It’s smegging back!!!
A proper British institution, the longest running sci-fi sitcom of all time kicks off its 11th run on Thursday 22nd September , a whopping 28 years after it debuted on our small screens in 1988. If you are a lifelong “Dwarfer” like me, then you can see each episode one week earlier on UKTV Play for free; rejoice!
Actually, Space Core Directive 2971843 does says that this is the greatest TV comedy show ever and those who disagree will have all toilet privileges revoked!
The brainchild of Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, Red Dwarf was born from the Dave Hollins: Space Cadet radio sketch from the duos popular BBC Radio 4 series Son of Cliché that ran for two series in 1983 & 1984. Drawing inspiration from the 70’s sci-fi boom, with films such as Dark Star (1974), Alien (1979) and Silent Running (1972) along with the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy TV series, Grant Naylor (the production company Rob and Doug created) used their experience as writers working on the quintessential Spitting Image to create a sci-fi sitcom peppered with typical British wit, satire and slapstick.
While the pilot episode was written in 1983, it took three years of constant rejection by execs, who didn’t think a sci-fi sitcom would work, before being picked up by BBC North in 1985. Production issues such as an electricians strike almost derailed the show before it started, but it eventually made it, with “The End” kicking off the journey on 15th February 1988.
And the rest, they say, is history.
A total of 61 episodes have been broadcast over the BBC and new custodians Dave, which have followed the misadventures of the “Boys from the Dwarf.” As we eagerly await the return of Lister, Rimmer, Cat & Kryten for brand new hilarious situations, we at Thats Not Current decided to celebrate this wondrous occasion with a listicle: presenting…
The Top 10 Smegging Best Episodes of Red Dwarf Ever!
(*subject to change as will no doubt change my mind 10 minutes after it’s posted)
10 – Lemons (Series X: Episode 3 / 18th October 2012)
Arriving 13 years after the last full series (“Back to Earth” special aside), the first two episodes of Series X (“Trojans” and “Father and Suns”) were both a return to form after the troublesome Series VII & VIII. But the pinnacle of series arrived with the third episode “Lemons”. It follows a quest to find an 8 volt battery in the year 23 AD, with Rimmer remembering an old lesson from school about how a lemon can make a battery. Trouble is, they are in Britain and in 23 AD lemons only existed in India, 4000 miles away. Upon arrival, the dwarfers meet a man name Jesus, and assuming him to be Christ himself, take him back to Red Dwarf to escape the Romans. Upon learning of all the war that will be waged in his name, Jesus decided to revolt and campaigns against the Ten Commandments upon his return to his time. However, it turns out to be a case of mistaking identity as the real Jesus arrives in India.
With a satire rich calamitous adventure driven by a clever and witty script, “Lemons” ticked all the boxes and truly signalled a return to form that the previous two episodes had hinted at. The series climaxed in “The Beginning”, which was yet another superb episode leaving fans salivating for the past four years as we await Series XI: Episode 1 “Twentica” arriving.
9 – Tikka to Ride (Series VII: Episode 1 / 17th January 1997)
While there is little denying Series VII was a drop in standard from the previous six, much of this can be attributed to dramatic production changes – Rob Grant leaving, more affordable SFX available, more emphasis on soundtrack, switch to single camera and no longer filmed in front of a studio audience. However, there is no denying that the debut episode in Series VII is some of the finest writing in the history of the show. This was the first taste of the slick, modern looking Red Dwarf with a budget and is arguably one of the most visually impressive episodes.
In his desperation to resupply Starbug’s destroyed curry supplies following the temporal paradox created in the Series VI finale “Out of Time”, Lister campaigns to re-retrieve the time drive and go back in time and order 500 curries to go. He swaps out Kryten’s heads, removing his guilt chip, in order to help gain support for his plan. The dwarfers find themselves in Dallas, Texas on the 22nd November 1963, inadvertently preventing JFK’s assassination. Quickly escaping the FBI by using the time drive, they arrive three years in the future to find a derelict and vastly different America due to JFK surviving and the Cuban Missile Crisis escalating out of hand. They eventually convince the impeached JFK from this future to travel back in time with them and assassinate himself from the grassy knoll –birthing a well known JFK conspiracy.
