The Good Dwarf Guide
Welcome to the Good Dwarf Guide, an episode guide to the first six series of Red Dwarf. Goodies include synopses, comments, blooper lists and random thoughts that cross my mind.
So What’s It All About, Then?
You presumably have some nodding acquaintance with the show, otherwise what are you wasting your time on this for? However, for the sake of pedantry, Red Dwarf is the story of Dave Lister, who’s the last human being left alive. Lister’s workmates, the crew of the mining ship Red Dwarf, were killed in an accident while Lister was in stasis, and Lister was automatically reawakened when it was safe to emerge - three million years later.
Lister’s the only human, but is he all alone? Well, more or less. His companions include, at different times, some or all of the following: Rimmer, a hologram of a dead crew member and a smeghead of the first water; the Cat, a member of the species Felis Sapiens which evolved from Lister’s cat; Holly, Red Dwarf’s increasingly eccentric computer with an IQ which started at 6000 but is rapidly declining; and Kryten, an obsolete mechanoid with a butler complex. The adventures of this ill-assorted bunch are traced over six series (at least, the only six that count) of six episodes each.
So It’s A Comedy, Then? Or What?
By stretching, yanking and twisting the category "situation comedy", you could probably manage to stuff Red Dwarf in there somehow. However, it’s galaxies away from the cornflake-IQ pap often dished up under that name. The science fiction setting is appealing and allows a great deal of plot flexibility, but the beauty of Red Dwarf is that, like all great comedy, it transcends its setting: in fact, the best of the humour comes from the development of the characters.
The show changes quite markedly in style over the series. From a claustrophobic first two series done on a budget which appears to consist of what the producer could dig out of the backs of sofas, the show opens out from series III to include such refinements as fancy location shoots, yer actual costume changes, and increasingly whizzier special effects which are a tribute to the advances in computers during this period.
The impressiveness of the budget in later series is a relative term: given the notorious stinginess of the BBC, the budget of even the most expensive Red Dwarf episode would cause a US producer to drop his cellphone. But even bearing this in mind, while the increased budget allows some very attractive frills, the show maintains its interest series after series because of the strength of the characters.
Why Is It So Bloody Good?
As well as the all-important strength of the characters, one of the chief things that makes Red Dwarf so phenomenal is that it’s unique. While it draws on both science fiction and comedy traditions, the resulting combination is an entirely fresh take on both fields.
Although Red Dwarf is unmistakably science fiction, it’s very different from most science fiction programmes. For a start, it’s light years away from the American big-budget slick dramas such as the Star Trek series and "Babylon 5". Things are broken down, supplies are short, the android’s a toilet attendant and the computer controlling the whole shebang has an advanced case of senility. Furthermore, instead of a crack crew of space adventurers, Red Dwarf has a crew terminally technologically baffled, with enough character flaws to keep a psychiatrist in mink-upholstered Porsche Carreras.
Okay, generally speaking British programmes are different from American ones on this level anyway, but Red Dwarf also distinguishes itself from other British science fiction: while sometimes affectionate tributes to its predecessors can be spotted, Red Dwarf steers clear from direct parody. Although the budget is limited, the show nevertheless has a credible look, particularly in later series, and avoids the "Blake’s 7" example of what horror can result on a constrained budget.
While science fiction is half of the Red Dwarf equation, comedy, is, of course, the other half. Red Dwarf is grounded in the splendid British tradition of an all-male ensemble of eccentrics and losers, past examples of this including "Dad’s Army", "Porridge", "It Ain’t Half Hot Mum" and "Only Fools and Horses". While a lot of Red Dwarf’s humour is character-based, some of it also draws from the English tradition of situation-based sight gags and broad gross-out humour.
The balance between science fiction and comedy and also between character-driven and situation-driven humour changes over the series: series I to IV are tilted in favour of comedy over the science fiction side of things, and the humour is very much character-driven. In series V, the balance tips slightly more towards science fiction, but the humour stays in the main firmly based in the characters. In series VI, the show tilts a little more towards science fiction, and the humour shifts in emphasis towards situation-based and sight gags.
