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The End: Reviews

First published 18th January 2003. Last updated 20th July 2003.

Karl Eisenhauer | Stephen Fletcher | John Hoare | Nik Horne | Tanya Jones | Ian Symes | Curtis Threadgold

Karl Eisenhauer

As a Dwarfer born and raised on the sonic boom sci-fi sit-com of Series 3 onwards the differences between the show I fell in love with and the one present here at Dwarf's birth are immediate.

The opening theme, bleak, dramatic, menacing - with a passing nod to genre classics and inspirations like Dark Star and Silent Running. The sets and uniforms which look more reminiscent of 70s shows like Battlestar Galatica or Blake's 7 than the vibrant metallic reds, green and blues that become the custom in later seasons.

Although improvements in these areas would no doubt contribute to the shows later success, the most important part of any TV show, and Red Dwarf is no exception, lies in the scripts. Interestingly there are differences here too - The pace, here as in all Series 1 episodes, is noticeably slow. The action, which despite the massive exterior change caused by the cadium leak, manages to focus essentially inwards focusing on the characters relationships.

Whilst such differences exist other broader Red Dwarf staples are established right here. The opening scenes familiarise us with Lister the dreaming slacker, Rimmer - a stiff company man whose ambition dwarves his talents, and most importantly their mutual apathy. Similarly Cat's overriding vanity is immediately clear but presented in such an over the top yet innocent way as to make a usually unlikeable chracacter trait humourous. Lesser, but equally long-standing traditions too are subtly weaved into place - Lister's love of Kochanski, Rimmer's continual failing at exams, and references to Esperanto which have continued throughout the shows are clearly visible on background signs if not at this point directly referred too.

Overall it would be ambitous at best to claim anything on offer here is side-splittingly funny, but that said The End is still an episode worth holding an audience on far more than just nostalgia.

The performances alone from the three leads, which it's worth noting at the time amounted to no more than an impressionist, a poet and a dancer are nothing short of first class. Danny John-Jules initial short introductory solo piece in particular is infinitely re-watchable as is the immediate, and perhaps unlikely given their class backgrounds, chemistry between Chris and Craig. Oh and that opening model shot is just wonderful.

Stephen Fletcher

What a fantastic start for a sci-fi comedy series! Red Dwarf I has got to be my favourite, as it is so different from all the other series, as to me it seems 'simple', but in good way. What I mean by that is: you can tell it was from the eighties because of the production values. Rob and Doug say that's the reason why they never wanted the series to be repeated, but some fans say that was half the charm of it.

The series did obviously get off to a shaky start, as the audience were barely heard most the time, and when you could hear them it was only sort of silent laughter. There were some really funny lines that the dumb audience who sat through the recording just didn't get. My favourite is Rimmer saying death is like being on holiday with a group of Germans. That line got me laughing so hard, as did Lister saying how people have died and gone on and done really well.

The effects really did impress me; I am very fond of Lister's hand going through Rimmer. On the commentry, Craig said that one stayed on set, while the other stood in front of a blue screen. It's pretty obvious that Chris stayed on set and Craig went to the blue screen, as you can easily see the lines around him. Obviously, Chris also went to the blue screen to do the falling through the table effect, as you spot the lines around him too.

The Cat had a great entrance ("Fearsome") and Holly... well, maybe it's just me, but Holly just didn't get enough recognition in Series I.

John Hoare

Unlike most Red Dwarf fans, this was the first episode I watched; albeit in the 1994 BBC2 repeat season. It's actually rather hard to remember exactly what I thought at the time, but seeing as I recorded every single damn episode after that, and put my social standing down even lower than before by whining on about it, I must have liked it.

From the opening titles, the series couldn't have got off to a better start. The music is wonderful, and really sets the mood for the series; and the model effects are just amazing. Anyone who thinks these look poor needs their head examined. Bloody Airfix models indeed. Indeed, it's one of the all-time classic opening titles - the pullback from Lister is superb (who gives a fuck about a slight blur? It still looks fantastic.)

