Dracula (BBC1, 28 December 2006, Bill Eagles)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: It’s 1899, which is a little later than in the novel. The locations include the fictional Castle Holmwood and the genuine graveyard of St Mary’s Church in Whitby; the fictional Westenra House and the genuine Harley Street, Chelsea and Highgate Cemetery in London; and the fictional Castle Dracula in Transylvania.

Faithful to the novel? This TV version of Stoker’s novel is another one of those vaguely faithful adaptations that nevertheless makes many changes.
* For a start, the first character we meet – in a spooky prologue – is Abraham Van Helsing (David Suchet). He doesn’t appear in the book until nearly a third of the way in.
* The lead character here is a secondary character in the novel. Arthur, aka Lord Holmwood (Dan Stevens), is a wet fish who quotes poetry at girlfriend Lucy Westenra (Sophia Myles). Nevertheless she agrees to marry him.
* This disappoints Arthur’s pal John Seward (Tom Burke), who fancies Lucy too. The novel’s third suitor, the American Quincy Morris, has been dropped.
* Arthur then travels to his childhood home, Whitby, to see his insane, dying father. He also learns that the syphilis-related condition that soon kills his dad is hereditary… (Why Arthur was being called Lord Holmwood while his father was still alive is not addressed. In the novel, his father is not insane and dies ‘off stage’.)
* A month later, looking for a cure, Arthur visits a mysterious man called Singleton (Donald Sumpter). Together they plot to bring a “magician” to England so he can use his knowledge of blood transfusions to cure Arthur…. The character of Singleton was created for this film. Being Dracula’s ally in the UK, he takes the place of the lunatic Renfield from the novel.
* We then meet Lucy’s friends Jonathan Harker (Rafe Spall) and Mina Murray (Stephanie Leonadis). Jonathan is a newly qualified solicitor who’s soon given a job. He’s told that a client called Mr Singleton has an associate on the continent who wants to buy some London property, so Jonathan travels to Transylvania to meet the secretive nobleman Count Dracula (Marc Warren). He looks very old – a detail from the novel that’s almost always abandoned in adaptations – and insists that Jonathan stays longer than planned. We get the usual scenes of Harker being trapped in a scary castle and being unnerved by his host’s demeanour, but in a break from the book’s plot he’s then killed rather than escapes.
* Cut back to England, and Arthur and Lucy are getting married in the rain. Lucy’s joy is short-lived, though, because Arthur chooses to go off with Singleton rather than be with her on their wedding night. This lack of interest in sex makes John suspicious so he tails Arthur, who takes part in a bizarre religious ceremony.
* Meanwhile, Dracula is travelling to Britain on board a ship called the Demeter.
* The next day, Arthur sheepishly turns up in Whitby and gives Lucy a necklace. She responds by grabbing his crotch, but he resists because of his secret syphilis.
* The Demeter beaches at Whitby, but the crew have vanished and Jonathan’s corpse is aboard. The only cargo is a box of earth. Lucy and an in-mourning Mina soon encounter Dracula, who now looks younger and doesn’t have an issue with daylight. Arthur is angry that they’ve all become friends and demands that Dracula does what he was brought to England for: cure Arthur. But the vampire openly says he’s more interested in the women of the house.
* We’re told that Dracula is 900 years old (it’s quite refreshing that no connection is made to Vlad the Impaler) then see that he can transform into a bat.
* During the night, Dracula uses his hypnotic vampire abilities to sexually abuse Lucy while Arthur sleeps in the same bed. He forces her to feed from his chest.
* Lucy subsequently falls ill, so Arthur calls in medical doctor John. He says she needs a blood transfusion, but it doesn’t work and she dies. She’s buried in Highgate Cemetery, which also features in the novel (if disguised with a fake name).
* Now that Dracula is in the UK and feeding, he doesn’t need acolyte Singleton any more so kills him. John, still on the case of what the fuck is going on, finds the corpse in a room full of ritualistic paraphernalia then searches the cellar underneath. There he encounters Abraham Van Helsing, a gibbering lunatic who’s been imprisoned because he knows a lot about Dracula. (He dodged death because he has a crucifix round his neck.)
* Van Helsing explains that Singleton and Arthur are part of the Brotherhood of the Undead, a cult who arranges for vampires such as Dracula to come to Britain. John then travels back to Whitby to confront Arthur.
* Dracula, meanwhile, targets Mina in London.
* Having cleaned up both his clothes and his mind, Van Helsing tells Arthur and John that they must view Lucy’s corpse. They creep into her crypt at night and find the coffin empty. Luce then appears standing behind them; she’s a vampire so attacks her husband and taunts John. Arthur must stake her. As he does so, we see that elsewhere Dracula is simultaneously hurt.
* The men find the Count at the Brotherhood’s HQ. He murders Arthur – by twisting his head off! Then Van Helsing distracts the vampire with some Christian rhetoric (which is very reminiscent of dialogue from The Exorcist) so that John can stake him. Dracula dies.
* In the final shot, we see a seemingly resurrected Dracula living rough on the streets of London…

Best performance: David Suchet as Van Helsing. It’s little more than a cameo – like a big famous actor showing up for a day’s work on a low-budget movie – but at least it’s an interesting performance.

Best bit: How good Sophia Myles looks in a nightgown.

Review: One of the crowns of the BBC’s Christmas schedule in 2006, this 90-minute TV movie falls very flat indeed. It has no life to it; no blood coursing through its veins. By shuffling the book’s plot, it also leads to some odd storytelling. Arthur is the lead character, but is quite unlikable and selfish. The focus then shifts to Jonathan, who meets Dracula barely a few minutes after being introduced and is killed off very quickly. The script also changes the motivations of several characters, notably Arthur. The story is now about his hubris, rather than the savagery of Count Dracula. Admittedly, it’s an interesting idea that Dracula targets our group of characters because one of them made a deal with the devil. In the novel, he more or less picks them at random. But the biggest problem with this film is a general sense of going through the motions. The cast lack energy, the script lacks distinction, and the direction is boring. It’s very difficult to care about anything that’s happening. There’s also precious little discussion of vampirism; it’s just assumed that every character and every viewer knows all about it. As BBC adaptations go, this is not a patch on the 1977 effort.

Three garden parties out of 10

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Crime Traveller (1997)

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Spoiler warning! Minor plot twists might be revealed.

On Saturday 1 March 1997, a new drama series began on BBC1. Crime Traveller was created and written by Anthony Horowitz, who’d been struck by the notion of using time travel in a detective-show format while writing for ITV series Agatha Christie’s Poirot. It immediately won a place in my heart…

In March 1997, I was nearing the end of my A levels. The pressure of studying, revising, applying for universities, and working weekends at a supermarket was building up. My life, for the first time, was genuinely busy and intense. But for eight weeks I had a little treat each Saturday night. I’d get home at 9pm after an eight-hour shift on the checkouts or pushing trolleys around. I’d have some food and open a beer. And I’d watch Crime Traveller, which I’d videoed earlier that evening. It was a joy: a light-hearted, likeable detective show with a sci-fi twist. I was hooked.

I didn’t see it again for a few years, not until the DVD release. I bought the first four episodes on DVD at the Virgin Megastore in Camden on 26 March 2003. I know that because I still have the receipt in the slipcase. Sadly I didn’t keep the record of when I bought the second half of the series, but it wasn’t too long after its DVD release in May 2003. Since then I’ve gone back to Crime Traveller again and again, rewatching it about once a year or so. It’s often been a friend in dark times: an instant cheerer-upper.

