Ganymede and Titan

[ Skip to navigation ]

Radio Times Guide to Science Fiction

By John Hoare. First published 1st May 2003.

Price: 18.99
Cover: Paperback
Pages: 496 pages
ISBN: 0563534605
Release Date: 11/10/2001

Red Dwarf ***** PG 12 15
TV 1988-1999 UK Colour 52x30mins Released on Video
Not only one of the funniest sci-fi shows ever made, this also ranks among the very best of British sit-coms. Created by Doug Naylor and written by Naylor together with Rob Grant, who in the mid-eighties worked on Spitting Image, Red Dwarf first appeared in 1988 and is still going strong with a series of spin-off books, fan conventions and a movie version set for release in 2002. Famous for its wacky and ingenious storylines, the core of its appeal lies in the interaction between the marvelously observed main characters - Lister (Craig Charles), the only human survivor of a radiation leak aboard the mining ship Red Dwarf, Rimmer (Chris Barrie), a hologram of his former ship-mate, a mutated cat/human (Danny John-Jules) and the android Kryten (Robert Llewellyn).
Chris Barrie Arnold Rimmer • Craig Charles Dave Lister • Danny John-Jules Cat • Robert Llewellyn Kryten • Hattie Hayridge Holly • Norman Lovett Holly (series 1 and 2)
Written by Rob Grant, Doug Naylor
In 1992 a US network tried to mould the show for American sensibilities and totally "smegged" it up. Of the original cast only Llewellyn was kept with Holly, the ship's computer played by a pre-Frasier Jane Leeves, but the project never got past the pilot stage.

Capsule Errors:

All in all, this capsule isn't really very impressive. It's far too short; it makes an awful error (that only Doug Naylor created the series), and I'm wary of anyone who uses the word "wacky" in describing anything. On the plus side, it is completely correct in loving the series and giving it five stars out of five, and making explicit that it is both a sci-fi and a sitcom; the essence of the show that some reviewers forget. It's a pity there isn't a bit more opinion there though, like the rest of the reviews. Also, the SFact given after the capsule is rather apalling; expecting it to mention both pilots is perhaps unfair, but the incredibly awkward use of the word smegged rankles. Putting something in quotes is usually bound to irritate, and the word just comes across as someone trying to be funny, and failing miserably. And it's hardly a perceptive look on the problems with the pilot, is it?

As for the book itself, it's main problem is it tries to cover far too much in far too little space; every science fiction film, television, or radio programme. The Red Dwarf capsule is typical of the length given to each entry; it's certainly not enough to my standards (I'd expect at least double the length), but it might be according to your needs. Personally, I'd rather it had concentrated on television and radio, and left the film side to the other film guides on the market - such as the Radio Times Guide to Films. However, the point of the exercise was to draw on their vast database of film reviews - from the introduction, it says that the book is "the first major spin-off from the Radio Times film database". If that was the main aim, they should have simply done that and not had any pretence to cover television and radio properly. At 496 pages, there just isn't enough space to do it all justice; double the amount of pages, and they might have been getting somewhere. Still, for all that, it does seem pretty comprehensive on at least having something for most science fiction stuff ever made. It certainly had everything I looked up, although no doubt some of you lot could find some obscurities missing.

One problem with the entries is that is seems rather arbitary in what credits are given on the production side of things. Red Dwarf only gets writer credits, wheras Blake's 7 has Created by, Script editor and Producer credits, and the 1955 BBC version of Nineteen Eighty-Four gives an Adapted by, Producer, and (of all things) a Designer credit! Presumably, these are given (as is specified with the films) if a reviewer has "singled out this aspect...for special commendation", but it all seems rather inconsistant, particuarly with television shows. In the 'How to use this guide' section, it says "Television credits are listed as avaliable", which is clearly not the whole story, as most important credits are avaliable for all but the oldest television shows.

Each alphabetical section starts with a picture from a film/show detailed in that section, with a quote; it's a nice touch which adds a bit of class to the proceedings. The paper used is also a lovely, shiny affair; it might not seem that much, but it makes browsing the book a much more pleasant experience. I also like the information about running times, and number of episodes made. Perhaps I'm a purist, and, indeed, it would have turned the thing into a completely different book, but it would have been nice to have had the original Radio Times capsules for each episode when detailing television or radio series. Again, I'm sure that's due to lack of space, but it would have been nice for the Radio Times name on the front to actually mean something. Having the original airdates, times, and descriptions for each episode would definitely have made the book worth buying.

One criticism levelled at the book by SF mag SFX (and one I fully agree with) is that because the length of each capsule is the same, a 90-minute film is given as much space as a series with over 150 episodes. It's a huge problem, and yet another facet of the "there isn't enough space to cover everything properly" argument. The book's writers must have noticed there is a problem here, as Doctor Who is listed seven times for the television series - once for each Doctor. This doesn't stop other long-running shows being rather badly represented. In the case of Red Dwarf, you're looking at a 26 hours of television being given the same space as a 90-minute film. Something has to be wrong there; although admittedly, it's not a problem limited to this guide.

