat brought back to create a dimension cutting machine with a mining laser. Rimmer tells Kryten to dig up dirt on his holographic rival, and Katerina puts her plans in motion. She uses her device to open up a dimension hole.
Original Airdate: 11 April 2009, Episode #: 54
Katerina opens the portal, but the readings coming from the scanners appear nonsensical, claiming that the dimension they wish to travel to is invalid. Katerina elaborates that apparently they themselves "don't exist". The portal machine instead locks on to a valid alternate reality, stabilizing the portal. To see if the dimension is safe to enter, Katerina shuts down Rimmer's image and sends his light bee through first.
Following Rimmer, Lister, Kryten and Cat all appear in a department store on contemporary Earth in London and discover that their adventures over the past decade have been faithfully documented in a television show Red Dwarf. However, they quickly come to the conclusion that they themselves are not real, and are merely fictional characters; finding a DVD box for the "Back to Earth" special, they are also alarmed to discover that they are to die at the end. Reading the episode description further, they discover that they will track down their creators to plead for an extension, in "true Blade Runner fashion." Following the directions on the box, the crew visit a local science fiction merchandise shop and talk to Noddy (Jeremy Swift), a (remarkably unfazed) shop assistant , who regrets that he cannot give them the contact details of the actors playing them. Rimmer finds a piece of prop polymorph skin, which Kryten reveals contains the prop maker's name, Swallow (Richard Woo). Lister finds a photo of the cast with Swallow, and Rimmer has Kryten enlarge, uncrop, zoom, pan and enhance the image until Swallow's work address is uncovered.
Waiting for the bus to take them to Swallow, Rimmer is dismayed to encounter Katerina, who has arrived via a second portal. She proves her own undoing however, when she gloats that it is ethical to kill Rimmer as holograms are already dead, thus causing no moral conflict. Rimmer, thinking fast, takes her at her word and pushes the science officer in front of a bus, apparently causing her image to short out.
Lister is slightly cheered when two children approach him on the bus and state that they believe him to be real, expressing their admiration for his better qualities which balance his slobbiness. They also theorize that Kochanski herself is not dead as Kryten claimed- he reported that she had been sucked out of an airlock- but that she stole a Blue Midget to escape Red Dwarf and Lister who was increasingly difficult to live with. Subsequently Kryten lied to him to stop him from moping around. Lister, shocked, realizes that although he has been dumped by Kochanski again, she might possibly be alive after all.
Arriving at Swallow's address, the crew are disappointed that he knows little of how they will die. The prop maker does however give them an address for the "Big Boss", who knows all about their fate, and the car keys to a vehicle he stole from the Red Dwarf fan club president. Driving in the Starbug-styled car ("Carbug") the crew arrive at Coronation Street.
Original Airdate: 12 April 2009, Episode #: 55
On the set of Coronation Street, the crew track down the actor Craig Charles, who is identical to Lister and try to get him to lead them to their creator, though he believes them to be hallucinations. Simon Gregson, however, leads them to their creator (Richard O'Callaghan), who prepares their ultimate ends: he plans to shoot them all dead as they flee.
However, the crew overpower him and use his typewriter to manipulate reality, before realizing that even their creator's typewriter is governed by a higher power; that of a despair squid. As Cat, Kryten and Rimmer fade back to reality, Lister chooses to stay behind to reconcile with Kochanski, realizing that his one chance to have her again lies in this fake reality. As he disappear, Kryten tells Lister it isn't his only chance as Kochanski is still alive. He confirms the story from the children on the bus. Lister chooses to stay.
Reawakening back on Red Dwarf, Cat, Kryten and Rimmer confirm that they were inked by the squid which had been living in the water tank. Kryten realises that it is is a female version of the despair squid they had encountered some years previously that produces hallucinations providing great joy and hope rather than utter despair. Everything that had happened after they had been exposed was another group hallucination, which their previous encounter allowed them to overpower. Back in the false reality, Lister decides to return to Red Dwarf, despite Kochanski stating that he will never win her back in real life. However, Lister asserts his self-confidence in his ability and returns to his old life.