I’ve also had a couple of encounters with the show in real life. On 27 August 2009, having figured out where it was from viewing the episodes, I went to have a look at the building used in Crime Traveller as Holly Turner’s flat. When I got there, the front door was wedged open to allow some workmen to come in and out. So I chanced my arm and had a look inside the lobby, which was instantly recognisable from Crime Traveller (even if Danny’s partitioned-off office had gone – maybe it was only installed for the filming). Then, on 27 September 2014, I went to a sci-fi signing event in Barking because one of the guests that day was Crime Traveller star Chloe Annett. She kindly signed my DVD cover – well, I did pay her £10 to do it – and then listened patiently as I told her what the show meant to me.

So, to celebrate its 20th anniversary, here’s a look at this TV series that means so much to me…

Crime Traveller is a cop show with a difference: the two lead characters, Jeff and Holly, have a time machine, which they use to go back in time and solve crimes as they’re happening. The episodes are therefore structured ‘answers first/questions second’. We usually see the chaotic consequences of a murder, then the fun comes when Jeff and Holly travel back in time and we find out what really happened. It’s also a series set in a world you don’t see on TV any more: similar to real life, but with theatrical embellishments. It’s a Britain where a police detective can barely read; where solicitors blab about the contents of wills before the body is cold; where both the police and the press declare people guilty months before a trial; where widows make jokes about pottery on the day their husband’s been killed. The locations and settings are often arch and dramatic too. Bank managers have cavernous, Ken Adam-like offices. People live in Art Deco houses. Hospitals look like art galleries.

Detective Inspector Jeff Slade (Michael French) is a charming but reckless maverick who doesn’t mind bending the rules if it gets results. He also used to be married but she died a long time ago. At the start of the series, he grows close to colleague Holly Turner, who has a time machine, and they use it to solve crimes. In one episode she gets the hump when she thinks he’s slept with another woman, and in a later story he’s jealous of her ex being back on the scene, but their relationship is mostly platonic.

Holly Turner (Chloe Annett) is a clever and likeable police science officer. She has a time machine that was built by her father, Frederick, who has since gone missing. The machine sends you back (never forwards) an unpredictable amount of time, usually a few hours. You can’t actually change the past – you were always there, as it were – and it would be disastrous if you ever met yourself. You also have to be back at the machine at precisely the time you left, otherwise you’d be caught in a loop of infinity (ie, you’d go round and round the same few hours forever). This presents a *whopper* of a plot hole, which the series wisely ignores: why do the two versions of the characters never see each other at the machine? Every time Holly and Jeff are about to use it, future versions of themselves should come running in, surely?

Detective Chief Inspector Kate Grisham (Sue Johnston) is the grumpy, M-like boss of the team who is often frustrated by her detectives… until Jeff and Holly miraculously solve the case. She has football knickknacks on her desk, and in one episode we learn she’s married. She also has two other subordinates: Detective Sergeant Morris (Paul Trussell), 28, seems to be one truncheon short of a constabulary (we never learn his first name), while Detective Constable Nicky Robson (Richard Dempsey), 23, is a graduate trainee who’s very clever and friendly.

Rounding out the regular cast are: Danny (Bob Goody), the good-natured caretaker at Holly’s block of flats, who appears in all but one episode, and Frank (Jack Chissick), a duty officer at the police station, who appears in episodes 2, 4, 5, 7 and 8.

Created and written by Anthony Horowitz. Produced by Brian Eastman. Directed by Brian Farnham (episodes 1, 3, 6 & 7) and Rick Stroud (episodes 2, 4, 5 & 8).

EPISODE ONE

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Broadcast: 20.10-21.00, Saturday 1 March 1997, BBC1.
Radio Times synopsis: “Detective Jeff Slade is at risk of losing his job until a colleague, Holly Turner, tells him about her secret time machine.”
Notable guest cast: This week’s murder victim, an arrogant aviation magnate called Guy Lombard, is played by Terrence Hardiman (aka the Demon Headmaster).
Time travels: #1 – Holly first uses her time machine at 12.05pm and goes back three hours. Earlier in the episode, through Jeff’s eyes, we saw her at a train station. Now we see the same events from Holly’s point of view. #2 – Holly and Jeff travel at 6.25pm and go back 10 hours. It’s Jeff’s first ever trip in time.
Observations:
* The first shot of the episode is a close-up of a clock (it’s 10am); the final scene is in a restaurant that has a clock face projected onto a wall (it’s 8.10pm). A visual motif of time and clocks recurs throughout the series, obviously.
* On a wall of Holly’s living room is a poster for On a marché sur la Lune (aka Explorers on the Moon, 1952-1953), the 17th book in the Tintin series. Crime Traveller creator Anthony Horowitz is a huge Tintin fan and has visited every location used in one of the stories (except the moon, obviously). In 2011 he was hired to write the sequel to Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. By 2016, however, his script had been scrapped and the film is still unmade.
* Holly’s flat is said to be in a block of flats called Sundown Court. In real life, it’s on St Mary’s Terrace in west London. The same block – though a different entrance – was used as Maddy Magellan’s home in the first series of Jonathan Creek, which was broadcast on BBC1 later in 1997.
* Other filming locations in this episode include: Reading train station, used for the opening sequence; Café Laville at 453 Edgware Road, London, a café with a view of Regent’s Canal (for plot reasons, it’s renamed Giovanni’s); Randolph Avenue, London, where Jeff and Holly find the catering van; and a bookies just off Randolph Avenue.

EPISODE TWO

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Broadcast: 20.10-21.00, Saturday 8 March 1997, BBC1.
Radio Times synopsis: “Slade and Holly travel back in time to investigate the murder of Holly’s aunt, who was apparently poisoned in a restaurant.”
Notable guest cast: Holly’s aunt Mary Chandler is played by Mary Tamm. Pip Torrens is one of the suspects.
Time travel: At 8.05pm, Holly and Jeff attempt to travel through time, but the machine blows a fuse and the building’s electricity goes off. Some people are trapped in a lift – eagle-eared viewers will recognise the cries for help as Grisham. Once the power’s back on, Holly and Jeff try again and travel back to 11.45 that morning.
Observations:
* This episode is the first to have time-travelling Holly and Jeff interact with other regulars. Therefore, the story has to be structured in such a way that the original timeline’s Jeff and Holly are out of the way. Having been removed from the case – because Holly knew the victim – they go to see Mary’s solicitor, but we never learn how they spend the afternoon before time-travelling.
* The episode is set in early August (even though a scene at 8pm is after dark).
* We meet a new recurring character for the first time: a friendly duty officer at the police station called Frank.
* We see a screen showing Holly’s bank details. Her account number is AGH-345-0054, her sort code is 90-43-68, and she’s £1,669.90 overdrawn thanks to buying lots of electrical equipment.
* The building used as the location for the solicitors’ offices was Marco Polo House, 346 Queenstown Road, near Battersby Park in London. Built in the late 1980s, it was a glass-and-marble office building, sadly now demolished. The 1993 Red Dwarf episode Legion also filmed there.
* There are lots of clocks throughout the episode, in almost every scene in fact. Some are highlighted by characters or camerawork, others are just background details, but you could – if you wish – track the timings of each scene.

