Astronauts finally on DVD

Monday, 09 July 2012 00:00

Astronauts finally makes it to DVDA forerunner to Red Dwarf, Astronauts is stellar sitcom written by Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie of The Goodies fame. An all-British team of two men, one woman and a dog is dispatched to a very cramped space station to perform a series of scientific experiments, whilst under constant observation by Mission Control. It is not long before the crew start getting on each others’ nerves and going stir crazy.

The Mission Commander is Malcolm Mattocks (Christopher Godwin – “Scoop”, The Bill), a prim and proper Southerner with a penchant for technical jargon. Technical Officer David Ackroyd (Barrie Rutter – Fat Friends) is a disobedient Northerner who loves to needle Mattocks. Dr Gentian Foster (Carmen du Sautoy – “The Man with the Golden Gun”) is an ultra-posh scientist and medic who seeks refuge in yoga when things get stressful. Bimbo is their shaggy canine companion.

The fifth member of the team is Colonel Beadle, their American Mission Controller (Bruce Boa – “Full Metal Jacket”, “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back”). He shows occasional flashes of the explosive temper witnessed in the classic “Waldorf Salad” episode of Fawlty Towers, but who is also capable of bouts of silliness that match anything his orbiting colleagues come up with. For example, he insists on addressing them collectively using the codename ‘Piglet’, and he is ‘Pooh’.

In comparison to Red Dwarf, which arrived seven years later, Astronauts is much more down to earth, although they do share many traits. First and foremost is the tendency for the crew to become preoccupied with, and irrationally annoyed by each others’ behavioural quirks, accents, class and beliefs. The incredible nature of their mission in space is quickly forgotten in preference to more trivial matters like the washing up, musical tastes and lost socks. One does wonder whether the series would have ventured into more fantastic territory had it survived beyond a couple of seasons.

More specific foreshadowing of the antics of Lister, Rimmer and company includes the use laboratory glassware to drink from, the aforementioned yoga and Beadle’s humorous intros that mirror those performed by Holly. Suffice to say that fans of ‘The Dwarf’ will definitely enjoy this series!

Occasional, more dramatic and thrilling moments help to provide some contrast to the gentle comedy. The mission occasionally goes disastrously wrong, and the crew have to work together to survive, Apollo-13-style. It is a credit to the actors and crew that these scenes convey the danger of the situation quite well, and the inevitable gag at the end of a tense chapter works even better as a result.

It should not come as a surprise that the series is so entertaining when the behind-the-scenes crew includes not only Garden and Oddie but also producers Tony Charles and Douglas Argent, whose combined credits include such heavyweights as the aforementioned Fawlty Towers, Steptoe and Son and Lovejoy.

If I had to raise any negative points, the theme music of the first series is a truly diabolical series of electronic beeps, and the picture quality is a little fuzzy. Additionally, the only special feature included in the set is a photo gallery.

Astronauts – The Complete Series (1981-3) is out now, courtesy of Network DVD. The two-disc set has a running time of 325 minutes approx, carries a ‘12’ certificate and retails for £19.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Monday, 23 July 2012 10:39

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