Review: Red Dwarf XI DVD/Blu-Ray

With a new series of Red Dwarf done and dusted, it’s time for us to get our hands on the latest DVD/Blu-Ray and see how it stacks up compared to previous releases. 

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  • Number of discs: 2
  • Classification: 15
  • Studio: 2entertain
  • Region: Region 2
  • Aspect Ratio: 16:9 – 1.78:1
  • Release Date: 14 Nov 2016
  • Run Time: 170 minutes (plus extras)
  • Formats: DVD/ Blu-ray/ Ltd Edition Steel Book Blu-ray

Packaging

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As with Series X, the standard cover for the DVD and Blu-ray features the main promotional image for Series XI. Given that this image is already better than the one used for Series XI, it’s already off to a good start, and the sans serif logo combined with it gives a rather nice retro feel.

The back cover is also fairly in keeping with the Series X cover with a series of action shots, the series synopsis, the episode titles and a list of the special features. The spine has also been designed to be inline with the Series X DVD, but this is the one area that lets it down, giving the spine a tiny Red Dwarf logo and a massive XI. Having just the text along the spine as with the US version of the DVD would have been a preferable way to go here, but it’s something we can live with, especially as many of us will reverse the cover anyway.

The fact that a reversible cover is still being included is something we very much appreciate, and even if Back to Earth will act as a constant series cock block to a uniform design run, it’s nice that the option is there to have this new series match. Given the bunk room was used last time, it entirely makes sense for the new Starbug set to be used for this series, even if it appears to be from a shot from Series XII, and the blue colour scheme works for the lighting of that set.

However, it’s not without nitpick. Anoraks among you might note that the image of Asclepius used on the spine for Series XI is smaller than the images used for the other series, though at least the main cover design stretches to the spine this time after Series X reused the one from the Series VIII DVD. Also, given there are less special features on this DVD than on previous releases, there’s no excuse for splitting the words deleted scenes and visual effects over different lines. And if deleted scenes just has the D capitalised, why does Visual Effects have both the V and the E? We know that this is incredibly anal and really nitpicky, but it’s just a shame that this is a bit messy when the rest looks good.

For cock ups however, we have to look to the limited edition format…

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The cover for the SteelBook is your usual glossy Steel book affair with a cardboard outer cover. If you have the Series X steel book Blu-Ray then you can expect nearly exactly the same layout, though with a better spine that we wish was being used on the standard edition release. The design of the front and back cover is understated, but it’s effective with it and actually makes for a rather nice package. Steel books will always be the same content but in jazzed up packaging, so at least there has been an effort made here to make it different from the normal cover; something that didn’t happen with the Series X DVD steel book, but was at least rectified on the Blu-ray version released this year.

If you have the DVD or standard Blu-Ray release you will see that this disc includes all six episodes of Series XI: Twentica, Samsara, Give & Take, Officer Rimmer, Krysis and Can of Worms. If you bought the SteelBook Blu-Ray however, then the listing would have been a little different. In what is possibly the biggest mistake since they pretended to send a curry into space; they listed the episodes titles for Series XII instead. You can find the information here regarding this leak. Thankfully this is just printed onto the throw away card, but with a cock up of this magnitude probably making this limited edition all the more limited, we’d wager that most of you will now hang onto it.

As with Back to Earth and Series X there is no collectors booklet, though this won’t come as a massive shock. It does however contain an insert advertising the new Red Dwarf shop, reminding us all of the items that we’ve ordered but Sandbag still has yet to ship to us…

Disc 1 – Episode 1-6

The Episodes

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Though you’d barely know it from the amount of time we’ll dedicate to it in this review, the DVD and Blu-ray actually contain the episodes comprising Series XI. Given that we’ve bollocked on quite a lot about these over the past couple of months, if you’ve somehow missed our thoughts on the individual episodes, you can find them at the links below:

Twentica: Written Review / Podcast Review

Samsara: Written Review / Podcast Review

Give & Take: Written Review / Podcast Review

Officer Rimmer: Written Review / Podcast Review

Krysis: Written Review / Podcast Review

Can of Worms: Written Review / Podcast Review

So with that out of the way, let’s instead bollock on about the tiny details of the special features and the set up.