EPISODE THREE

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Broadcast: 20.10-21.00, Saturday 15 March 1997, BBC1.
Radio Times synopsis: “Slade and Holly go undercover in the world of fashion after a high profile designer receives a series of death threats.”
Notable guest cast: IMDB and other websites list American actor Alexis Denisof (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Avengers Assemble) as being in this episode. However, he’s not mentioned in the end credits and – as far as I can see – doesn’t appear on screen.
Time travel: Holly and Jeff travel back 20 hours, arriving at 8pm the previous evening.
Observations:
* Holly is forced by her boss to go undercover as a seamstress, despite not being a detective and not being able to sew. (Everyday sexism!)
* In one of the show’s sillier moments, Grisham gathers all her police officers together to give them a detailed briefing. She tells regular characters Slade, Turner, Morris and Robson what they should do, but everyone else gets a vague wafting of a pointy stick at a map as Grisham says, “And the rest of you, as agreed.”
* Fashion designer Sonja’s house is, in reality, the Art Deco masterpiece St Ann’s Court in Chertsey, Surrey. It was designed by Sir Raymond McGrath in 1936 and is currently valued at around £9 million. The house contains a recording studio used by Roxy Music and Paul Weller, while several other film and TV crews have used it, such as Agatha Christie’s Poirot.
* Holly and Jeff discuss their previous time-travels. Holly moans that she’s been imprisoned (referring to episode two), chased by lunatics, been involved in two cars smashes, and been attacked with a knife. Jeff replies that she’s also solved two murders, a blackmail racket and an art fraud. The mention of the art fraud suggests that this episode was originally planned to come after episode four.
* The Tintin poster has gone missing from Holly’s flat.
* We see Jeff’s flat for the first time: he bought it from a murderer he sent to prison, but then couldn’t afford much furniture. He serves Holly her meal on a ping-pong table.
* Jeff mentions his father, who used to be a copper but is now retired. This reference means that if this episode has been moved in the running order, it can’t have originally gone after episode five.
* Danny the caretaker misses an episode for the only time.

EPISODE FOUR

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Broadcast: 20.10-21.00, Saturday 22 March 1997, BBC1.
Radio Times synopsis: “Holly travels back in time in an attempt to save Slade’s life.”
Notable guest cast: Two hostage-victim extras are played by Anthony Horowitz’s sons Nicholas and Cassian.
Time travel: When Holly sees a news report about Jeff being shot, she uses her machine to find out what happened. She goes back 11 hours and 14 minutes to 8am. For the next chunk of the episode, time-travelling Holly interacts with the past version of Jeff.
Observations:
* This is the only episode where Jeff doesn’t travel in time.
* The Tintin poster has returned to Holly’s living-room wall.
* The murder victim’s next-door neighbour is a man called Kelly, who’s clearly a fan of British comedy. He lives with cats called Kenneth and Hattie (ie, Williams and Jacques) and has posters on his wall for The Ladykillers (1955) and Carry On Doctor (1967).
* Holly and Jeff have a coffee in the same canal-side café we saw in episode one. They even sit at the same table. However, this time there’s no fictional rebranding: a waitress’s apron has the establishment’s real name on it.
* The location used for the art gallery and the jewellers next door is Woburn Place in Bloomsbury.
* Jewel thief Crowley’s flat, meanwhile, was filmed at the Alexandra Road Estate in north London. The area’s Brutalist architecture has also been seen in The Sweeney, Spooks, Prime Suspect, New Tricks, 28 Weeks Later (2007) and Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014). Incidentally, the production design of the flat’s interior is slightly odd. Hardened criminal Crowley has rows of pretty postcards on every wall and sofa cushions in the shapes of the mid-90s BBC1 and BBC2 logos.

EPISODE FIVE

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Broadcast: 20.05-21.00, Saturday 29 March 1997, BBC1.
Radio Times synopsis: “Slade is determined to find out if his convicted father (played by The Bill’s Chris Ellison) is innocent, when he too is accused of a robbery he did not commit.”
Notable guest cast: There are three notable guest actors: Christopher Ellison (The Bill) as Jeff’s jailbird father, Jack; Ray Lonnen (The Sandbaggers, Harry’s Game, Rich Tea and Sympathy) as police divisional head Gareth Oldroyd; and Stephen Grief (Blake’s 7) as Lenny Gebler, a fence who’s made a name for himself north of Watford.
Time travel: When it becomes clear that Jeff is being framed for the theft of some diamonds, he and Holly use the time machine. They need to go back more than a day, to before the case began, but Holly says they can’t predict how much time the machine will give them. She suggests they cross their fingers, which works: they go back 24 hours to 1.30pm the previous day.
Observations:
* After her moonlighting as an undercover agent in episode three, this time lab-rat Holly is seconded as a diamonds expert. “Gemology isn’t really my field,” she says.
* No one dies in this episode. The only other time that happens is episode seven.
* We’re initially told that Gebler’s meeting with some diamond sellers will be at 9pm. Grisham even asks her squad to assemble at 8pm so they can prepare to swoop in. However, the swoop itself takes place in broad daylight, as do various scenes set later the same day. Then, after Jeff and Holly have time-travelled, we’re told the arrest happened at 2.10pm.
* The combination to the safe in Grisham’s office is 36-17-25.
* Five years ago, Jeff’s policeman father was sent to prison for nine years. Jack Slade was in charge of a bank-raid case with Oldroyd, but half of the £200,000 loot went missing. Slade was framed for the theft by Oldroyd. Now, he breaks out of prison to help his son. His conviction quashed – and presumably his escape ignored – he then comes round to Holly’s flat for dinner, where he tells her and Jeff that in prison he found Holly’s father’s book about time-travel. He might read it one day.
* While time-travelling, Jeff sees his earlier self at the police station. There’s thankfully no temporal schism, as Holly warned about in episode one.
* The prison governor’s office has ‘Tempus fugit’ printed on the floor. Taking the mick, that, isn’t it?

EPISODE SIX

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Broadcast: 20.10-21.00, Saturday 5 April 1997, BBC1.
Radio Times synopsis: “Holly questions Slade’s increasing dependency on the time machine, while Grisham becomes suspicious of his crime-solving success rate.”
Notable guest cast: The murder victim, former government minister Sir Iain Hawkins, is played by David Neal. He was the president in classic Doctor Who serial The Caves of Androzani.
Time travels: #1 – Holly and Jeff are time-travelling as the episode begins. They’ve popped back to spy on a gang of bank robbers planning a heist. #2 – Later, when Jeff wants to use the machine to solve this week’s murder case, Holly says no. They’ve been using it too much, causing damage to its expensive workings. However, Jeff learns that Holly won’t be at home that evening – so he goes round at 6pm and uses the machine solo. He travels back 10 hours and seven minutes. Therefore, we get a reversal of episode four: now it’s Jeff who’s travelled back without Holly’s knowledge. As in that earlier story, there are then scenes where one of them doesn’t know the other is from the future.
Observations:
* Grisham wonders why Slade’s been solving cases like never before for the “last few months”, so we’re some way on from the first episode.
* This is the third episode in which we’re told (or shown) that a man was fleeing the crime scene…. only for us to later learn it was a time-travelling Slade.
* One of the murder suspects is Lawrence Kirby, a man who runs a business that converts old telephones boxes into shower cubicles, flowerboxes or general garden ornaments. The firm is called The Big Box Company and its building is surrounded by classic British red phone boxes. There’s also a blue police box… When Slade sees it, it gives him the idea to time-travel. The incidental music even quotes the Doctor Who theme tune.
* While trying to work out how Slade is so successful these days, Morris actually sees both Jeffs at the same time – the original timeline’s and the time-travelling one.
* At the end of the episode, Holly is angry with Jeff and says he can’t use the machine any more.