8 – Dimension Jump (Series IV: Episode 5 / 14th Match 1991)
The inaugural appearance of Ace Rimmer (What a guy!) makes it to my number eight spot. Polar opposite of the goalposts heads Arnold Judas Rimmer we are used to on Red Dwarf, Ace is a space corps test pilot in a parallel dimension. Heavy on the parody of Top Gun, with a similar slick soundtrack, Ace is quickly established as a heroic, charming, intelligent and popular icon. Arriving in the dwarfers dimension, he accidentally collides with Starbug forcing them to crash on the water planet they were heading to for a fishing trip. Ace comes to the rescue, repairing the ship and performing surgery on the wounded Cat. Rimmer takes an immediate dislike to him, while Lister and Ace bond.
It allowed the regular cast to play different roles, with Craig Charles playing Spanners, Danny John-Jules playing a Padre, Robert Llewellyn playing commander Bongo and Hattie Hayridge playing Mellie – appearing on screen as more than a head for the first time. The episode came about following Chris Barrie’s pleas to Rob Grant and Doug Naylor to allow him to play something more heroic, suffering from a “git overload” with his parts of Rimmer and Gordon Brittas in the Brittas Empire. It’s an episode that really showcased the talent the show had, and is a wonderful take on the parallel dimension theory. “Dimension Jump” not only gave us a legendary character in Ace, it gave us iconic lines that would appear on countless T-shirts: “Smoke me a kipper; I’ll be back for breakfast!”
7 – Quegg (Series II: Episode 5 / 4th October 1988)
The first episode to focus heavily on Red Dwarfs senile computer Holly, “Quegg” is a classic Red Dwarf episode making the most of the budget restraints and limited sets to provide a new adventure. Following a rapid increase in mistakes including the ship being hit by a meteor, Red Dwarfs’ back up computer, Queeg 500, powers up and assumes control following Holly’s negligence endangering the crew. While the dwarfers welcome the more efficient and intelligent Queeg, they quickly change their mind when he brings in stricter, by the book rules including making Lister and Cat work to earn their food, and the aggressive exercise program Rimmer is put on.
With them finally realising how good they had it under the occasional misfiring computer, the crew beg Holly (now a watchman rolling about the ship as a portable TV unit) to fight to retake control. Challenging Queeg to a game of Chess, Holly is easily disposed and set for permanent deletion by the totalitarian AI. Distraught, the gang say their goodbyes to Holly who disappears from the screen only to reappear a few moments later – he was Quegg all the time! He conceived this prank to demonstrate how lucky they are to have him and how underappreciated he is.
And the reason this episode works so well is it really turns Holly into the 4th dwarfer (prior to the arrival of Kryten). Despite having some of the best lines in the series to this point, this was the first episode to really centre on Red Dwarf’s Tenth Generation AI Hologrammatic Computer.
6 – Better Than Life (Series II: Episode 2 / 13th September 1988)
“Better Than Life” signals Red Dwarfs first ever location shoot, removing the action from on board the six mile long Jupiter Mining Corporation ship. This is explained through the arrival of the three million years late postal pod that contains a large tax bill for Rimmer, a letter from his mother to inform him his “father is dad” (dead) and a copy of the latest immersive video game, “Better Than Life”. In the game, every player’s fantasies and dreams become reality and we see the three dwarfers live out their wildest dreams: the Cat with his mermaid girlfriend (top half fish, bottom half woman); a filthy rich Lister living the high life dining out on caviar vindaloo; and Rimmer as an Admiral in the Space Crops. However, the depraved negative mind of Arnold Judas Rimmer soon intervenes turning the trio’s dreams into a nightmare.
The end result is one of the best examples of Red Dwarf doing what it does best, with the hapless crew even managing to ruin something that grants your every wish. A few archetypal moments are found in this episode, such as the “dogs’ milk skit”, and this was one of the first episodes to dig deeper into the Rimmer character and his inherent neurosis. The budget restraints Red Dwarf was under is very evident in this episode, but it still delivers with a bang. The expanded idea behind the episode became the basis for the second Red Dwarf novel written by Grant Naylor.