Cat admits to being the one who brought the squid aboard Red Dwarf, after he had taken a baby squid to eat from their previous encounter with the despair squid, only for it to escape and never to be seen again, until now. Returning back to their sleeping quarters, the crew discuss the implications of this despair squid. Being a female that uses its ink to intoxicate its attackers with joy and elation rather than despair immobilises any attack. The crew decide to drop the squid off at the next ocean planet. They then joke about how the universe they visited where they are fictional characters in fact only exists because they created it and laugh at the "sad saps" who will forever believe that they are the real ones.
Continuity and Homages
"Back to Earth" begins with the caption 'Nine Years Later' - however it is never established whether this is nine years after the events of "Only the Good..." or the events of the fictional Series IX as mentioned in part two. Partly due to the specials being created to honour the twenty-first anniversary of the show, "Back to Earth" is filled with references to the previous series, and even borrows a lot of plot elements. It appears more to follow the unused final ending where the main cast stop the ship from being destroyed and leave the other crew members floating in space, although this switch is never confirmed nor denied.
Following his resurrection in Series VIII, Rimmer is now once again a hard-light hologram, though no direct explanation is given (though he is chased by the grim reaper in the finale of the previous series).
Red Dwarf is found to be still intact, and the Dwarfers back on it. Holly is offline due to water damage caused by Lister's carelessness, and the skutters have not finished drying him out (he will still be offline in Series X, suggesting the damage was irreparable). Red Dwarf herself now more closely resembles the model used in Series I through Series V, rather than the Series VIII nanobot improved reconstruction, though no explanation is given for the reversion in appearance. The ship is still deserted following the crew's abandonment of the vessel shown in "Only the Good...". This could be that the original Red Dwarf was destroyed and that they took this Red Dwarf from the mirror universe.
In the scene where Lister visits Kochanski's grave, a picture of Mel Bibby lies to the far left of the picture of Kochanski. Bibby was the Production Designer for Red Dwarf Series III-VIII who died in 2002. A picture of George McIntyre, ship's hologram in "The End", is just to the left of Bibby.
Rimmer states to Kryten "When I'm lord of the Star Fleet, Kryten, you'll pay for that remark". The "Star Fleet" has never been mentioned on screen before - the organization regulating space travel has always been the "Space Corps" or once in "Back in the Red" as the "Space Federation", the former is even mentioned earlier in the episode. "The Star Fleet" is, however, repeatedly mentioned in Naylor's solo novel Last Human.
The episode makes constant references to a Series IX, described by some London characters as "the best one ever", in which Kochanski died off-screen and another polymorph attacked Lister whilst in the bath. Of course, Red Dwarf was never commissioned for a ninth season, as the BBC did not wish to renew the show after Series VIII.
There are constant references to Blade Runner throughout and part two often mimics the plot line, referencing a group seeking their creators in order to extend their lifespan; artificially-created skin, and the maker's identity printed on it; Deckard's photograph manipulation; origami figures; the creator of the replicant parts who is named Swallow in a reference to the Blade Runner equivalent Chew, and the dialogue spoken.
On the DVD case stand is the D-D-Don't Shoot! gorilla detective from Lister's T-Shirts in earlier seasons as well as the gore film "Die Screaming with Sharp Things in Your Head" from "Demons and Angels". Inside the mall Lister and Rimmer are in a recreation of their sleeping quarters with wooden kids furniture and a toy guitar.
Part three also mimics the plot of Blade Runner, with the Tyrell Corp. HQ featuring in London in place of Portcullis House and the crew talking to their "creator" (a Tyrell lookalike), and the scene of the crew falling through the glass after being shot. Kochanski also appears wearing her hair and clothes like Rachael.
Craig Charles reaction to seeing Dave Lister is similar to Rimmer's reaction to seeing his future self's head come out of the table in "Stasis Leak", both were due to narcotic substances, Craig Charles believed it to be a crack cocaine "flashback", Rimmer believed it to be a flashback of "titan mushrooms" (or freaky fungus). Jesus also reacts similarly in the Series X episode "Lemons".
Upon reaching the creator, the crew are escorted inside by Rimmer Munchkins who first appeared in the Series VII episode "Blue".
We discover that Kochanski did not die after all, and that the children in part two were correct - she left Red Dwarf and Lister.
The entire storyline is a virtual remake of "Back to Reality", in that the crew become trapped in a group hallucination where they are "not real" following exposure to despair squid ink. They are extremely quick to accept that this is the truth, in stark contrast to the shock they felt in the episode.