EPISODE SEVEN

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Broadcast: 20.10-21.00, Saturday 12 April 1997, BBC1.
Radio Times synopsis: “Slade develops a complex plan in order to win the lottery, but reckons without Holly’s elusiveness.”
Notable guest cast: Space 1999’s Zienia Merton has a small role as a receptionist.
Time travel: This is the only episode were Holly never travels in time. Jeff convinces her to let him go alone – his plan is to go into the past and win the Lottery. He journeys at 8.20pm and ends up at 7.26 that morning. Uniquely, time-travel is not being used to solve this episode’s crime. It’s a comedy subplot.
Observations:
* At the beginning of the episode, Jeff gives Holly some flowers as an apology for using the machine without permission in episode six.
* Holly’s flat is number 67.
* Jeff tells Holly that he’s “solved five cases thanks to you” – another hint that the episodes’ running order was shuffled before transmission.
* Jeff travels in time specifically to play the Lottery, having already leant the result. The winning numbers are 8, 12, 11, 22, 6 and 1. However, after Jeff writes them down and asks Robson to buy him a ticket, Robson reads them upside down. Jeff, therefore, only gets four right (8, 11, 22 and 1); Robson inadvertently replaces 12 and 6 with 21 and 9. Jeff wins just £186.
* Holly has a second Tintin poster on her living room wall. Above the desk is a print of L’Oreille cassee (aka The Broken Ear, 1935-37), the sixth book in the series.
* Filming took place at Brixton Market.
* The scene of Jeff, Morris and Robson tailing a suspect was filmed in and around Sherief’s Snack Bar, a café on the corner of Sandwich Street and Hastings Street in central London. The café is now called Sandwich Street Kitchen.
* Darkness falls well before 7.30pm, so presumably this episode is set in winter.
* Morris tells us that his regular Lottery numbers are 7 (his birthday), 28 (his age), 10 (the number of his flat), 31 (his Scout number), 33 (his girlfriend’s age) and 40 (his lucky number).

EPISODE EIGHT

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Broadcast: 20.10-21.00, Saturday 19 April 1997, BBC1.
Radio Times synopsis: “Slade and Holly are confronted with the possibility that theirs may not be the only time machine in the world.”
Notable guest cast: Angela Pleasence has a small role as a landlady. The main guest star is Christopher Villiers, later a regular in Emmerdale.
Time travels: #1 – Having seen a man run over and killed outside Holly’s flat, Holly and Jeff attempt to travel back to see who was in the car. However, the unpredictable machine only gives them three minutes, which isn’t enough time. #2 – Later in the episode, Jeff uses a time machine built by guest character Stephen Marlowe to travel back two hours (a span he can specify) so he can spy on Marlowe.
Observations:
* Holly takes Jeff to the cinema to see Les Enfants du Paradis. Released in 1945, and directed by Marcel Carné, it was once voted the best film of all time by French critics. Holly enthusiastically says it’s timeless; Jeff replies that it felt endless (the film is 190 minutes long). The scene was shot outside the Renoir Cinema (now the Curzon Bloomsbury), The Brunswick, Bloomsbury, London.
* The murder victim, Professor Hayward, has a bedroom littered with dozens of clocks.
* The episode has a distinct film-noir feel about it – lots of night shoots, lots of smoke and shadows.

Red Dwarf VIII (1999)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Written by Doug Naylor (all) and Paul Alexander (episodes 5 & 7). Directed by Ed Bye. Broadcast on BBC2.

Regulars: Lister, the Cat, Kryten and Kochanski are carried over from the previous series – in fact, the story picks up immediately after that batch of episodes ended. Holly is back full-time (played by Norman Lovett). And more importantly, Rimmer’s returned! Chris Barrie enjoyed his contribution to series seven more than he’d predicted, so reversed his decision to quit Red Dwarf. (After all that fuss he missed a total of four episodes.) However, this isn’t the Rimmer from the first 38 episodes of the show. This character has been artificially resurrected by tiny robots, along with the ship and its entire crew. So not only does he lack the memories and experiences of old episodes but he behaves how Rimmer was in the early days. (Well, to a point. He now *gets on* with Lister. They buddy around like old friends! Oh, and this Arnold’s not a hologram, of course.) And finally, we have a new regular character: Mac McDonald had played Captain Hollister in three 1988 episodes, and is now in the show every week.

Episode 1: Back in the Red: Part One (18 February 1999): Red Dwarf has been rebuilt by tiny robots and its crew resurrected… Oh, this is tiresome. Admittedly there’s a lovely opening – a deliberately old-school scene between Lister and Rimmer – but we then cut to three days earlier and just get clunky plotting and crass jokes.
Observations: There’s a scene in the bunkroom from series one and two, the set having been specially recreated. Lister’s old pals Selby and Chen – last seen in series two – have inconsequential cameos. It’s not explained why the nanobots didn’t resurrect Kochanski, who originally died along with everyone else of course. Rimmer finds the ‘positive viruses’ from series five’s Quarantine, which then become overused storytelling shortcuts.
Best gag: The Cat’s heartbeat and pulse form an infectious Cuban-flavoured dance rhythm.

Episode 2: Back in the Red: Part Two (25 February 1999): Put on trial for crimes against the Space Corps, our heroes are surreptitiously given hallucinogenic drugs so the captain can see what they do when the think they’re escaping… It was a chore watching this one. And just when you think it can’t get worse, the climax is more thunderingly awful than Red Dwarf had ever been before. In need of a disguise, Lister, the Cat and Kochanski use mop heads and false teeth to dress up as ‘the Dibbley family’ – yet another reference, of course, to Duane Dibbley from series five. At least some people are enjoying the gag: the studio audience burst into joyous applause and yelps (earlier on, they’d also applauded a long, tedious scene between Hollister and Rimmer). But it then gets even more depressing. When we see the characters in disguise, they walk down a corridor in slow motion to the sound of the George Baker Selection’s Little Green Bag. It’s not even a topical gag: Reservoir Dogs was seven years old by this point. Horrendous.
Observations: Captain Hollister records a log entry, which acts as a recap of last week’s events. Geoffrey Beevers plays a doctor. Robert Llewellyn hams it up something rotten as an AI computer (around this era it often seems like Llewellyn thinks he’s in a show for five-year-olds).
Best gag: Affected by the sexual-magnetism virus Lister has taken, an aroused Kochanski starts snogging him. Then the virus wears off and she comes to her senses. “I don’t know what got into me,” she says. “Well, nothing, sadly,” laments Lister.

Episode 3: Back in the Red: Part Three (4 March 1999): Oh, Christ, it’s still going on. Continuing the hallucinogenic fantasy started last week, the characters think they’re escaping Red Dwarf – but their actions are being observed by the captain… Another terrible episode.
Observations: Two versions of a Red Dwarf flight controller are seen: the fantasy version is played by the gorgeous Yasmin Bannerman; the real version is played by the roly-poly, middle-aged Jeillo Edwards. The Cat does a dance routine for the former, which involves CGI space shuttles copying his moves (incidentally, this is our first sight of Blue Midget since series three). When they exit the drug-induced fantasy, Lister, the Cat, Kryten and Kochanski find themselves as stop-motion plasticine puppets on an icy landscape – I consider myself an averagely intelligent guy and I genuinely have no idea what’s happening in this scene. At the end of the episode, Graham McTavish – later one of the dwarves in the Hobbit movies – debuts as the prison warden Ackerman.
Best gag: The Cat claims to be so gorgeous that “there’s a six-month waiting list for birds to suddenly appear every time I am near.”

Episode 4: Cassandra (11 March 1999): Now serving a two-year stretch in the brig, Lister volunteers the gang for the Canaries, an advance team sent on dangerous salvage missions. On their first trip, they encounter a computer that can predict the future… This episode isn’t especially majestic or anything, but after the previous three-parter it feels like a genuine treat. The hit-rate of gags is much higher, while there’s a story worth following. It has the feel of an episode from, say, series three to five: a sci-fi spoof with lots of comedy. Enjoyable stuff.
Observations: Cassandra is played by Geraldine McEwan. Jake Wood debuts as semi-regular character Kill Crazy, who’s one of the other prisoners. Ackerman appears again.
Best gag: Rimmer’s been told by Cassandra that he’s going to die while having sex with Kochanski. “So let me just repeat what I think you’re saying,” he gleefully replies. “Arnold – that’s me – and Kochanski – that’s the woman, the really attractive one you saw me with earlier – me and her are in bed, giving it rizz…”

Episode 5: Krytie TV (18 March 1999): Kryten is being held in the women’s prison, so male inmates manipulate him into filming his colleagues in the showers… Another not-bad episode. It has a funny subplot about an appeal process that comes with a woofer of a punchline.
Observations: Kill Crazy and Ackerman appear again.
Best gag: Lister tells Kochanski about the live feed from the women’s shower. “I saw the whole thing,” he says. “All three terrible hours of it.”

