With the new series of the long running British cult sci-fi comedy heading to our screens at the end of September, James and I thought it was time to look back at one of our all time favourite shows. Now, every time any of us go to make a list of anything it is quite an arduous experience as we attempt to whittle the list down to 10 and this was no exception. So, read on for our countdown of our all time favourite episodes of Red Dwarf.
Red Dwarf is a ground breaking British sci-fi sitcom which has run on and off since 1988. It was written, conceived and created by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor and was initially based on Dave Hollins: Space Cadet, a series of sketches that ran on Radio 4 in the early 80s. These short sketches followed Hollins, a space traveler marooned with only a computer for company. Grant and Naylor changed some elements and turned the sketch in a sitcom.
The show follows Dave Lister, the last human being alive. Following an accident that claims the life of his crew, Lister finds himself stranded 3 millions year from earth, with only Arnold Rimmer, a hologram of his dead bunk mate, a creature who evolved from his cat and the ships senile computer for company. They would be joined in later series by Kryten, a neurotic mechanoid. These characters would become the heart of this wonderful show.
The early seasons, were shot on a very low budget and follow most of the classic sitcom troupes. As its popularity grew, so did its budget and from series 3 onward, the sets were upgraded and the stories took on more of a sci-fi element. An interesting fact is that although the show is set in deep space, the crew never actually encounter any aliens, everything is always man made or descended from humans.
The show continued to go from strength to strength until it crescendoed in a thrilling cliffhanging series 6 finale in 1993. It was at this point that Rob Grant left the show and the wonderful Grant Naylor partnership was broken. The show went on hiatus and we would have to wait until 1997 until The Dwarfers returned with a 7th series. It didn’t work. Rob Grant’s departure coupled with Chris Barrie (the heart of the show) departing mid season, the show which hit such high heights was falling a little flat. Season 8, improved with Barrie’s return but it still struggled to hit the heights of the original run. With Red Dwarf now airing on Dave, the current run is just on the right side of nostalgia. So, with the new series just days away, lets count down our favourite episodes.
A quick note: there may be some SPOILERS, but if you’re reading this list you probably already know what gespatcho soup means, who Queeg really is, and why baby Lister’s box had Ouroboros on it. Enjoy!
Just missing out: “Better Than Life”, “Out of Time”, “Polymorph”, “Me2”
10. “Legion” (Series 6, episode 2)
When the Dwarfers get caught in a tractor beam, they encounter a robot who takes them prisoner.
Dave: Series 6 went in a bit of different direction for The Dwarfers, gone was the stand alone format that had served them so well and instead we had a series long story strand. After Lister forgot which Planatoid he parked it behind, Red Dwarf (and Holly) was stolen, packed aboard Starbug, the motley crew are of in hot pursuit.
In episode 2, they are held hostage by a gestalt entity, made up of all their personalities. I love Series 4-6 because it really feels like a proper Sci-Fi show with comedy elements, rather than the situation comedy of the early series. The stories were more complex and it also plays more on the very subtle religious element running through the entire series; Lister the atheist being the Cat God, Horsemen of The Apocalypse etc. Here, the notion of Legion is taken direct from The Bible “And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many.” (Mark 5:9) is replicated word for word by the villain. Now, that is probably the first and only time a Snooty Usher will quote scripture, not only is this a deceptively complex plot but it is littered with comedy genius. Rimmer mistaking the light switch for a work of art, using anti matter chop sticks and let’s not forget The Revenge of The Surf Boarding Killer Bikini Vampire Girls.
9. “Rimmerworld” (Series 6, episode 5)
Rimmer is trapped on a moon for 600 years and clones himself, leading to the clones imprisoning him.
James: So, I know this basic idea is rather similar to “Terrorform” from the previous series, but the way that Rimmer’s clones treat their creator is perfect. The early series were a sitcom set in space, and the Lister/Rimmer relationship drove most of them. The antagonism between the two was always well done, but when the budget increased, Grant and Naylor could expand the sci-fi elements. This meant that they could finally properly explore Rimmer’s worst enemy – himself.
