Today is the 30th Anniversary of the sitcom Red Dwarf. It is a series that in a way I grew up with, I became a fan of it as a kid and it’s always been one of my top programmes, let alone sitcoms. To commemorate the anniversary, I’ve done a ranking post of all the series, from least favourite to favourite. As a warning, these CONTAIN SPOILERS.
12) Back To Earth (2009) Series Nine
It seems almost unfair to compare Back To Earth to the others, it has very little chance of coming top of any Red Dwarf series ranking, because it isn’t really a full series. There are only 3 episodes, and even then it is only one story. In 2009, Red Dwarf had been off the air for 10 years, and was mainly living on via repeats on Dave. Back To Earth was taking a bit of a risk as being an “original” scripted show on Dave, and it did well enough for the channel to commission a full new series, so we have it to thank for the series being revived. But even so, it’s not that great. It’s mostly an homage to Blade Runner meets a remake of the series 5 episode ‘Back To The Reality’, and the Coronation Street crossover is very Comic Relief/Children In Need sketch. There are some bits I like about it, I loved CarBug,
because when I was a kid I used to like to pretend when my family car was Starbug and the house was Red Dwarf. There’s also the surprise cameo from Kochanski, which was also surprisingly very effective! The hallucination when Lister is reunited with her is really nicely played, and quite poignant too. Far from terrible, but unfortunately Back To Earth has the least going for it of all the series.
11) VII (1997) Series Seven
Red Dwarf has often had behind-the-scenes issues to contend with, but series 7 had more than most. Rob Grant and Doug Naylor’s writing partnership ended, leaving Doug Naylor to carry on the series alone, with other writers contributing for the first time. That was inevitably going to change the feel of the show, but added to that was Chris Barrie quitting and asking to be written out. Doug Naylor was also wanting to make a Red Dwarf feature film and thought that financial investors might like an attractive female character and a love story subplot, so brought back Kochanski. Clare Grogan didn’t return however, so the part was recast, now played by Chloe Annett. Already, that’s a lot of massive changes. Rimmer did appear in 3 episodes, but his absence as a regular left a gaping hole, and Kochanski had to fill in for that too.
I don’t hate Kochanski the way some fans do, but a big problem with her was that she isn’t particularly funny. A lot that her jokes were dull, about things like cottage cheese with pineapple chunks and the sounds the pipes on Starbug make, and the least said about that “Hello, wall, what do you think?” line the better. In-universe, it’s understandable that she’d be a bit grumpy to be stranded from her own dimension and in less sophisticated company than she had got used to, but the thing was fans had grown to love the regular Red Dwarf characters, flaws and all, she was, for all intents and purposes, a total newcomer, it would have been difficult for them to warm to her. I did like the way she defeated the Epideme virus though, by temporarily stopping Lister’s heart, letting the virus pass into her arm, then lasering it off (it turned out it wasn’t her real arm, but still).
Kryten is my favourite character, but he was annoying in this series with his petty jealousy about Kochanski and him acting like an overbearing mother to Lister. That said, I did quite like his own episode ‘Beyond A Joke’ (co-written by Robert Llewellyn) where we learned more about Kryten and his creator, Professor Mamet. Though it’s mainly memorable for him blasting a tank through Pride And Prejudice world. Another memorable Kryten series 7 moment is in ‘Tikka To Ride’ when after Lister removes Kryten’s guilt chip he starts smoking, saying “You bet your ass!” and using his groinal attachment to stir the tea!
‘Stoke Me A Clipper’ was Rimmer’s exit episode, and him taking over from Ace Rimmer wasn’t a bad exit, but it ended up being pointless in the long run. I wasn’t keen on the developments in ‘Ouroboros’ either with Lister turning out to be his own father, and Kochanski his mother!. ‘Duct Soup’, a budget saving episode where they are trapped in the air vents is my least favourite Red Dwarf episode ever. There isn’t really much to like about series 7 for me, the only thing I can say I really enjoyed from it was the famous Arnold Rimmer Experience puppet song and dance from ‘Blue’.
10) VIII (1999) Series Eight
There has been a huge backlash to series 8 in recent years, but at the time it was quite well received, in fact it got the highest viewing figures the show has ever had. The tone of this series was definitely going more into “daft sitcom” territory, which might explain why it seemed to attract a broader audience. Part of that came with having a lot more sex jokes. A lot of those haven’t aged well (the “sexual magnetism virus” stuff is particularly uncomfortable/cringeworthy to watch now).
The Jeremy Beadle reference in ‘Krytie TV’ was a bit dated even at the time.
