The Good Dwarf Guide: Series VI
Who are you and what have you done with Grant Naylor? This series is a radical departure in direction from the previous series: character-driven comedy takes a back seat to the exploration of SF concepts and situation-based humour. Does it work? Resoundingly, emphatically, utterly no. The series is, in the main, terrible. It’s as if Grant Naylor died and the shows were carried on by someone of considerably lesser talent: in fact, I had trouble convincing one friend who knows nothing about the making of Red Dwarf that this wasn’t what had happened.
Grant Naylor appear unable to contain their urges towards SF any longer, and the show in this series becomes SF with a comedy twist. Or would, if the comedy was actually funny. As well as including a string of recycles, gross-out jokes and weak running gags, they toss the primary source of humour - the characters - out the window, replacing it with tedious situation-based material that barely raises a smirk. Some of it’s actually boring. It’s astonishing that they could trash the thing so thoroughly. I’m so depressed.
It’s a very, very bad series for Rimmer: the subtle development which has marked his character over the years is jettisoned, and he’s back to the Rimmer we saw in the first two series, only without any of the pathos that makes him so interesting. Here, he’s a self-involved, cowardly buffoon, and that’s supposed to be enough to make us laugh. Lister also has a tough row to hoe: he’s in full hero mode by this time, which doesn’t give him a lot to work with in a comedy sense. His only flaws now are his gross personal habits, so we get material based around this ad nauseam. The Cat becomes the pilot of Starbug in this series: this gives him less of a peripheral role than before, but moves him further away from his essential feline nature. His distinguishing characteristics are by this time reduced to vanity and stupidity. Holly is dropped, as Red Dwarf itself does not feature in this series. The only character for whom this is a good series is Kryten: as the SF stuff comes more and more to the fore, his technobabble role becomes increasingly important.
As usual, the actors in this series are flawless, and costuming, sets and SFX are also all stellar. But none of this can disguise the essential weakness of the most important factor: the scripts.
And of course, it only went downhill from here. In spades. But let's not depress ourselves.
UK: no video available US: buy video at Amazon
UK: buy video at Amazon US: buy video at Amazon
UK: buy video at Amazon US: buy video at Amazon
UK: buy video at Amazon US: buy video at Amazon
UK: buy video at Amazon US: buy video at Amazon
UK: buy video at Amazon US: buy video at Amazon
Series VI DVD
UK: buy DVD at Amazon UK: buy DVD at Sendit US: buy DVD at Amazon
Series V & VI DVD Pack
UK: no DVD available US: buy DVD at Amazon
SYNOPSIS: Lister wakes after 200 years in deep sleep with amnesia: Kryten reminds him that Red Dwarf has been, as Holly would say, half-inched and they are hot on its trail. The crew take Starbug on a detour through an asteroid belt as a shortcut, and run into psirens - creatures who tempt spacefarers and suck out their brains with a straw. The crew inadvertently take a psiren on board, but Kryten manages to kill it after having been run through the trash compactor.
COMMENT: This is truly awful. The humour takes a dive straight back into the sixth form commonroom, with a string of totally unfunny and repulsive gross-out gags about detached intestines, Lister’s personal habits and his kissing a psiren. Also on the joke front, we see the start of the dreaded Space Corps directive running gags, which are telegraphed from such a great distance you can only sit and wince as they churn through the dreary routine. The plot is badly linked and episodic, the jokes are obvious ("Why not use me as a table?") much of the dialogue is padding, and basically, who cares about any of it? It’s a total yawn.
Model work here, though, is brilliant, with special mention for the flaming Starbug and asteroid and the exploding asteroid.
THE BEST BIT: Good God. Ummm, Rimmer’s frozen light bee. That’s cute, at least.
THE WORST BIT: Where do I start? The worst of the worst? The gross-out jokes.
IMMORTAL DIALOGUE: "Who’d steal a gigantic red trashcan with no brakes and three million years on the clock?"
"One breach of that hull, and we’re people paté!"
"This old baby’s crashed more times than a ZX81!"
