Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.
Written by Rob Grant & Doug Naylor. Directed by Juliet May (episodes 1-3, 5, 6) and Grant Naylor (episodes 2, 4-6). Broadcast on BBC2.
NOTE: With Ed Bye busy on wife Ruby Wax’s comedy show, Juliet May was hired as Red Dwarf’s new director. However, she struggled with the sci-fi elements of the series and lost the confidence of the cast, so left partway through production. Writers Rob Grant and Doug Naylor took over, using a portmanteau credit. (May has since had a successful career in TV, directing episodes of Chalk, New Tricks, Miranda, Call the Midwife and much else. She gamely appears on Red Dwarf V’s DVD extras, speaking honestly and good-naturedly about her experiences on the show.)
Episode 1: Holoship (20 February 1992): The gang encounter a spaceship crewed entirely by holograms and Rimmer is given the chance to sign up… A decent episode with some heart and good gags. Last series, it was Kryten who fell in love in the opening episode but had to give her up; here it’s Rimmer.
Observations: Jane Horrocks puts on a plummy accent to play Nirvanah Crane, the officer who Rimmer falls for. Don Warrington adds even more class when he cameos as an aloof, arrogant hologram. Lister is said to (still) be in his mid-20s.
Best gag: Rimmer is teleported off Starbug. Kryten says, “They’ve taken Mr Rimmer! They’ve taken Mr Rimmer!” The Cat: “Quick, let’s get out of here before they bring him back!”
Episode 2: The Inquisitor (27 February 1992): A mysterious android arrives and judges the crew: if they fail to prove that they’ve led a worthwhile life they’ll be erased from history… It’s an intriguing sci-fi idea with some legs. It’s a shame it isn’t funnier, though.
Observations: Jack Docherty plays the Inquisitor and becomes the third actor from sketch show Absolutely to guest star in Red Dwarf (after Morwenna Banks in Stasis Leak and Gordon Kennedy in The Last Day). Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules and Robert Llewellyn also play the android in the trial scenes. An alternative-timeline Lister is portrayed by Jake Abraham.
Best gag: “I can do better than that, Kryten. I can give you 15!”
Episode 3: Terrorform (5 March 1992): Rimmer and Kryten crash on a planetoid that adapts its terrain to reflect Rimmer’s unconscious mind… It’s fast-paced and funny, and also nicely plotted across the half-hour. A good Rimmer story for the second time in three episodes.
Observations: Rimmer doesn’t feature in the first 10 minutes. The location work is the show’s first ever night-shoot, and it’s really well done – lots of smoke, coloured lights and fire make it look like a Hammer movie. In the scenes on the planet, where Rimmer has physical form, Chris Barrie doesn’t wear the H symbol on his forehead. He also plays musketeer-like manifestations of Rimmer’s emotions.
Best gag: Lister and the Cat type out a conversation on a keyboard because they’re too scared to talk. (They think a tarantula is nearby.)
Episode 4: Quarantine (12 March 1992): Affected by a virus that turns him insane, Rimmer locks his colleague up in a cell… It’s a bit lumbering to begin with, but once the quarantine stuff kicks in the episode is very enjoyable. Chris Barrie’s having a blast with normal Rimmer being a twat and ill Rimmer wearing a gingham dress and army boots.
Observations: How gorgeous is the model filming of Starbug landing on the snow-covered planet? (Lots. Lots gorgeous.)
Best gag: Mr Flibble.
Episode 5: Demons and Angels (19 March 1992): An accident creates two duplicate Red Dwarfs – one is good and pure, the other is bad and decaying… The same problem from Quarantine exists again here: for the first half or so the comedy is in a low gear while sci-fi plotting dominates. But it picks up once the seedy versions of the characters arrive.
Observations: This is the last episode to feature Red Dwarf itself for quite some time. All five regulars play ‘high’ and ‘low’ equivalents of their characters. The former are pacifist, Buddhist-like hippies; the latter are twisted, violent psychopaths. (There are lots of split-screen and composite shots to show us the same actor in multiple roles. Some are more successful than others.)
Best gag: The low Rimmer. It’s as if they’d cast a Tory MP to play Servalan from Blake’s 7 in an episode where she dresses up as a Dr Frank-n-Furter who’s a fan of the Sex Pistols and wants a shag.
Episode 6: Back to Reality (26 March 1992): Having apparently been killed in a crash, the gang ‘wake up’ attached to a virtual-reality machine. For four years, they’ve been playing a computer game called Red Dwarf… I remember watching this on transmission, 10 days after my 13th birthday. I fell for it hook, line, sinker, rod and copy of Angling Times. I assumed it was the last ever episode of Red Dwarf and this was a subversive way of wrapping the show up. The whole thing has a moody vibe about it, especially the oceanic opening but also in the ‘real’ world, which is a 1984-ish Britain of fascists and thugs. The plotting is lovely, with clues well seeded early on and some big twists. And it’s routinely funny. The best episode since Polymorph.
Observations: Timothy Spall has one scene as a technician. In the ‘real’ world, Lister is Sebastian Doyle, a wealthy and corrupt politician. Rimmer is Sebastian’s down-and-out brother, Billy. Kryten, meanwhile, is Jake Bullet, a half-human cop. And the Cat is a nerd called Duane Dibbley who has a key to a Salvation Army hostel. We also see the next batch of players in the Red Dwarf RPG: versions of Lister, Rimmer, Kryten, the Cat and Kochanski. This episode has no scenes set on Red Dwarf itself. In fact, Back to Reality is the start of a 14-episode run where the ship is only seen in very occasional flashbacks.
Best gag: It might have been sullied by self-indulgent callbacks in later episodes but the Duane Dibbley stuff is great.
Best episode: Back to Reality. Worst episode: The Inquisitor.
Review: A really entertaining set of episodes. The series is evolving yet again, though. For a kick-off, the writers seemed to be bored of their title ship. Red Dwarf doesn’t feature in episode six at all, while there’s a vast reduction of scenes in Lister and Rimmer’s bunkroom. Starbug is now the setting of choice: it’s used in all six episodes, and in the first two we don’t even find out why the characters are in the shuttle. It’s now just somewhere they hang out. Elsewhere, the crutch of running gags is creeping into the scripts more and more. One example sees the Cat suggest a plan of action and then Kryten tell him it’s an excellent idea with just two minor drawbacks (minor drawbacks that prove the plan is nonsense). Additionally, despite being introduced as a senile butler, Kryten continues to have encyclopedic knowledge of whatever sci-fi element the plot throws up – holoships, the Inquisitor, psi-moons… Put politely, this is economic storytelling; put critically it’s just lazy. We’re also seeing a shift of the balance of power in Rimmer’s favour. Lister is still nominally the lead, but three of these episodes could be said to be about Arnold. He even has two sex scenes. Compare with poor Hattie Hayridge as Holly. The odd gag aside, she’s been reduced to reading out technobabble. (It’s noticeable that when Back to Reality sees the characters wake up from their ‘fantasy’, Holly isn’t included.) Nevertheless, the comedy is good, the production values very fine indeed, and the cast enjoyable company.
Nine blatant clues out of 10