The other thing that hasn’t aged well is the series arc itself. The nanobots resurrected not just Red Dwarf, but the whole crew, and the series started of with 3 episodes of the regulars trying to get out of the problems that brought them, failing and ending up in the Brig, the prison wing of the ship, and that’s where they stayed for the rest of series 8. It ruined one of the big points of the series, Dave Lister being the last human alive, but even so, had there been another series after this and/or the proposed movie maybe these changes would have been kept, however by the time it got to Back To Earth nearly everything that happened in series 8 was forgotten about, if not out and out retconned. The crew being resurrected has definitely been scrapped for the post-Dave years, as Lister says he’s the last human and the Rimmer we see in the newer series is the original. Oh yeah, that’s another thing, in series 8 Rimmer came back, but a resurrection of the pre-accident Rimmer, not the one who’d been in the previous seven series.
Norman Lovett was back as regular as Holly too, but the character feels a little, I don’t know, out of place somehow? Almost like a Greek chorus figure commenting on what’s going on rather than being part of it? I don’t know why, because it’s not the case in any other series that features Holly. Like, even in series 5, when Holly (played then by Hattie Hayridge) was mainly just in the background, she still felt part of the main picture at least.
Series 8 also feels a bit too padded out. There are 8 episodes, as they wanted to bring the total number of episodes to 52 so it would be able to enter American syndication, but that involved two/three part episodes,’ Back In The Red’ (3 parts) and ‘Pete’ (2 parts), which were a little stretched.
It’s far from the only series guilty of this, but a lot of series 8 comes off as a bit of a greatest hits tour, and a parody of itself, with stuff in just for the fans to give a round of applause because they recognise it as a callback to earlier stuff, (i.e “The Dibbley family”, the Blue Midget dance, Rimmer’s extra long salute, the Rimmer/Lister bunkroom scenes in the Brig etc).
While series 8 had plenty of problems, there are bits here and there I quite like. Mac Mcdonald as Captain Hollister, and given a much larger role in the series than he’d ever had before. I liked Kryten and Kochanski being friends instead of being enemies (and I’ll be honest, I do find Kryten’s misguided “Have a fantastic period!” banner really funny). I’m a sucker for dinosaurs, so I liked a T-rex on board Red Dwarf. I loved Jeillo Edwards’ cameo. “Your name is Reality Sucks? Ha ha ha! One second, Mr. Sucks”. Not as good as her Spaced cameo, or her League Of Gentlemen one or her Little Britain one, but still.
The ‘Cassandra’ episode is great, Geraldine McEwan is fantastic in the title role, and I guess it’s the one episode that could fit into one of the other series.
The final episode ‘Only The Good’ has a rather ropey cliffhanger ending, and OK, I get that they probably didn’t expect it to be a decade before more Red Dwarf would happen, but it was still a bit of an odd note to end the series on. My headcanon is that the “alternative ending” (technically the original ending, but changed at the last minute for some reason) where the crew manage to get the antidote from the mirror universe and get rid of the microbe destroying the ship, while the resurrected crew who abandoned the ship to leave them to die realise they backed the wrong horse, is the proper ending, until the show gives an explanation of their own.
Series 8 was amusing in places, but certainly not one of the better ones in the context of the whole run.
9) X (2012) Series Ten
The first full series on Dave, and I guess with the criticisms series 7 and 8 got, this felt more like series 6, with the cast being Rimmer, Lister, Cat and Kryten, and something of a “monster of the week” format, though the crew were on Red Dwarf rather than Starbug. The Dave era is a lot more difficult to separate than the BBC2 one, all the series continue in a similar vein.
We find out quite a bit about Rimmer’s family in series 10. It was bookended with two Rimmer episodes. In ‘Trojan’, they meet one of Rimmer’s brothers Howard, who’s now also a hologram and we find out that he was just as much of a failure as Arnold. In the final episode, ‘The Beginning’, we see more of just how horrible Mr. Rimmer senior was to Arnold, as his college lecturer he used him as a guinea pig for psychological experiments. We also learn that he wasn’t Arnold’s biological father. ‘Lemons’ also revealed the story behind Rimmer’s embarrassing middle name, Judas. It was to do with some weird religious sect his mother belonged to which claimed Judas Iscariot was Jesus Christ’s twin brother. ‘Lemons’ is a bit of a strange episode though. Long story short, they go back in time and meet Jesus, but it turns out he isn’t THE Jesus.