Science fiction and comedy is a risky combination, which is probably why science fiction comedies are as rare as the Anatolian lesser spotted mongoose. The only other show even remotely like Red Dwarf is the "Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy" series, and because the humour in that series tends to be situation based rather than character driven, it doesn’t come anywhere near the calibre of Red Dwarf.
Red Dwarf takes the normally mutually exclusive concepts of science fiction and humour and melds them together brilliantly. The programme succeeds for many reasons: the avoidance of direct parody keeps it fresh; original ideas continue to be explored, which makes it consistently interesting; some serious concepts are examined amongst the light relief, which gives the thing some depth. And most important of all, the strong character development paves the way not only for seriously hilarious humour but also for a darker underside which lifts the programme way out of the category of ordinary situation comedy.
Is It Perfect?
Nah. It can be wildly uneven in tone. Continuity is dodgy at best. Not all the comedy works. But it’s pretty damned good.
A Brief Obeisance At The Shrine
No-one could mention Red Dwarf without mentioning the name of Grant Naylor, an amorphous life form made up of Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, the creators, writers, and (sometimes) producers and directors of the show. Grant Naylor also wrote, both separately and together, the Red Dwarf novels. Yep, they were in it up to their elbows: Red Dwarf is their creation and their vision. We owe the magnificence that is Red Dwarf to them, and what more is there to say? - except thanks a million, guys, and I wish I could write like you, you buggers.
From series VII, Rob Grant is no longer directly involved in the creation of Red Dwarf, which is handled from that point by Doug Naylor. That's the point at which, sadly, it turns to crap.
Grant Naylor clearly had misspent youths, and misspent adulthoods too, by the look of it. Hours which should have been devoted to improving activities were instead frittered away in front of the TV and in the cinema, and they obviously draw on (I’m too polite to say "steal from") this heritage in Red Dwarf. The science fiction canon comes in particularly handy, obvious influences being "Star Trek", "Captain Scarlet", "Thunderbirds", "Space 1999", "Forbidden Planet", the "Alien" films, "Dark Star", "Westworld", "Star Wars" and "Robocop". Other films also make their presence felt, and these include "Casablanca", "Psycho", "Mutiny on the Bounty", "High Noon", "The Caine Mutiny", "Die Hard II", "Citizen Kane", "Top Gun", "An Officer And A Gentleman", "Gumshoe" and "Ghostbusters". A case could also be made for the influence of "Terminator", "Blade Runner", "Silent Running", "Lost In Space", "Blake’s 7", "Time Tunnel", "Monty Python", "Fawlty Towers", "Keeping Up Appearances", "The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy"...
However, despite the influence on the programme of what has gone before, one of Red Dwarf’s great strengths is that Grant Naylor manage in the main to avoid trotting out a string of science fiction clichés, and in addition keep away from the parody trap. Avoiding parody is very difficult in a show of this type, where the temptation to send up the classics of the genre must be at times well-nigh irresistible. There are certainly isolated bits of parody in Red Dwarf - some situations, costumes, props and even some lines of dialogue are direct lifts. In addition, science fiction concepts familiar from other settings sometimes make an appearance in Red Dwarf, particularly in later series.
However, the show never descends into a tired rehash of other people’s ideas: instead, the restrained use of parody and science fiction references adds a highly enjoyable satiric bite which doesn’t overwhelm the show’s originality. In fact, one of Red Dwarf’s strong points is the number of original science fiction ideas that Grant Naylor manage to come up with during the series.
Red Dwarf is the quintessential ensemble piece, so there’s no one "star". However, in the sense that it’s about anyone, I guess you’d have to say that, at least originally, it was about Dave Lister. This is because he’s human, and as Gene Roddenberry knew, we identify with those who are like ourselves. In other words, cats, holograms and androids do not make up a sizeable percentage of the viewing audience.
However, while the plight of Lister as the last human left alive was the hook on which the series first hung, this faded in importance as the show gathered its own momentum. The show relies heavily on the development and interaction of the characters for its success, and so while some characters are used more than others, all have a critical part to play.
Did Grant Naylor originally plan Lister to be the focus of the show? I haven’t got a clue, but my guess is that he was originally intended to be more central than he eventually ended up, and that the strength of the ensemble took on a life of its own which surprised everyone.
