Red Dwarf: Five Favourites

"It's cold outside, there's no kind of atmosphere . . ."

In brief: No other show quite like it. A scouser (Craig Charles’s Dave Lister) , marooned in space, but three million years in the future. The last human, but with others to keep him company/drive him absolutely insane. The ship’s supercomputer, Holly (Norman Lovett). A creature that evolved from his cat, who is now a humanoid. A hologram, of his colleague, Arnold Rimmer (Chris Barrie) , known best as simply “Rimmer”. The single biggest bastard in the history of everything. Along with a creature that evolved from Lister’s cat, and eventually an intelligent mechanical life form, known as Kryten (Robert Llewellyn, except for the initial appearance)  the “boys from the dwarf) become embroiled in the mayhem, mischief and madness . . . Here’s five of the best episodes, that certainly those three elements.

 

Queeg (Series II ep. 5)

With no warning, the ship’s computer, Holly, is taken over by the ship’s back-up model, Queeg. Supposedly. Holly has contravened regulations by putting the crew in danger. He failed to give enough warning a meteor was about to hit the ship; the crew each, in turn, cursed him for that, branding him incapable. Queeg assumes command, demoting Holly to menial duties. That’s not the only change. No more “little understandings” between the crew and Holly. Early starts and a strict routine, all round. Queeg isn’t messing about and instills a brutal efficiency, that the crew just aren’t used to, so struggle to adapt to.

At first, Rimmer welcomes the change, declaring that discipline and directive are just what was missing; until that is, he’s put on an involuntary, strict, exercise regime, with Queeg operating his holographic body as he sees fit. He is horrified by the imposed exertion, and he feints, a short time into a three-mile run. He is told that he must learn astronavigation and will be tested on it. A failure to score satisfactorily will result in a five-mile run, the next day. Despite his best efforts he just can’t learn, which is a show that he has always been a failure, and is deeply bitter about it, something that makes up the central aspect of his character.

Lister and The Cat are made to suffer, too. Both are put to work and must earn food, and rest. No more bumming about for Lister (pretty much his entire existence), or lazing away for Cat (essential for his functioning, according to him). Whilst scrubbing floors they encounter Holly, now on a self-wheeling monitor, patrolling the corridors. They both mourn the life they had and agree that though he was a little lackadaisical, he was one of them. He has one chance to win back command, and after Queeg refuses a challenge of tiddlywinks, snakes& ladders, and Monopoly, the two computers battle out in a game of chess. The loser is to be deleted. Among it all, there’s a very important lesson to be learned, one the crew won’t be forgetting in a hurry . . .

 

Backwards(Series III ep. 1)

There’s no reason why Red Dwarf can’t do what other sci-fi shows do (notably Star Trek), and explore the possibility of parallel universes. In fact, this isn’t the first foray of the gang, into such territory (the previous episode is called “Parallel Universe”.). Though they may be used to the strange and the weird, what they find themselves confronted with is beyond any expectations. This time they aren’t taken somewhere by an experiment, they are sucked into a hole in space, which takes them back in time, only not the time-line they lived in . . .

During Kryten’s driving test, that Rimmer is officiating on, the two get sucked into a “time-hole”. They emerge in London, or just outside. Holly soon informs them that here, things run in reverse. Fortunately, Kryten can interpret, as he has “reverse” mode. Cue the silly japes and daftness, as they discover how bizarre it all is. Fortunately, the population find them even more bizarre, and they soon become a novelty act, “The Fabulous Reverse Brothers”. Rimmer finally begins to enjoy life as someone who is appreciated, even if it’s only because he is laughed at.

Once Lister and Cat catch up, also travelling through the time hole, they also find that life in reverse is hard to imagine. The choice of jokes, and possible scenarios are the fun, here. Kryten expains that “a mugger, forced £50 into my wallet at knife-point” before he talks of the “millions of people coming to life, in the Second World War, before Hitler bogs of back to Austria”. It all ends in tears, as usual. They get into a “bar-room tidy”, and are sacked (but get sacked first). There’s one final lesson for The Cat, before they return, going back through the time-hole.

 

Quarrantine (Series V ep. 4)

Particularly, relevant episode, as of April 2020. After Rimmer contracts a space virus, from a biological research vessel, that the crew beam onto (he gets it via radio-waves). All seems to be fine, but Rimmer orders the crew into quarrantine for three months, as a precaution. During this time he is slowly taken over the virus, and begins to act increasingly bizarrely. As well as this he acquires telekinesis and “hex vision”, the ability to emit energy beams from his eyes and set fire to that which he hits.