Another criticism they gave was that there were factual inaccuracies in many of the capsules; on average, one a page. I can't really comment on that, not being terribly knowledgeable on the broader world of SF; but if the mistakes in the Red Dwarf capsule are anything to go by, the signs are not encouraging. I've certainly spotted a few unfortunate typos.

Although the A-Z takes up the majority of the book, there are several other sections. Firstly, there's the Who's who in science fiction, very brief biographies of the top 100 people considered influencial in film and television SF. Rob Grant and Doug Naylor's entry is as follows:

ROB GRANT & DOUG NAYLOR UK scr Using the pseudonym Grant Naylor with his writing partner Doug Naylor, the pair created BBC2's longest running sitcom, Red Dwarf (1988-99). The duo began contributing sketches to Spitting Image, Alas Smith and Jones and Carrott's Lib, as well as penning the misfiring series, Pushing Up Daisies (1984) and The 10 Percenters (1993). But with Red Dwarf they struck gold, supplementing the show with several novels, including Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers (1992). They parted ways in the late ninties, with Grant moving on to Stressed Eric (1998), Dark Ages (1999) and The Strangerers (2000), while Naylor began pre-production on Red Dwarf: the Movie.

Again, it's rather too short - and again, double the length would have been more appropriate, but oddly, I did find it rather more informative than the main capsule. I didn't know about Pushing Up Daisies, for instance, although it would have been nice to tell us whether it was radio or television. I also didn't know about that Rob Grant had worked on Stressed Eric, although the entry makes it sound like he created it, which is wrong. (On closer research on the net, it appears he was Story Editor.) It probably would have been clearer to say that Naylor had continued work on two more series of Dwarf after the split, and a mention of Son of Cliche would have been good when talking about their earlier work. Also, the date given for the publication of Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers is wrong - it was published in 1989. Three years out! So, while the entry is interesting, and taught me things I didn't know, it's hard to feel enthusastic about it - it's incomplete, vague, and inaccurate. Perhaps I'm just expecting too much from 10 lines. Also, as it only covers 100 people, it is bound to only scratch the surface at who has been influencial.

The next section is 100 great websites - "An eclectic guide to famous, obscure and odd genre websites for research, browsing and fun on the internet". It's even harder to get up any enthusiasm for this section - anyone who is on the net and interested in Buffy or Farscape will know of, or The more obscure sites are more interesting, but are nothing that you couldn't find yourself with a decent search engine - and the list is going to get out of date in no time (indeed, as the book was published in 2001, it is out of date now - loads of decent websites have started up since the book was published.) It isn't just in this guide that I find this kind of thing pointless - any paper copy of what is effectively a links page I find somewhat ridiculous.

Far more useful is the Directors' index, which does exactly what it says on the tin. Or rather, that's what it appears to do, but on close examination there are some worrying anomalies. At first I thought it just covered film, which would have been acceptable (if incomplete), but then I notice that Joe Ahearne is credited for Ultraviolet, and yet Ed Bye, or any other Red Dwarf directors are not credited. A quick flick back to the capsules reveals that this is the same inconsistancy mentioned earlier - Ahearne is credited as Director in the Ultraviolet entry, and yet no director credits are given for Red Dwarf. I'm sure it's all to do with what they consider to be the important people behind the show, but all it comes across as to me is yet more incompleteness and arbitary decisions.

The Actors' index is more like it, with all major parts included. Exactly the same applies to the Writers' index as does to the Directors' index. The Alternative titles section is interesting, although it would have been a good place to put a nice essay about why certain titles change (as Halliwell did in his film guide). As it is, it's an informative reference if you can't find what you're looking for as it's under a different title, but rather dry. Although seeing as we're the site that has just published the Red Dwarf Cast List, perhaps we shouldn't complain about that too loudly. Finally, the book rounds off with SciQ answers, which not surprisingly is the answers to the various questions dotted around the book, and is good fun; although it really showed up my SF knowledge to be piss poor.

So, is it worth buying? Well, this has been a rather negative review, but it isn't all bad, by any means. I'm afraid I'll have to draw out the old cliche - it's a nice coffee table book, but don't buy it expecting anything remotely in-depth. Perhaps it's a good buy if you're just getting into SF, and want to know what's out there. It's not something I'll turn to regularly, but I'll certainly be keeping it on my shelf to dip into occasionally. At least I'll know there'll be something there about what I'm trying to find out about, even if it isn't very much. Which is disappointing. They should forget about the films (which are adequately covered by the Radio Times Guide to Films), and instead, publish an edited version of the original Radio Times capsules for each episode of each series. Now, that would be well worth buying.