None of the original core of characters were "actohrs" when they were cast: this was a massive punt which came off brilliantly, and it’s now impossible to imagine anyone else in these roles or to conceive of anyone doing it better.
Lister is your classic working class hero, a self-confessed space bum and underachiever, and a Good Guy™. Lister’s not the type to suffer from a stress-related nervous disorder: he’s so laid back he’s practically horizontal, his definition of nirvana revolving around scoffing vindaloo and watching the London Jets zero gravity football team.
He’s a megaslob with the ambition of a box of tissues, but despite his unfortunate personal grooming habits, he’s a pretty nice human being. Lister cares about the welfare of the other crew members - he indulges the Cat and helps Kryten break free from his programming. Lister’s reaction to Rimmer isn’t always so benign, but then, Rimmer would cause even a saint to grind his teeth. Lister often feels compassion for Rimmer’s pathetic plight, and even when he acts against Rimmer, it’s not done out of a sense of active malice, but rather out of frustration at Rimmer’s irremediable smegheadedness.
As well as being a nice guy, Lister’s also a genuinely moral man. This comes out again and again over the series: he’s against killing anything unless absolutely necessary, and even then he’s for carrying it out in an honourable way. He’ll look first for a nonviolent solution to a problem wherever possible. His philosophy is one of tolerance and respect for others, even if one of the others is Rimmer.
Lister’s goodness is there from the word go, and is also continually strengthened over the series. This particular aspect of his character is most highlighted in "Back To Reality", where, as Kryten explains, Lister’s apparent discovery that he is a totalitarian dictator responsible for death and misery goes sufficiently against the grain of his real character to drive him to suicide.
Lister’s situation as the last human being alive is the source of considerable pathos at the beginning of the series. However, as time goes by the emphasis on this falls away and Lister becomes reasonably adjusted to his situation. Lister’s character matures over the series, as he goes from a totally carefree megaslob at the beginning to the responsible linchpin of the team in full hero mode by series VI. (He’s still a megaslob, though, needless to add.)
Craig Charles, whose pre-Dwarf background was in performance poetry and stand-up comedy, is perfectly cast as Lister. My suspicion is that the character isn’t too far away from his real persona: certainly he struggles a little with roles that move him away from this, such as the noir detective in "Gunmen of the Apocalypse" (although, to be fair, he was playing Lister playing a detective in that episode, and I somehow doubt that Lister could ever be mistaken for Laurence Olivier).
He has a natural comic flair and sense of timing, and his Scouse accent gives him a head start in extracting the maximum risibility from his lines. In some ways he has less to work with than the rest of the cast, since it tends to be flaws rather than virtues that present comic opportunities. He’s therefore battling under the "nice guy" handicap, which makes the strength of his performance as Lister even more of a triumph.
Incidentally, Lister appears to be involved in more than his fair share of falling out of bunks, diving through exploding walls and that sort of thing, which means that Craig Charles is either a trained stuntman or a complete moron.
In contrast to the easygoing Lister, Rimmer, played by Chris Barrie, is a lower middle class striver and a mass of neuroses. Fiercely ambitious but without discernible talent, Rimmer blames his lack of success in every area of his life on his parents and the lack of opportunities he had while growing up.
Anything or anybody else he can point the finger at is also fair game, including Lister’s going into stasis (so nobody was there to help Rimmer fix the drive plate) and the lack of instruction during Basic Training about the proper temperature of gazpacho soup. He’s a physical coward with a well-nourished sense of self-preservation and the social skills of a backward twelve-year old. He has a nauseating respect for authority and knows that the point of having power is abusing it. It goes without saying that he went to boarding school.
While Lister’s particular shtick is that he’s the last human alive, Rimmer’s is that he’s, well, an ex-second technician. Not to put too fine a point upon it, he’s dead, Jim. Being a hologram has certain drawbacks, one of them being that he can’t touch anything . The physical properties of a hologram are a little murky: Rimmer begins by being projected by the ship’s computer, but later we’re told he’s powered by a light bee. Although composed of light, Rimmer’s able to smell some things, hurt himself, get drunk, and be affected by mood stabilisers. We also, for some reason unable to be explained by the laws of physics, hear his footfalls wherever he goes.