The red matches your eyes: Rimmer gets a new uniform top, which looks like a similar material to the dentist outfit, only quilted. Very cute. He gets a matching ensemble in blue when he gets the hard light drive. Lister also gets a new collection of smeggy garments.
Klingons on the starboard bow: The swaying-backwards-and-forwards scene is a good laugh when frame-by-framed - almost as good as Star Trek! In fact, I think it’s probably the funniest thing in the whole episode.
Gidday: Did Grant Naylor really write "no worries", or did that come from Robert via his Aussie girlfriend?
It’s not Craig?: There’s a nice turn from Phil Manzanera’s hands playing Lister’s guitar.
Not on the first date: After five series and three million and a bit years, Lister finally gets his first screen kiss. Well, first and second, if you count the psiren.
It doesn’t count when you’re drunk: The psiren says it’s been over three million years since Lister had sex, but we know he slept with Deb Lister in "Parallel Universe", and that the twins are the result of that encounter. Similarly, we get the Kochanski Story Mark II here, which is that Lister dated Kochanski for three weeks, whereas the original story was that he merely worshipped her from afar ("The End", "Balance of Power", etc) I’m not normally a fanatical nitpicker, but this sort of contempt for the audience would make a pedant out of anyone.
Oooh, that pointy stick: In the midst of change, it’s nice to spot the continuity of the reference to the Channel 27 weathergirl, which goes right back to the first series.
Just like pot noodles: Kryten tells the psiren that his brain is synthetic, when it was established in "DNA" that it was partially organic.
SYNOPSIS: Starbug is grabbed by a tractor beam and taken into a space station with one inhabitant - Legion. Legion is technologically accomplished and gives Rimmer a hard light drive which gives him a physical presence. The crew invite him to join them, but discover that he intends to keep them prisoner there for the rest of their lives. They realise he is a composite of themselves, and knock each other out until only Kryten is left and Legion is required by dint of Kryten’s programming to help them escape.
COMMENT: Well, okay, this isn’t quite as dire as "Psirens", but it’s not good by any stretch of the imagination. The humour again relies mostly on gross-out jokes (listen to how often the studio audience groans in this series), running gags and absurd situations. Here come those bloody Space Corps directive jokes again, and the Cat gets a string of "deader than.....[corduroy, tanks tops, A-line flares with pockets in the knees].". This is Dwarfing by numbers: with this many repeated jokes, Grant Naylor must have been able to knock the script out in ten minutes and still watch the golf. Stuff we already know backwards is spelt out, underlined and highlighted with a marking pen - Rimmer informs us that he has the body of an abject coward, and they all point out, in case we hadn’t noticed in the course of five years, that nothing ever goes right for them. Spare me.
This episode is a watershed for Rimmer - he finally gets a body. After all the angst we’ve been through with Rimmer over time, this is obviously a big moment, which Grant Naylor treat with the respect it deserves. Not. An "I’ve got a body? I can touch? I can feel?" represents the sum total of the depth with which this major character development is treated.
I just don’t get this. After five consistently superb series, Grant Naylor seem here to be deliberately turning their backs on the comedy goldmine exploration of the characters has offered in favour of a string of dubious situation-related gags that go nowhere and say little. It seems that their increasing enchantment with SF concepts caused them to overlook what makes Red Dwarf as great as it is. If they wanted to write the English Star Trek, more power to them, but why not do it in another series, rather than shredding one of the bests comedies on television?
Kryten gets the least thankless part here, as usual in this series: the SF bent means he is often the one with the lion’s share of the attention. He turns in a faultless performance, as do the others: it’s not their fault there’s so little to work with.
The point that Legion as a synthesis of the characters is supposedly more than the sum of their parts is at least an interesting one. In fact, a good case can be made that the boys from the Dwarf are less than the sum of their parts, since they so often bring out the worst in each other. This point is succinctly made metaphorically by the star drive, which sort of works, but not in any useful way. However, Legion’s example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts can be aptly applied to the show as a whole: as an ensemble at their best, the Red Dwarf characters have a magic which transcends the basic ingredients of their individual roles.