A word about the sets. I really don't think they look that bad; certainly, the problems with them have been vastly overestimated. Jibes about the sets being too grey kind of miss the point a bit, in my eyes - the grey works fine. It's the set detail that sometimes makes things look cheap, the control panels in the Drive Room being the obvious example (and even they must have realised that, given the new Drive Room we see in Series 2). The main bunkroom set and especially the corridors I think look great; and, indeed, appropriate for the section of the ship that Lister and Rimmer should be in - after all, they are the lowest ranking people on the ship. (Again, that doesn't explain away the dodgy Drive Room set, though.) That isn't to say that the sets in Red Dwarf III onwards aren't a vast improvement, but I think Paul Montague gets a bit of an unfair rap, frankly.

There's some great stuff here. I don't care whether the "Everybody's dead" stuff is overquoted or not, it's just brilliant. Actually, the whole section when Lister gets out of stasis is wonderful: "Well, she wouldn't be much use to you on Fiji now. Not unless it snows and you need something to grit the path with." Rimmer's examination is great, as is Todhunter's explanantion of Stasis. Indeed, I could go through the entire episode picking out wonderful bits. Before I got the DVDs, I always remembered Series 1 to be slightly... well, not crap, but... let's just say watching the DVDs has reminded me exactly how funny it is. And the set-up and story told is just amazing; really, really well thought-out.

But, and it has to be said, none of it is as good as later episodes, and indeed later series. The people who hold up this series to be one of the best are just wrong. Just because it is superficially more character-based, it doesn't make it better. The light-bulb gag in Legion is more amusing than most of the jokes in this episode put together. I don't mean that in a bad way - it's the first episode, things need time to bed in, and as I said it's got a hell of a good story to tell. And it's still really funny. I just wonder why some people seem to think that a slightly patchy episode like this is superior to something like Gunmen of the Apocolypse.

Not all of it works. The first bunkroom scene where Lister and Rimmer talk about Fiji is a bit crap, Lister and his mates are just slightly irritating, McIntyre's speech is rather unfunny and boring (although the section afterwards is good: "Sir, it's Rimmer!"), Lister's flirting with Kochanski is slightly embarassing, even in it's truncated form, and "What's an iguana?" is just plain awkward and unfunny. None of this wrecks the episode, however, and none of it is particuarly cringeworthy - it's just not hugely funny. And Cat's entrance and explanation of him is good, but perhaps I'm in the minority when I say that I just don't find Cat particuarly funny in the early episodes. (Although I do like "Woah! Crease!") The concept of the character is wonderful, mind you.

But, bear in mind that really, all this is criticising for the sake of a review. It's still a good episode of one of the best television shows ever made. What more could you want?

Nik Horne

The End: a sort of review of what it was like watching it for the first time.

Monday, 15 February 1988. I'm 11. It's half-term and I'm staying at my grandparents' house. I've seen one or two trailers for this new television programme that looks, on first impressions, a bit like a rip-off of the Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy. On second impressions, it looks like being the latest in a recent run of quirky BBC 2 sitcoms that are destined to disappear and be forgotten after one series (the last year having given us such mixed delights as Filthy, Rich and Catflap, A Small Problem, The Roxy and Father Matthew's Daughter).

Despite this (and the certainty that it won't be as good as Hitch-Hiker), Red Dwarf looks different enough from contemporary sitcoms (it's set on a spaceship for a start) to be worth a look. Also, it has that Liverpudlian guy whose poems on Saturday Live! made me laugh (I'm only young!).

So, at 9pm (or was it 9:30?), my sister and I sit down to watch...

It starts well - very nice title music and a big red spaceship giving a nice sense of scale. There seem to be two main characters, both of whose names ended with "er", which is a bit odd. Their version of Arthur Dent is called Lister and their Ford Prefect is called Rimmer. The whole thing is very grey-looking. The jokes are silly, yet funny. Rimmer spitting out the chicken soup before declaring the dispenser to be working correctly. Is that a cigarette? No, it's a chicken. You are a smeghead! Smeghead? What's that? They seem to have invented a new word. Thankfully, they haven't copied Eddie from Hitch-Hiker; the computer is a bald man with a rather bored-sounding voice. Hmm, maybe Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect should be the other way around? There seem to be a lot of characters to remember. The captain is a fat American, who looks familiar. Oh a hologram, called Macintyre - that's a nice gimmick. Didn't that Scottish woman used to be in a band? Stasis? What's that? Ah good, the posh bloke's explaining. Hang on, we're about halfway through and all the cast have been killed off! This is a series, isn't it, and not just a one off comedy play? Three million years.would people really turn into piles of white powder after that long? Holly the computer's getting funny now ("if she were still alive, the age difference would be insurmountable"). Ah, Rimmer's back as a hologram, glad they kept that idea; but why's he telling Lister to shut up when Lister is being perfectly quiet? Oh, is that supposed to be James Brown? He's evolved from cats - I'm really beginning to warm to this show - it has ideas. The Hitch-Hiker comparisons have stopped making sense.. Looks like they're going to arrive on Earth next week, which should be interesting. More nice music at the end, though I'm not sure how well the lyrics relate to the programme - it seems to be the theme from some other show, called "Fun in the Sun". And what has mango juice got to do with anything? Anyway, that was fun, I think I'll watch next week.