Rimmer’s plight as a hologram gives lots of scope for comic situations initially, but as the series wear on it’s clear Grant Naylor begin to feel boxed in by this restriction: in series V there are no less than three episodes where he temporarily gets a body, and in series VI they throw in the towel and give him a hard light drive.
Rimmer starts off without a single redeeming feature, and Grant Naylor leave no room for error: Rimmer’s smeggishness goes right to the core. But despite this, even in the first two series where Rimmer’s character is drawn with broader brush strokes than later, pathos creeps in. In fact, at times it rushes in like a tidal wave, which contributes to some lurches in tone.
While Rimmer is speedy to blame all his misfortunes on others, he knows in his heart that he’s fundamentally an unlovable, sad, pathetic, lonely git. In six series, we never see Rimmer laugh. Smirk, yes, preferably at someone else’s misfortunes, but his psyche never untwists itself enough, even for a moment, to allow him simple uncomplicated laughter. When Rimmer’s vulnerabilities slip out from behind the blustering exterior, you can’t help but pity him, even if you hate yourself for it. The odd thing is that he’s not more loveable as a result; less, if anything. Peering into his tortured soul would make a Samaritan vomit.
Part of Rimmer’s essential Rimmerishness is his spectacular lack of success with women. Rimmer’s attitude to women is, to say the least, complicated. While deep in his heart he yearns to love and be loved, he’s too afraid of intimacy for this ever to have a ghost’s chance of happening. Lister says it best when he comments that Rimmer sees women as an alien species to be conquered through trickery - Rimmer’s happiest when trying to hypnotise a potential victim. Rimmer’s only comfortable dealing with women when he can objectify them, and if there’s any danger of him actually having to talk to one as a real person, he’s totally out of his depth.
Rimmer’s fear of intimacy stems first from his appalling relationship with his mother, who taught him lessons in rejection, manipulation and guilt that he’ll remember for a lifetime and a deathtime. Secondly, it stems from his own self-loathing: he’s afraid that if he ever lets a woman get close enough to him to get to know the "real" him, she’ll be disgusted and repulsed. (And who are we to argue with him?) That’s why the only woman who ever sees the potential in Rimmer to be something other than a smeghead has the name "Nirvanah".
Some cataclysm of unknown (to me) dimensions occurred between series II and III of Red Dwarf, and Rimmer’s character did not escape it. The change in him from series III onwards is startling. During the first two series, Chris Barrie portrays Rimmer using a range of nonverbal markers: he bounces up and down on his toes, crosses his arms, and maintains an exaggeratedly military posture. He also develops the characteristic smirk which follows all of Rimmer’s more self-satisfied utterances.
However, in series III, Chris Barrie throttles back on the exaggerated mannerisms and tones down the entire character, lending subtlety to what had previously been broad comedy. Yes, of course he’s still a smeghead. Need you ask? But despite being congenitally unable to pass the engineering exam, he’s mysteriously acquired a modicum of technical competence, he’s spotted on occasion showing a degree of concern for other members of the crew, and he seems to have gained sufficient confidence to drop the broadcasting-on-all-frequencies obnoxiousness down a few notches.
This character development reaches its zenith in "Holoship", where Rimmer falls in love and sacrifices himself for the good of his lover, showing that he really is capable of at least one finer emotion. "Holoship" also shows that at bottom Rimmer’s under no illusions as to his own inadequacies, so this episode is both his finest and his saddest hour.
In series VI, there’s a change in the treatment of Rimmer’s character, and he reverts almost to his earlier "all smeg, all the time" persona.
There’s no doubt that Rimmer is a brilliant comic creation: he’s one of the most striking characters ever to hit the small screen. There are two interdependent keys to this success. Firstly, the writing for Rimmer is inspired: Rimmer’s character failings are legion, and Grant Naylor turn them into a comedy goldmine. The other half of the equation is Chris Barrie’s brilliant interpretation of Rimmer: Barrie as Rimmer is comedy incarnate. His comic timing and line delivery are impeccable, but what’s particularly outstanding is his superb physical portrayal of Rimmer: every expression, gesture and movement is quintessentially Rimmerish. Barrie doesn’t just hang around while other characters are speaking, waiting to slip back into character: he’s Rimmer every single second he’s on screen. Barrie’s performance is so compelling that it’s difficult to take your eyes off Rimmer if he’s anywhere in the shot.
