Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.
Written by Rob Grant & Doug Naylor. Directed by Ed Bye. Broadcast on BBC2.
Regulars: The same as series three.
Episode 1: Camille (14 February 1991): The crew find a genetically engineered life form that appears to individuals as their heart’s desire… A Kryten-heavy episode to start the series. Not only does Lister try to break the mechanoid’s programming so he can lie, but he encounters love for the first time. The concept of Camille looking like different people is really well done, just with simple editing rather than any special effects. An okay episode.
Observations: Kryten sees Camille as another android (played by Robert Llewellyn’s wife, Judy Pascoe); Rimmer sees her as an attractive female hologram (Francesca Folan); Lister sees her as a Liverpudlian version of Kochanski (Suzanne Rhatigan); and the Cat sees… himself. (The Cat gag is greeted by whoops and applause from the studio audience. Presumably Red Dwarf fans are getting hold of tickets in big numbers now.) The story is a spin on Casablanca. Starbug is featured.
Best gag: Flirting with Camille, Kryten asks, “What is that fragrance? It smells divine.” Camille: “WD-40.”
Episode 2: DNA (21 February 1991): The crew find a UFO, which contains a machine that turns Kryten into a human… The episode’s worth seeing for Robert Llewellyn’s terrific performance as the confused human version of Kryten.
Observations: As well as human-Kryten, Robert Llewellyn plays three of Kryten’s spare heads. The show’s backstory is rejigged in this episode: Lister is said to be from the 23rd century (it was the 21st in series two) and he claims he actually dated Kristine Kochanski, a woman he barely knew in series one.
Best gag: Kryten’s list of medical problems now that he’s human. His eyes don’t have a zoom facility, for example, while his nipples no longer regulate body temperature and pick up Jazz FM. He then shows Lister a double Polaroid of something strange that’s happened to his penis…
Episode 3: Justice (28 February 1991): The crew find a pod in space, which contains either a female prison guard or a psychotic android. They take it to a penal colony so it can be opened safely, but Rimmer is put on trial for multiple murders… There’s a convoluted set-up, but once we get to the trial scene it’s good stuff.
Observations: The penal colony is represented by fantastic location filming at a disused water-pumping station… and some of the most basic sets ever seen in a BBC sitcom. Seriously, the courtroom must have cost £3.50. There’s also more retconning going on: the original crew of Red Dwarf has changed from 167 people to 1,167. Nicholas Ball guest stars as the android in the pod. Starbug features again.
Best gag: Lister’s space mumps are funny, but the trial scene steals it. Kryten is acting as Rimmer’s lawyer. He says of Rimmer, “A man of such awesome stupidity–” and Rimmer objects. Kryten continues: “A man of such awesome stupidity he even objects to his own defense counsel.”
Episode 4: White Hole (7 March 1991): Kryten forms a plan to restore Holly’s massive IQ, but accidentally reduces her run-time to just a few minutes… A rare chance for Hattie Hayridge to shine as Holly, this is a slick, funny-throughout episode. The “So, what is it?” scene is especially good.
Observations: Talkie Toaster appears for the first time since series one (he’s now voiced by David Ross, the original Kryten). Starbug is used yet again.
Best gag: Kryten speaks of a mechanoid friend who suffered from senility: “His name was Gilbert. But he preferred it if people called him Ramses Niblick The Third Kerplunk Kerplunk Whoops Where’s My Thribble?”
Episode 5: Dimension Jump (14 March 1991): A charming, likeable and talented Arnold Rimmer – known as Ace – arrives from another dimension… After two episodes not really ‘about’ anything, this is an enjoyable character story for Rimmer – even if once Ace arrives nothing much actually happens. Chris Barrie is excellent playing the two incarnations, and Ace is a fantastic creation. A cross between Bond and Biggles, he even has his own catchphrase: “Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast.”
Observations: The episode begins with a prologue set years earlier: Simon Gaffney and Kalli Greenwood return from series three to play young Rimmer and his mum. There’s then a sequence in the alternative reality: as well as Chris Barrie as Ace Rimmer, we see Craig Charles playing mechanic Spanners, Danny-John Jules as a padre, Hattie Hayridge as a secretary called Millie, and Robert Llewellyn as Bongo, Ace’s boss. The whole thing is a kind of Top Gun spoof, complete with incidental music not a million light years away from Berlin’s Take My Breath Away. Starbug is used again. A crawl of text at the end of the episode tells you that Ace continued to search other realities for versions of Rimmer (he’ll be back in this universe in series seven). Rather than the usual theme tune at the end, there’s a chintzy organ version to tie in with a gag about Rimmer’s musical tastes.
Best gag: Lister’s tales of fishing trips in Liverpool canals. “Used to go condom fishing. I swear, one time I caught a two-pound, black-ribbed nobbler!”
Episode 6: Meltdown (21 March 1991): Kryten finds a matter-transportation device, which teleports the crew to an Earth-like planet where droids of famous historical figures are fighting a war… It has its moments, but the ‘production’ scuttles the comedy. It’s half-arsed at times. It comes off like a student video.
Observations: This episode has series four’s only scenes filmed outdoors (an exterior scene in Justice was cut). Sadly the locations are pretty terrible. The production team have clearly just gone to some non-descript fields and – in one lacklustre scene – someone’s back garden. There’s also some truly awful stock footage used to represent some dinosaurs. (At least Kryten says the creatures look unconvincing.) Tony Hawks has his most substantial Red Dwarf role yet: he plays the Caligula droid in a funny scene with Lister and the Cat. As well as Caligula (AD 12-41), other famous people represented as droids include Pythagoras (circa 570-495 BC), Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), Albert Einstein (1879-1955), Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), Stan Laurel (1890-1965), Noel Coward (1899-1973), Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), Mother Teresa (1910-1997, the only one still alive when this episode was made), Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962), Elvis Presley (1935-1977) and Father Christmas. For the second episode running the end music has been replaced: here it’s sung in the style of Elvis.
Best gag: Rimmer’s boring stories about games of Risk he played when he was 17, including gleeful retellings of specific dice throws. Bored Lister asks how he can remember such detail. Rimmer: “I jotted it down in my Risk campaign book!”
Best episode: Dimension Jump. Worst episode: Meltdown.
Review: This run of episodes is superficially the same as 1989’s batch, and has the same regular cast, but there are some interesting changes. Rimmer is more of a nerd now, rather than just an egotist. He has an anoraky love of telegraph poles, Hammond-organ music, diesel engines and board games. Kryten, meanwhile, has found his role within the team. He’s become Mr Exposition, who can rattle off reams of information on DNA, white holes, simulants, etc, as the plot demands it. Stories tend to come from outside Red Dwarf itself now, rather than being generated by the core characters, and all the plots are based on sci-fi gimmicks (even if Camille and DNA both give Llewellyn stuff to play and Dimension Jump is about Rimmer). One big change within the series itself is that the intended running order was switched. The start of Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait on 19 January 1991 resulted in the BBC delaying the transmission of the two military-themed episodes – a well-intentioned if oversensitive move. (Dimension Jump was planned to be the series opener, but ended up being screened fifth.) Enjoyable stuff, if never quite matching the heights of series two and three.
Eight kippers out of 10