THE BEST BIT: Legion pulling out the wires in Rimmer’s light bee.
THE WORST BIT: Again, the gross-out stuff to do with the space weevil.
IMMORTAL DIALOGUE: "We’ve recycled the water so often it’s beginning to taste like Dutch lager."
"Step up to red alert!" "Sir, are you absolutely sure? It does mean changing the bulb."
Call the exorcist, it’s the Red Dwarf posse: Legion’s name comes from the Bible reference to a man possessed by demons: "My name is Legion; for we are many" (Mark 5:9).
I like to watch: At the start of the episode, Rimmer questions Kryten anxiously about the state of the food supplies. Why would he care?
Who ya gonna call?: Grant Naylor start to slip into parody, a trap they had always previously managed to neatly avoid. The antimatter chopsticks are just too reminiscent of "Don't cross the beams!" in "Ghostbusters", and they send Red Dwarf itself up when they talk about the people they’ve encountered. This is a bad sign.
Elective surgery: Legion takes Lister’s appendix out, even though in "Thanks For the Memory" we are told he had it out while he was with Lise Yates. Do they think nobody was watching back then?
Bee off: When Rimmer extracts his own light bee, he disappears completely - the bee itself, which should still be visible, is nowhere to be seen.
Passive-aggressive: Legion wants to stop the crew leaving the ship, and is prepared to use violence to do so. But when Kryten starts knocking the others out, Legion makes no move at all to intervene.
The sincerest form of flattery: As each crew member is knocked out, Legion’s face changes to reflect this; however, when only Kryten is left, Legion’s whole body changes to mirror Kryten’s.
Then clap your hands: When the crew are gloomily contemplating the star drive, Kryten urges them to assert their faith that the thing will work. Their responses of "We believe" sound like a cross between Agent Mulder and a panto audience at Peter Pan.
As the Cat says the line "The whole panel’s deader than A-line flares with pockets in the knees", Lister mouths it along with him.
When Legion stabs his left hand, the crew grab their own left hands in response, except for Lister, who grabs his right hand.
Legion’s real face can briefly be glimpsed as he takes a hit and adjusts his mask.
SYNOPSIS: The Dwarfers have picked up an artificial reality machine, and Lister is doing his best to wear out the groinal attachment. However, Kryten must prise Lister away from a trashy collection of pixels in a noir simulation to tell him that Starbug has wandered into rogue simulant country. The crew destroy the simulants’ ship, but not before the simulants infect Starbug’s computers with a virus. Kryten must take the virus into his own body to try and develop a "dove" program to overcome it. The crew travel with him via the AR machine into Kryten’s dream, where he is a sheriff in a Western fighting the four gunmen of the apocalypse.
COMMENT: Considering the effort that’s very obviously gone into this one, it’s disappointing it’s not more effective; however, compared to the previous two eps it’s a masterpiece. Its major problem is that there are just too many ideas here, so none of them are done adequate justice. All the stuff about the horsemen of the Apocalypse, the rogue simulants and the virus are onced-over so quickly to fit it all in it’s difficult to appreciate everything. They would have been better to have dropped some of the stuff and concentrated on the Western aspect: the lava planet, the noir segment and the Vindalooian ambassadors would none of them be missed.
The stuff that works best is character-based (surprise!) - the drinks scene in the bar, for example, and the crew’s reactions to their special powers and the loss of them. In other words, it’s not the set pieces, but the way the characters react to them that creates the comedy. Rimmer’s bar fight is pedestrian, but it’s worth it all for his "Marvellous!" at the end. Overall, not a bad ep, but disappointing compared with what it could have been.
Grant Naylor have an obvious affection for and knowledge of the Western genre, and do an excellent job of capturing the Western flavour while avoiding the parody trap. Western clichés, such as the drinks scene at the bar, are neatly turned on their heads and given a twist appropriate to the Red Dwarf setting.
A lot of care and effort obviously went into the episode, and it shows. The special effects and models stuff all works seamlessly and to great effect. The cast all get a chance to shine in their alternate Western roles, and the performances are (as usual) flawless.