I might as well put my cards on the table, since it’s going to be obvious anyway: I’m a total, complete and utter Rimmerphile. For me, Rimmer stands out head and shoulders from what is already a very strong cast, and to my mind this makes him one of the best comic characters ever seen on the small screen.
Chris Barrie’s background pre-Rimmer was in doing impressions on the stand-up comedy circuit and in voiceovers for and appearances in television and radio comedy.
The Cat is a humanoid but with feline characteristics. The comedy of this character stems initially from the translation of feline behaviours into their human equivalent, but these set pieces become much less frequent over time. The Cat’s comedy value later in the series comes mainly from the divergence in his behaviour from the standard expected human norm: he is terminally and proudly vain, shallow and self-involved. He’s a deeply cool dude with a stunning wardrobe and a truckload of attitude. Cat lovers, incidentally, are a perverse bunch who delight in their favourite pets’ more antisocial attributes, and the early character of the Cat makes them purr. However, they generally express disappointment with the defelinification of the Cat over the series.
Danny John-Jules plays the Cat in yet another example of perfect casting. John-Jules uses his own athletic grace to characterise the Cat’s feline presence, and his line delivery extracts the maximum comedy from the script.
John-Jules has, however, had a hard row to hoe: to many fans’ disappointment, the Cat has often been underused. This seems to me to be a problem arising from the long-running nature of the series: bits of business demonstrating the Cat’s feline nature were used extensively to great effect in the early days, but constant harping on this theme would eventually have irritated the audience, who after a certain point in a long-running show do not need or want the more obvious aspects of each character constantly pointed out to them. However, as the Cat’s character essentially does not extend much beyond these characteristics, by de-emphasising them Grant Naylor eventually painted themselves into a corner. An attempt was obviously made to redress this in series VI when the Cat given the role of pilot of Starbug, and he was also given room to stretch as his alter ego Duane Dibbley in series V and VI and as the Riviera Kid in series VI. However, the problem has not been completely solved, and the Cat generally remains a commentator on rather than an initiator of action.
While the Cat’s role isn’t always a large one, Danny John-Jules makes the absolute most of every speech and gesture. Every performance is a total gem. John-Jules’ pre-Dwarf career included appearances in a number of musicals and stage shows, and his previous appearance in "Cats" has got to make him one of the few actors to play two entirely unrelated felines.
Kryten is a mechanoid of superseded design programmed to serve humanity. For any confused souls struggling with the motivation for this character, Grant Naylor kindly give a pointer in his name, which is a phonetic version of "The Admirable Crichton", the play by J M Barrie about a faithful butler.
Kryten first appears at the beginning of series II, in an episode named, startlingly enough, "Kryten". Kryten, played by David Ross in this episode, is discovered by the Red Dwarf crew serving three humans who have long passed their use-by date. When the crew eventually manage to convince Kryten of the three women’s non-viability, he consents to accompany them back to Red Dwarf.
Ross’s performance, unfortunately, is not particularly earth-shaking: while he adequately plays a servile, self-sacrificing android, he has difficulty playing a funny servile, self-sacrificing android. He disappears without comment (or regret) at the end of the episode, returning, this time played by Robert Llewellyn, in the first episode of series III, and becomes a permanent member of the core cast from that point on.
The new Kryten’s character is much better realised and as the series roll on he becomes more and more indispensable to the character mix.
Kryten shows some distinct and interesting character development over time. In his first appearances, he is relatively less fun than he later becomes, as his character is fairly one-dimensional. Things get more interesting when with Lister’s help he begins to question his parameters and attempt to break free of his programming, and the scenes where he attempts to call Rimmer a smeghead are among the truly great television moments. Kryten also fulfils a useful function as the only one of the crew who knows even vaguely what he’s doing in a technical sense. This opens up some options for the writers which would not otherwise be possible, since no-one in their right minds would believe that Lister, Rimmer and the Cat could on their own navigate their way out of a damp paper bag fitted with a neon "Exit" sign.