Animated Menus

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The Red Dwarf DVDs have a great history of having lovingly specially created CGI menus. Even with Back to Earth we had a different set up to the usual, but still interestingly rendered and in some ways nt a million miles away from what we’ve had before, and with Series X we once again had a nice CGI recreation of the sets.

That’s not the case this time around. The DVD menu is a quick zoom in into the Red Dwarf model to a barely animated screen featuring clips from the series and three solitary options: Play All, Episode Selection and Subtitles. We all used to joke about how amusing it was that DVDs used to list scene selection as a special feature, but we never thought we’d be reminiscing to happier days when they were included.

What’s more is that the menu has the Red Dwarf theme playing over and over again very loudly. Series VI and VII had a piece of incidental music play over the menu rather than the opening theme which feels so much less garish and obtrusive. This menu simply means you’re either reaching for the mute button or rushing to select the next feature in order to stop the music.

We know that the menus on the original series releases feel somewhat antiquated now in how long it takes to get through them before you could get to the feature itself, but they always used to stand out from other ranges just as the DVDs did as a whole. The menus for Series XI aren’t bad per se, but to just see a Red Dwarf DVD fall in line with the standard type of menu on every other DVD is a little disappointing.

Still, the animation when you select something is nice, we guess.

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While on the subject of disc 1, let’s address the Elephant in the room. We call him Stompy. But let’s also make mention of the fact that just as with Series X there are once again no commentaries on the episodes. Unlike Series X, there are also no commentaries to be found anywhere on disc 2 for the deleted scenes either.

It’s a sad reflection of the state of the DVD market as it stands today where special features are becoming less and less of an essential part of a release, and people are far less willing to fund them. Doug has previously mentioned that he has something of a solution in mind with regards to this, and we sincerely hope that there is the possibility for some form of downloadable commentaries to play alongside the episodes. The last time we had commentaries on episodes was for Back to Earth, and that gave us a full length commentary by Doug. It would seem a great shame to never get these again.

Disc 2 – Bonus Features

Behind the Scenes

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If there is something that could be said to be a centre point of the Red Dwarf DVD releases it has been their behind the scenes documentaries, and we’ve certainly been spoilt by their quality. Ever since the All Change documentary on the Series III DVD we have always knew we’d be treated to a wonderful retrospective that competes with the very best of behind the scenes features on DVD and puts the documentaries on many big budget Hollywood films to shame. So integral have they become in fact, when The Bodysnatcher Collection was released it was used as the perfect opportunity to go back an fill in the gaps of Series I and II, both of which had not featured them on their DVD releases.

Whilst it doesn’t quite live up to Series X’s We’re Smegged documentary, the Series XI behind the scenes feature is easily as enjoyable as the previous nine behind the scenes documentaries, though it strikes a different tone. And let’s face it, with a seemingly much smoother production this time around, the documentary was never going to be as revelation packed as We’re Smegged. While that documentary’s selling point was to lift the lid on the production issues that plagued the series, the Series XI behind the scenes strikes a much happier tone.

Less emphasis s given to the talking heads and studio footage is given more prominence to tell the story of the production. One the one hand this could be seen as a step down from the previous releases, but unlike the Series I-VIII documentaries, the fact that the documentary was filmed simultaneously with the series allows for more of this type of footage than was available to those DVDs. In some respects it’s quite refreshing to see more footage from the set being allowed to speak for itself, or at the very least stops this from being a repeat of what we saw on the last two DVD releases.

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With the episode order being different from the recording order, the documentary takes the only sane decision of covering each one in this order, which also allows the story of how the production progressed to come across correctly. Some of the most interesting elements come early on, as we get to hear much more this time around from new people in the production. These include the likes of Vanessa White (Make-Up Designer), Kate Walshe (Prosthetics SFX Producer) and Julian Fullalove (Production Designer) who all give a fresh view.

