Red Dwarf S1 Review
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was always fascinated by space exploration and the idea that there was something more out there. When I was 11 years old the BBC debuted a new comedy set in space called Red Dwarf. My little brain went racing at the possibilities but what BBC actually provided, or rather Doug Naylor and Rob Grant provided, was not quite what I was expecting.
Red Dwarf is about a mining ship, lost in space, three million years in the future. The ship’s sole resident is Dave Lister (Craig Charles). He was put in stasis while a radiation leak killed the entire crew. The ship’s computer Holly (Norman Lovett, at his deadpan best) left Dave in stasis until he felt it was safe to let him out. To keep Lister sane Holly uses the ship’s holographic projector to bring back the person he was closest to, his irritating roommate Arnold Rimmer (Chris Barrie). The only other cast member is Cat (Danny John-Jules) a being that descended and evolved from Lister’s pet cat. The entire race of cats have had three million years to evolve and have all left in pursuit of Lister (god, essentially) leaving only Cat behind.
E1: The End
The pilot episode of Red Dwarf is a solid enough start. Everything detailed above happened. We get to see the ship as it was with Lister’s mates; Todhunter, Selby and Peterson (Mark Williams, from Harry Potter/Fast Show fame). Also the object of Lister’s desire; Christine Kochanski (Claire Grogan). These would all appear in flashbacks while the series developed. You suspect they had more of this planned but hadn’t counted on how well the main characters gel together. The first episode has a lot of exposition and it’s a bit of a slog compared to the rest of the show. It’s essential viewing to see where the characters come from and how mundane and not special their lives were before the accident.
Final Rating: **½
E2: Future Echoes
We only get two episodes in before the Dwarf boys start monkeying with their own timeline. This episode features two effective spoilers for the entire series. 1. Lister never gets off Red Dwarf and lives to be an old man on the ship. 2. Lister has two boys; Jim and Bexley. Both named after Jim Bexley Speed, his favourite Zero Gee football player. There is a whole thing about the London Jets, Lister’s team. Speed played “roof attack”. There are some really clever scenes in Future Echoes like Lister having a conversation with Rimmer that makes no sense because Rimmer is in a different timeline and then realising the conversation was him explaining the conversation. It’s a real mind-bender.
Final Rating: ***½
E3: Balance of Power
Lister is being constantly nagged by Rimmer and gets fed up with it. He decides to take the exam for chef, in order to become Rimmer’s superior. Rimmer tries to persuade him not to do it by pretending to Lister’s crush; Kochanski. This episode has a great flashback where Lister is sat alone in the bar and he remembers drinking with his friends in the same bar. Rimmer enters and complains about Lister hiding his exam notes before revealing he’s on illegal learning drugs and is unfortunately memorising the conversation rather than his notes. It also has a great bit with Rimmer gaining Peterson’s arm, which punches him in the balls and Cat being told how the vending machines work. “Fish!” “Today’s fish is trout a la crème”. “Fish!” It is arguably the best episode in S1* but also has some glaringly bad scenes like the “black card, white card” conversation.
*As originally written
Final Rating: ***¾
I can’t remember which episode this conversation took place in but I love this:
Rimmer: “Is that painting yours? It’s rubbish”
Lister: “It’s a mirror”
E4: Waiting for God
Part of the first season that gets initially glossed over is the question about the Cat’s origins. He evolved from Lister’s pet cat but where are the other cat people? In “Waiting for God” we learn that the cat people fought a lengthy religious battle about Cloister (Lister) and what his intentions were. It’s a jab at organised religion in general as the two factions argued about the colours blue and red for Lister’s hot dog stand uniform. It turns out Lister wanted them to be green. Waiting for God reveals there’s another cat on board. An aging priest who reveals Cat is the son of an idiot who knows nothing. We get a brief look at that whole civilisation that lived on board Red Dwarf for millions of years. They didn’t really leave a lot of that civilisation behind did they? There’s a funny subplot regarding Rimmer finding a pod in space and obsessing over the contents, which Lister figures out is a Red Dwarf garbage pod that had been floating in space in 30 seconds flat. During S1 there’s a supporting role for an AI toaster that I’d largely forgotten about. He gets quite a big part here, regularly conversing with Lister and Rimmer.
Final Rating: ***
E5: Confidence and Paranoia
In the penultimate episode of S1 Lister develops space pneumonia, which results in his dreams and hallucinations becoming real. Initially this is relatively harmless stuff like a rain of fish or an exploding mayor but gets worse when his own Confidence (Late Night’s Craig Ferguson with an American accent) and Paranoia (Lee Cornes) become flesh. This is all set against Lister’s continued desire to see Kochanski. In Confidence and Paranoia he discovers, through his Confidence, that Red Dwarf is capable of generating two holograms. This does not end well for him. This isn’t a great episode and aside from Ferguson’s ridiculous pearly white teeth it really only has one fantastic scene. The “stab him, stab him, stab him…have you met Stab Him? He’s our scutter”. The episode works as far more or a bridge or lead in to E6.
Final Rating: **¾
E6: Me 2
At the end of E5 it’s revealed that the ship can only generate Rimmer as a hologram, as Rimmer has hidden all the other personality discs, and the second hologram is a second Rimmer. This leads to Rimmer moving in with Rimmer and hilarity ensues. This is, hands down, the best episode in S1. Chris Barrie’s Rimmer shows in equal measures his self-loathing and a vulnerability that hadn’t been seen beforehand. Especially at the episode’s denouement when Lister has had enough and decides to switch one of the Rimmer’s off. There are some excellent scenes in Me 2. The two that really stand out are; “Arnold J. Rimmer: A Tribute”, which is the video of Rimmer’s death. That includes the Bsc, Ssc bit. Bronze swimming certificate, silver swimming certificate. Also Rimmer’s pettiness continuing during a scene where he sits in front of himself in the ship’s cinema. It also has a heartfelt conclusion when Rimmer, sporting his medals (4 years long service, 8 years long service….12 years long service), tells Lister why “gazpacho soup” were his final words.
Me 2 was a replacement episode for the abandoned “Bodysnatcher” and benefitted from being written by Naylor and Grant after they knew the actors. The rest of the season was written without casting knowledge. Which is why Me 2 feels like a fully fleshed out episode amidst a season of experimental but universe building stuff.
Final Rating: ****¼
The first series of Red Dwarf merely sets the table for what’s to come. The basis of S1 is a guy trapped in space on his own, bored and horrified at what he’s gotten himself into. The series feels pre-written with guys just being slotted into roles. The best episode of the series, Me 2, benefitted massively from the writers knowing the cast and what they were capable of. It was a sign of things to come. A show that could combine comedy with emotions without having that drag the show down or take it away from its original trajectory. Rimmer’s “Gazpacho soup” moment defines S1. Almost everything else that’s good about S1 comes from straightforward jokes. S2 would continue to push the boundaries of the show by going out and away from the grey, dour Red Dwarf environment. The ship became a thing that Lister and the writers were desperate to escape from. Series 1 works as an introduction to the Red Dwarf universe but until Me 2 it doesn’t find its feet as a show. Also, the set design and appearance of the show improved after a couple of years and watching E1, after any of the later shows, is jarring. It’s all so grey and badly lit. You could argue that was intentional.