Although Dave and Cat (and Kryten eventually gets in on the act) constantly mock and insult Arnold, they are still lead characters in a comedy show, so however justified, they can only go so far with it. It was an idea they played with in “Better Than Life”, but they expanded on the idea later on in the series. Like “Terrorform”, here it is Rimmer himself who gives him his comeuppance. When he crash lands on a planet with a terraforming pod (after a daring diversion to save the crew from a simulant that looked a lot like a cowardly escape), he manages to create the conditions for sustainable life and then clones himself. But, every fault in his personality leads to his clones immediately overthrowing him and taking him prisoner leading to a FIVE CENTURY spell in a tiny cell, before the crew come and rescue him.
Any deviation from the Rimmer appearance is viewed as an abomination, which leads to some great lines on the planet (one clone says “you dare to address a norm using that face?” to Dave) and of course, the most beautiful clone is the leader’s concubine. Kryten’s medical examination of Mr Rimmer at the very beginning is very funny, as is the showdown with the simulant (“As ruthless, deranged killing machines go… you’re a bit of a babe”) Throw in two link to the ongoing storyline and you have a cracker. It actually feels a bit, and it makes me wonder if the writers ever considered fleshing the story out more in book form, like they did with “Backwards”.
8. “Backwards” (Series 3, episode 1)
The crew end up back on Earth, but with one small difference: time is running backwards.
James: Series 3 saw an increase in budget, and the first episode really shows. Most strikingly, there’s a new cast member, as this was when Robert Llewellyn joined the crew as Kryten, a service droid that Lister basically spends the rest of the series corrupting. We’ve also got new space crafts as Starbug 1 and 2 make their debut. It’s the combination of these new elements that sets up the episode, as Kryten’s driving test results in them going through a wormhole and ending up on Earth. However, with the universe heading towards the Big Crunch (the opposite of the Big Bang) time is running backwards.
Cat and Lister eventually catch-up with them, in the mean time Kryten and Rimmer have become The Sensation Reverse Brothers, a showbiz act who are wowing crowds with such spectacular feats as eating a boiled egg and drinking a glass of water… forwards! In the course of rescuing them, there is a backwards bar fight, and Cat has an unfortunate incident just as they are about to leave. A great episode that really makes the most of its premise, and it also features a fantastic opening segment with Cat and Lister discussing Wilma Flintstone.
7. “Gunmen Of The Apocalypse” (Series 6, episode 3)
The boys from the Dwarf have to fight off a virus in a Wild West dream.
Dave: Great fun, in order to escape some angry Simulants (evil robots). Kryten battles computer virus, to help the rest of the guys download themselves into his dreams via a wild west video game. Cat as a Gunslinger, Lister the knife man and the cowardly Rimmer as a bare knuckle fighter. Season 6 was a bit of a departure as we have mentioned and like “Legion”, this throws in some religious elements which are done wonderfully tongue in cheek. A fantastically re-watchable episode, which 23 years later, still delivers. Rimmer’s Dangerous Dan McGrew gets me every time.
James: The episode that won an International Emmy, and it’s probably the most ambitious of all of the Red Dwarf episodes. As Dave mentions, “Gunmen Of The Apocalypse” still holds up well all these years later. This was an episode gave Kryten the chance to be the hero and save the day, and he does it in a typically Kryten way. It’s really enjoyable to see the crew play different characters, with Danny John-Jules as Cat as The Riveira Kid probably my favourite. Before we get to the Wild West though, there’s Lister’s Gumshoe virtual reality and the Vindaloovians. A top notch episode.
6. “Future Echoes” (Series 1, episode 2)
Accelerating past the speed of light causes Lister to see visions of the future.
Dave: This is the first great episode of the series and was second on my list. This was the first and somewhat rare venture into the sci-fi genre in the early years. It focuses on real scientific theories, theories that are explored further in the wonderful novel Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers. This was one of the better received episodes of the opening season and is widely considerex as being responsible for the show continuing.
The episode itself is great, mainly because it really starts to develop the relationship between Rimmer and Lister. It is still early but the chemistry that is at the heart Red Dwarf’s longevity, is most definitely there. There is a scene where Lister encounters a future version of Rimmer and then runs into the present day Rimmer which still has me in stitches and to this day remains one of my favourite moments in the shows run. This, and Holly giving Rimmer a “Helen Shapiro” haircut are the main reasons why I rate this episode so highly.