It also allows for a chance to combine the talking heads with concept art and storyboards to a greater  extent than we have seen previously. This again is an area in which not having the documentary made retrospectively has helped to cover the aspects of the series in greater details in areas that may have been more lacking previously. Kate Walshe and Vanessa White are of particularly good value here, giving us a chance to hear about the thoughts behind designs rather than just presenting us with an evaluation of the finished product.

Some of the more familiar faces in the documentaries are meanwhile a little quite here. Most notably, Doug appears far less often than with Series X, though perhaps we can take that as a good sign in terms of us having less disasters than on that Series. Chris meanwhile appears quite a lot, and complaints about wig wearing aside, his contributions are normally to appear and say how good an element was or how much he enjoyed something.

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On one hand you could assume that this is a conscious attempt to present a happier picture after the doom and gloom affair in We’re Smegged, but perhaps this is where the studio footage is most telling. It’s notable how high spirits seem to be throughout, and moments where the cast have clearly been able to forget they are being filmed betray an easier atmosphere that seemed to permeate this recording block.

One element that seems to have helped this greatly is bringing Baby Cow on board, represented best here by Kerry Waddell, once again returning to the world of Red Dwarf behind the scenes documentaries. It’s a n element that’s only briefly touched upon, but the benefits of the collaboration are clear to see throughout both this documentary and the episodes themselves.

It’s not only this change up in the production that may feel somewhat brief of course. While Series X generally gave each episode roughly equal coverage, some of the episodes here seem to flash by. The Can of Worms segment in particular seems to be over before it has already started, which might well surprise given the stories surrounding that episode such as the animal wrangling that Richard Naylor described on Twitter as being problematic when they shat everywhere.

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Let us be clear though; we aren’t saying that the documentary isn’t comprehensive. Nearly all aspects of production that feel the most essential are covered here, and even at a shorter run time, having this sort of special feature is increasingly rare, even on lines such as the classic Doctor Who releases where they had been commonplace.

It’s also worth stating that issues of coverage and length are far less to do with the documentary makers and more to do with the budget and time constraints placed by it. Such a special feature will always have a limited budget and limited resources. Given how many guest stars are interviewed in between filming their scenes for example, it would be entirely reasonable to assume that trying to get any time with these sort of interviewees would be near impossible on a particularly busy day.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that if the documentary feels incomplete then that is likely because it is essentially serving as part one in a two part behind the scenes documentary covering 12 episodes of Red Dwarf. With Series XI and XII filmed back to back, some elements have to have more of a focus here then they would be likely to have on the documentary for the next series. While the cast had some time off between the two series, it was a matter of weeks rather than the years before Series XI. Consequently, the ‘getting the band back together’ type footage we see in this documentary simply wouldn’t be something you could use next time.

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It’ll be interesting to view this side by side with the documentary for Series XII, but in terms of summing up just this series we find it difficult to complain. We’ve become very used to one hour plus documentaries, and after last series presented us with the longest et, we may well have raised expectations for a repeat affair, This certainly isn’t that, but equally on the basis of what we have here, that probably wouldn’t have been the direction to take anyway.

Smeg Ups

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The usual collection of outtakes we usually expect from a series of Red Dwarf. At only five and a half minutes, this is a surprisingly short package compared to prior series.  It’s a little disappointing to think that we could well be missing out here, but it what we are presented with is a well edited collection of what would seem to be the best of the best outtakes.

Of course it doesn’t help that many of the Smeg Ups are repeated in the documentary, which only serves to make this feel shorter. There is however a pleasing effort to arrange the clips into some kind of structure, with for example various instances of Danny missing his cue edited together into one sequence. This is what made the Smeg Ups tapes work so well, and is one of the reasons that we on this site keep reaffirming our belief that a new TV edition of Smeg Ups for Dave covering at least the years on that channel would be a great idea.

