Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.
Written by Rob Grant & Doug Naylor. Directed by Andy de Emmony. Broadcast on BBC2.
Regulars: Holly’s been dropped, so we’re now down to Lister, Rimmer, the Cat and Kryten.
Episode 1: Psirens (7 October 1993): Two hundred years later: the crew wake up from suspended animation. They’re in Starbug, chasing a stolen Red Dwarf, but soon encounter creatures who suck out your brains… The episode sets up the show’s new format well enough and there are some good laughs.
Observations: The psiren monsters pose as women in attempts to lure the crew into danger. The Cat is tempted by two sexpots who want him for his body; Lister is shown visions of Kristine Kochanski and a woman he fancied when he was young; while Kryten sees his creator, Professor Mamet. Clare Grogan returns as Kochanski for the first time since series two’s Stasis Leak, while Anita Dobson cameos in the same scene. Jenny Agutter – Jenny Agutter! – plays Mamet. Craig Charles also plays one of the psirens when it poses as Lister, though it’s guitar-noodling hands are those of Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera. At the time of writing, this is the middle episode of Red Dwarf – there had been 30 before, and there have been 30 since.
Best gag: The two Listers are challenged to play the guitar so Rimmer, Kryten and the Cat can determine which is a psiren. As soon as one Dave shows genuine talent they know that’s the imposter so shoot at it.
Episode 2: The Legion (14 October 1993): Starbug is ensnared by a tractor beam, which takes it to a space station where a strange man called Legion lives in apparent luxury… A so-so episode. The slapstick’s quite fun.
Observations: When the gang meet Legion he converts Rimmer’s hologramatic projection unit from ‘soft light’ to ‘hard light’ (a bit of sci-fi nonsense that means Rimmer can now touch things). There are a noticeable number of references to old episodes – The Inquisitor, Psirens, Timeslides – which suggest the writers now expect viewers to be ‘fans’. Robert Llewellyn plays Legion in one scene.
Best gag: During a crisis Rimmer demands they step up to red alert. Kryten: “Sir, are you sure? It does mean changing the bulb.”
Episode 3: Gunmen of the Apocalypse (21 October 1993): There’s great comic momentum to this one. It clips along and packs a lot of good stuff into 30 minutes. Blah blah blah plot plot plot means that Lister, Rimmer, the Cat and Kryten end up in a computer-generated Wild West simulation…
Observations: The episode starts with a black-and-white film-noir spoof because Lister in taking part in a virtual-reality roleplaying game. (Jennifer Calvert from CITV sitcom Spatz plays Loretta, the dame he’s shagging.) In the episode proper, Denis Lill plays the rogue android the crew encounter; Liz Hickling is his second-in-command. The set used for the Wild West town was a pre-existing site built by aficionados in Kent. When Lister enters Kryten’s fantasy he assumes the identity of Brett Riverboat, knife man. Rimmer is Dangerous Dan McGrew, a bare-fist fighter, while the Cat is a gunslinger called the Riviera Kid. In keeping with the theme of the story, the final shot sees Starbug flying off into the sunset and the end music has been replaced by a Western version. This episode won an International Emmy Award in 1994.
Best gag: When the others realise Kryten’s battle with a computer virus is being played out in a Wild West dream, the Cat says, “Isn’t there some way we can get in there and help him? Somehow turn ourselves into tiny, electronic people and get into his dream? Isn’t there some sort of gizmo lying around here somewhere that could do that? And if not –” he bangs the table “– why not?!”
Episode 4: Emohawk – Polymorph II (28 October 1993): An emohawk, a small creature that feeds on people’s emotions, finds its way onto Starbug… The story is in three sections – the encounter with a spaceship, negotiations with some GELFs and a rehash of an old episode back on Starbug – which are only loosely connected. A few good lines, but it gets tiresomely self-indulgent. Going over old ground is rarely a good idea, and this episode feels desperately eager to please the type of fan who goes to Red Dwarf conventions.