5 – Qurantine (Series V: Episode 4 / 12th March 1992)
Kicking of the top half of my list is the episode that introduced the luck virus that would be a vital plot component in a few future episodes of the show. “Quarantine” sees the dwarfers pick up a distress signal from Dr Hildegard Lanstrom which they investigate. Upon discovering that Lanstrom is a hologram, Rimmer has to remain behind as Holly can only sustain one hologram at a time. However, Lister, Kryten and Cat soon discover that Landtrom is suffering from a holo-virus that has caused her to descend into homicidal insanity. After surviving by the skin of their teeth after Landstrom succumbs to the holo-virus, they return to Red Dwarf where Rimmer has decided to place them in quarantine for three months as per Space Core Directive 595. In the following days as the Cat, Lister and Kryten really struggle to cope and Rimmer has contracted the holo-virus and descends into madness, wearing a red and white checked gingham dress and adopting Mr. Fibble (a penguin sock puppet) as his sidekick. Using the luck virus, the quarantined crew manages to escape and subdue Rimmer before the virus kills him.
“Quarantine” is one of the very best examples of how sci-fi and comedy have been blended together in Red Dwarf. While Space Corp directives had enter the show earlier, this was the first time Rimmer got his hand on the manual and his literally interpretation of the meanings led to some great scenes in the quarantine section. The tension of being stranded in deep space is a very prominent theme, with the excitement of discovering another person and the tension of being shacked up with each other laid bare for the comedy to exploit.
4 – Polymorph (Series III: Episode 3 / 218th November 1989)
Arguably one of the funniest episodes of Red Dwarf ever made, “Polymorph” sees a genetically-engineered, shape-shifting, emotion-feeding mutant board the ship. Through a series of bizarre events and many shape shifts, the polymorph manages to feed on Lister’s fear, the Cat’s vanity, Krysten’s guilt, and Rimmer’s anger. The altered crew must fight off the polymorph before it comes back for seconds, with Rimmer planning a major (and I mean major) leaflet campaign; Lister wanting to tackle it head on, even if he gets killed in the process; Kryten looking to betray the others to save himself; and the Cat just sitting getting drunk as he is not worthy of an opinion. Ultimately, pure luck shines on them as they accidentally destroy the polymorph and are restored to their normal selves.
Paying homage to Ridley Scott’s Alien through parody, the episode was a perfect platform for the talented crew to flex their comedic muscles, thanks to the opportunity to play alterations of their characters – and not for the first time. The shrinking boxer-shorts scene is widely regarded as one of the funniest bits of slapstick in the whole franchise, with the reaction of the live studio audience famously causing complications in the filming and editing process. So successful was the Polymorph creature, it would make a return in Series VI’s “Emohawk: Polymorph II”.
3 – Backwards (Series III: Episode 1 / 14th November 1989)
Probably the most ingenious writing in the history of Red Dwarf, the Series III opener was pushing the possibilities of the show into uncharted territory. Not only does this episode mark the debut of Robert Llewellyn’s Kryten and Hattie Hayridge’s Holly, but it is also the first appearance of Starbug. Series III signalled a revolution in Red Dwarf; higher budget and production values, more creative control for Grant Naylor, Alien set designer Mel Bibby joining the team, new wardrobe designer and the introduction of new credits and logo. This episode was the point many argue its cult status was cemented as it branched out more to the mainstream.
Later becoming the basis for the debut Grant Naylor novel, this story of “Backwards” opens with the Cat and Lister famously discussing Wilma Flintstone while Rimmer puts Kryten through his pilots test aboard Starbug. The later two manage to travel through a time hole, crash landing on an Earth-like planet. They discover the planet they are on is Earth in an alternative reality where time runs backwards and they use their “forwardness” to their advantage, becoming a cabaret act. Having spent weeks searching for their missing mates, Lister and Cat find the time hole and track down ‘The Famous Reverse Brothers’ in the backward world, getting caught up in a hilarious “barroom tidy” and collectively they decide they cannot stay on backward Earth and head back home – stopping so Cat can relieve himself in the bushes, forgetting the brutal reality of being in a backwards world.
