The long going (and on-going) BBC series was first aired in 1988 on BBC 2. The series has had ten series so far (with Back to Earth functioning as Series 9 a mini-series) and stars primarily Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, with Danny John-Joules featuring since the first series and Robert Llewellyn becoming a main cast member from Series 3 onwards. The show has resulted in expanded media including novels and there was even an unsuccessful American version which failed to get past a Pilot episode.
As you know I love anything in which you humans look to the future and imagine how things will be in a few centuries time. There are versions of a Federation of Planets, a post-apocalyptic wasteland, or an idea of the future that is pretty much the same as now except space travel has become as routine as driving across town.
The series follows Dave Lister, the only crew member of the Jupiter Mining Corporation vessel Red Dwarf who survives a lethal radiation leak whilst in stasis and emerges onto a almost deserted ship three million years from Earth…
I’m getting a little ahead of myself so let me reign things in a bit and catch you up on what is going on.
In the first series David “Dave” Lister (Charles) is a “space-bum” who doesn’t shower, lounges around in his bunk eating curry, and is a Third Technician onboard Red Dwarf which is basically the lowest of the low in terms of rank. He constantly butts heads with his assigned roommate and superior officer Second Technician Arnold J. Rimmer (Barrie). The only person that Rimmer is superior to in terms of rank is Lister and the two delight in infuriating one another as they do their duties as chicken soup repair men on the ship.
In The End (the first episode) Lister smuggles his pregnant cat, Frankenstein onto the ship and after refusing to give up the animal to the ship’s captain, he is put into suspended animation for six months…when Lister emerges he finds the ship deserted and is told that the entire crew were killed by a radiation leak and the ship itself is three millions years from Earth, to make things worse the human race are presumed extinct. Thus Lister is the last human left alive in the galaxy. Fortunately for him, Lister is not the only life form on Red Dwarf. It turns out that Lister’s pregnant cat was safely secured in the hold during the radiation leak and her kittens have been breeding down there ever since leading to a humanoid creature that evolved from cats rather than apes (like humans). Holly (the ship’s insane artificial intelligence) has also brought Rimmer back as a hologram in order to keep Lister sane.
The first two series don’t really venture too far from Red Dwarf itself with the majority of episodes involving Lister and Rimmer clashing with one another and the Cat investigating new areas of the ship. Rimmer is made of light so cannot interact with his surroundings in any way, so has hidden the ship’s consignment of cigarettes and will only hand some of them over to Lister if Lister does as Rimmer asks. There are a couple of guest stars in the series, one of which being the only other member of the cat race as all the others abandoned Red Dwarf years ago, and they discover an android named Kryten (who was originally played by David Ross during his debut in Series 2 but was portrayed by Robert Llewellyn in every subsequent appearance) on a crashed ship that becomes a main character from Series 3 onwards.
Essentially the series are self-enclosed episodes as there is no series-theme that links the episodes to one another and it has to be said that up to Series 6, the episodes are varied, creative, very funny and the set pieces are built upon as the show budget got bigger. The four man crew of Red Dwarf encounter a holo-ship which is crewed by an arrogant holographic crew, they travel through time, they are almost erased from existence by a rogue android, end up on a backwards Earth...the list of fantastic episodes just goes on and on…
Personally my favourite episode is Quarantine in Series 5 in which Rimmer contracts a holo-virus that drives him insane and leads to the crew having an especially nasty encounter with a very sinister puppet…
…You know what I was going to show a photo of Rimmer and the puppet but I’d much rather you track the show down to see for yourself…
I cannot honestly recommend the first six series high enough because they were wonderfully creative with a new and original idea every episode…unfortunately by the time the seventh series was being written there were problems behind the scenes.
The first six series of the show were written by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, then Grant left the series to work on other projects and the show suffered massively. The writing lacked the creativity and humour that it had in the past. The seventh series was also damaged by the departure of Chris Barrie who was working on The Brittas Empire at the same time and Red Dwarf just cannot work without the central conflict between Lister and Rimmer. Although Rimmer did return in Series 8 and the subsequent series the show had lost the spark, and more importantly the humour, that it once had.