‘Engtangled’ is also a little weird, and aptly named as there is so much stuff jumbled up in it. It involves Lister gambling away Starbug and Rimmer in a game of poker, some garbage eating BEGGs, an explosive device being fitted to Lister’s groin, a professor famous for getting everything wrong, notably turning herself into a chimp in an attempt to evolve herself, and while all this is going on Cat and Kryten become quantum entangled. It’s not a surprise to learn it went through multiple re-writes. ‘Dear Dave’ was a filler episode if ever there was one, nothing of consequence happened other than to confirm Lister is the last human.
By far the best episode was ‘Fathers And Suns’. Lister, being his own father, sends Father’s Day cards to himself, and also leaves a drunken video message as a disapproving dad telling his son (i.e, himself) to buck his ideas up. It’s the most fun they’ve had with the “Lister being his own father” business. ‘Fathers And Suns’ also features one of the best new characters in the Dave era, the ruthlessly logical computer Pree (Rebecca Blackstone). She’s quite sinister, and oddly likeable.
Series 10 was definitely a return to form, but on the whole it was a bit of a mixed bag. It was entertaining enough, and the cast slid back into their roles easily, but it felt slightly rusty, like you could tell it had been a while since they’d done a full series. However, it set things up in good stead for the following series.
8) XI (2016) Series Eleven
They took a bit more risks in series 11, though some paid off and some didn’t.
‘Twentica’ was a surreal mix of ideas. They go back in time to an alternate version of New York in the 1950s, but it’s more like the 1920s because technology has been outlawed by simulants, and there are speakeasys for scientists to discuss theories and conduct experiments.
‘Samsara’ saw an expansion of the technology of series 4’s Justice World, but as a karma drive which rewards good and bad behaviour. It of course all goes catastrophically wrong, but the idea wasn’t the problem with this episode, it was the structure. It kept flashing back and forth between the Red Dwarf crew and the Samsara couple. The couple weren’t really engaging enough to spend so much time with, and the segments with the Red Dwarf crew contained a lot of repetitive jokes.
‘Give And Take’ was the best episode. Lister ended up having to donate kidneys to himself via time travel. It featured two brilliantly designed robot characters. One was Asclepius the psychotic medibot. Then there was Snacky the snack dispenser droid with an amusingly retro design who even got a mini “triumph of the underdog” storyline of his own.
The final 3 episodes all focused on one of the characters. ‘Officer Rimmer’ saw Rimmer becoming an officer, lording it over the rest of the crew and deciding to populate the ship with clones of himself. Kryten points out that by now Rimmer should know better for how badly Rimmer plus copies of himself works out for him…
Kryten had a midlife crisis in ‘Krysis’, and but rather than buy a sportscar, he turns himself into a sportscar. Oh yeah, and they talk to the Universe. Yes, the Universe.
‘Can Of Worms’ is about the Cat. He is still a virgin, and he thinks his luck is in when he meets a female Cat and finally does the deed – but it turns out she was a female Polymorph, and has used him as a host to lay her eggs in! The was quite a groundbreaking episode really, with it being first proper Cat episode, and the second best Polymorph episode, expanding a lot of them as a species.
One thing that is notable I suppose is that Craig Charles decided to quit his role in Coronation Street to film series 11 and 12 of Red Dwarf, and while Red Dwarf is what he will be most well known for, Coronation Street is a big soap opera on ITV, a much more mainstream channel than Dave, so I guess it shows that there was a lot of faith in those two series.
While the individual episodes of series 11 were hit and miss, on average it was a good series.
7) XII (2017) Series Twelve
Series Twelve was very much a series of two halves, and the second half was a lot better than the first.
‘Cured’ was about “a cure for evil”, it had elements from series 4’s ‘Meltdown’, and the whole villain plot was so needlessly convoluted and the episode fizzled out. ‘Siliconia’ was one of the most memorable for having Rimmer, Lister and Cat converted into mechanoids, but it’s another that got a bit cluttered as the episode went on. ‘Timewave’ was all over the place, it was about a ship where criticism is banned, and ironically it became the most critcised episode of series 12.
The last three however were great! ‘Mechnocracy’ was one of the funniest, being an election episode where Kryten and Rimmer were competing to be the representative
for the machines on board Red Dwarf, and featured the return of Talkie Toaster, once again voiced by David Ross.
In ‘M-Corp’, the ship got an update and found that the Jupiter Mining Corporation had been taken over by a company called M-Corp, who it turned out also bought the whole of planet Earth! M-Corp definitely deserve the label of evil corporation, as they are shown to inflict pain on their “customers” just so they can sell them pain relief, and if they have no credits left, they start debiting from the customer’s lifeline! Aniter as an avatar and representative of the company was one of the best Red Dwarf villains of the Dave era, along with Pree and Asclepius.