Episode 6: Pete: Part One (25 March 1999): As punishment for pulling a prank on the warden, the gang have to play a basketball game, then Lister and Rimmer have to peel a lot of potatoes. Meanwhile, the Cat, Kryten and Kochanski find a device that can freeze or speed up time… This feels like a bubble-and-squeak episode, with disparate ideas and scenes mashed together in the hope they’ll make something worthwhile. They don’t. It’s always dangerous to assume motives, but were eyes taken off the ball behind the scenes? Director Ed Bye certainly lets through some pretty sloppily staged moments. It was depressing watching this mess.
Observations: Ackerman appears again. There’s a running joke about Lister and Rimmer being frog-marched into the captain’s office, with the same camera moves each time. Ricky Grover plays a prisoner. The episode ends on a cliffhanger: a dinosaur has been created and is loose on the ship.
Best gag: Lister taps out a long Morse-code message on his cell’s pipes, then gets a reply from a nearby robot; they exchange taps for ages, then Lister says, “Damn… Wrong number.”

Episode 7: Pete: Part Two (1 April 1999): A dinosaur is on the loose, but has swallowed the gizmo that would turn it back into a sparrow, so the gang feed it roughage… This episode is so dreadful it beggars belief. There’s a sketch-like scene with Kochanski and Kryten where his artificial penis has escaped and is running around like a mouse. When it later shows up under the Cat’s T-shirt there’s a half-arsed attempt at spoofing the John Hurt Alien scene. Give me strength.
Observations: There’s a quick recap of the last episode. The running (limping, more like) joke of Lister and Rimmer being taken to see the captain continues. Kill Crazy appears again.
Best gag: Rimmer slags off the captain while Lister drops heavy hints that Hollister is stood behind him. (Yes, the pickings are that slim.)

Episode 8: Only the Good… (5 April 1999): Characters pull pranks on each other, then for tedious and perfunctory sci-fi reasons Rimmer has to go into a ‘mirror universe’… *Ghastly*.
Observations: This was the last episode of Red Dwarf for 10 years, and the final one ever to be shown on BBC2. Tony Slattery voices a vending machine. Danny John-Jules and Chloë Annett play ‘mirror’ equivalents of their characters. The episode ends on a cliffhanger.
Best gag: Kryten has been tricked by Lister into giving Kochanski a tampon as a present. “I hope I chose the right size!”

Best episode: Cassandra. Worst episode: Only The Good….

Alternative versions: The multi-episode stories, Back in the Red and Pete, are available on the DVD as omnibus edits. The first one has a few deleted gags added back in.

Review: Change is good. This show has revelled in ditching formats, switching characters around, and having regular boosts of new energy. For 1999, we’re back to the episodes being recorded with a live audience and having a videotape look. Rimmer is back to how he used to be in the early days. In scenes set in Lister and Rimmer’s cell, we’re back to dialogue-based character comedy… Sadly, though, this is a pretty disastrous set of episodes. There are problems everywhere you look. The show’s defining element, that these characters are stranded in deep space, has been thrown away. The comedy has taken a turn for the childish – lots of slapstick, lots of toilet humour – while Kochanski, Kryten, the Cat and especially Holly all get squeezed out to varying degrees. There are some really dodgy actors in minor roles. The CGI special-effects shots are rubbish. And basing a two-part story on a dinosaur running rampant isn’t the greatest idea in the world when you have a sitcom budget. An even bigger issue is an ugly thread of sexism that weaves through the whole series. Kryten is classified as a woman because he doesn’t have a penis – that’s laughing at someone because they’re different from a perceived ‘norm’, that is. Even in 1999 it felt ancient. Kochanski, a successful space-ship officer, also asks if a time-manipulating device could give her a boob job. (Just generally, Kochanski is a non-entity in this series. Chloë Annett often has nothing to play.) The sexual-magnetism virus is just as bad. The potion is only used by men and it only attracts women… except in one scene set in the prison where the punchline is essentially ‘Bum rape is funny, isn’t it?’ This was the last series for a very long time. It needed a break. If early Red Dwarf episodes showed a youthful exuberance, and the time of, say, series three had the confidence of being in your prime, this is a midlife crisis. A couple of decent episodes aside, series eight is tiresome, boring-uncle-at-a-wedding stuff.

Four bottles of hooch out of 10

Red Dwarf VII (1997)

Picture Shows: Rimmer (Chris Barrie), Kryten (Robert Llewelyn), Kochanski (Chloe Annett), Lister (Craig Charles) and Cat (Danny John-Jules) TX: BBC-2, TBC The successful science-fiction comedy series 'Red Dwarf' returns for another run of surreal and bizarre events. COPYRIGHTED IMAGE FROM BBC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Written by Doug Naylor (all), Paul Alexander (2, 7, 8), Kim Fuller (5), Robert Llewellyn (6) and James Hendrie (8). Directed by Ed Bye. Broadcast on BBC2.

Regulars: Having enjoyed the brisk studio days on BBC1 sitcom The Brittas Empire, Chris Barrie had tired of the stop-start process of making Red Dwarf. He wanted to quit but agreed to appear in two full episodes, and record cameos for two more, so Rimmer could be written out properly. His replacement in the line-up is Kristine Kochanski. It’s not actually the same woman we saw sporadically in series one and two, though. This Kochanski is from an alternative reality. She also looks different: the not-good-enough Clare Grogan has been dropped, and Chloë Annett cast in her place. Kochanski was added, in part, to prepare the ground for a Red Dwarf movie. Funding would be easier to get if the show had a female regular.

Episode 1: Tikka to Ride (17 January 1997): Because he’s run out of curry supplies, Lister convinces everyone they should travel into Earth’s past to get more. The gang end up in Dallas on 22 November 1963… The Dallas scenes are really something. Clearly a lot of research, thought, effort and talent has gone into restaging John F Kennedy’s assassination. Given the budget and the fact it was shot on an airfield in Surrey, the scene is a remarkable match to real events. Also, the script is peppered with both genuine and fictional history, all nicely thought-out. But the comedy is more silly than actually funny.
Observations: The cliffhanger from the end of series six is dealt with in the first scene by a bit of comedy exposition from Lister (we also get a clip from Out of Time). Lister says he’s 28 years old. No one explains how the time machine from series six now moves people through space too. (Or why the characters don’t use it to escape the drudgery of being stranded on Starbug.) Michael J Shannon plays JFK with a spot-on Massachusetts accent.
Best gag: Kryten’s enormous double take when he realises they’re in the Dallas Book Depository.

Episode 2: Stoke Me a Clipper (24 January 1997): The show goes back to its popular-old-character well again: Ace Rimmer shows up and asks our Rimmer to take over from him as an inter-dimensional superhero… The episode is built on some really naff ideas. Firstly, the notion that Ace Rimmer is someone who needs replacing. It’s reminiscent of what’s happened in modern Doctor Who: a character becoming mythic within the fiction just because he’s popular with audiences. Secondly, the writing has some juddering gear changes with big, ugly grinding noises when it tries to convince you that our Rimmer would even consider doing the job.
Observations: There’s a corny pre-titles sequence of Ace fighting some Nazis (one of whom is played by Reg Holdsworth). It contains some *appalling* green-screen shots and an awful rubber crocodile. Later, Lister and Kryten enter a medieval VR simulation so Lister can have a shag. The game’s king and queen are played by Brian Cox and Sarah Alexander. It’s 10 minutes into the episode before we see either the Cat or Rimmer (though we have seen Chris Barrie, of course). This episode’s Ace isn’t actually the same Ace we saw in series four; that one died and another Rimmer from a different reality took over. When our Rimmer is thought dead, his eulogy consists of numerous callbacks to old episodes. On a literal level, this is the last time we ever see the hologram Rimmer who was activated in episode one and lived through the show’s first 38 episodes.
Best gag: Because Chris Barrie’s got funny bones, Rimmer’s attempt to impersonate Ace are enjoyable.