One of the things that you have to take on board when you watch Red Dwarf is the series continuity. Basically it doesn’t really have one, or if it does, it is pretty much just made up in each series. Lister always wanted to live on Fiji with Kristine Kochanski, Red Dwarf’s navigations officer, have a sheep and a cow and breed horses. In the first few seasons Lister had barely spoken to Kochanski, however, in later seasons the two had once had a relationship which ended because Lister had no focus or direction in life (despite wanting to live on Fiji with her). Initially she was played by Clare Grogan but when Rimmer left in Series 7 an alternate universe Kochanski was brought in to replace him and she was played by Chloe Annett, and Annett just didn’t fit with Craig Charles. You couldn’t ever see the two of them having a relationship…Grogan looked like she could have gotten with Charles’ slobby Lister but Annett was too attractive to be interested in the unwashed space-bum named Dave Lister. In addition in the first two series Red Dwarf had a crew of 163, in later series this number had been raised to 1, 163...just roll with the canon, don't try to follow it, just accept it.
Plus how Rimmer is created also changes depending on the series, in the second series he is able to leave Red Dwarf in a hologram projection cage, but later on it turns out that Rimmer is created using a “light-bee” that buzzes around inside him projecting his image. This light-bee is converted from “soft-light” to “hard-light” in Series 6 which gives Rimmer a physical body for the first time meaning he can interact with objects. However, in Series 7 we see a flashback of Lister and Rimmer on Red Dwarf when Rimmer was in his hard-light form but when they were on Red Dwarf Rimmer hadn’t yet got his hard-light body…
…Basically the gist is…don’t worry about the continuity...
Like I said the first six series were fantastic and whilst there were a few good episodes in Series 7 the show was suffering. The four year gap between Series 6 and Series 7 didn’t help and whilst it was only two years later that Series 8 was broadcast, it was ultimately pretty forgettable. It also ended on a cliff-hanger that was not answered in the 2009 revival of the show Back to Earth. The show received an official Series X in 2012 and whilst it had a few decent gags in it, the show just doesn’t have the laughs that it used to.
The show’s first series and second series were aired in 1988 and Series X was aired in 2012, my problem with continuing this series was the fact that Rimmer and Kryten are a hologram and android respectively. Neither of these characters should age but naturally the actors that play them do, so Barrie and Llewellyn look older than they did before, and this is when I really started to question why the series was still going. Actors like David Boreanaz or Brent Spiner who portray immortal or ageless characters Angel in Buffy or Data in Star Trek The Next Generation generally accept that there is a five year window in which they can still convincingly reprise the role as that character. Any longer than that and they have physically changed. This happened in Underworld Awakening when Kate Beckinsale returned as Salene and looked older than she did in Underworld Evolution, so she cannot convince an audience the character hasn’t aged. This is the same problem with Rimmer and Kryten. I like continuity as you know and I find it very distracting when I am seeing an aged Rimmer or Kryten considering neither character should have aged.
I think that Red Dwarf is a classic case of a show that should have ended and as of yet is still limping on…when the partnership between Grant and Naylor ended, the show should have ended, yes it would have ended on a cliff-hanger but why not leave it on that cliff-hanger??
Think about it…That results in fan theories, novels, and speculation on what might have happened following Rimmer (uncharacteristically heroically) lasering the Time Drive to prevent the crew’s Future-Selves from getting their hands on it. That could have been really cool and could have become TV legend, one of those mysteries that will never be solved, because now we just have a weak conclusion and continuation of a series that should have ended in its prime.
If I had been basing my Thumb rating on the first six series then it would have been about as firmly Up as it could go, unfortunately, I am looking at the show as a whole and not in part, and I cannot deny that the show lost so much when the Grant and Naylor partnership broke up. But the cast are obviously still trying and the fact that they have all gone on to other things and yet still return to reprise these characters shows how much affection they still have for them, unfortunately, with weak writing and laughs that aren’t what they once were I have to mark it down. I cannot bring myself to give post-Series 6 seasons a Thumbs Down but when you look at the strong start and the steady decline…you know what…screw it…overall Red Dwarf is keeping my Thumb twitching between Up and Down, so I’ll give it an average rating leaving my Thumb Horizontal.
6/10 - If the show had finished with Series 6 I’d have given it a 8/10 rating (no higher because it would have ended on an unresolved cliff-hanger) but a Thumbs Up regardless. Yes I’d probably be sitting here bitching about the cliff-hanger ending but I couldn’t have denied that the show was creative, funny, and so on…sadly I am taking the good and the bad into account here. Red Dwarf is a show that should have ended years ago, and yet it continues going, perhaps the next series will be epic and will finally lead to the show coming to a satisfying end but I am not holding my breath.