5. “Quarantine” (Series 5, episode 4)
Rimmer puts Kryten, Cat, and Lister in quarantine, leading to them getting cabin fever and him going slightly strange.
Dave: Gun to my head, I would say that series 5 is the best of the run so far. Rimmer’s decent into madness is a treat. Mr Flibble, now that is just funny. However, while Chris Barrie is again brilliant, it is the scenes between the other guys as they are stuck in quarantine that really makes this episode fly for me. “What Carcus magazine”, Kryten’s diatribe on Lister blowing his nose and The Cat’s dodgy vocabulary all provide some great moments. Probably the most consistently laugh out loud episode of the whole run. Brilliant.
James: The fact that Cat, Lister, and Kryten last only 5 days before they are ready to rip each other apart (and have already started) sums up what makes this a good episode. Chris Barrie’s performance as the holo-virus infected Rimmer really puts it over the top. This is more than just a bottle episode though, and the early parts – especially Rimmer’s obsession with the Space Corp Directives and the trip to save Dr Lanstrom – are all really good stuff.
4. “White Hole” (Series 4, episode 4)
Holly’s IQ is boosted to 12,368 but has to turn herself off to maintain power, leading to the Dwarfers having to survive on basic rations.
Dave: This is the episode that topped my list. I just love it, it is the one I have watched the most. Kryten tries to recover Holly’s 6000 IQ, by reducing her operational life span. It works too well, giving her an huge IQ but only minutes to live. This is coupled with the guys facing A White Hole, a phenomenon that spews time back into the universe.
Lister playing pool with planets, the return of Talkie Toaster and one of the few episodes where Holly is the main focus. There are so many great moments in this episode that really make it my all time favourite. Rimmer deconstructing whether or not Captain Oates’ sacrifice really was that noble after all is just genius (it is actually responsible for helping me in a pub quiz once, when asked what Cpt Oates’s last words were), the repetition of the description of The White Hole and then Rimmer trying to explain the situation to Holly when she has only minutes to live. “whiteholespewingtimeenginesdeadairsupplylowadviceplease” In fact, I love this so much, I am off to watch it again.
3. “Dimension Jump” (Series 4, episode 5)
In an alternative universe, Rimmer is a great guy.
James: Famously, Chris Barrie wanted a break from play a “git” (he was also starring in the incredibly successful Brittas Empire at the same time), and so Grant and Naylor created Ace Rimmer (what a guy) for him. We have another look at an alternative reality – probably the most explicitly sci-fi idea in the series – where Rimmer was held down a year at school, and used that humiliation to continually drive himself forwards until he became an ace jet pilot, instead of the sniveling smeg head he became. Ace Rimmer’s time on Red Dwarf is packed with great one-liners, and this is just an all round excellent episode. In fact, re-watching this made me realise that the exploits of Ace Rimmer are the source of my love for Danger 5, the Australian TV series.
And of course – “smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast”
Dave: Rimmer has always been my favourite character in the show and here it is great to see Chris Barrie get a chance to play the hero. It also gives the rest of the cast a chance to have a little fun with their characters too, with Kryten’s Bongo being particularly funny. The episode itself is great and really signaled the start of the shift to a more sci-fi style of episode. Standout moments include the crash protocol (“open the in-flight magazine and start reading, the dullness of the articles acts as a sedative”) and Cat bemoaning that he is bleeding an unfashionable colour. This is Barrie’s episode and he is great in the duel role, as he always is. Got to meet him once and had a one on one chat with him, lovely fella. Who says never meet your heroes?
2. “Back To Reality” (Series 5, episode 6)
The crew find out that Red Dwarf is only a virtual reality game, and their real personalities are ever so slightly different
James: Before The Matrix, there was “Back To Reality”. The trip to the crashed ship Esperanto (where even the haddock has committed suicide) leads them to being chased by a Despair Squid. They are attacked… and it’s GAME OVER. Literally, because they wake up and realise Red Dwarf is a virtual reality game they have been playing for 4 years.