Tanya Jones

I was just that little bit too young to watch the first series of Red Dwarf when it was broadcast, but even if I had done, I doubt I would have appreciated it as much as I did when I did finally watch it a few years later. 'The End' is an unusual first episode for a sitcom, as it has to deal with two stories; the death of most of the Red Dwarf crew and the eventual re-emergence of Lister from the stasis field three million years later.

The title sequence of a sitcom can be very important, setting the tone of the series and preparing the viewer for the content. The titles for the first two series of Red Dwarf have to be the most brooding and eerie that I have ever seen for a sitcom, rivalling those of Porridge for dramatic tension and establishment of mood. The wide shot of Lister painting the ship brings home to the viewer the enormity of his job and his lowly status aboard the ship. As Lister explains in the episode, even the service robots outrank him, which is presumably why they are not sent to do such a boring and exhausting job. The titles also set up just how lonely Lister really is, even though he is shown to have friends (unlike Rimmer), they appear to be more drinking buddies than people he would trust and rely on. Although his isolation is brought home to him when he finds out that everyone he ever knew is dead, it is clear from the dialogue between him and Rimmer, and his hopeless pursuance of Kristine Kochanski, that he is a man with no emotional ties to anyone. The only living thing on the ship that he truly cares about is his cat Frankenstein, for which he is prepared to go into stasis. This becomes more of a sacrifice than he could have ever anticipated.

The opening scene is a neat and well performed look at the relationship between Lister and Rimmer, with character development looked at through their contrasting attitudes to their dull jobs. Although this is ostensibly an episode about Lister, we actually learn far more about Rimmer's character; his meticulousness, pomposity, love of bureaucracy, respect for authority and total lack of humour. The jokes about Rimmer's exam and the exam scene itself tell us more about Rimmer's dependence on order, with his attempts to cheat illustrating his refusal to accept his own limitations. Robert Bathurst's appearance in the opening scene is a difficult job well done, with Robert capturing Todhunter's natural authority and slightly parental attitude towards Lister. His expression at Rimmer's faint during the exam is also perfect, mixing slight alarm with casual disregard. Presumably, like Lister, he's seen it all before, and needs no dialogue to communicate this.

The funeral and welcome back of George MacIntyre introduces the concept of holograms to us, and does this adequately enough, with the skutter dancing at the end of the funeral scene providing a nice touch of comic relief. Luckily for us, this isn't the only comic use of skutters in the show. Captain Hollister also gives us a clue to his general character by removing his chewing gum before making the speech, but putting it back afterwards. Hollister is convincingly played by Mac McDonald, who is able to communicate the Captain's gravitas and slight pomposity, which is concealing a general lack of class. It's possible that the contrast between Hollister and Todhunter was modelled on Captain Mainwaring and Sergeant Wilson in Dad's Army. The party establishes Lister's friendships and Rimmer's general unpopularity, and also serves to make the rest of the crew as real as they can be.

The party also marks the transition between the two stories, as we then move on to Lister caring for Frankenstein. Now I know about the failed takes for this scene, I am unable to take my eyes off Craig Charles' crotch, but it's a touching scene nonetheless, and makes us ready to accept Lister's refusal to hand Frankenstein over. Lister going into stasis gives Robert Bathurst the challenge of delivering what is an impressive speech explaining stasis, and he does it justice. Unfortunately, Robert's agent refuses to let fans see his apparently numerous fluffs of this speech, which is a shame.

