Cover Story

Looking back at Red Dwarf's home release art.

With the release of Red Dwarf I-VIII on Blu-ray, we've now received our latest entry into the history of Red Dwarf cover art. The retro-illustrated style of the new boxset cover is somewhat on-trend for the current era, and an instantly apt fit for the show, but it's also a style quite unlike any that Red Dwarf has been packaged in before.

Of course, having been releasing videos (ask your parents) and DVDs (ask your... older siblings?) for nearly three decades, Red Dwarf has had the opportunity to go through a whole range of different stylistic eras and trends. Join us as we look back at the evolution of the show's cover story...

Just to make things typically simple, the first series of Red Dwarf to be released on VHS tape wasn't the first series - instead, the revamped Series III, which was thought to be the best foot forwards for the show, saw release in 1991 as a pair of tapes, each collecting three episodes, and each labelled (in a habit that would persist throughout all of the video releases) as "bytes" that were named after one of the episodes within.

The cover art was clean and straightforward, with a "spacey" illustrated black background and a generic promotional shot of the cast on the front. The layout and style was consistent between both tapes, but each individual "byte" had an episode-appropriate twist put on its art: the Backwards tape offered an additional negative exposure of its shot (and neatly reversed the type on the title), while Timeslides put the photo inside a slide frame.

March 1992 saw the release of the next series, and apart from some minor changes in font, the layout style for Series II was the same as Series III. With publicity photos thin on the ground for the second series, however, the covers were mostly reliant on stills grabbed from the episodes themselves!

There was more of a change in style for Series IV, which came along later in 1992. Unusually, the front covers featured the new serif version of the logo that had been seen onscreen in Series V earlier that year - albeit with an added twist of the "swoosh" having an extra bit of 3D texture. These covers also featured stylised renderings of the two "lead" episode titles - Camille and Dimension Jump - and cleverly referenced two episodes each in their art. So on the former tape, a still of Kryten and Camille was placed over a graphic of the computer interface from DNA, while Dimension Jump's Ace shot was backed by the pool-with-planets map from White Hole.

The release of Series I on VHS ended up becoming something of a long-awaited saga, played out in the news pages of the Red Dwarf Smegazine - but the tapes finally hit shelves in July and August 1993. And although they shared some stylistic elements with the previous series, they also eschewed publicity stills in favour of specially commissioned illustrations, by artist Bruno Elettori. Both pieces featured the crew members out in space - Lister and Cat in space suits, Rimmer in his standard uniform - with Confidence & Paranoia showing the trio playing golf, an image that would later be echoed in the show itself.

For the releases of Series V and VI in 1994 and 1995, it was back to publicity photos - and back to the sans-serif logo, even though these shows had featured the serif one on screen! Back to Reality and Quarantine featured additional design quirks relevant to those episodes, while Gunmen of the Apocalypse overlaid its title onto the sign above the "Last Chance Saloon". The Series VI tapes also added a natty Starbug illustration to the corner of the logo, emphasising that series' change in setting.

The Smeg Ups and Smeg Outs tapes also released those years, meanwhile, combined shots of the lead characters with background illustrations - showing the Red Dwarf ship first jettisoning, then seemingly vacuuming back up, junk and rubbish in such a way as to represent the off-cuts and outtakes offered by the tapes.

Series VII had an unusual release pattern, with an early release in 1997 of three Xtended editions of the episodes Tikka to Ride, Ouroboros and Duct Soup. Something of a precursor to the DVD format, the cover for this release went for simplicity, with a black and purple background, small promo shots for each episode, and a large, stylised Xtended logo.

When the actual byte-by-byte series releases finally landed in 1999, they were now in three bytes to accommodate the eight-episode series length - and once again combined foreground character photos with background illustration. The logo "swoosh" was also used as a wraparound element for callout boxes and photos, creating a distinctive effect.

Although Series VIII's videos followed shortly after Series VII's, however, they saw a complete change in style - with a new metallic version of the serif logo (also seen on the cover of the Red Dwarf VIII book), different font use throughout, and character shots of Lister and Rimmer combined with the newly-redesigned Red Dwarf ship.