There are also elements of Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers in the hallucination; the crew do not realize they are in a fantasy, due to the nature of the catalyst; there are mostly positive elements (in the success of survival, someone else to blame for their problems, and the ability to create a "happy ever after"); Lister is told that if he stays he will die, but he initially chooses to stay anyway, so he can be with Kochanski. Another allusion to the novel can be compared to the description of Lister's psychological breakdown, leading him to engage in binge drinking. This is exactly what Lister does in the novel after first learning about the death of the crew, drinking simply to numb himself to his situation.
Kryten deducts that the previous exposure to the despair squid in "Back to Reality" has given their immune systems a defense against its ink, and that is why they can voluntarily leave the group fantasy. Cat is revealed as the one who brought back the infant squid aboard Red Dwarf after the encounter on the ocean moon; he sings his "eat you little fishy" song to emphasize why.
This hologrammatic Rimmer is hinted to be the "original" Rimmer, in his conversation with the creator regarding jokes of Rachael the sex doll, and his knowledge of the despair squid encounter. Although this could also be explained as he is a hologram they may have managed to place the "original" Rimmer's memories into him assuming they are all kept on file in case his program broke down and he had to be brought back via a back up. It could also be that the original Rimmer came back from being Ace and the human Rimmer took his place. (An unfilmed alternate ending of Only the Good... did in fact feature the return of the original Rimmer in his Ace guise.)
Available on the Back to Earth DVD:
- Rimmer further explains the dilapidated condition of Red Dwarf to Katerina, which involves meteorites.
- Originally intended for the opening to episode three, the cast's 'Nose World Staircase Recap' dialogue handily recaps the situation.
- There is a scene reminiscent of the sleeping quarters bunk scenes from earlier series, with Lister and Rimmer in a store showroom. They get in a Price Smashers bunk bed, with Lister saying he is ecstatic about being back on Earth, and Rimmer attempting to "read" some towels thinking they are a form of book. Confused furniture viewers walk by in silence. Lister tells Rimmer a story about how, 18 months into their original trip and before the accident, Lister once found the last remaining jammie dodger aboard Red Dwarf in the Officer's Club, down the back of a sofa, and he felt like he he'd won the lottery. There was "hardly any fluff on it", and he spruced up with a wipe of the Z Shift oil change rag. Rimmer asks if the actually ate it, and Lister says no, I gave it to you.
- Facing death at the hands of "their Creator", Rimmer recalls the Jammy Dodger story and spurs Lister to action.
- An extra piece of dialogue explains just why the squid beast in the water tank might have had a plan, as to why it let Cat go after its first attack.
- Rimmer spots something massive on the sonar, "Oh Mummy."
Cat: I'm walking through the cargo deck, right? Minding my own damn business. When all of a sudden, you know that big tank on G deck?
Lister: He means the water tank.
Cat: Suddenly, there is a disturbance on the surface of the tank and this massive testicle shoots out of the water and grabs me by the throat.
Lister: He means tentacle.
Rimmer: I hope so.
Cat: Two suits in one day! Look at it, thanks to you, I couldn't even get on the cover of Minger Monthly!
Lister: You're supposed to be minding the sonar Rimmer! You could have gotten us all killed!
Rimmer: Is this about you again? It is isn't it. Can't you see right now I need some me time? My heart is still hammering, I don't know how I got through that.
Lister: You wasn't even there!
Rimmer: I was nearly there, that's close enough for me.
Katerina: You think you outsmart me, yes? But you don't, I here. Cut a second hole.
Rimmer: Science officer, excellent. So pleased you've caught up with us.
Katerina: You gave me slip, I know. You not want to be erased. But you wont defeat me, I too smart.
Rimmer: Erase me? I thought it was murder to kill a hologram.
Katerina: No, hologram already dead. Morally, ethically, hologram killing fine!
Rimmer: Fair enough.
(Rimmer suddenly pushes her into oncoming traffic, and her image shorts out)
Rimmer: Come on, we haven't got all day.
Kryten: She didn't see that coming did she. I did.
Lister: (About Craig Charles) I'm so glad I am not him. That guy's a wreck. He been acting as somebody else all day, that's no way to make out a living. Smeg head.