It is the re-emergence of Lister from stasis which lets the ship's computer Holly come into its own. Norman Lovett aptly demonstrates the traits that will make Holly a truly original computer in sci-fi; sarcasm and a world-weary attitude (or should that be universe-weary?). Although Lister's reaction to Holly telling him repeatedly that "Everybody's dead, Dave" is a little unconvincing, the scene still holds its own in introducing a catastrophic twist in the plot. However, it is the entrance of Chris Barrie as the now hologrammatic Rimmer that really lifts the scene, with a manner that is equal parts anger, bitterness and sorrow. Again, we can see the dead Rimmer is no different to the living Rimmer, albeit with a couple of extra chips on his shoulder. This gives rise to a rather poignant moment when Rimmer tries to report Lister for insubordination, and realises he can't write it down in his notebook. Rimmer has already shown that he finds security in rules and regulations, and is clinging on to them even more desperately in this highly unusual situation. Lister, on the other hand, appears to settle down as soon as he has Rimmer back to react against; quite possibly the reason why Holly chose Rimmer as the one member of the crew to resurrect.

Of course, the episode doesn't end there, as we then have the entrance of the Cat, the life form that has evolved from Frankenstein, who was safely sealed in the hold at the time of the accident that killed the rest of the crew. This is not an easy development to introduce, and, although Danny John-Jules performance is beautifully done, it does feel tacked on, following as it does from the resolution of the Rimmer-Lister relationship, which does bring a natural end to the episode. In fact, the Cat doesn't really start to develop properly until series III, but I can't really say that the first two series would be worse off without him, as he takes the pressure of the Rimmer-Lister relationship, which would have been a bit oppressive on its own, and gives Lister a comforting link to the past. It also introduces the plot for Waiting For God, and gives Lister inspiration for returning to Earth, so while it isn't perfect, it's certainly not a failure.

This episode has been criticised quite a lot for being disjointed, and for some of the scenes falling flat, which do have some basis in fact. The funeral scene is a case in point, but as this scene is written to introduce an important aspect of the series, it is hard to see how this could have been improved. I think the main reason why this episode has been seen as weak is simply because it is trying to set up what is a complex story for a sitcom, both in terms of character and situation. It is understandable why Rob and Doug were repeatedly told that no-one likes sci-fi sitcoms, as the concepts being introduced are rather advanced, and so this probably contributes to the odd feel of the episode. One criticism I can't accept, however, is of the acting. No-one (no, not even Claire Grogan, boys) puts in a bad performance with the material they have, and the ease in which the main actors slip into their roles is astonishing. The attention to detail in the sets is also admirable, whatever the faults may be, the music is fantastic and overall, 'The End' provides a convincing, amusing and often moving introduction to what is one of our finest sitcoms. For this reason, even after eight series, 'The End' is one of my favourite Red Dwarf episodes.

Ian Symes

Like most Red Dwarf fans, this wasn't the first episode I watched. Although it is difficult to imagine seeing The End before I knew and loved the characters, I can see that it would be a good introduction to their traits and trends. Lister displays his love for Kochanski, his drunkenness, his work-shy attitude and general slobbiness; Rimmer's weasely tendencies are displayed, along with his career dreams and general ineptitude, and The Cat is just as he is for the rest - cat-like and cool. There are some good gags as well, with "I am a fish" becoming an instant classic. And anything with Mark Williams in has got to be worthwhile.

However, the episode is not without its bad points, which are mainly the performances of certain actors. Craig Charles is poor, as is Clare Grogan. Robert McCulley does his best, but a lot of McIntyre's speech isn't very funny. Nevertheless, for a pilot episode it is fantastic, which is mainly due to most of the early scenes being re-recorded at a later studio date. Thank goodness for this, as the original versions of these scenes, as seen on the Series I DVD, are barely watchable. When you compare the broadcast version to the original, it is superb.

Curtis Threadgold

First episodes of sitcoms can be a little hit and miss but if you look at the deleted scenes on the series 1 DVD luckily most of the miss has been taken out leaving a suitable introduction to the characters and situation. However, one possible hit was never filmed. The original 'dream' was to populate Red Dwarf with well known faces and celebrities only to kill them in the radiation leak leaving you with the crew we now know and love. Looking at the shows argument on causality its probably best they didnt do this but if there was another chance, say with a 10 million budget and a world wide cinema release well, it would be nice...