In 1988, something happened to British television. A comedy show, posing in a sci-fi outfit debuted on BBC2. 30 Years later, Red Dwarf is still going, albeit now on Dave not BBC2, continues to bring its unique blend of humour, charm and sci-fi action to audiences old and new. It is the definition of a cult classic. In the early days, it had an odd couple feel about it. Set on the Jupiter Corps Mining Vessel Red Dwarf, the main characters are Dave Lister (Craig Charles) and Arnold Rimmer (Chris Barrie). Two technicians aboard Red Dwarf who’s duties include, but are not limited too, fixing the vending machines so the chicken soup is at least partly edible.
When a radiation leak from the drive plating (which Rimmer didn’t fix properly) wipes out the crew whilst Lister is safe and sound in stasis after being sent there for not giving up his cat, Frankenstein, which he had illegally brought on board, Lister is awoken by the ship’s automated computer, Holly (Norman Lovett) after 3 million years. He finds Rimmer is now a hologram, resurrected by Holly to keep Lister company and the only other living thing on board is the evolved descendant of Frankenstein, Cat (Danny John Jules).
Over 12 series, we followed the crew, with the addition of service mechanoid Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) and a replacement Holly for a few years, on several adventures ranging from fighting a war on a wax planet, getting trapped in a VR game playing outlaws and encountering Rimmer’s dashing parallel universe alter ego, Ace Rimmer.
It was a brilliant mix of great cast chemistry and excellent writing from Rob Grant and Doug Naylor. Most of the episodes are excellent (my favourites are around series 3-6) however there are a few stinkers, coming around the series 7-10 mark.
To give you a flavour of what I think made Red Dwarf so good, I’m going to list a few of my favourite episodes:-
Back to Reality (Season 5, Episode 6)
When our intrepid crew discover the Ocean vessel Esparanto, they find the crew have all committed suicide. Later, the boys from the dwarf are attacked by “The Despair Squid” and are killed, only to wake up and find that they were different people who were only playing characters in a fully immersive video game called “Red Dwarf”. It’s all an illusion of course with the ink from the despair squid causing them to almost bump themselves off this mortal coil in the most comical way (dart gun to 4 heads at once, anyone?). It also gives us one of the funniest characters in Dwarf lore, Duane Dibbley. The “real life” persona of Cat, Duane has all the style sense of a trainspotter and a passion for wearing sandals and socks together. This episode is hard to beat as a prime example of why Red Dwarf is so special. Immaculate, slick sci-fi style stories with tons of comedy and memorable lines galore. “What the hell happened to my teeth!? I can open beer bottles with my overbite!!”
Quarantine (Season 5, Episode 4)
After visiting a research station on an ice planet, Rimmer is infected with a lethal “holo-virus” which sends him even more bat shit crazy than he normally is. He imprisons the other three in a quarantine cell, designed only for one crew member, since Kryten is not part of the original crew and neither is Cat. Growing more and more insane and consulting his penguin hand puppet, Mr Flibble, he drives them to the edge of despair and they start to turn on each other. Through the intervention of a luck virus, they escape and trap Rimmer in the cell, getting their revenge in the same way. The sight of Chris Barrie in a Gingham dress and combat boots talking to a toy penguin is enough to make this a top episode but on top of that it gave us license to walk around with your mates, shaking your hands in front of you whilst saying “boys from the Dwarf!!”. No, just me? OK then, moving swiftly on…
Gunmen of the Apocalypse (Season 6, Episode 3)
Whilst Starbug navigates a Simulant hunting zone on silent running, they encounter a Simulant ship which infects them with a computer virus. It set the ship on a course to crash into a sun. To combat the virus, Kryten tries to create an anti-virus. To help, the rest of the crew enter a VR machine which is linked to Kryten’s subconscious, displaying his struggle with the virus as a western. They face off against the virus, manifesting itself as a gang of outlaws. To match up, they play characters with special skills which starts out brilliantly until the virus starts withering their skills. When that happens, it’s all down to Kryten to get himself together before the virus wins and they all die. It’s an excellent episode that really plays well in the western scenes especially. The look of shock on Rimmer’s face as he realises he’s challenged someone to a fist fight and he’s just the yellow bellied wimp he’s always been is priceless!
Those are three of my favourite episodes. Let us know which ones you like in the comments below!