Finally there was ‘Skipper’, which was a fun multiverse episode, and featured guest appearances from Norman Lovett as Holly and Mac Mcdonald as Captain Hollister.
The second half of series twelve was so strong, it just about edges it for me as the best series of the Dave era so far.
6) I (1988) Series One
It would be foolish to knock the first series too much, it’s how it all began etc, but it has a lot of teething problems and Early Installment Weirdness, like you get in the first series of a lot of programmes. It is all set within the confines of the ship, and very much focusing on The Odd Couple…. In Space!!!! slobby one and neat one dynamic between Lister and Rimmer. It also emphasises how bleak the situation is, Lister’s loneliness at being the last human alive in the whole universe, Rimmer having to deal with, well, being dead, the fact that Lister and Rimmer, at this point, absolutely hate each other. Then there’s the fact that Lister accidentally was the God of the Cat Race, which waged pointless Holy Wars in his name.
While I can see why a lot of that is why the first series is appealing to some fans, the rather depressing tone of it doesn’t make it a very watchable series for me. Also, with the best will in the world, the colour of all the walls being nothing but grey makes it look very dull.
‘The End’ is still a great series opener (The “everyone’s dead Dave” conversation between Lister and Holly is a classic even out of context) and ‘Future Echoes’ shows them doing a sort-of time travel, or time twisting anyway, storyline as early as episode two. This sees the birth of Lister’s sons Jim and Bexley. There’s also mention of an incident where adult Bexley returns to the ship and meets a violent death, and in hindsight Rob Grant and Doug Naylor weren’t happy with Lister mostly shrugging that off, which may be one reason why that incident was never mentioned after this episode. Jim and Bexley themselves aren’t much either after series 2. Just like The Simpsons has some things which were forgotten about as the show went on, like The Happy Little Elves and the Space Mutants films, things characters are fans of in Red Dwarf disappeared after the first couple of series, such as Jim Bexley Speed/the London Jets/Zero G Football, and the cartoon Mugs Murphy.
Kochanski, played by Clare Grogan, is a recurring character here and she is mentioned even in episodes she doesn’t feature. There is an implication that Lister never even asked her out, which was, perhaps wisely, retconned later so that they did date for a bit.
‘Confidence And Paranoia’ is an interesting idea, where Lister encounters manifestations of those emotions, but they are gone before that concept gets a chance to get going.
I think the series only really hits its stride with ‘Me2’, which was the last episode written. It felt like the writers had got to know the characters and the series itself better. The first, but not the last time, Rimmer literally doesn’t get on with himself!
This series was probably most similar to Rob Grant and Doug Naylor’s radio sketch show Dave Hollins Space Cadet, which was a forerunner for the series. Both that and
series 1 have similar influences, such as 2001: A Space Odessey.
A random highlight of the first series for me is where the Skutters are in the cinema watching a film, Rimmer tells them off for not working, and they produce a dustpan and brush… then when Rimmer’s gone, give him a V-sign and continue watching the film! Then there was Lister being pleased with Rimmer moving out of the bunkroom, meaning he could hum, squeeze the toothpaste from the middle of the tube, and keep his dirty socks on the floor… though he soon changed his mind about the last one.
I’m not saying series 1 of Red Dwarf is like the first series of Blackadder, which was infamously worse than the ones which followed, but I do think that while Red
Dwarf had a decent start, it got better.
5) VI (1993) Series Six
Series Six is notable for being the one Red Dwarf series that doesn’t feature the title ship at all! It became more of a story arc in itself, the search for Red Dwarf. I did love that Starbug was promoted to the main ship of the series so we got to see more of it. But it meant that the stakes were higher. No Red Dwarf also meant no Holly, and the crew having to worry more about fuel, food and even keeping the ship together. They had to loot derelict ships for equipment and survive off things like space weevils (sorry, “crunchy king prawn”) and urine re-cyc.
It had even more of an action-adventure tone than had gone on before. This was seen no better than in ‘Gunmen Of The Apocalypse’. It was quite a genre hopper, starting out with a film noir parody thanks to a virtual reality machine, and after the crew were attacked by simulants who sent in an Armageddon virus, that went into a virtual reality Western, with the crew fighting the virus, represented as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, through a Wild West scenario. This episode won an International Emmy Award. The episode also featured Lister and Cat wearing Kryten’s eyeballs on their chins to create a fake alien species, (the Vindalooan Empire) and that ended up being something of an early meme.
‘Psirens’ saw a species which behaved rather like the Greek mythology version, luring space travellers instead of sailors to their doom through hallucinations rather than through song, though the Psirens were more of an insect-like creature and liked to suck brains out using a straw!