Deleted Scenes

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At only 14 minutes the deleted scene is shorter than we might otherwise have been expecting. Much of the issue with producing this deleted scene package is that some content originally filmed for Series XI was repurposed for Series XII and vice versa. In the end most of the scenes included are extended versions of scenes in the final episode.

It does give a great insight into the editing of the series. Take the scene with Give & Take with Cat stealing Lister’s meal. An entire section was cut out with Cat telling Lister he should get a moobie reduction. It is an amusing little scene in and of itself, but the episode as a whole is so much better with the tighter editing, and its all to easy to see how it’s inclusion could have made the middle of a fast paced episode slow to a crawl.

Some of the scenes we are presented with here however are disappointing in their removal. The original opening to Officer Rimmer for example would seem to have been removed either because it was too similar to the scene later in the episode or because it was replace by it. In actual fact however, it could quite happily have still been included and might have elevated the episode a bit further.

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In contrast, it’s clear to see why sections of Krysis were removed, as while amusing in their own right, Butler coming unrequested to Lister’s medical aid takes what is a certain similarity in the episode to Legion and dances in front of you waving it right in front of your eyes. It’s scenes such as these that can perhaps be the most rewarding; presenting something new and amusing but simultaneously reassuring you that their removal was the correct decision.

Alternate versions of scenes, or at least variations, also make up a fair section of the scenes on offer here.most notably in the form of the original opening to Can of Worms. Filmed on a much more simplistic set depicting Starbug’s upper deck, the dialogue is almost exactly the same but the performances are strangely off. Seeing the clip as presented, the reason for it’s reshooting would seem to be set based in nature, and if that was indeed the case then the performances benefited from it at the same time. It does however reinforce the strangeness that the awkward final line from the scene made it to the final episode rather than being edited to finish on the shot of Rimmer’s empty chair.

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As previously mentioned, this is far from being a complete set of deleted scenes for the series, and one odd omission is a whole second scene set on Starbug’s upper deck. Were scenes being repurposed in Series XII, their lack of inclusion would make perfect sense, but scenes like this and Krypton’s saxophone solo in Twnetica can surely only ever apply to those episodes, and to therefore not include them here seems odd.

Considering the Red Dwarf DVD line always used to make a point of using all of the deleted scenes available, once again using Bodysnatcher to pick up left off ones, it seems surprising that with Series XI the opposite approach is being taken by cherry picking scenes rather than documenting everything.

Image Gallery

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The Image Gallery is often one of the more forgetful features of most DVD releases. This is not the case with Red Dwarf XI, and for us on this site it’s something of a favourite feature on the disc. This short five minutes provides us with a large selection of never before seen pictures from the shoot, but the real appeal for this feature is the inclusion of many of the storyboards used in the production. If you are anything like us, then you will be planning to spend some time poring over all of the storyboards and comparing with the final product.

On a similar note of course, it would have been nice to see more concept art include here as seen in the Behind the Scenes documentary, The various designs that were produced for Snacky for example before the final one was settled upon show a very interesting development process and it would have been nice to see them here in this gallery.

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However, this is not to play down what is included, and the actual inclusion of storyboards is a really nice development to see in the range, with Red Dwarf storyboards previously being something fans had only really had much contact with on The Official Site when it published a variety of boards for the movie.

Trailers

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A compendium of trailers from the lead-up to Series XI. This includes the very initial promo trailer which features both Red Dwarf XI and XII in the logo advertising their arrival in 2016 and 17. This is followed by initial online trailer which teased the full trailer and the actual full trailer. Series XI didn’t actually have too many variations on the trailers, and most of the trailers and promos not included here also include clips from other Dave shows.

Also included for good measure is the three scenes posted to Facebook by Dave with oversized novelty subtitles. Nice to have for curio sake if nothing else, though of course it doesn’t actually show the full range of these videos that were produced, given that more were being made right up until the end of the series, by which time the DVD would have already been signed off.