THE BEST BIT: The sign falling on Kryten. Visual comedy at its best. Eat your heart out, Mr Bean.
THE WORST BIT: The Vindalooian ambassador. Puerile.
IMMORTAL DIALOGUE: "I’m saying the mouse never wins! Not unless you believe those lying cartoons!"
"Sooner or later we’re going to have to face the fact that we’re not all going to get out of this in one piece. Or if we are, it’s gonna be one big flat piece."
"If I’m not out of here by sunup, the buzzards’ll be fighting the lizards for my gizzards!"
And you thought Grant Naylor thought all this stuff up themselves?: The AR game "Gumshoe" that Lister’s playing is a reference to the film "Gumshoe", about a Scouser who dreams he’s a private eye involved in a murder case.
Bad girls: Loretta’s line "I’m programmed to be trash" is very reminiscent of Jessica Rabbit’s "I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way".
Where all the naughty calculators go: The rogue simulant’s line "See you in silicon hell!" is a nice link to the silicon heaven stuff of earlier episodes.
Rimsy mimsy wimsy, my bestest ever pal: As they’re picking the characters for the Western game, Lister calls Rimmer "Rimsy" without a trace of irony. Not in this lifetime, buster.
Ride ‘em, cowboy: They obviously went to an enormous amount of trouble getting the boys on horses, but I’m not really sure that it repaid the effort. They did get a laugh from me, though, when they cut directly from them riding to them walking into the saloon. Unfortunately, I doubt that that was intentional, but hey! take ‘em where you find ‘em, right? Especially in this series. The footage of them getting off was probably funnier than anything in the episode.
They call me Lucky, I mean the Kid: To their credit, Grant Naylor pretty much avoid direct parody in this one, tempting as it must have been. The only exception is the Riviera Kid’s costume, which is directly lifted from "The Three Amigos".
Play it again, Sam: Howard Goodall does a terrific job here, converting the Red Dwarf theme into a honky-tonk piano version and producing a lovely pastiche Western theme for the closing credits.
Run over: The tedious running gags trundle on. Rimmer says it best himself in this ep: "Can’t you let just one go?...it’s embarrassing as much as anything else!"
You cannot be serious: The Cat’s speech about how surely there was some way to help Kryten by turning into tiny electronic people was an ironic take on plot exposition, wasn’t it? Please tell me it wasn’t straight up.
Lister can once again be spotted mouthing the Cat’s line "[Not unless you] believe those lying cartoons!"
SYNOPSIS: On the run from a Space Corps External Enforcement Vehicle (the Space Filth), the crew crash-land in GELF space. They attempt to trade with the locals for an oxy-generation unit, but the price is Lister’s hand (and other parts, judging by the enthusiasm of the bride in question) in marriage. They flee to Starbug, but accidentally take on board an emohawk. The emohawk sucks out the Cat’s cool, transforming him into Duane Dibbley, and Rimmer’s negativity, turning him into Ace.
COMMENT: Well, this is very sad. Grant Naylor bring back two of the best loved characters in Red Dwarf, Duane Dibbley and Ace Rimmer, and in doing so come close to ruining them. A lot of the humour of these characters was in their surprise value: when you take that away, you’re left with a limited set of character traits whose comedic impact decreases exponentially with repeated exposure and tarnishes the memory of the original.
The episode is a string of recycles, and not just the obvious polymorph/Ace/Duane ones, either. At the beginning of the ep when the crew are in Starbug, Kryten challenges the Cat’s nasal acuity - again - and he responds with a nostril hair joke - again. That’s followed by yet another Space Corps Directive rent-a-gag, and then we hear the broadcast from the Space Filth coming out "Backwards". Okay, I know that after five series inspiration must be thinner on the ground than it used to be, but this is lazy writing.
Rimmer’s character in this episode is especially disappointing: he’s a direct throwback to the series I/II Rimmer. What happened to all the character development he’s undergone since then? And we’re expected to believe the crew voluntarily swapped Ace back to Rimmer? Puh-leeze.