‘Legion’ was a very interesting character, being an anti-villain. He was pretty nice to the crew, he upgraded Rimmer to a “hard light” hologram which proved to be a very significant development indeed, as it allowed Rimmer to touch and taste things. Legion intended to keep the crew at his station for the rest of their lives, but in luxury, and the only reason he wanted to keep them prisoner in the first place is that he was a gestalt entity and would cease to exist without people there.
Rimmer ends up populating a planet with clones of himself in ‘Rimmerworld’. You can probably guess how well that ends for him …
One of the funniest episodes for me was ‘Emohawk: Polymorph II’. In the first half, we encounter the Kinitawowi tribe, an ape-like species who the crew trade with to get a new oxygen generating unit, the crews old one having been destroyed in a crash. The only problem is the price is Lister marrying the chief’s daughter, who’s name sounds like a football player cleaning his nose and as Lister puts it she is less attractive than his own armpit. Lister escapes before, er, the marriage is to be consumated, and the angry Kintawowi chief (played by Ainsley Harriet!) sends an Emohawk after them.
An Emohawk is a domesticated Polymorph, and its emotion feeding turns Cat into Duane Dibley and Rimmer into Ace Rimmer. While I like this episode a lot, I think this is one of the things that brings series six down in the ranking. It’s a sort-of sequel to three episodes from three different series, and it was at this point that Red Dwarf was entering the fate of every sitcom that lasts long enough, it became a parody of itself, and rehashing popular elements from the past because the fans would go nuts for it.
The other thing that brings this series down a bit is the overuse of the Space Corps directives jokes, Rimmer misquoting them and Kryten having to correct him.
‘Out Of Time’ is one of the best series finales though. It has one of the funniest moments for me (they get a time drive, hoping to go to the medieval era, which they do… but they are still in deep space!). Then they meet their future selves, and are disgusted with what they see. Firstly it’s jokes about how fat, bald and old they all look, (and in Lister’s case, he’s just a brain in a jar!) but worse is when they realise how evil and decadent they became through years of time travel, becoming friends with “the Hitlers” among other things. The episode seems strangely and scarily relevant today, with recent rise of the far right. Anyway, the crew decide they’d rather die than become their future selves, so it ends with an epic cliffhanger when Starbug explodes. (In series 7, the cliffhanger in question is basically brushed off as Doctor Who timey-wimey/Austin Powers 2 “Don’t worry about time paradox issues and just enjoy the ride” in series 7, but still).
4) II (1988) Series Two
Series 2 came out in the same year as series 1, but some changes were made. Some were simple (they brightened the set up a bit with things like a giant inflatable banana), but they decided to go outside the confines of the ship, and this saw the introduction of the Blue Midget shuttle craft.
A very notable change in this series was that Rimmer becomes a much more sympathetic character, and crucially Lister starts to care about him! References to how he was bullied at school are over several episodes. In ‘Better Than Life’ we find out that Rimmer hated his father but still wanted him to be proud of him, and at how deep Rimmer’s self loathing is. The latter is played more for laughs when getting the vitual reality game Better Than Life which gives its users whatever they wish for in the game, he manages to “wish” for everything to go wrong. In ‘Thanks For The Memory’ Lister feels sorry for Rimmer after hearing he never had anyone he loved, and only had sex once in his life, so gives him a memory of one of his old girlfriends. However, the truth comes out and they decide to forget all about it by literally erasing their memories.
The Norman Lovett incarnation of Holly gets how own episode with ‘Queeg’, where Holly is effectively sacked and replaced by the back-up computer Queeg, but it turns out Holly has pulled “the jape of the decade” and “April, May, June, July and August fool!” on the crew.
‘Stasis Leak’ sees the first Red Dwarf episode travelling to the past, and a future version of Lister marries Kochanski, though when this is supposed to have happened within the overall canon of the TV series is anyone’s guess.
The series opener ‘Kryten’ was the first appearance of the character, but he was quite different here. He was played by David Ross, and was more of an upper class butler type. There are so many hilarious moments in this episode. Holly causally mentioning they ran out of cows milk “yonks ago” and have been on dogs milk since. Kryten’s reaction to being told the Nova 5 crew are dead “I was only away two minutes!” – they are skeletons, so they’ve clearly been dead for centuries! Kryten’s favourite soap opera, Androids, which looks like a robot version of Dallas meets Neighbours. Then there’s Kryten’s first act of rebellion, by painting a portrait of Rimmer looking very pompous while sitting on the toilet! Kryten wouldn’t become a regular until series 3 however.
