I went back and forth on whether I could review Red Dwarf for the site. On the one hand I’m doing a first ever watch through from Series I to the Dave revival series so it was the optimal time but on the other hand it’s a comedy series and therefore it’s very subjective. Sure the sci-fi setting makes it fit more naturally on this blog than a sitcom in a flat or something, but it’s going to be something new to me and especially with the first six series it will be hard to separate nostalgia and look at them objectively. Oh well! Let’s give it a go, shall we?
After being put in stasis due to smuggling a cat on board Lister wakes to find himself three million years into the future and (most likely) the last human alive, his only company a vein lifeform that evolved from his cat, his worst friend Rimmer revived as a hologram and the ship’s A.I. Holly, who has gone senile in its old age. Let the journey back home begin!
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Humble beginnings… leading to humble middles and humble ends, to be fair…
The entire premise of taking the still-booming science fiction genre and turning it into a sitcom was a good one, but on top of that we got some actual fun sci-fi plots as well. The quartet that make up the entire line-up (minus a few other crew members in Episode 1) are perfectly cast as well, with Craig Charles’ Lister being the perfect slobby human that makes up for his lack of intelligence with great put-downs and some heart, and Chris Barrie’s Rimmer is the perfect by-the-books humourless git for him to play off of. Danny John-Jules’ Cat adds some flavour with his catlike vanity and erratic dancing, and Norman Lovett’s dry sarcastic A.I. Holly rounds things out nicely. It’s one of those cases that could’ve easily not worked at all but the right casting made it click from the very first scene.
Episode 1, “The End”, perfectly sets the series up as we start with a great back-and-forth between Lister and Rimmer establishing their respective characters well, then we see Lister, his hidden cat and his plans to ask First Officer Kochanski (Clare Grogan) to go on a date and eventually marry her and move to a farm on Fiji. After a scene establishing that holograms of dead crew members are a thing (with lots of funny “post-death” humour!) we get Lister being caught and put in stasis, then from his and the viewer’s eyes Lister coming straight out again. In just the last few minutes of the episode we get Lister being told everyone’s dead and he’s 3,000,000 years into the future (and that the random piles of grain he’d been eating was the remains of the crew…) and that Holly had brought back Rimmer as the one supported hologram. Again lots of great post-death humour and teasing, then the quick debut of The Cat that leads to Lister discovering that the Cat Race had a legend of “Cloister the Stupid” who will bring them to the “island of Fuchal”. This gives Lister the motivation to fulfil this obligation, telling Holly to turn the ship around and head back home… not thinking that it’ll take another 3 million years, but there you go…
Rimmer tries to dissuade The Cat from smoking.
The next episode deals with the obvious question: “why doesn’t Lister just go back into stasis?”, well… good point actually because that’s what the plan is to start with but as Red Dwarf hits lightspeed they all start seeing “future echoes” of themselves, from Lister seeing himself shaving to a great scene where he has a conversation with a future echo of Rimmer only for the actual Rimmer he saw to arrive and act out what he’d just done. After Lister as an old man delivers a message before they break out of lightspeed (and boy does that message not really work out… I guess they changed the future as the series went on!) they see Lister with two children before we hit the credits… with no mention of Lister going into stasis ever again… (it’s a comedy, I do let that sort of thing slide, but I’ll still mention it!) Episode 3 “Balance of Power” sees Lister wanting to swap Rimmer’s “holodisk” with Kochanskis for a date but Rimmer refuses, making Lister take the chef’s exam so he would outrank him and have no choice. The episode ends with Lister claiming he passed, but the opening of the next episode reveals he lied… Full of great Lister-Rimmer exchanges and a scene where Rimmer takes Kochanskis image, which is disturbing in a funny way. It also explains that Holly chose Rimmer as the one hologram rather than one of his friends because it was better psychologically to have someone to argue with than only friends…
Episode 4, “Waiting for God”, is a double-whammy of great plotlines as an old garbage pod is re-collected but Rimmer is unaware and thinks it’s confirmation of aliens while Lister looks into the Cat culture and his position as their God. As Rimmer is speculating on how the aliens might have the power to give him a body and/or might be a woman with six breasts, Lister meets an elder Cat Priest still alive in the bowels of the ship and manages to make his life by confirming he’s Cloister arrived to save him at last. The old priest dies and Lister laments about how the Cat people split into two warring factions and eventually mostly died all because “it’s like they used religion as an excuse to be really crappy to each other”, to which the toaster replies “what else is new?” It’s actually not until the 2020 special that we the remnants of the Cat species we’re told here left in a ship in search of the promised land…
Episode 5, “Confidence and Paranoia”, sees Lister contract a mutated form of pneumonia that makes his hallucinations come to life, eventually giving birth to personifications of his Confidence and Paranoia. Rimmer wants them dead but unsurprisingly Lister really gets on with his Confidence, at least until he finds out he killed Paranoia and wants him to take off his helmet in space because “he can do anything!”. Confidence takes off his helmet to show him and dies as well… It’s such a fun episode with a really great and unique plot in the middle of it.
Lister makes his entrance as a God. Bet he didn’t see that coming a few months (for his perspective) ago!
Episode 6, Me2 (as in “Me squared”, I’m not sure how to put the squared symbol on…), is my least favourite of the series. Rimmer tricked Lister into thinking he can bring Kochanski back alongside Rimmer but instead creates a second copy of his most hated crewman. The two Rimmers try and live together but unsurprisingly don’t get on, with the fresh-from-death Rimmer being far more cold and strict that the one that’s lived alone with Lister for months. It has some funny scenes but also some scenes of Rimmer2 being a really nasty git, and not in a funny way. Still good, but in my opinion noticeably not-as-good.
It’s interesting that beyond some scenes in “Waiting for God” Cat doesn’t actually do a lot in Series 1. He’s always a supporting character to the great Lister-Rimmer banter but later series do give him more to do and some funnier lines… Again, not that bad, but interesting retrospectively.
Lister, Rimmer, Lister’s Confidence, Lister’s Paranoia. Can you guess which is which?!
Red Dwarf’s opening series is still amongst the best and most consistent in the show’s now long history. Full of witty and genuinely funny dialogue and some great sci-fi concepts along with really strong performances from its main cast, it’s no wonder the show got renewed, it’s still legitimately great several decades later…