Llewellyn’s performance as Kryten goes from strength to strength: he doesn’t completely find his feet in series III, but from the next series and thereafter the character really gels.
At all times, Llewellyn’s portrayal of the mechanoid is a sheer delight: he uses the considerable talent at his disposal to rise above the problems posed by a full-face mask, creating a character full of sly and subtle humour. Llewellyn’s available range of facial expression is by necessity somewhat limited, and he compensates for this by making full use of his body and voice to convey expression. He gets my sympathy vote, too: working in that latex mask has got to be a nightmare under hot studio lights. It must be like wandering across the Sahara with your face stuffed into a giant condom.
Unlike the original core cast, Robert Llewellyn was actually an actor (and writer) prior to his joining the Red Dwarf posse.
Holly is Red Dwarf’s computer, with an IQ of 6,000. Holly copes with his duties at first, but as the crew seem to have forgotten his 3 million light year maintenance check, he becomes somewhat erratic as time goes on. Holly is played in the first two series by Norman Lovett, whose killer deadpan delivery reaches its zenith in "Queeg". Holly then undergoes a sex change and is played in series III to V by Hattie Hayridge, who does an adequate job but whose performance sometimes errs so much on the straight side that it has somewhat of a tree-like aspect.
Holly is used to brilliant effect in the early episodes, but his role drops in importance over time until he becomes virtually no more than a set decoration. Holly is dropped in series VI, which gives more room for the Cat’s role to expand.
Both Norman Lovett and Hattie Hayridge have backgrounds in standup comedy and in acting.
WHY IS RED DWARF FUNNY?
One of the strengths of the show is that the humour’s not all based on one premise: it comes from a number of places.
Setting: The situation of the characters, light years away from Earth in the bit of space God forgot, is inherently funny, which gives the thing a head start. In addition, the SF setting gives Grant Naylor scope to let their imaginations off the lead and allows them to explore concepts, such as a backward universe, which are somewhat beyond the scope of the average situation comedy. It also allows them to pursue the universal obsession of SF nuts and fiddle with the time stream.
The setting is sufficiently flexible to allow virtually any concept to be dragged in with impunity: "Gunmen of the Apocalypse", for example, absolutely shouts that Grant Naylor felt like writing a Western. This flexibility has the advantage that the well of possible episode ideas is a deep one - there’s hardly an idea which couldn’t be dragged in somewhere at a pinch.
Class: Humour mostly arises from conflict of some kind, and the humour of Red Dwarf is no exception. Conflict stems from several sources in the show, with one of the major ones being class. Writing about class is the biological destiny of British writers: it’s hammered into their genes, and no matter what they set out to write about, class creeps in somewhere.
The class conflict in Red Dwarf centres on the contrast between Lister, who’s contentedly working class and happy with his life and his destiny, and Rimmer, would-be upwardly mobile yuppie. Rimmer is constantly dissatisfied with the status quo yet doesn’t possess a smidgen of the aptitude needed to do anything about it. Rimmer despises Lister for his lowly horizons (and for being happy with his situation when Rimmer isn’t), and Lister is contemptuous of Rimmer’s pretensions.
Class also underpins the humour of Kryten’s struggle to break his programming. Like a member of ye olde servant classes, he is initially a subscriber to the "rich man at his castle, poor man at his gate " philosophy; however, Lister attempts to drag him into the three-million-and- twenty-third century by teaching him he’s as good as anyone else. This provides an interesting contrast between the "new" and "old" working classes and gives me an opportunity to sound like a sociology textbook.
Taboos: Another primary source of comedy from conflict in Red Dwarf stems from the breaking of taboos. Lister breaks societal norms of personal hygiene: it’s rumoured that several pairs of his socks have struck out on their own to colonise an asteroid. Rimmer breaks the norm that self-interest should take a back place to consideration of others, and the Cat also transgresses this standard. In addition, Rimmer is a freely self-confessed coward, which deals to the notion that we should be brave and if we’re not we should appear so.