All holed up in a small cell, Lister, Cat and, Kryten start to go stir-crazy. Even whilst he’s in control of all his faculties, Rimmer decides to play everything by the book, citing his famous space-core directives. He provides only the minimum food, including “sprout surprise” (Lister hates sprouts, which Rimmer knows), and entertainment for them. Rimmer takes great pleasure in seeing them all suffer, and begin to take out their frustrations on one another. After much conflict, which Kryten reports left him having to panel beat his head back into shape, the trio realise that they will have to work together if they are to get through this.

Eventually, things take a more serious turn. Rimmer has now gone fully barmy, and his new persona (including a red, chequered gingham dress and a now infamous hand puppet . . .) wants to kill the crew. They have to escape quarantine and find a way to stop Rimmer, so they can restore him and save themselves in the process. As well as this, understandably,  the crew want to get there own back on Rimmer. They have a method in mind that they find suits things perfectly . . .

 

Back to Reality (Series VI ep. 3)

Frequently voted among viewers as one of the best episodes of the cult show. For a show that’s much more comedy than it is sci-fi (lots of writing in Red Dwarf just relies on events being plot devices, which is absolutely fine, as it’s not a “serious” sci-fi show), there’s some clever writing here. The episode relies on a take of a “dream within a dream”. What really works is that as a viewer, the first time you see it you really don’t know what’s going on. But to the funny bits; perhaps to one of the single most hilarious scenes in the history of the show, certainly for one character . . .

Dwayne Dibbley. Now established, firmly, as a staple character for any fan to know and be able to impersonate. It’s here that he’s “born”. The absolute antithesis of all The Cat is. It’s fair to say that Danny John Jules always played second-fiddle to the endless exchanges of banter between the show’s two central characters, Lister and Rimmer. It’s this episode that he really shows he can compete with them, and ends up stealing the show, and thus creating one of the most memorable recurring characters in the show. Cat’s established as a fully-fledged member of the gang, and you really start to realise that maybe the show could only go so far if it solely focused on two people.

Towards the end of this episode there’s a scene where the crew is shown to be “driving”. They are all hallucinating (under the same impression of reality), and are sat two in front of the other. This is why Red Dwarf works. The physical comedy is just absolute gold, and so immersive. The cast clearly gelled, and all knew that they had tapped into that rare something that money can’t buy: lightning in a bottle. This is Red Dwarf approaching its absolute peak, and achieving greatness through sheer determination and imagination. They believed it was great and funny, and as a result so did we and continue to.

Gunmen of the Apocalypse

In some ways this is the Red Dwarf version of the crew trapped in the holodeck; one similarity is that the safety protocols are off, and the danger is very real. It was perhaps only a matter of time before the show had to do the “western in space” thing. It’s pulled off here with aplomb, and the various characteristics of the crew are transferred to the characters within the simulation. In a nutshell, Rimmer is still a loser; that much seems to be true in almost every incarnation he has.

Kryten has some big moments in this episode and is indeed at the centre of the plot in it. The gang has to rescue him, by convincing him to redeem his dignity. His role is the washed-out Sheriff of a town in the Wild West. We see a complete opposite of all of his usual pomp and regulation following. Really, it’s everything that’s going on beneath Kryten, and a way to show his desire to be human. It’s done by a combination of wonderful writing, great delivery and, sheer slapstick. Again, the combination of charisma and silliness allows you to fully suspend all of your disbelief and just be happy to go along for the ride.

The episode went on to win an International Emmy. There are many clever references in it, which are probably extensions of the writers’ sub-consciousnesses and knowledge of cowboy drama. Quite simply, it works because the characters were absolute prime-material to appear in this type of adventure and only they could get away with combining the genre with the bizarre, the ridiculous. and the downright hilarious. It really goes to show that if you have the right characters and chemistry between them, you can pretty much put them anywhere and do anything with them, and it will still be funny.

And there you have it. Surely the world would be lesser without Mr. Flibble, and the rest of the gang. For any of those people who have never watched Red Dwarf, what a treat you’re in for. For seasoned smeg-heads, well, in these difficult times, you could so much worse than re-watch what are some of the best bits of one of the great comedy shows on a shoe-string to be written. The characters are now legendary and the fandom one of the most enduring and loyal, with many conventions and events taking place. For some the golden days or the best (seasons I-VI), but for others they don’t mind the more recent episodes, either. It’s truly hard to beat Red Dwarf; anyone who says different, well, you can just call them “goal-post head”, and tell them to “smeg-off”.

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