Kochanski: Where are you going?
Lister: I have to leave, and get you back.
Kochanski: The real me?! You'll never get me, I'm way out of your league!
Lister: I thought that too, but, I was wrong.
Kochanski: You were right!
Lister: No. I'm pretty cool, I don't take any smeg, and even though I'm disgusting... sometimes I can be quite brave.
Kochanski: You'll never get me.
Lister: Yeah... I will!
Cat: What's going to happen to everybody in the reality we left? The guys all watching us on T.V?
Kryten: Well, they will continue to exist as a consequence of us creating them in our hallucination, sir. Its quantum mechanics, every decision that is made creates a new universe, as do all dreams and hallucinations, its multi-verse 1.0.1.
Rimmer: But those sad suckers will live out the rest of their lives convinced they're the real ones and we're characters from a T.V show.
Lister: And you know if you tell them the truth, you know what they would probably do?
(They all Snicker)
Lister: They probably would.
In August 2008, Robert Llewellyn appeared on Seattle public television station, KCTS 9. In an interview, he revealed that BBC Worldwide, in collaboration with another party, had invested in one hour of new Red Dwarf to be filmed in early 2009. Grant Naylor Productions announced that it had been "on the cards" since February 2008. It subsequently transpired that UKTV channel Dave would screen four new 30-minute specials to celebrate the twenty-first anniversary of the show. The new episodes form part of an effort by Dave to screen more original programming, instead of just repeats.
It was subsequently announced in January 2009 that the new special was to be a brand new two-part story titled Red Dwarf: Back to Earth, broadcast over the Easter weekend of that year along with a "making of" documentary and a one-off entitled Red Dwarf: Unplugged. On 20 February 2009, it was announced that "Back to Earth" would now be a three part special and that the unplugged episode had been postponed. Unplugged had been described by Craig Charles as "just the four of us - and some chairs - trying to improvise, or rather trying to remember, classic scenes".
"Back to Earth" itself was not filmed in front of a studio audience in an effort to help keep the plot a secret. Although this was not the first time this has happened (for instance, Series VII was filmed entirely without a live audience), it is the first time a laughter track is not added for broadcast. It was also the first time Red Dwarf was filmed in high definition, this time using the red camera system. It is shot at a very high, 4000 pixel resolution.
On 13 March 2009, SFX magazine announced that they had released a limited edition of issue 181 onto the newsstands. This edition was limited to fifty nationwide and featured the cast of the "Back to Earth" series instead of the standard Doctor Who cover. The magazine also plays an important part in the episode itself, Dave Bradley, editor of SFX is quoted as saying “Our cover plays a key part in the storyline,". In the show the magazine cover helped to illustrate the fact that Red Dwarf was just a television show, and it also lead Lister to investigate the nature of Kochanski's disappearance after seeing an article about the actress who plays her.
Dave started a viral marketing campaign in March, 2009, when www.listerscominghome.co.uk was introduced to the public. The site shows a postcard, and reveals minor details of the show to the viewer. Dave also released several videos on their site, including a mock-advertisement for the "Carbug", a modified Smart Fortwo to fit the shape and style of Starbug. On-set videos also were released, along with short teasers (under ten seconds), with some 30 second teasers as well. Cast members have also written for the Dave blog, releasing small bits of information about the shows. "Back to Earth" is arguably the most noticed Red Dwarf production by the press in its history, having magazines and newspapers releasing promotional articles and images.
Plot-wise, lead-actor, Chris Barrie was reported as saying, “Yes, Lister’s dream is about to come true. But like everything in Red Dwarf, nothing is straightforward.” On 4 March, 2009 it was revealed that actress Sophie Winkleman would be playing a character called Katerina Bartokovsky, a resurrected hologram of a Red Dwarf science officer intent on replacing Rimmer (also a hologram once again). Further plot details were explained in issue 181 of the British science fiction magazine, SFX. It was revealed that the episode is set nine years after the events of "Only the Good...", Kochanski is dead and Holly is offline due to water damage caused by Lister leaving a tap running.
It has been noted that the final episode in particular is heavily influenced by Blade Runner, 'the film that inspired series creators Rob Grant and Doug Naylor to put pen to paper in the first place', though questions have been raised over the artistic success of this homage.