In the real world, the boys from the Dwarf are very different from their on board personas. Kryten is Cybernautics Division Detective Jake Bullet, who he assumes is a hardboiled rule breaker but is actually a glorified traffic warden. Lister becomes Sebastien Doyle, the leader of the Ministry of Alteration, and Rimmer is his drop-out, dead beat half brother. And, of course, The Cat is Duane Dibbley. The characters working out who they really are is hilarious.
Of course, it all ends up being the work of the Despair Squid, which gives a load more laughs – especially the car chase. Only a slightly corny last line stops this from being a perfect episode for me, but it’s still my favourite.
Dave: I remember when this first aired, it was the season 5 finale. Now remember this was 1992 and we had no internet, no spoilers, no websites to tell us anything. So, imagine my surprise when the show I loved so much turned out to be a total immersion video game, it looked like they were bringing the show to an end. The 15 year old Dave was shell shocked, thankfully, it was all an illusion and The Dwarfers were all still on the ship, not sure this would have worked today given how easy it is to spoil everything. A brilliant episode, Duane Dibbley gets all the laughs, but it is, as always Chris Barrie’s take on Rimmer as a down trodden tramp that shines. There is also a wonderful cameo from the great Timothy Spall as a snarky technician. Classic.
1. “Terrorform” (Series 5, episode 3)
An entire world based on Rimmer’s psyche? What could go wrong?
Dave: Finishing 3rd on both of our lists, this is a worthy winner. I just love the idea of a planet based on the landscape of someones mind and who more terrifying that the neurotic Rimmer. The camaraderie of the Dwarfers are brilliant here, when they attack the unspeakable one to save Arnie, he may be the butt of the jokes, but he is part of the crew, a nice touch. Then there is the end, with the Musketeer Rimmer’s vanquishing the hordes of darkness is a great moment, “taste my blade loneliness, and may your foulness rot in hell“. This also has my all time favourite Red Dwarf 1-liners and it comes from The Cat, it will be difficult to explain the context but it’s “Did someone suggest he pick the tab for lunch” watch it and enjoy. The best episode from the best series of one of the best British TV shows of all time.
James: Kryten awakes to find himself damaged (with the advise to “Check trade in price against a Series 5000”) and has to be cut free by Lister even though he “wouldn’t trust you to open a can of sardines that was already open”. Rimmer and Kryten were on a moon that takes on the form of the psyche of whoever is there. Obviously Rimmer is the worst possible person to be on that planet, as hideous monsters and desolate landmarks are manifested by Rimmer’s sick, sick mind. The rest of the Dwarfers go to rescue him, but have to do something they have never done before – make Rimmer feel good about himself. “Terrorform” is a brilliant story and probably the funniest script (it’s got a binary joke that is joins the binary solo from Flight Of The Conchords in my top 2 binary jokes) of the whole series – a well deserved winner.
So after much deliberation and multiple re-watches, that is our Top 10. A special bonus for reading to the end, below are our individual Top 10.
Enjoy the new series!
- “White Hole” (Series 4, episode 4)
- “Future Echoes” (Series 1, episode 2)
- “Terrorform” (Series 5, episode 3)
- “Quarantine” (Series 5, episode 4)
- “Legion” (Series 6, episode 2)
- “Gunmen Of The Apocalypse” (Series 6, episode 3)
- “Dimension Jump” (Series 4, episode 5)
- “Back To Reality” (Series 5, episode 6)
- “Me2” (Series 1, episode 6)
- “Polymorph” (Series 3, episode 3)
James’ Top 10
- “Back To Reality” (Series 5, episode 6)
- “Dimension Jump” (Series 4, episode 5)
- “Terrorform” (Series 5, episode 3)
- “Backwards” (Series 3, episode 1)
- “Rimmerworld” (Series 6, episode 5)
- “Better Than Life” (series 2, episode 2)
- “Gunmen of The Apocalypse (Series 6, episode 3
- “Quarantine” (Series 5, episode 4)
- “Out of Time” (Series 6, episode 6)
- “Polymorph (Series 3, episode 3)
Thanks for reading, smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast.