I constantly go back and forth as to which is the better series out of V and VI, they both feel different thanks to yet another status quo change but both have the perfect balance of genuinely funny comedy and really interesting sci-fi plots. Basically strap yourselves in for more of me praising everything! Sadly for the last time, but there you go, few shows can keep this kind of momentum going… It was also the “final series” when I got into watching it, with me and my friends losing our minds in 1997 when we heard they’d be a seventh series, so more than anything else I see this as the end of the “original series”, at least as I watched them at home in the mid-90s.. Anyway, let’s look at Series VI, shall we?
Two hundred years after investigating the SSS Esperanto, Lister awakes from suspended animation aboard Starbug with amnesia, only to find out that their mothership Red Dwarf is missing along with the A.I. Holy, and only a faint vapor trail available to follow in order to find it…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Sooner or later, every sci-fi series ends up doing a Western…. for some reason!
When I think of Series VI I think of one episode immediately: “Gunmen of the Apocalypse”. In it Lister is addicted to some virtual reality (or Artificial Reality in the Red Dwarf universe) games which seems innocent enough until they’re attacked by rogue simulants, who actually knock the crew out, upgrade Starbug and then challenge them to a fight, but to the human-hater’s surprise the Dwarf crew turn around and immediately attack rather than run, scoring a victory. The Simulants transmit a computer virus in their last moments and Kryten joins himself to Starbug’s computer to try and combat it. Lister hooks Kryten up to the AR suite which then takes a Western game and pastes it over Kryten’s programming fighting the virus, presenting it as Kryten being a drunk sheriff and the virus being four horsemen-based “blackhats”. Lister, Rimmer and Cat enter the “dream” via AR helmets and start off using the AR game’s playable characters and special skills to good use but when the virus takes away their abilities they have to pull themselves out of the game physically. Luckily during this time Kryten comes to his senses and “fires” an anti-virus that wipes out the four horsemen and therefore the virus in general. It’s a really fun look at the literal idea of a computer virus, VR gaming and Westerns all in one package. Top marks.
The other two episodes that I think standout even among the rest of Series VI are “Legion” and “Emohawk: Polymorph II”. Legion sees our lead quartet arrive at a space station where everyone is long dead (given they’re over three million years into history, not a big shocker…) but soon a person in a mask appears and begin to show them around and help his new guests by removing Lister’s inflamed appendix then and there and giving Rimmer a “Hard Light” hologram projection which allows him to actually touch objects and people and even taste. Legion wishes for them to stay and gives them each their ideal rooms but everyone, for some reason, wants to head back off in a small green spacecraft looking for their ran-down old ship instead and it’s here Legion reveals his secret: he is a gestalt entity, he only comes into existence when other lifeforms are on his space station, becoming a mix of all those on board. This meant in the past he was a creation of some of the greatest minds in the galaxy who stayed there, but now was instead a combination of our four leads. Kryten figures out a plan that involves rendering everyone unconscious apart from himself, meaning Legion only had Kryten’s mind and therefore was unable to refuse to help. Lot’s of great moments, especially some more slapstick violence than normal for a Red Dwarf episode, but it worked.
Everyone settles down for a nice meal with the weird being known as Legion.
Despite what the title suggests “Emohawk: Polymorph II” isn’t actually any kind of direct sequel, it just uses a creature with similar powers to the classic foe. When Starbug is damaged they decide to trade with some Gelf, or “Genetically Engineered Life Forms (so created by humans in order to stick to the “no aliens” rule of Red Dwarf) and in the end they trade the needed parts in exchange for Lister marrying one of the clan’s daughters, which given they look like overweight hairy ape-people doesn’t go down well. It does lead to one of my all-time favourite gags as Rimmer, Cat and Kryten leave the camp expecting to free Lister in the morning but instead he appears running behind them and shouts “Change of plan! Leg it!!” As revenge the chief Gelf unleashes the “Emohawk” which can transform into any object and suck out personality traits, much like the old Polymorph. To throw even more nostalgia on the … fire? (huh?) Cat gets attacked and has his cool removed, turning him into Dwayne Dibley from the false reality in the previous series, where as Rimmer has his cowardice stolen, leading him to become Ace Rimmer from Series IV. It’s a rare case of Red Dwarf just jumping head first into call-backs. Eventually the Emohawk is defeated (before Ace Rimmer can sacrifice himself and Cat) to end the episode.
All that being said the remaining three episodes are still perfectly great on their own. “Psirens” kicks off the series and therefore has half of its running time devoted to establishing the new status quo but then does go into a story about a genetically engineered species called Psirens that appear as the object of someone’s desire and then suck their brains out with a straw. Some good laughs are had with the concept and eventually Starbug escapes but with a Psiren on board posing as Lister. The crew determine the real Lister by getting them both to play the guitar and killing the one that can actually play well. Well, wounding it, anyway, it escapes into the bowels of the ship and is eventually killed by Kryten, who at this point was crushed into a cube, landing on its head. “Rimmerworld” sees Rimmer leave his friends in the lurch on a simulant ship and escape in an escape pod but end up getting sucked through a vortex that, thanks to the time different between the two sides of the vortex, takes Starbug a few minutes to follow him from their time, but 600 years for Rimmer. On board his pod is, among other things, the ability to terraform the planet and cloning tech. By the time Starbug arrives the planet is populated entirely by clones of Rimmer, who all being Rimmer, have imprisoned the real Rimmer in order to receive the glory (wearing a H on their forehead as a symbol of power). It’s great fun and Chris Barrie has plenty to do, that’s for sure! He is eventually rescued and the team head off once again.
If this did end up being the final series, at least they had a good nostalgic look back at what they’d already achieved…
The finale, and for four years what seemed like the actual final finale, is “Out of time”, which sees Starbug locate a special facility protected by pockets of “unreality” meant to dissuade potential thieves and eventually (after some funny “unreality” hijix) they discover it has a Time Drive that allows them to travel back in time. Admittedly being stuck three million years in deep space in 1960 makes very little difference compared to the situation they currently found themselves in but they’re soon contacted by a second Starbug containing future versions of themselves that managed to use the Time Drive and other tech to reach Earth and have lived spoiled lives eating fine food with some of the worst people in history… plus Lister is a brain in a jar, somehow. Despite being warned not to look at their future selves Lister and co. peak in and are disgusted with what they see so tell them to get off their craft, without scanning their fresh Time Drive so they can fix theirs. The future Starbug then locks on to them and Future Rimmer tells them that they’d rather commit suicide by killing their past selves than go back to just pottering around deep space, so a fight erupts and Lister, Cat and Kryten are killed leading to Rimmer, in a rare act of intelligence and bravery, heads to the Time Drive and destroys it, therefore making it so those future selves could never have existed. There was actually a scene after that where the celebrate their success that was cut in favour of an explosion and a “The End?” tag, and again, for a good while that really was the end… (the original ending was featured on the “Smeg Ups” outtakes tape, which me and my friends considered the “real ending” given it gave a legit conclusion to the story until Series VII launched)
*wipes tear from eye* It’s…. it’s so beautiful…
Again, I hate not writing anything here, it’s not like I think it’s literally faultless, but for a sci-fi comedy it ticks both boxes and then some for all six episodes. Along with Series V I can put on any episode and just enjoy the whole 25-ish minutes no matter which one I stick on, and that’s something I can’t say for a hell of a lot of things.
We’re up past Red Dwarf XII now and crew doesn’t look like that, so it’s safe to say the crisis was averted!
Red Dwarf – Series VI is right there with V in being pretty much the perfect Sci-fi Comedy, ticking both boxes in every episode with clever writing for both the jokes and the science fiction concepts. While the next series has its moments, and I believe I really liked Series X (I’ve only watched it once, mind you…) it’s safe to say Red Dwarf never hits these heights again.