Episode 3: Ouroboros (31 January 1997): Starbug flies into a spatial disturbance and the crew meet their equivalents from another dimension. In that reality, Lister’s one-time girlfriend Kristine Kochanski has survived… Chloë Annett is instantly impressive as Kochanski – especially when the façade drops and we learn she’s just as messed-up as the other characters – while Kryten’s jealousy of her is really funny. This is a generally funny episode, in fact. The central gag (the word ourboros being mistaken for ‘our Rob or Ross’) doesn’t really work. But there are some good comedy moments, such as the state of Lister (broken tooth, shaving foam in his ears, pink dressing gown) when he meets Kochanski.
Observations: We find out the details of Lister’s backstory. He was abandoned in a Liverpool pub, the Aigburth Arms, on 26 November 2155. So he’s now a *22nd*-century guy – that’s the third different century he’s been said to be from. Well, he was actually born three million years later then taken to 2155 via time travel. Turns out, he’s his own father and Kochanski, his ex-girlfriend, is his mum. The baby Lister is played by Danny John-Jules’s nephew Alexander. The Starbug crew from the other reality include a hologramatic Lister and a gold-plated Kryten. We see a flashback to Red Dwarf before the accident – it reinforces Kochanski’s backstory (or the current version of it, at any rate), Lister is dressed in a series-one-style Hawaiian shirt, and it also features Rimmer.
Best gag: Kochanski has fallen through a tear in the dimension bridge (or whatever it is), so Lister fires an arrow at her that has a rope attached. It hits her painfully in the leg and she calls Lister’s walkie-talkie. Kryten answers it, listens for a moment, then says, “It’s an obscene phone call, sir.”

Episode 4: Duct Soup (7 February 1997): A power failure seals all the doors on Starbug, so the team have to spend the night crawling through the ship’s innards to get to the cockpit… Right from the word go this feels different – it’s character comedy and, production values aside, feels like a story from series one or two. Again, Kochanski’s very funny: amazingly, the show isn’t missing Rimmer (this is the first ever episode without him). And considering how much of the story takes place in cramped, samey tunnels it’s very well staged. Really good stuff.
Observations: There’s no title sequence (it was dropped for time reasons: better that than cutting meat out of the episode). Not since Queeg in series two has there been an episode where the crew neither go somewhere nor bump into someone. Kochanski specifies that she’s from Glasgow – a nod to the original actress, I suppose, even if Annett uses her own English accent.
Best gag: Kryten sees an insomniac Kochanski wrapped in a white blanket and wearing earmuffs. “Oh, my goodness,” he says to himself. “It’s Princess Leia.”

Episode 5: Blue (14 February 1997): While the crew attempt to get Kochanski back to her own dimension, Lister starts to realise that he’s missing Rimmer… It’s a smart move to have Lister yearn for Rimmer’s company. After all, the latter was created specifically to keep the former sane. A very enjoyable episode.
Observations: Rimmer appears in flashbacks, a dream sequence and a virtual-reality fantasy created by Kryten. This is the second episode running to feature no ‘outside influences’.
Best gag: Rimmer returns to visit Lister, talk of his adventures as Ace and ask about Kochanski. Overcome with emotion, Rimmer and Lister embrace… then kiss! (It’s a dream, of course. Lister wakes up screaming.)

Episode 6: Beyond a Joke (21 February 1997): Kryten’s head explodes when he gets angry, so the others try to track down a replacement and end up finding Kryten’s sorta-brother… Entire minutes pass without a single laugh. I’m not sure Red Dwarf has ever been more boring than this.
Observations: The episode was co-written by Kryten actor Robert Llewellyn. The gang play a Jane Austen virtual-reality game, which Kryten invades with a tank because he’s upset. The frequency of VR simulations in this show is getting tiresome now. Don Henderson plays an android trader. Llewellyn also plays Able, the Kryten-like character the team find.
Best gag: When asked what his name is, the senile Able has to send the request down to long-term-memory retrieval.

Episode 7: Epideme (28 February 1997): The crew board a derelict space ship and find a frozen woman, who wakes up, bites Lister and infects him with a strange virus… A boring and largely unfunny episode.
Observations: Gary Martin voices the intelligent virus. This is the start of a two-part finale.
Best gag: The gross-out comedy of Kryten hacking bits of Lister’s arm off in sloppy, squelching chunks.

Episode 8: Nanarchy (7 March 1997): On the search for Kryten’s missing nanobots – infinitesimally small robots that fix mechanical faults – the gang find a planetoid that was constructed from Red Dwarf… An underwhelming end to a mixed batch of episodes.
Observations: It starts with a ‘Last week on Red Dwarf…’ montage. The team return to the planetoid from series five’s Back to Reality. When Red Dwarf is found again, the characters also locate Holly – now played, for the first time since 1988, by Norman Lovett. (Why the character is no longer Hattie Hayridge is not mentioned.) At the end of the episode, Red Dwarf is rebuilt and we get a blast of the old-style theme tune.
Best gag: The early scenes of Lister trying to come to terms with only having one arm are amusing.

Best episode: Duct Soup. Worst episode: Beyond a Joke.

Alternative versions: Tikka to Ride is available on the DVD in four different edits: the broadcast version, an ‘Xtended’ cut with a few deleted gags and scenes added back in, and both of these with new CGI special effects. The new effects are appreciably better than the 1997 shots, but still not a patch on earlier series’ model work. The 37-minute Xtended version, meanwhile, has had its laughter track removed – an instant improvement. The biggest addition is a new ending set three weeks later, which explains what really happened to the ship’s curry supplies. Ouroboros and Duct Soup also have Xtended edits with jokes added and the laugh track removed. Duct Soup is a real treat, actually. Perhaps it’s our best indicator of how a Red Dwarf movie would have felt.

Review: Blimey, more changes. This show rarely stands still, you’ve got to admire that. For example, the episodes are now shot single-camera with no studio audience. This technique was the coming thing for British sitcoms in the late 90s, and in some ways Red Dwarf VII was the vanguard for The Royle Family, The Office and the like. However, not only has laughter been inelegantly dubbed on – at times actually masking lines of dialogue – but the comedy is still being written, played and edited as if there were an audience. It means stilted moments and forced timings. (It’s not far off Red Dwarf does Last of the Summer Wine.) The episodes have also been filmised, which only adds to the sensation of the comedy being at a remove somehow. Elsewhere, the most noticeable changes are in the cast. Rimmer jumps ship after two episodes; Kochanski joins the team in the next story. It works much better than you would have thought beforehand. As routinely funny as Rimmer has been for six series, giving him a break was probably a necessary evil, while Kochanski creates a whole new dynamic. Other changes include… Deep breath, now… New writers (co-creator Rob Grant had left after an obscure parting of the ways with Doug Naylor)… The return of Ed Bye as director after two series off… An increase in the number of episodes (the plan was to reach 52 so the show could be sold overseas as a package; this run gets it to 44)… New cartoony CGI for special-effects shots (though model are used at times)… The incidental music being much bigger than before (it sweeps and bombasts like a film score)… And a regrettable OTT change in Robert Llewellyn’s performance (once the calm voice of reason, Kryten is now like a CBBC character). After a very mixed opening, the series hits its stride with episodes three to five – all good, well written and funny – but then falls off a cliff with a trio of episodes that are duller and more lumpen than anything we’ve seen before.