2 – Gunmen of the Apocalypse (Series VI: Episode 3 / 21st October 1993)
No one involved in Red Dwarf could have ever imagined that it could ever win a prestigious Emmy award – but that’s exactly what “Gunmen of the Apocalypse” did, scooping the 1994 International Emmy Award. Bringing the western genre into a sci-fi sitcom was a bold move, but the end result is one of the most instantly recognisable and beloved Red Dwarf episodes ever.
Following Starbug straying into rogue stimulant space, the ship is upgraded with armour and weapons by the xenophobic murderous mechanoids to create “good sport” for their forthcoming destruction. By sheer fluke, Starbug manages to cripple the stimulant ship, but their commander manages to transmit the “Apocalypse” virus into Starbug’s navigation computer, sending them straight for a volcanic moon. Kryten infects himself with the virus in the hopes of finding a cure. Using Lister’s artificial reality gaming machine, the other dwarfers are able to plug in to Kryten’s dreams and help him fight the virus. There he is the sheriff of the Wild West town of Existence and is being hounded out of town by the Apocalypse boys. Using game enabled special abilities, the crew are able to help the drunken bum Kryten remember his purpose, and buy him time to fight it off, escaping the volcanic moon with seconds to spare.
The production values, the script, the humour, the acting, the soundtrack, the costumes, and the action scenes are all absolutely on point delivering a perfect hybrid of the three genres. It’s not only iconic Red Dwarf at its very best, but its first class TV by anyone’s standards, managing to cram so much action and adventure into 30mins.
1 – Back to Reality (Series V: Episode 6 / 26th March 1992)
While the top ten on this list is very likely to chop and change depending on my mood, “Back to Reality” is very unlikely to ever be dislodged from the top spot. It is simply my favourite ever Red Dwarf episode. Ticks every single box with ease.
Aboard Starbug, the dwarfers explore the wreckage of SSS Esperanto in a ocean covered moon. Discovering all on board had committed suicide – even a haddock – the gang learn the cause is down to a hallucinogenic toxin. Before they can escape, the gigantic despair squid appears forcing Starbug to crash and explode. Suddenly, the four crew awake to find they have been playing ‘Red Dwarf – The Total Immersion Video Game’ for the past four years, and playing it exceedingly badly, missing out on many “obvious” puzzles. With their own memories yet to return, the crew learn their “real” identities; Kryten is a half-human traffic cop called Jake Bullet; Rimmer is Billy Doyle, a tramp and half brother to Lister who is Sebastian Doyle, leader of a secret police force in a fascist state; and finally, the Cat is the legendary duke of dork Duane Dibbley. While Kryten is the only member satisfied with his real existence, he joins the rest in utter despair after he takes a human life to save a young girl, and they all plot to commit a group suicide. Before they can, Holly manages to break through to the crew and bring them truly back to reality, with the squid being responsible for their hallucinations and drive to suicide, just like the SSS Esperanto’s crew.
It was superbly well produced, incredibly well written and gave the talented cast more opportunity to explore different takes on their characters through an incredibly funny and engaging adventure. Arguably, it was also saw Red Dwarf reach their absolute peak; a crescendo built over the previous four series that resulted in, for me, the definitive Red Dwarf series. Following “Holoship”, “The Inquisitor”, “Terrorform”, “Quarantine” and “Angels and Demons”, “Back to Reality” ensured that Series V will always be regarded as my personal favourite run.
As I have said, this list will chop and change so often as narrowing Red Dwarf down to ten is like having to pick your favourite child. With maybe only the top three listed guaranteed to be constant, I think it’s only fair to mention those very much considered. I started with a list of 26 episodes that had a worthy claim to this list and narrowing it down actually caused me sleepless nights. Special mention to “Future Echoes”, “Parallel Universe”, “Marooned”, “White Hole”, “Angels and Demons”, “Out of Time”, “Stoke Me a Clipper”, “Krytie TV” and “Fathers and Suns” (thats me mentioning one episode per series which was also bloody nails!)
Either way, I simple cannot wait for more Red Dwarf adventures! Series XII has already been commissioned to follow the upcoming series and its all music to my ears; without any shadow of a doubt this is my favourite sitcom of all time!
So where did I go wrong? What would make your top 10 episodes?
And stay tuned to That’s Not Current as we will have more Red Dwarf features between now and the terrestrial broadcast next Thursday!
Catch Red Dwarf Series XI today on UKTV Play!