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Easter TV - John C. Kirk

Apr. 12th, 2009

11:52 pm - Easter TV

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So far this weekend, I've been fairly lazy, so I've spent a lot of time watching TV.

Yesterday was "Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead", which I really enjoyed. I noticed that Russell T Davies co-wrote this special, which may explain why it avoided some of his annoying habits. For instance, if I was going to create a Dr Who drinking game, it would include the 10th Doctor saying "I'm sorry ... I'm so sorry." I think that line has reached a point where it's just cliched rather than effective, so I was glad not to hear it this time. Michelle Ryan did a great job as the companion; I don't watch Eastenders, but based on this I might give "Bionic Woman" a go. Anyway, I'm looking forward to the next special.

Today I (re-)watched Lost in Space. It's not a great film, but I quite like it; some of the best bits are nicely understated. (I used to have it on video, but I got rid of all my VHS tapes a while back.) Unfortunately, Five mangled it a bit in their broadcast. For instance, it seemed to be in widescreen (filling up my whole TV screen), but there was one scene with three gravestones, where I could only see half of the right-most name. So, I'm guessing that they took the 4:3 version of the film (with the right/left chopped off), then chopped off the top and bottom to get the original proportions back! That seems rather silly. In another scene, Will Robinson sees something and swears. Dr Smith says "A boy of your intelligence should never swear", then sees what Will is looking at and echoes his exclamation. In today's TV broadcast this was all cut out, presumably because it was shown before 9pm; I think that's a shame, because Smith's line has stuck in my mind ever since I first saw the film (11 years ago), so keeping the scene intact could actually be a good influence on young children.

Incidentally, with various old sci-fi films/series being "reimagined", I'd like to see a new version of Land of the Giants; I enjoyed watching the original version when I was at school.

Finally, I've been watching "Red Dwarf: Back to Earth" over the last few days. When I heard about the new episodes, I had mixed feelings; I think that Rob Grant is a lot more talented than Doug Naylor (particularly based on the novels they've written independently), so the series went downhill after he left. However, I was still looking forward to it, and I hoped for the best. Now that I've seen it, I think that my low expectations helped: I was pleasantly surprised.


The original premise of the series was that Lister wanted to get back to Earth. That seemed to be quietly ignored later on, particularly in the episode "Tikka to Ride" (where they use Starbug to travel back to Earth in the 1960s). Still, present-day Earth is as good a location as any, so I was happy to see where they'd go with it.

I deliberately try to avoid spoilers, so the whole "metafiction" aspect took me by surprise. It's an interesting idea, although my initial reaction was to think of the "League of Gentlemen" film (I haven't seen it, but I'm aware of the basic premise). The short description would be "The Red Dwarf crew wind up in the real world", but it was curious that they had a few things which were deliberately different, e.g. references to a ninth series, and these obviously became more prominent towards the end.

When they had "The Creator" hunting the characters down and shooting them, that just seemed stupid; he wouldn't need a gun to kill them off, because he could just write them out. As I mentioned, I have a fairly low opinion of Doug Naylor's writing, so I took this part of the episode at face value, and it worked nicely as misdirection. When they started freezing vases in mid-air, that reminded me of "The Matrix"; I wondered whether the solution was for the characters to take over that building, i.e. pretend that The Creator was still alive and keep emailing scripts on his behalf.

"Then they woke up, and it was all a dream." I know some people are a bit miffed about this, and I'd normally consider it a cop-out. On the other hand, there is precedent for it, as they mentioned on screen (i.e. the despair squid). I saw "Back to Reality" at boarding school, and we all thought that it was the end of Red Dwarf, so that was very effective. Based on that, I don't think it's fair to say that this type of twist ending is fundamentally flawed. It's not entirely original, but I didn't see it coming, even when there were hints like a second hologram; again, I just dismissed this as sloppy writing. Mind you, although they talked about the previous squid, this really seemed more like the "Better than life" computer simulation, particularly the way that was presented in the novels.

Speaking of the novels, at one point Rimmer asked about the various loose ends. If I ever meet Rob Grant, I want to ask him about Lister's plan; at the end of "Better than life", he said that he was going to tow Earth back to the solar system behind Red Dwarf, but we never saw how this was going to work.

Anyway, all in all I liked the new episodes. It was nice to see the familiar characters again, and "Carbug" was quite cute.