The first episode achieved overnight ratings of 2.06 million viewers, however this fell to 937,000 for the second episode, a loss of over half the audience. This was still a huge success for multichannel station Dave; the show was the second most-watched multichannel programme of the day. The international fame of Red Dwarf probably meant even more people watched it over the Internet, but numbers on this are impossible to obtain.
Critical reaction was mixed. TV Scoop described the first as having "some of the most lazy writing I've ever encountered on a TV show" and being "spread thickly with self-referential, self-indulgent pap". Another contributor to this site considered the first part to be "thin, slow, short on gags, and strangely lacking in atmosphere", though stating that the second episode contained "green shoots of improvement". This positive response was shared by other critics who were more complimentary about the episodes. TV Scoop also criticized the over-use of Blade Runner references, turning it from a homage to a rip-off in their minds.
There were some positive responses by other critics which were more complimentary about the episodes. The lack of a laugh track was not very well received by fans, and fan reactions to Back to Earth as whole where mixed, ranging from outright praise to bile and vitriol depending on who you listen to. The fourth wall breaking references to modern life were the main source of criticism, with many choosing to disregard this from the canon altogether.
Back to Earth was released on DVD on 15 June 2009, with a Blu-ray edition released on 31 August 2009; it was the first Red Dwarf release in the Blu-ray format. The cover is a replica of the DVD cover featured in "Back to Earth, Part Two", with a few cosmetic changes, such as replacing "Coming Soon" with "Director's Cut" and the addition of the plot synopsis read by Lister, which was absent on the prop. Both the UK and North American releases use the same packaging, although no Blu-ray copies are seen on screen and the packaging for that version is slightly different (primarily the addition of the Blu-ray blue stripe along the top).
There are two methods of viewing the specials, the broadcast episodes as shown on Dave, and a new "Director's cut" in which all three episodes have been edited together into a single feature-length program, with a few lines of dialogue trimmed, such as Rimmer's bemoaning it being a three-parter, but no extra scenes or dialogue were added with the exception of "The End" being typed on a typewriter following extended end credits. There is also a Smeg Ups compilation (outtakes) and features, including the broadcast "The Making Of", and a new-to-DVD Part Two, which is nearly twice the length of the first. Although Chloe Annett's appearance as Kochanski is intended to be a surprise, the credits on the packaging reveal her involvement.
The DVD and Blu-ray editions were released in North America on 6 October 2009. As Back to Earth was not initially broadcast in North America, this marked the first time Dwarfers there were able to (officially) see the mini-series.
- Sophie Winkleman as Katerina Bartokovsky
- Jeremy Swift as Noddy.
- Richard O'Callaghan as the Creator.
- Richard Woo as Swallow.
- Simon Gregson as himself.
- Michelle Keegan as herself.
- Chloë Annett as Kristine Kochanski - not listed as a guest star.
- 1999 - 2009 Bridge
- While on the set of Coronation Street, Cat remarked that it was "worse than Rimmerworld." Lister commented it was like where he grew up "only with less burning cars."
- Red Dwarf is one of three major UK science fiction franchises to air in 2009 in a reduced form: Torchwood also aired its 2009 season in the form of a mini-series, while Doctor Who broadcast three specials in 2009 rather than a full season. Neither of these shows aired these after a significant amount of time off-air however, and share the same production teams.
- Official Dave Back to Earth Blog
- Official Red Dwarf Website
- Dave Promotional Videos
- Official Trailer
- Coverage from Ganymede & Titan
A general guide to what people have said about the new episodes, users may feel free to add more
- Review - Geek Syndicate
- Blu-Ray Review - Insomniac Entertainment
- The Long Awaited Return of Red Dwarf - The Daily P.O.P.
- Review - The Liverpool Confidential
- This Weekend's Essential Viewing - NME.Com (part article, part review)
- Red Dwarf Smegs Up Its Comeback - io9
- Review - Tongue Tied
- A review for each episode - Dan's Media Digest
- Review - Den of Geek
- Various articles including varying reviews - TV Scoop
- Is Red Dwarf Cursed? - Obsessed With Film
- Darren Avery Wants to Talk About Red Dwarf - Nerdles
- Red Dwarf: Back to Earth Report - Life, Doctor Who, and Combom
- They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To - Channel Hopping