Six nureeks out of 10

Red Dwarf VI (1993)

red_dwarf_gunmen

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

Red Dwarf V (1992)

series-v-comes-to-itunes

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.)

Regulars: The same as series three and four. In fact, the 18 episodes shown between 1989 and 1992 represent the most stable Red Dwarf’s ever been in terms of its cast.

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

Red Dwarf IV (1991)

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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

Red Dwarf III (1989)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Written by Rob Grant & Doug Naylor. Directed by Ed Bye. Broadcast on BBC2.

Regulars: Lister, Rimmer and the Cat are still in place, though they’ve each had a makeover. Rimmer’s new costumes are very Captain Scarlet-y, for example, while Lister’s developed a love of leather jackets. (The newly hired costume designer was Howard Burden, who worked on Doctor Who between 2012 and 2014.) Elsewhere, Holly has been recast. Norman Lovett was bored of commuting from his home in Edinburgh to rehearsals in London and studio days in Manchester. So replacing him is Hattie Hayridge, who’d played the female Holly in series two. The change of gender is explained during the comically fast-scrolling on-screen text at the start of episode one. Also explained in that copy is the fact that Kryten, a guest character in series two, has joined the regular team. Original actor David Ross wasn’t available, so Robert Llewellyn is now under the mask. He uses a strange, kinda-Canadian accent for some reason, but he’s very funny when given stuff to play.

Episode 1: Backwards (14 November 1989): A terrific start. Rimmer and Kryten fly their shuttle through a ‘time hole’ and end up on a version of Earth where time is running in reverse… Great comedy is mined from footage being played backwards (or actors pretending it is). A woman regurgitates an éclair, people ride a tandem the wrong way, a big bar brawl sees tables ‘unsmashed’ and Lister thrown through a broken window that then reassembles… In truth, a lot of these jokes don’t stand up to logical scrutiny. But it’s all very entertaining.
Observations: The Star Wars-spoofing caption at the beginning tells us that the twin boys Lister was pregnant with at the end of series two have been returned to their original universe. The gang’s new type of shuttle – the green, globular Starbug – makes its debut. This episode features the first Red Dwarf scenes set on a recognisable and real Earth. Writer Rob Grant cameos as a man smoking a cigarette. Tony Hawks has another Red Dwarf role: he’s the compère at the pub in the backwards world.
Best gag: Just before the team leave the backwards Earth, the Cat nips into the bushes…

Episode 2: Marooned (21 November 1989): Red Dwarf is approaching five black holes, so the gang evacuate while Holly flies the ship through the cluster. Lister and Rimmer crash-land on a planet and are stranded without food or heat… Scintillating comedy. Stunning. It’s largely a two-handed playlet based on the twisted friendship of Lister and Rimmer. (The Cat, Kryten and Holly are absent for a 22-minute stretch of this 29-minute episode.)
Observations: Almost everything is set inside Starbug. There are no scenes set on Red Dwarf itself: a first. We also see Blue Midget. Why the gang don’t evacuate in the same shuttle is not addressed.
Best gag: *All of it.* Lister and Rimmer’s bewilderingly entertaining duologue covers Alexander the Great, the meaning of the word mayday, a tube of Bonjela gum ointment, dog food, Harold Pinter, William Shakespeare, virginity, a skateboard, the day Cliff Richard was shot, a Javanese camphor-wood trunk, a Bentley V8 convertible, the ninth hole of Bootle municipal golf course, page 61 of Lolita, Napoleon’s Armée du Nord, an authentic Les Paul copy guitar, She’s Out of My Life and the Last Post. Amazing stuff. Really well played and thoroughly hilarious.

Episode 3: Polymorph (28 November 1989): A genetically modified creature that can drain people of emotions boards the ship… Uproariously funny. There’s a great comedy prologue about Lister using medical supplies while cooking, then the plot kicks in and the episode freewheels along with joy and huge confidence.
Observations: At the start, a gravely voiced narrator warns viewers of scary content. The whole thing is a pastiche of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). Since series two, Lister and Rimmer have moved into posh officers’ quarters (well, you would, wouldn’t you?). At one point, Rimmer watches an old home movie, in which we see him as a child (played by Simon Gafney), his three brothers and his mum. The polymorph later takes the form of his mother (played by Kalli Greenwood). Frances Barber cameos when the polymorph poses as a sexy woman to entice the Cat into flirting. Kryten cites a Space Corps directive: not the last time we’ll hear a variation on that joke. He also uses a psi-scan for the first time: it’s a spoof of Star Trek’s tricorder device, and will become a regular source of exposition.
Best gag: There are three *enormous* contenders. The scene of the polymorph taking the form of Lister’s underpants, which he then puts on, is puerile visual comedy of the first rank. The boxers start to constrict, causing Lister agony. So Kryten – wearing a vacuum cleaner attachment on his groin – kneels between Lister’s legs and tries to yank the pants off. Rimmer walks in on them. “Well, I can’t say I’m totally shocked,” he says once the studio audience have stopped hyperventilating. “You’ll bonk anything, won’t you, Lister?!” Just as hilarious is the polymorph pretending to be Rimmer’s mum. It claims to have slept with Lister and goads Rimmer with descriptions of the act: “I honestly thought my false teeth were going to fall out…” Finally, Rimmer as a pacifist hipster after he’s lost all his anger is spectacularly funny.

Episode 4: Body Swap (5 December 1989): Rimmer convinces Lister to trade bodies with him for a time, ostensibly so he can get him fit… Giving Craig Charles and Chris Barrie the chance to play the other’s character is a fun idea. But sadly the practicalities muddy the humour somewhat. The proper actor still voices the character (Barrie dubs dialogue over Charles playing Rimmer, for example), which can be very distracting. You sense the actors having to awkwardly match their words to unfamiliar mouth movements, and it surely means that the audience laughter we hear is not genuine.
Observations: Starbug is featured again. As is another shuttle – it’s referred to as White Midget in dialogue, but the shot of it is of Blue Midget from series two. Rimmer also takes over the Cat’s body in the last scene, so Barrie and Danny John-Jules trade roles.
Best gag: Rimmer, in Lister’s body, pretends that he’s lost his arm in an accident. Lister is aghast. Rimmer: “It’s worse than that. I’ve lost your watch too.”

Episode 5: Timeslides (12 December 1989): Kryten discovers a mutated developing fluid, which prints photographs that allow you to travel in time… The plot makes very little sense, but never mind. Tremendous fun.
Observations: One of the photographs is from the wedding of Rimmer’s brother Frank (played by Chris Barrie). Comedian Mark Steel has a silent cameo as a skier. At one point Kryten suggests they go to Dallas in 1963, stand on the grassy knoll and shout, “Duck!” (a whole episode will be based on this joke in series seven). We meet Lister aged 17 (played by Craig Charles’s brother Emile). Ruby Wax (the wife of director Ed Bye) cameos as a TV reporter. Koo Stark plays Lady Sabrina Mulholland-Jjones, an attractive woman Lister marries in an alternative timeline. Simon Gafney plays a young Rimmer for the second time. It’s taken 17 episodes of Red Dwarf for scenes set on the actual, real, proper planet Earth… unless you count the backwards version from earlier in this series or the home-movie footage Rimmer watched in Polymorph. At the end of the story, thanks to timey-wimey nonsense, Rimmer is fully human again. But he soon accidentally kills himself.
Best gag: Rimmer, realising he’s now alive: “Kryten! Unpack Rachel and get out the puncture-repair kit!”