The show's tenth anniversary in 1998, meanwhile, saw the re-release of the first three series in their new Remastered form - and a highly distinctive set of covers. Artist Mark Wilkinson, who also provided art for the "evolution of Cat" sequence in the remastered Waiting For God, supplied a set of six absolutely gorgeous planetscape paintings - featuring Red Dwarf, Starbug, Blue Midget and even the never-before-seen "Cat Ark" - which also (we're still not sure how he managed it) worked as one large image when the videos' spines were placed side-by-side in order.

Given the leap in technology, there was a surprisingly short period of time between Red Dwarf's last VHS release and its first DVD - with Series I hitting shiny disc form in late 2001. For the new millennium and a new set of releases - planned as a twice-yearly affair - GNP were able to plan out a consistent style to run across all eight series, although decisions on specifics were still only taken on a series-by-series basis.

With CGI artist Chris Veale creating new backgrounds based on the three main Red Dwarf ships - the small rouge one for Series I, Blue Midget for Series II and Starbug for Series III - the plan was originally to repeat the colour schemes across the series that followed. But as Series IV approached, the decision was taken instead to create a rendering of the interior bunkroom (also briefly necessitating conversations about whether to switch the silver logo to a black-and-red version); and for the remaining releases, series-appropriate imagery was chosen.

Series V's underwater-coloured Esperanto cover ended up being an inadvertent match to the colour of the original VHS releases, while Series VI brought the Last Chance Saloon back to the covers. Series VII went with a bold purple colour - actually tweaking the hue of the GELF ship so as not to be too similar to Series I - and Series VIII played on the orange lighting of the prison set.

It may have seemed at the time that Series VIII would be the final DVD release - but even before the Dave revival, there were still more covers to come. The Beat the Geek DVD game featured a brand new, bespoke painting by long-time Smegazine artist Colin Howard; while The Bodysnatcher Collection saw the return of Chris Veale to render the Series I-II-style bunkroom in fetching military (or ocean?) grey.

Furthermore, the Just the Shows sets - featuring just the episodes themselves, with no extras - offered the opportunity for a cleaner and simpler design. The original Series I-IV and Series V-VIII sets featured plain black and grey covers with a single promo image, and they were subsequently collected into an "all in one" box that featured an assortment of classic screengrabs - resembling the old Hologram Projection Suite.

Then in 2009 came Back to Earth - and the unusual circumstance of the DVD of the episode appearing in the episode itself. Of course, publicity photos for the special couldn't be used for the prop cover that appeared in the show, so instead a stylised red-and-black cover with the brand new logo was created. When it came to then producing the actual release, there had already been significant fan demand for a cover that matched the one in the show - and so it proved, with the case even matching the on-screen "digipack" and the synopsis text the same as that read out by Lister.

The arrival of Series X in 2012 saw a shift to yet another style -with the publicity posters that had been produced for the original broadcast of the show lending themselves to the main cover art of both the DVD and Blu-ray sets. However, for those fans who couldn't bear to have DVDs on their shelves that didn't match the "classic" style, the cover included a special reversible option, with an image of the new red sleeping quarters added into the mix.

The same pattern carried on for the back-to-back Series XI and XII: with the eleventh series featuring a standard publicity shot of the crew, while the twelfth could of course only feature the iconic "four Krytens" shot that had made such a media splash upon its original release. For the reversible sides, the brand new Starbug cockpit was used on XI, and the gleaming science room for XII. Series X and XI also had separate, limited edition Blu-ray steelbook releases - with a metallic red cover for the former, and a stylised black-and-purple design for the latter.

And that bring us up to the present day, with the illustrated stylings of the brand new boxset offering yet another fresh way for Red Dwarf to pop off the racks. So if your shelves are already full of everything we've talked about here, but you haven't got around to picking up the new set to complete things, then what are you waiting for?

Explore all the available sets in our Merchandise section, and pick up The Complete Series I-VIII now!

Share this page:

  • Post this story to Facebook
  • Tweet this story
  • Post this story to Pinterest
  • Share this story via Skype
  • Post this story to Google+
  • Post this story to Delicious
  • Post this story to Digg
  • Post this story to Reddit