Just watched the three-parter that marked the return of British SF-comedy sitcom Red Dwarf after ten years in the movie development wilderness, which ran on the digital network Dave TV over Easter. I had absolutely no expectations for this — the last two seasons of the show, VII (1997) and VIII (1999), had been rather mediocre and it just seemed highly unlikely that this was going to be any kind of return to form, after all these years.

Suprisingly, it was rather good, and — most importantly — funny. It’s a retread of one of the most classic episodes of the show, but actually manages to redeem that somewhat risky premise by a script that mixes equal amounts of the character-based humor combined with hard SF concepts that made the show work in the first place, with a new — and one senses almost inevitable — meta-thematic premise where Lister, Rimmer, Cat and Kryten find themselves transported back to Earth, conveniently in the year 2009, to discover that they are actually characters in a TV show called Red Dwarf, which has just been relaunched after a decade in limbo…

This quite ingenuously allows the creators to produce the show on an obviously modest budget and makes for some fairly, without being outrageously, smart comments on the nature of fiction. In one of the better scenes, Lister meets himself as actor Craig Charles on the set of Coronation Street, for example, but the idea also has its problems. Basically, the creators decided to make the show a giant homage to Blade Runner, one of the initial inspirations for the show all those years ago, which is at first rather fun but becomes increasingly forced and ends up flirting with the unintentionally absurd. Plus, the cheap recreations of classic Blade Runner scenes simply don’t look good enough — and more importantly, aren’t funny enough — to warrant the energy spent on them.

But the chemistry between Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules and Robert Llwellyn is as good as it has been since season VI, their banter is pretty well-written and without too many of the lame metaphors-as-jokes that have always plagued the show, plus it’s given an extra lift by the enthusiastic performances. Sophie Winkelman steps in as a formidable hologram officer intent on replacing the useless Rimmer, blasting his hardlight drive into deep space and detonating it with a small nuclear device, and delivers what is perhaps the show’s funniest line — on Rimmer’s qualities as commanding officer — in a thickly caricatured Russian accent delightfully reminiscent of Officer Natalina Pushkin in the classic episode “Holoship”.

And they even managed to cap it off poignantly. All in all a pretty successful trip back to the Dwarf.