Red Dwarf’s fifth series once again sees a shift in tone and look, leaning even heavier towards sci-fi than sitcom and coming up with some properly great ideas, though still keeping things funny. While I’d say two episodes don’t quite hold up to the other four that’s more praise towards the crazy high standard those four have than being too harsh on the other two! Let’s take a look…
Synopsis (of Episode 2 “The Inquisitor”):
The Inquisitor is a time-travelling android who acts as judge, jury and executioner to those who have led worthless lives, and thus erases them from history. The Red Dwarf crew are next to appear before this judge to justify their existence. It does not look good for our crew of slobs, failures and misfits.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Billy Doyle, Jake Bullet and the legend that is Dwayne Dibley in a reality that never was…
Whenever I think about Series V I always think of it’s sixth and final episode: “Back to Reality” (which I still think of as the first episode thanks to how the VHS releases were ordered…) In it the crew are investigating an underwater wreck of a ship called the Esperanto and find that every crew member and even nearby fish committed suicide, and that it must be from the ink of a gigantic squid that was floating around the ocean planet. Although they’re momentarily infected by coming into contact with the left-over ink (leading to some great gags!) they soon try to head off the planet but are then seemingly killed by the squid, leading to a “Game Over” message appearing and Lister, Rimmer, Kryten and Cat all waking up in a VR room. They’re told all four of them were players in the popular game “Red Dwarf” and that their memories would soon return to them, so they’re escorted to a recovery room. Each of them finds out who they are and each one seems to be someone who they would despise to be: Lister is the wealthy and ruthless leader of a fascist regime, Rimmer is a homeless drunk, The Cat is a geeky buck-toothed nobody and Kryten is a police officer, one who soon kills one of Lister’s followers, something his programming tells him he can’t do under any circumstances. It’s around this point we see all four of them acting out what’s happening while walking around the ship, with Holly trying to get through to them. They all try and commit suicide but just in time Holly gets through to Kryten enough to get him to release a gas that counteracts the effects of what they soon call the “Despair Squid” and are brought, well, back to reality. It’s peak Red Dwarf, being constantly funny but also great sci-fi storytelling.
Another example of this is Episode 2, “The Inquisitor”. An android who makes it to the end of the universe looks back and sees so many people who have wasted what little time they have decides to go back in time the systematically eliminate everyone it judges as having wasted their life and replace them with a life that never got to be, a sperm that didn’t make it. What a great concept! It arrives to judge the Red Dwarf crew and there is little they can do about it. Each member has to make a plea as to how they’ve made the most of life, with the judge being themselves, one of the Inquisitor’s many tricks. It eventually finds Lister and Kryten as unworthy while giving a pass to Rimmer and Cat due to being results of their upbringing and environment rather than wasting what they could’ve done (Cat’s reason for staying alive was because he had a “fantastic ass”, by the way. That always gets me!) Kryten and Lister are saved by a future version of Kryten who comes back and gets killed saving them, giving them the Inquistor’s gauntlet beforehand. The duo then meet Cat and Rimmer, who don’t know them, and the new versions of themselves, though all four end up being killed by a rather peeved Inquisitor. Eventually Lister is the last one standing when Kryten goes back in time to complete the loop and he eventually outsmarts his opponent thanks to Kryten setting the gauntlet up to backfire and erase the Inquisitor from existence instead. This was possibly more great sci-fi than comedy, rather than the perfect mix like Episode 6, but damn if it isn’t great one way or another.
The Inquisitor sitting on his not-at-all-subtle throne moments before passing judgement on Rimmer.
Episode 4 “Quarantine” is a classic as well. Rimmer has a falling out with everyone based around the idea of sharing his life-span with another hologram that might exist at a facility they found and is finally handed a copy of the “Space Core Directives” what Kryten states all the time. Before he departs he hears the rest of the team struggle because the hologram in question had contracted a “holovirus” and had gone insane (and gained the ability to shoot “hex blasts” from her eyes, somehow!) Rimmer briefly talks to the mad hologram over the radio before heading back to the ship. Lister, Kryten and Cat manage to escape but when they get back home to Red Dwarf they’re only allowed to park in the Quarantine bay as Rimmer found a Space Core Directive that means they can’t enter the main ship until they’ve been cleared, and to make matters worse, as Lister is the only registered crew member they only get one room, one bed and one supply of rations.
Although they try hard they soon spend days bickering and hurting each other until they serve the minimum time… only to find out that Rimmer had contracted the holovirus via his conversation with the mad woman and was now quite, quite mad himself. He decides to remove the oxygen from their room but luckily, key word there luckily, they also had with them a set of “positive viruses” that the crazy woman had made while she was sane. Basically the idea that along with viruses that make you feel unwell, times when you feel great for no real reason or have amazing luck are down to contracting positive viruses. Lister injects himself with the luck virus and not only guesses the right combination to escape the room but stumbles into every piece of hard-to-find tech Kryten needed to turn off Rimmer’s projection so they can reboot him. He wakes up in quarantine and everyone proceeds to give him the same treatment he gave them… It’s another all-time classic.
Evil versions of Krytan, Cat and Rimmer watch as evil Lister (off-screen for “played by the same actor” reasons) forces Lister to each a tarantula, something that still makes me queasy to this day…
Episode 5 “Angels and Demons” is also a good laugh. Kryten and Lister develop a duplicator that can take a strawberry and create two copies of it, though as it soon turns out one copy is “absolutely divine” while the other is rotten. Before they can celebrate their success they accidentally set Red Dwarf’s self-destruct sequence and escape in Starbug, but instead of just exploding their main ship leaves behind two duplicates, one perfect in every way, the other rotten to its core. Kryten soon figures out that they need the duplicator from both ships to correct the mistake and create the regular Red Dwarf but have a limited amount of time as both ships are unstable. Once again it’s a great set up and has plenty of laughs, especially the purely good and purely evil duplicates of the main crew, with evil Rimmer getting the best laughs. Despite the evil gang controlling regular Lister with a special chip they fail in their plan of sabotage and the regular Red Dwarf is restored. Great episode.
Episode 3 “Terrorform” has its moments but it isn’t as strong as the four I just mentioned. Rimmer and Kryten end up stranded on a “Psi-moon” that terraforms itself based on the mind of those who land on it, so after a classic moment where Kryten’s hand with his eye attached crawls up Lister’s leg, he and Cat come to the rescue and find out that the moon is now Rimmer’s subconscious and that he’d been captured by his own self-loathing. The three of them rescue Rimmer but are stuck on the moon as Rimmer’s own real self-loathing is making the Psi-moon too strong, so everyone pretends to be his friend and truly love him which gives rise to his positive personality traits who then battle back his self-loathing enough for them to escape. Once clear they all confirm they were just pretending in order to escape. It’s good, but it does stand out as not-as-good as the other four.
As much as the episode falls short of the rest of the series, I still love the Holoship crew uniforms!
Finally Episode 1 “Holoship” sees the crew encounter just that, a holographic ship comprised of dead holograms of geniuses who now travel through space to collect data unrestrained by the physical body. They take Rimmer on board and he finds out he can touch and feel on the ship, and that the ship requires a twice-daily sex session to keep up fitness and unsurprisingly wants on board, but to do so he has to prove more intelligent that the crew member he’d replace, so he uses a mental hack to try and out-do his opponent but it doesn’t work. As fate would have it he falls for the woman who he was going to replace and despite them thinking love is a pointless chemical process she also falls for him, enough that she withdraws from the competition to allow Rimmer on board. Rimmer finds this out and requests to be returned to Red Dwarf and have her restored, spouting out some romantic cliché he’d made fun of at the start of the episode. It’s fine, it has some good moments (Lister’s sarcastic verbal back-and-forth with the snobby hologram who first beams on board for one) but overall it’s definitely the weakest of the series.
What? You didn’t think I’d miss out a chance to put up a screenshot of crazy Rimmer and Mr. Flibble, did you?
As you can see by the word count, not only is Red Dwarf V genuinely hilarious throughout most of its runtime it also has lots of great sci-fi concepts layered on top. Although Holoship isn’t up to the same standard, and Terrorform would be a highlight of pretty much any other series but it too isn’t quite up to the level of the other four, the strength of those four episodes are so great I can’t give this anything other than a five. Red Dwarf V and VI are the show at its very peak, something I’m sure I’ll reconfirm in the next couple of weeks!