The series finale, ‘Parallel Universe’, opens with the song the crew lead by Cat performing ‘Tongue Tied’, which Danny John-Jules released as a single 5 years later. The crew go to the first, but not last, parallel universe, in this they meet female counterparts Deb Lister, Arlene Rimmer and Hilly. Cat doesn’t get a female counterpart, his opposite is a male Dog! Hilly was played by Hattie Hayridge, and she would play Holly in series 3, 4 and 5.
Series 2 reminded me a bit of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, as a BBC sci-fi comedy there are a lot of similarities to Red Dwarf generally, but I felt it seemed more so in series 2, there are a couple of direct nods to it.
Series 2 was a lot funnier than the first in my opinion, and for me it was the start of my personal “golden age” of the show.
3) IV (1991) Series Four
When I think of series 4 of Red Dwarf, so many funny moments come to mind:
Lister teaching Kryten how to lie in ‘Camille’, the first success being Kryten calling a banana “a banana is a small off-duty Czechoslovakian traffic warden!”
The Cat’s comment on Camille’s true appearance. “She looks like something that dropped out of the Sphinx’s nose!”
The Curry Monster in ‘DNA’, killed by lager “the only thing that can kill a vindaloo!”.
Kryten becoming human in ‘DNA’, and him talking about the “hideous design” of the penis, and how it, er, behaved while he was reading a vacuum cleaner catalogue.
Lister being called as a witness for the defence in Rimmer’s trial in ‘Justice’. First when asked if he’d describe the accused as a friend he says “No, I’d describe the accused as a git!”, and then when asked if he’s the person that knows Rimmer the most intimately, Lister replies “Well there is one other, but she’s got a puncture!”
Talkie Toaster in general in ‘White Hole’.
Holly swooning when she meets Ace Rimmer in ‘Dimension Jump’.
Kryten’s comment on the dinosaurs in the theme park in ‘Meltdown’. “I can’t believe how feeble they were. I’ve seen more convincing dinosaurs given away for free in packets of Wheaty Flakes!”.
Lister describing witnessing the execution of Winne the Pooh in ‘Meltdown’. (I don’t know why, but the “He’s refusing the blindfold!” line made me laugh so much).
There are many more. It’s good on laughs, but most of the characters get moments to shine.
‘Camille’ is a good episode for Kryten, first with him learning how to lie, but also falling in love. He thinks he’s met an android just like him, (well a bit more advanced), but it turns out she’s a Pleasure GELF, everyone who sees her will see her as their perfect partner. Cat’s is one of the other great moments of this series, as he see himself! Camille reveals her true form, which most of the crew find gross, but Kryten still loves her! This romance between an android and a green tentacled blob is quite sweet, but it doesn’t end in happily ever after for them, as Camille’s husband Hector turns up, and Kryten persuades her to go back to him. Interestingly, Camille was played by Judy Pascoe, Robert Llewellyn’s real life partner.
‘White Hole’ is where the Hattie Hayridge incarnation of Holly gets her own episode. An experiment raises her IQ to double its original level, to 12,000, making her a genius, however it has come at the cost of her operational lifespan, which is now just 3 minutes! She decides to switch herself off, which is bad news for the crew as that means Red Dwarf is on limited emergency power, and without Holly guiding the ship it heads straight towards a white hole (the opposite of a black hole, it spews matter back into the universe). They switch Holly back on, and she comes up with a plan which basically involves playing pool with planets, which Lister does, and that also resets the timeline to before the experiment. The episode also features the comeback of Talkie Toaster, voice by David Ross this time.
‘Dimension Jump’ is definitely a significant episode for Rimmer, where we first meet the parallel universe version of him known as Ace Rimmer. In one reality, Arnold Rimmer had to repeat a year in school, in another he didn’t. That changed the whole course of his life, one became the Rimmer we know, the other became the successful, popular and amazing Ace – “What a guy!” (yeah, he’s a total Gary Stu, but he’s so OTT that I think the writers were parodying that sort of character) But, it turns out it was Ace Rimmer who had to repeat a year. The humiliation caused him to want to fight back.
Series 4 was one of the most enjoyable of the whole run.
2) V (1992) Series 5
Series 5 was the darkest series the show ever did. Certainly in terms of the threats they encounter, such as The Inquisitor, the psi-moon, the Holo-Virus, the Low versions of themselves and the Despair Squid. It seemed to look more deeply into some of the characters too.
It was a deliberate decision by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor to make a more complex and at times dramatic series. They ended up directing some of it themselves at the last minute, as regular director Ed Bye didn’t return for this series (though he came back for series 7 and 8). The series 5 director Juliet May struggled with some of the sci-fi concepts and left before the series was finished.