Ace's credentials deserve an even sharper examination here than they did in "Dimension Jump". Our megahero, rather than figuring out a sane plan, decides to take it upon himself to sacrifice Duane’s life for the other two, and is only just prevented from snapping Duane’s acne-d, dandruff-sprinkled neck like a twig. What a guy? What a homicidal maniac. Moral: if you ever find yourself in the same room with Ace, claw your way out as speedily as possible before he takes it into his head to sacrifice the both of you. Actually, wouldn’t it make more sense that when Rimmer has the negativity sucked out of him he turns into High Rimmer rather than Ace? Well, more logical, perhaps, but not nearly as appealing.
THE BEST BIT: Rimmer catching the bouquet.
THE WORST BIT: Lister’s bit with the "bride". Unbelievably clichéd.
IMMORTAL DIALOGUE: "I have got hair like yours! Just not on my head!"
"He’s looking so geeky I don’t think he could even get into a science fiction convention."
I’ll trade you for a plate of gagh: The accent of the Kinatawowi sounds eerily reminiscent of Klingon.
Got any beads or blankets?: The trade with the Levis and the Swiss watches is one of the few times in Red Dwarf where Grant Naylor directly parody a 20th century phenomenon. It’s bloody funny, too.
This one’s the GTi model: The previous polymorph the crew has encountered ("Polymorph") changed directly from one form to another. However, thanks to the advances in computer special effects since then, this one goes through a sort of fizzing neon phase in between transformations.
When you put it that way: Okay, you can tell us now: the SFX guys tied Grant Naylor to a flat and threatened to barbecue them with a flamethrower unless they filled the shows with 90% explosions and crashes, right? It’s galloping SF mania, is what it is.
Ace manages to make a door open before he even touches it. What a guy!
The crew, particularly Kryten, can be spotted moving after being bombarded with the gas.
SYNOPSIS: Rimmer undergoes a medical and discovers he has a stress-related condition. The crew decide to board the burnt-out simulant ship to scavenge for supplies.
When confronted with danger, Rimmer commandeers an escape pod, which has a guidance system that deposits him on the nearest planet. This turns out to be through a wormhole, and time dilation being what it is, six hundred years pass on Rimmer’s side before the rest of the crew catch up with him. The planet has been populated with Rimmer clones by this time, but Rimmer himself has been locked in a cell for 557 years.
COMMENT: This is ostensibly a Rimmer episode, but that’s in fact illusory: it’s one that throws no light on Rimmer as a character whatsoever. The "humour" of the episode depends on the fact that as the inhabitants of the planet are all like Rimmer, they’re all backstabbing, treacherous and cowardly. Megayawn. We’ve known this about Rimmer from "The End", but we’ve also come a long way past that point. This is a cartoon Rimmer, drawn in primary colours, with none of shading that had been so carefully established in previous series. A great deal of Rimmer’s appeal has always been that his smeggishness is inextricably mixed with pathos, but here, any suggestion of pathos has been expunged. We have no reason to feel sorry for him: as far as we can see, he’s brought his problems on himself. This makes the whole exercise curiously pointless.
Things don’t seem to hang together here. Rimmer has a medical problem? That’s not what Legion said, only three eps ago - he said a hard light drive was virtually indestructible! And Lister acts way out of character with the simulant: "You’re a bit of a babe - what are you doing tonight?". She shoots him, and who wouldn’t? Lister has always treated the women he has met with respect, so why should he suddenly turn into a leering goit? The plot meanders along in a pointless fashion with little discernible structure, finally lurching to a halt in a "we may as well stop here as anywhere" fashion. The inclusion of the entirely gratuitous time-travel bits is totally mystifying. Further, all that worry ball stuff seems to have been put in just for the single payoff of seeing them the size of ball-bearings. And why, with all the concepts in the universe to choose from, are Grant Naylor so obsessed with simulants? This is the sort of episode I might have expected to see in the first series of a series, where characters and format hadn’t quite gelled yet.
THE BEST BIT: Kryten’s speed count mode.
THE WORST BIT: Too much competition.