Observations: This is, in effect, a sequel to *three* classic episodes – Polymorph from series three, Dimension Jump from series four and Back to Reality from series five. When Rimmer is bled of his bitterness and negativity, he transforms into Dimension Jump’s Ace Rimmer – haircut, accent and all. (The running gag from the earlier story – “What a guy” – is given a couple more airings.) The Cat, meanwhile, is drained of his cool so ends up as Duane Dibbley from Back to Reality. Hugh Quarshie voices an automated spaceship that speaks in reverse (“Plead you do how?”). Ainsley Harriott and Steven Wickham play GELFs.
Best gag: “Change of plan! Leg it!”
Episode 5: Rimmerworld (4 November 1993): Rimmer is separated from the others and, thanks to a time-squeezing wormhole, has to live on a planet for 600 years while only a few hours pass on Starbug… Another episode that takes a surprisingly long time to set up its premise. But once we get to the world of multiple Rimmers it’s quite fun. Just a shame it’s so fleeting.
Observations: The simulant ship from Gunmen of the Apocalypse and its sexy female robot (Liz Hickling) appear again. Chris Barrie, of course, plays the entire population of a planet: its Roman-like ruler, various guards and even a concubine.
Best gag: Lister has a plan for how to escape the prison cell: “Why don’t we scrape away this mortar here, slide one of these bricks out, then using rope weaved from this hessian rig up a pulley system, so that when a guard comes in he sets off a trip-wire, gets laid out, and then we put Rimmer in the guard’s uniform, he leads us out, we steal some swords, and fight our way back to the Bug?” Kryten, holding up the object in his hand: “Or we could use the teleporter.”
Episode 6: Out of Time (11 November 1993): Starbug flies through some ‘unreality bubbles’, pockets of space that cause hallucinations. Then, after the crew have found a time machine, versions of themselves from the future show up… The episode was rewritten very late in the day and only lightly rehearsed, a fact you can infer from seeing the actors reading dialogue off monitors or cue cards. Showing the crew as old men is a good idea, but sadly it’s only a small piece of a muddled, cluttered episode. Too many ideas, not enough refinement.
Observations: This is the last episode of Red Dwarf to be co-written by Rob Grant. The final scene sees Lister, the Cat and Kryten all killed off and Rimmer attempting to change history… ‘To be continued,’ promises a caption.
Best gag: Having installed a time machine on Starbug, the crew travel to 16 August 1421… but of course they’re still in deep space, so it’s a rather meaningless trip.
Best episode: Gunmen of the Apocalypse. Worst episode: Out of Time.
Review: Red Dwarf has been ditched. The characters’ home base is now Starbug, though that craft is significantly roomier than we’ve seen before. It’s now a TARDIS-like space, compacting new levels, decks, engine rooms, bunk rooms, kitchens and a larger mid-section into the same exterior shape. It’s a good idea to do something different, as it raises the stakes and provides a change of pace. But chunks of this series are made up of the characters in designated cockpit seats, rattling off Star Trek-like commands and exposition. The gang acts like a well-oiled team, rather than the bunch of incompetents established earlier. (We also have to get used to the same two or three camera angles of the cramped cockpit.) Losing Red Dwarf, meanwhile, sees Holly being written out. It was getting obvious that Grant and Naylor had run out of things for her to do, especially as Kryten had taken over the heavy lifting when it comes to explaining the plot. Elsewhere, the Cat is involved more, both in the sense of being around all the time but also in having a function in the team (he’s the pilot, for example). It’s a jolt to remember how he was in earlier series. Try picturing the 1988 version having a line like “Eighty per cent of the manoeuvring thrusters are out!” This is part of a general remodelling process: the show is now a sci-fi adventure series with laughs, rather than a sitcom set in space. Humour happens incidentally and lines are plastered on top of dense plots. To replace the character comedy, there’s a big increase in running jokes. As well as lots of regular mentions of the shape of Kryten’s head, Rimmer often quotes Space Corps directives only to be corrected. (For the record, the directives Rimmer evokes are 1742, 34124, 68250 and 196156.) On a practical level, series six sees yet is another improvement in the visuals. The special effects, model work, sets and costumes are very impressive indeed. Mostly good fun.
Seven rats trapped together, marooned in deep space, out of 10