Like series 4, it opened with a love story, this time for Rimmer, ‘Holoship’. He has a chance to join what seems to be his perfect place, a ship of snooty holograms, which value sharp elbowed career climbing and order the crew to have sex every day as exercise. He meets and falls in love with Nirvanah Crane (played by Jane Horrocks), but when it turns out that he would have to take her place to go on the ship, both make a sacrifice for the other because they love them, and making a sacrifice for love is something Rimmer was convinced he’d never do.
Rimmer gets another episode, ‘Terrorform’, where he is on a psi-moon which reassembles itself to be a manifestation of his own psyche, and it is a horrific place dominated by a monster which represents Rimmer’s own self-loathing.
‘Quarrantine’ is another episdoe centred on Rimmer. Well, say what you like about him, but he is the most interesting character. This is where the crew find another hologram, Dr. Hildegarde Lanstrom who is working on “positive viruses”, one is the holovirus, which gives holograms telepathy, telekinesis and hex vision, but also makes them insane and kills them. Yes, it kills people who are already dead. Dr. Lanstrom succumbs to it (but not before trying to kill the Red Dwarf crew), and Rimmer is infected, which causes him to lock the others in quarantine and deprive them of food and oxygen(!), and memorably he ends up wearing a red and white chequered gingham dress, army boots and have Mr. Flibble the penguin puppet. Mr. Flibble would go on to be a hugely popular character in Red Dwarf fandom.
‘The Inquisitor’ was a simulant with a skull mask who travelled through time erasing people he considered “unworthy of existence”. He is one of most terrifying villains the show has ever done, in his appearance and abilities. The way he gets his comeuppance is kind of predictable, but still satisfying.
‘Demons And Angels’ sees Red Dwarf, and the whole crew split into three, with a “high” and “low” version. The High versions are all pure good (and Lister finds an edible Pot Noodle on their ship!), the Low versions are pure evil and want to torture and kill all their other counterparts.
The best episode though, one of the best of the entire run, is ‘Back To Reality’. They find out that Red Dwarf is actually a virtual reality video game, and it’s Game Over. They’ve been playing it for 4 YEARS, and the attendant Andy (Timothy Spall) informs them they played it terribly, missing all the clues and failing to achieve any of what they were supposed to do in the game. They are also about to be replaced with new players, and their real selves and are all people they don’t want to be. This is where we meet “the Duke Of Dork” Duane Dibbley, Cat’s alter ego. It could possibly have been the finale of the whole series! However, the virtual reality game was just an illusion. It was all the work of the Despair Squid, which has ink which caused its victims to commit suicide, (for example a haddock voluntarily closes its gills suffocating itself!).
As ‘Back To Reality’ turned out to be Hattie Hayridge’s last episode to date, it is quite nice that Holly saved the day by broadcasting to Kryten on a higher frequency, and using mines to turn the Despair Squid into “fried calamari”.
The whole series raised points about the psychology of some of the characters and how they see themselves, when confronted with alternate versions. Whether it’s if they’ve lived a worthwhile life (‘The Inquisitor’), their dark sides (‘Terrorform’, ‘Demons And Angels’), or the sort of people they’d hate to be (‘Back To Reality’).
A random highlight for me was Kryten’s oddly cute hand-with-eyeball messenger which Lister mistakes for a “taranshula”. The TARDIS from Doctor Who can briefly be seen in ‘Demons And Angels’ too.
Series 5 was one of the most intriguing and dark series, and ‘Back To Reality’ was the best of the series finales.
1) III (1989) Series Three
Series 3 was the start of some of the most iconic parts of Red Dwarf. The now familiar logo, the opening credits showing clips from the series and the fast paced rocky instrumental theme music. The sets and costumes got a redesign, with the sets looking more sci-fi and having a cream colour compared to the grey of the first two. There was also the addition of Starbug, a green insect-shaped shuttle craft which would become very significant to the series.
Rob Grant and Doug Naylor got more involved in the production, which led to higher production values than they had before. The tone of the series became a lot more dynamic.
There were changes in the cast as well. Holly was now played by Hattie Hayridge, and there was an addition to the crew, Kryten, but David Ross was unavailable at the time, so the part went to Robert Llewellyn.
In ‘Backwards’ the crew get back to Earth, but an Earth where time is running backwards. So everyone “eats” by regurgitating, vehicles move backwards, giving and stealing money are the opposite. Lister points out other potential issues with living there. For one thing, eventually everyone will finish up as “a little sperm, swimming around in somebody’s testicles”, and Santa Claus here would be a real bastard, going down the chimney stealing children’s toys. After a “bar room tidy” they come to the conclusion they have to go back, though Cat is going to the toilet in the bushes before they go – he very much regrets doing that on Backwards world…..
‘Marooned’ focuses on Lister and Rimmer, as after evacuating Red Dwarf as it is heading for five black holes, they end up crash landing on an ice planet with low supplies. Rimmer doesn’t need heat or food, but Lister does, and there is little of either. He has to eat dog food, and Rimmer’s money, books and soldier figurines had to be burned so that Lister could live. Lister didn’t want to burn his guitar, so cut a guitar shape out of Rimmer’s camphor wood chest! Definitely an unpleasant and selfish move on his part, even more so when we learn that the trunk was the only thing Rimmer’s dad ever gave to him. They needn’t have bothered evacuating anyway, as when the others find them, Holly admits that it turned out there never were any black holes, it was just five specks of grit on the scanner scope!
‘Polymorph’ is my favourite episode overall, and the title creature is certainly one of their best creations. It’s a mutant which can change its shape to anything and feeds off emotions, using its abilities to draw those emotions out. It changes into many things, including a rabbit, a beach ball, a shami kebab. It changes into a snake to draw out Lister’s fear. It draws out Cat’s vanity by turning into a beautiful woman Genny Mutant (played by Frances Barber), who flatters him. Kryten’s guilt is taken after the Polymorph pretends to be Rimmer, and Rimmer himself has his anger taken when the Polymorph pretends to be his mother, and sleeps with Lister. (What sets Rimmer over the edge is that they used “alphabetti spaghetti”, but what made me laugh most was her telling him “I honestly thought my false teeth were going to fall out!”). Without those emotions, Lister is dangerously reckless, Cat has become a tramp, Kryten is rude to everyone, and Rimmer thinks they can defeat the Polymorph with t-shirt slogans and leaflet campaigns. Luck is on their side though when they defeat the Polymorph pretty much by accident!
Rimmer and Lister swap bodies in ‘Body Swap’, with Rimmer claiming that he’d look after it unlike Lister… but Rimmer hasn’t tasted, touched or felt anything for so long, he goes mad.
‘Timeslides’ is about mutated photograph developing fluid (O…K), but it’s a good time travel episode. Lister goes into a photo of Hitler, steals his briefcase which contains banana and crisp sandwiches (and a bomb!), both Lister and Rimmer meet their younger selves to claim they invented the tension sheet (just bubble wrap painted red, but it made the inventor a multi-multi-multi millionaire). The timelines end up resetting a few times, and by the end they’ve gone back to close enough exactly how they were before, apart from Rimmer somehow being alive… though he is killed immediately after anyway. Still, you have to wonder how much that alters a lot of what will have gone on in, well, every episode up to this one.
In ‘The Last Day’, Kryten is informed by the company that manufactured him that he is to be replaced and to dismantle himself. Cruelly, the company programs mechanoids to believe in an android heaven as a reward for a lifetime of servitude. The others decide to throw Kryten a party, he has a hangover by the end but enjoyed it, and doesn’t want to be dismantled now. The crew decide to fight Kryten’s replacement, Hudzen 10, though Kryten is the one who ultimately defeats him. It was nice to see the crew geniunely care about Kryten in this episode (even if they do make a joke about the message of the plot being “Star Trek crap”) I do love Kryten’s “the iron shall lie down with the lamp” line about Silicon Heaven!
A lot of influence to this series include Alien, the design of the ship and the Polymorph. Also of course Star Wars (the text crawl in ‘Backwards’ explaining the changes but deliberately too fast to read). References to other media continued throughout Red Dwarf’s run obviously, but I’d say from here in it mostly began to have more of its own identity. It was certainly around series 3 when it was becoming really popular.
Series 3 had the strongest run of episodes, all of them were good, ‘Polymorph’ is my favourite episode of the entire run, not just series 3. I think series 3 had the best cast overall too, in terms of chemistry and everyone firing on all cylinders and clicking together. It’s a series where I liked pretty much everything.
So it more or less spilts into eras for me, series 3-5 my favourite. then series 2 and 6, (the time from series 2 up till series 6 is my personal “golden age”). Then the first series, then the Dave era, and my least favourites being the last two in the original BBC 2 run, plus essentially the pilot for the Dave run. But if I’ve learnt one thing from being a fan of Red Dwarf it’s that everyone has a different favourite, and it is to its credit that the series changed and evolved so much, that’s why it is still about 30 years after it was broadcast. I’m looking forward to series 13!