There’s a streak of gross-out humour in Red Dwarf that also centres around the breaking of taboos. Examples of this include Lister’s eating the dog food ("Marooned") and the spider ("Demons and Angels"), his deployment of the severed hand ("The Inquisitor") the "autopsy" meal ("Polymorph") and Lister’s kissing the psiren ("Psirens").
Sex and bodily function jokes also fall into the category of taboo humour, and there are a lot, especially about sex (or, as the BBC videos put it, "adult themes". Say...no...MORE!) But while it works itself into the conversation a lot, there isn’t actually much of it going on: this is, of course, part of the humour, but the crew seem a curiously chaste bunch all the same. Rimmer’s woeful record with the opposite sex while alive (exact statistics for this vary from episode to episode, but it’s safe to say you can count Rimmer’s sexual experiences on the fingers of two thumbs) ensures that for comedy’s sake he gets more romantic action than any of the other characters, but that’s not saying much. Along the same lines, there’s a running joke about Rimmer’s, er, underendowment which spans the series, taking in his stuffing socks down his trousers in "Kryten", his feelings of inadequacy when confronted with Arlene’s Playgirl centrefolds ("Parallel Universe"), Holly’s statement that he has a small physical presence ("Meltdown") and Nirvanah’s comment that he makes love like a Japanese meal, with small portions but many courses ("Holoship").
Despite the fact that the only available lover on board has a puncture, and that leaves each other as the only sentient creatures in the neighbourhood, Grant Naylor make it clear there’s no funny stuff about the boys from the Dwarf ("What do you do when you want to have sex?" "We go for runs" ("Holoship").). However, having said that, there is, of course, that strange scene from "Demons and Angels" in which Low Rimmer, (who is supposed to be the worst part of Rimmer’s character, although how could they tell?) declares his intent of having sexual congress with the aid of a holowhip with Lister. What are they trying to tell us? Freud could have a field day with this scene and its intriguing possible connection with Rimmer’s name, and so could I, if it weren’t for the Communications Decency Act.
Situation-based sight gags: These are present right through Red Dwarf, but become particularly important in series VI. They include stuff like the atomic chopsticks ("Legion"), and often intersect with the gross-out humour, such as the mashed potato scene in "Bodyswap", the intestine jokes in "Psirens" and the space weevil in "Legion".
Conflict within characters: As well as the conflict between characters which makes up a large part of the humour of the programme, there’s also conflict within some of the characters. This is probably least evident in Lister and the Cat: Lister seems for the most part reasonably together and adjusted to his situation, and the Cat, like all cats, regards himself as perfect. Rimmer, however, is constantly torn between his bombastic pretence and the reluctant self-knowledge which contradicts this, and Kryten is conflicted over the constant pull of his programming against his inclinations.
My God, when you analyse it like that, it’s a wonder it manages to be funny at all. So before I wreck the thing completely, why don’t we move on to the ......
The first six Red Dwarf series are analysed episode by episode in the order in which they originally aired (sometimes different from the order on the BBC videos), in the following format:
SYNOPSIS: This is a very brief summary of the plot. Red Dwarf plots are frequently deeply bizarre, and as I refuse to type screeds of stuff like "Lister thinks the Cat is about to break his tooth on an electronic goldfish", I’ve kept it down to the minimum.
COMMENT: Analysis, philosophical musings, bad jokes, all that sort of stuff.
THE BEST BIT: Self-explanatory, don’t you think?
THE WORST BIT: We always hurt the ones we love, and here’s where I unsheathe my claws.
IMMORTAL DIALOGUE: This is a toughie, since Red Dwarf is crammed with the stuff. However, a lot of it is context-sensitive, which puts it into the "you had to be there" category. I’ve tried to pick lines that stand up on their own, although there are some exceptions which I couldn’t bring myself to leave out.
ADDITIONAL: This header is for the grab-bag of impressions, comments and remarks that didn’t seem to fit anywhere else and includes the plot inconsistencies.
SMEG UPS: The bloopers, mostly of a technical nature, given in the order they appear on screen.
On to the Episode Guide!