IMMORTAL DIALOGUE: "Next time I see him, he’ll be suffering from a fist-related teeth disorder!"
"There hasn’t been a prison built that can hold Derek Custer!"
Look after the pennies, and the props will look after themselves: The transporter unit looks remarkably like a redress of the AR console from "Gunmen Of The Apocalypse".
The malady lingers on: Rimmer says: "If we wanted to be in a state of perpetual agony, we’d let Lister play his guitar", yet the guitar was smashed in "Legion".
And that’s the only reason I know: In case you’re wondering, the naked guy in the cocoon’s a body double: those are not Chris Barrie’s ears!
But can he pat his head and rub his stomach?: Chris Barrie delivers a tongue-twisting speech while simultaneously deftly twiddling the Chinese worry balls. Cool.
More of a flame: The Cat keeps going on about how he’s wearing peach. That’s not peach! It’s nothing like peach! Why is it that men are so colour-impaired?
Worth the wait for the mascara alone: Although Rimmer has sex twice in Red Dwarf ("Better Than Life", "Holoship"), it’s the only time in six series he gets a screen kiss - even if it is with himself.
Our best brains are working on it: Could Future Rimmer’s line at the end about how they’re concerned with something horrible that’s happened to Lister refer to the discovery coming up in the next episode about Lister’s brain ending up like so many pickled walnuts? Could be, although so many disasters happen to the boys from the Dwarf that it could refer to anything, really.
Lister again mouths the Cat’s lines: "All in all, a hundred percent successful trip" and "Form an orderly queue behind the gunsight".
When "Rimmer" takes away the veil to reveal the face of his concubine, there is a tight shot of the following kiss that clearly shows that the "female" Rimmer is kissing a woman, presumably one of the "real" concubines.
SYNOPSIS: The crew journey through pockets of unreality. They find a ship within the unreality field with a time drive. They meet themselves from fifteen years in the future: Lister is a brain in a jar and all four crew members are amoral bastards dedicated to the pursuit of self-indulgence. The crew decide to fight their former selves - all are killed except Rimmer, who blows up Starbug with a bazookoid. To be continued....
COMMENT: Out of inspiration, more likely. I didn’t think it was possible, but it is: this is worse than "Psirens". The sheer stupidity of this episode has to be seen to be believed. So Lister’s an android. Uh-huh. And his biggest problem with this is cutting the sandwiches at a nice angle. Yeah, right. Why not just eject the entire cast out the airlock? It’d be less painful for all of us.
Things actually get worse with the arrival of the crew’s future selves. There are some cheap laughs (well, I suppose somebody laughed) from the Cat being bald, Rimmer being fat, Lister being in a jar and Kryten in a toupee. Hysteria city. But the idea that the characters become what they are in the future is completely without foundation: no explanation is even attempted as to why they should change their essential selves so radically. It’s so totally ridiculous it’s absurd. By this time, we don’t care anyway: I nearly cheered when Rimmer put the episode out of its misery. Oh, I just want to cry. Hand me the Prozac.
THE BEST BIT: Rimmer at the morale meeting is mildly amusing.
THE WORST BIT: I don’t have all day.
IMMORTAL DIALOGUE: "Fun though it was drinking in the heady mediaeval atmosphere of pre-Renaissance deep space, the drive is next to useless, yes?"
"Better dead than smeg!"
They didn’t teach grammar at bogbot school: Kryten says: "Better run a cross-check to see if the phenomena is in any of our databases". That should be phenomenon.
It’s worse than that....: In recommending that they don’t look at their future selves, Rimmer asks "What if we know that one of us is dead?". I hate to break this to you, babe, but you are dead.
They sound very similar if you say it quickly: These guys are, like, thirtyish, right? And their future selves are supposed to be from fifteen years in the future? Obviously the makeup artist misheard and thought it was supposed to be fifty.
I said hard light, not lard light: Rimmer as a hologram can take any form, so it seems unlikely he’d voluntarily transform himself into a facsimile of a beached whale.
The Cat flubs a line, saying: "You can’t forget me, I’m unforgettabibble!"