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Xtended Revisited

Posted 23rd May 2015

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As this place is a bit quiet at the moment, I thought I’d point you towards some stuff I’ve been doing over on Ganymede & Titan – the Red Dwarf fansite where my writing has been recently described as “uneducated, vulgar and puerile”. (To be fair, at least two of those descriptions are entirely correct.)

My latest series of articles has a rather bizarre history. The first one was published in 2007, but I only got round to finishing the rest of them over the last couple of months… a full eight years later. (My excuse is that I got very depressed at how bad the actual episode was when I tried to write the second article, but an eight year delay may well be taking things a bit too far.) The subject matter, however, is very much one of my favourites – comparing different versions of the same material. Previous examples on this site include a comparison of the broadcast and VHS edits of Smashie & Nicey: The End of an Era, and a look at the pre-watershed edits of I’m Alan Partridge. Very much in this vein, this set of articles compare the original broadcast versions of four episodes of Red Dwarf with the extended versions released on VHS/DVD.

It strikes me that these articles are exactly the kind of thing which induce a rather glazed look in some people’s eyes. I vividly recall, when talking about a planned article comparing the broadcast version of a Men Behaving Badly episode with its original script, somebody posing the simple question: why?

The answer is simple: it’s a glimpse into the creative process. Why was this section deemed expendable originally? Why was it then deemed worthy of inclusion in an extended version? With Red Dwarf, the latter point has even more context than with most programmes: all the deleted scenes which didn’t make it into the extended cuts are also presented on DVD. Why was this scene used, but this scene not? What difference to the show do the changes make?

It’s also an instructive lesson in how to edit. How do you cut down a three minute scene into something half the length, whilst still keeping the important story and character beats, the best jokes, and not making it look like someone’s attacked the videotape with a hacksaw? I may not especially like the episodes presented here, but there are countless examples of clever editing that you’d never notice unless you look at both versions in detail and compare them. You can learn a hell of a lot. (Indeed, a lot of the time I think the broadcast versions work better than the extended versions… whilst still recognising what the extra material was trying to achieve. Which is an insight in itself.)

That’s why it’s interesting. It’s not just the geeky desire to categorise everything and make a list – although yeah, there’s a bit of that too. It’s about getting into the head of the people who made the creative decisions… and a look at the practical aspects of how to make a programme.

What may appear to some to be a long list of irrelevancies is actually an attempt to get to the heart of how a programme works.

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