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Notoriously, and entirely appropriately, the original outline for Doug Naylor and Rob Grant's comedy sci-fi series Red Dwarf was sketched on the back of a beer mat. When it finally appeared on our television screens in 1988 the show had clearly stayed true to its roots, mixing jokes about excessive curry consumption with affectionate parodies of classic SF. Indeed, one of the show's most endearing and enduring features is its obvious respect for the conventions of SF, even as it gleefully subverts them. The scenario owes something to Douglas Adams's satirical Hitch-Hiker's Guide, something to The Odd Couple and a lot more to the slacker SF of John Carpenter's Dark Star. Behind the crew's constant bickering there lurks an impending sense that life, the universe and everything are all someone's idea of a terrible joke.
Later series broadened the show's horizons until at last its premise was so diluted as to be unrecognisable, but in the earlier episodes contained in this box set the comedy is witty and intimate, focusing on characters and not special effects. Slob Dave Lister (Craig Charles) is the last human alive after a radiation leak wipes out the crew of the vast mining vessel Red Dwarf (episode 1, "The End"). He bums around the spaceship with the perpetually uptight and annoyed hologram of his dead bunkmate, Arnold Rimmer (Chris Barrie, the show's greatest comedy asset) and a creature evolved from a cat (dapper Danny John Jules). They are guided rather haphazardly by Holly, the worryingly thick ship's computer (lugubrious Norman Lovett). --Mark Walker
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