Visual Effects

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A short feature which segues from in progress wire frame CGI to the finishes product in order to give an insight into how the sequence was made. A nice if superfluous inclusion considering the documentary covers the creation of CGI, but interesting to see some of the shots that we all praised as looking so good in a more simple work in progress form. It’s also nice to be abel to put to bed some debate over shots such as the underwater Samsara as definitely being CGI rathe than a model.

Model Shots

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Pretty much everything from the model shoot is included in this 20 minute feature, including many shots which were never seen in the final programme. The raw model footage was of particular interest to the most nerdy of us in the audience and this doesn’t disappoint. It gives us a great insight into how the model shoot progressed including many of the lighting changes they made to shoot Red Dwarf in the best way.

The shot of Starbug’s back section coming apart during the filming of the crash sequence in Twentica is a particular delight. It brings back memories of the Smeg Ups tapes including shots of the model shoots going wrong as the bug crashes into the sand and promptly losing it’s rear section. It’s also interesting to see how various types of crashes were attempted to try and get the final effect, showing an interesting trial and error process to work up to the great final shot from the episode.

This compendium does also raise the slightly contentious issue of why some of the material wasn’t used. One set of shots that it is particularly sad to see went unused appear to feature Starbug on a landing pad which presumably was to have the blue screen background comped out and replaced with a hanger bay. The Starbug take off shots were an iconic image from Series III-V, and while these would have been different, it would have been very nice to see.

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Perhaps the footage that will raise more debate is the variety of different flybys along the new bigature. One thing we raised repeatedly in our written and podcast reviews was the overuse of the same flyby shot, often accompanied by the same music cue, as a transition between scenes. Seeing some of the shots on offer here, this is reinforced somewhat with some gorgeous shots flying alongside the ship that could have been used to a reader degree. Certainly one item on our wish list for the future is that not every flyby had to feature the ships nameplate.

Looking at the shape of the bigature and the way it’s shot, it’s entirely believable that some of the shots proved unusable. It’s also notable when watching repeated flybys that the top of the ship isn’t the same shape as the standard model, and this is very apparent in some of the shots. But all the same, god we’d love to see the extreme close up pan of the side of the ship used more often in Series XII as it’s one of the best in the batch.

Overall Verdict

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As with any series review of a series DVD, we should separate the quality of the episodes from the quality of the extras and the package itself. At this point, you shouldn’t require us on this site to determine if the episodes of Series XI are worth you owning as you should have seen all of them at least once by now. For the record though, our feelings towards the series as a whole have been highly positive, and the idea of having a collection of Red Dwarf dvd that doesn’t feature Series XI is as foreign a concept as having cereal without milk or an empty box of kleenex in a teenagers bedroom without shame.

Analysing just the special features, it’s worth considering them in the context of all of the Red Dwarf DVDs. These have always been held up as an example of how to do TV Shows on DVD right, and they have always had an immense amount of care put into them. Sadly while Series XI elevates itself in terms of extras from Series X, it also falls down in others.

The documentary is the usual high standard and the inclusion of the raw model footage after it was omitted from Series X is most certainly a step in the right direction, but the omissions from other areas is difficult to ignore. At this point we more or less expect not to see commentaries, but missing deleted scenes and a short running Smeg Ups seem odd, though nowhere near as odd as the lack of scene selection which just seems like madness.

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Of course, were this nealry any other TV Show then this would likely be held up as a strong package of extra features. In many respects the show has made a rod for it’s own back by having had such an excellent array of bonus features previously which the DVD market of today is unlikely to cater to. However, in terms of the price of admission, it’s worth it for the documentary alone, and even in a shorter form here it is still more comprehensive than managed by many others of the same nature.

Just as with any Series of the show, the this release marks the definitive package available and is of course clearly worth both your money and your time. As fans there will always be things that we would like to be included, and even though this release makes some omissions and cutbacks from previous series releases, it’s no less an essential part of your collection than any other Series DVD.

Red Dwarf XI is available from all good retailers. And some really bad ones too.