Episode 6: The Last Day (19 December 1989): A message reaches Red Dwarf that Kryten is at the end of his working life. A replacement is on its way to deactivate him… It’s a good idea to focus on Kryten, who’s settled into the team very nicely, but this is a relatively underwhelming episode.
Observations: Robert Llewellyn also plays a rep from the company that built Kryten. Gordon Kennedy plays Hudson 10, the replacement android. Lister reveals that he was abandoned as a baby in a pub – we’ll see that happen, and learn more of the context, in series seven.
Best gag: Kryten is told there’s no such place as Silicon Heaven. “Then where do all the calculators go?” (Hudson 10 repeats the same joke later on.)

Best episode: You’re a better man than me if you can separate Marooned and Polymorph. Worst episode: The Last Day.

Alternative version: The episodes were ‘remastered’ a few years later. Avoid at all costs. Much more fun is ‘Backwards Forwards’ – a DVD special feature that allows you to watch the episode Backwards playing in reverse. Among a number of treats, you can see what Arthur Smith is actually saying in his rant at Rimmer and Kryten. He’s ridiculing viewers who have bothered to watch the footage in the right order.

Review: This feels very different from the first 12 episodes. For example, giving Kryten stuff to do and involving the Cat a bit more means a more democratic approach to the storytelling. It’s not so much the Lister-and-Rimmer show now, reportedly a deliberate move because of a behind-the-scenes feud. (Having said that, episode two is basically one long scene between the pair.) There are other major changes too. A new high-tempo title sequence is made up of clips from the series and is scored by a rock-guitar instrumental version of the closing song. Sets, costumes and visual effects are all on a much higher level of professionalism. Everything’s more artfully lit, more polished and generally classier. Series two had been consistently funny and entertaining. This is even better.

Ten pistons in an ocean liner’s engine room out of 10

Red Dwarf: series two (1988)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Written by Rob Grant & Doug Naylor. Directed by Ed Bye. Broadcast on BBC2.

Regulars: The same line-up as series one. Holly’s face is no longer pixellated.

Episode 1: Kryten (6 September 1988): For the first time we meet a character from outside Red Dwarf itself. They crew find an android called Kryten (David Ross), who’s living on a crashed space ship. Although he takes a while to accept the fact, his crew died a very long time ago… A consistently funny episode that hits the ground running. There’s a real confidence on show now. David Ross is good fun as the subservient, earnest Kryten.
Observations: The episode starts with a clip from a futuristic soap opera about robots called Androids. The theme tune is very Neighboursy, while Tony Slattery voices one of the characters. We see the gang’s shuttle, Blue Midget, for the first time.
Best gag: Lister, Rimmer and the Cat travel to Kryten’s ship, thinking it contains three attractive female officers. But when they arrive they learn that the women are just skeletons. Kryten – who’s deluded and thinks the girls are still alive – returns from making some tea, and Rimmer points out that the crew has died. Kryten: “My God, I was only away two minutes.”

Episode 2: Better Than Life (13 September 1988): This entertaining episode has some nice character stuff for Rimmer, who learns that his father has died. He then has to confront his bullying dad in a virtual-reality computer game the gang are playing called Better Than Life… The information about Rimmer’s childhood goes a long way to justifying why he’s such a prat.
Observations: This episode, the show’s eighth, is the first to include scenes set outdoors – albeit in a VR simulation. The production team filmed on a beach, a golf course and surrounding areas. Tony Hawks gets another role and appears on screen this time: he plays a character within the Better Than Life game. A fantasy version of Yvonne McGruder, a crewmember mentioned in series one, is played by Judy Hawkins. Rimmer’s dad is played by John Abineri. Ron Pember appears as a tax collector.
Best gag: Learning that Casablanca has been remade, Lister is outraged. “The one starring Myra Binglebat and Peter Beardsley was definitive!”

Episode 3: Thanks for the Memory (20 September 1988): Feeling sorry for Rimmer’s inadequate life, Lister decides to give him some fake memories of an exciting romance… This is a tremendous little mystery story, effectively told in flashbacks. It’s really funny and there’s no fat on it anywhere. (They never explain how Lister and the Cat wipe their own memories, however!)
Observations: Because he’s a hologram powered by the ship, when we see Rimmer on the surface of a moon he has to stand in a ‘hologramatic projection booth’ – that idea will get dropped! Blue Midget features again.
Best gag: Rimmer’s drunken confession about his only sexual experience: “Yvonne McGruder. A single, brief liaison with the ship’s female boxing champion. March the 16th. 7.31pm to 7.43pm. Twelve minutes. And that includes the time it took to eat the pizza.”

Episode 4: Stasis Leak (27 September 1988): The gang find a wormhole that allows them to travel to March 2077 – ie, three weeks before the accident that killed the crew… A fantastically structured and paced episode that both uses and mocks time-travel clichés. It ends with a surreal scene featuring three Listers, three Rimmers, the Cat and Kochanski.
Observations: The episode starts with a black-and-white flashback to 2077. In this scene – and later on when the regulars time-travel – Captain Hollister returns from series one. Kochanski and Petersen also appear. Morwenna Banks cameos as a lift stewardess. Tony Hawks voices a talking suitcase.
Best gag: The Cat repeating “What is it?” as Lister and Rimmer try to explain the stasis leak.

Episode 5: Queeg (4 October 1988): Holly’s inept management of the ship results in a back-up computer, Queeg 500, taking over. He soon puts Lister, Rimmer and the Cat through gruelling exercise drills and on meagre rations… A nice ‘bottle’ episode with a phenomenal punchline. In fact, the whole thing is a lead-up to the big woofer waiting at the end.
Observations: Charles Augins plays Queeg. It’s specified that it’s been 14 months since Lister came out of stasis. A scene where Rimmer is affected by a virus and repeats other characters’ dialogue gives Chris Barrie a chance to show off his impersonation skills.
Best gag: Holly reveals that he was pretending to be Queeg all along. “We’re talking jape of the decade. We are talking April, May, June, July *and* August fool.”

Episode 6: Parallel Universe (11 October 1988): An okay episode in which the gang travel to an alternative reality and meet other versions of themselves. Lister sleeps with his equivalent and ends up pregnant… It has some good moments, but it’s a bit one-note.
Observations: There’s no title sequence or intro from Holly. Instead we launch right into an elaborate dream sequence of the Cat’s: him, Lister, Rimmer, Holly and some sexy women performing a 1960s-ish LE song-and-dance routine on a gaudily lit stage. (The track, Tongue Tied, was later released as a Red Dwarf-branded single. It reached number 17 in October 1993.) Hattie Hayridge makes her Red Dwarf debut playing Hilly, the computer in the alternate reality. The other corresponding characters are played by Angela Bruce (as Deb Lister), Suzanne Bertish (Arlene Rimmer) and Matthew Devitt (Dog). Bruce and Bertish are very good.
Best gag: The fact that Lister would one day fall pregnant was seeded in series one. Rimmer takes great delight in reminding Lister about it, and is then gleeful when he remembers that childbirth is agony.

Best episode: Thanks For The Memory. Worst episode: Parallel Universe.

Alternative version: As with series one, all of series two was ‘remastered’ for a VHS release in the 1990s. The results were ghastly.

Review: The writers have clearly decided to break their self-imposed rule about the show being contained on the ship. Things are now opened up massively – four episodes feature the characters leaving Red Dwarf, another sees them travel through time – and there’s even some location filming. Holly also gets more to do and his solo spots (a riff on decimalising music, for example) are always really funny. These changes are a huge help. The whole run has more zip, more bite to it, than series one. Lister and Rimmer are still the leads, and Craig Charles and Chris Barrie are again superb – even though behind the scenes the actors weren’t getting on. (As well as a personality clash, Charles was unhappy with the fact Barrie was on more money.) There are no ‘difficult second album’ issues here: this set of episodes is more ambitious, more polished and generally funnier.

Nine triple-fried-egg butties with chili sauce and chutney out of 10