Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Ghost in the Case: Red Dwarf Retrospective

I tell you one thing.  I've been to a parallel universe, I've seen time running backwards, I've played pool with planets and I've given birth to twins, but I never thought in my entire life I'd taste an edible pot noodle.

Ghost here!  Thanks for joining me today for yet another

I have always been and shall always be a fan of science fiction.  While I cannot be certain which was my entry point into the genre, I can comfortably say that my earliest memories of science fiction were thanks to the influence of my father who introduced me ET, Star Wars and Star Trek the Next Generation around the same time (give or take a year.)  I was hooked early and hooked hard.  This love of science fiction has lead me down the pathway to innumerable entertainment from America, the UK, and Japan alike.  If it involves space, strange gadgets, aliens, and the future you can certainly find me soaking up every second.  However there is one particular show that has always been dear to my heart that many people "on this side of the pond" have no knowledge of... Red Dwarf.

Red Dwarf is a British science fiction comedy series that began in the late 80's and actually continues on till this day though not consecutively.  Why haven't most Americans heard of this wonderful series?  Well, for the longest time the only way to watch British Television was on PBS British Comedy on Saturday nights which only featured 4-6 different shows.  That changed in March 1998 when BBC America came to satellite providers and gave us a window into British television.  Red Dwarf was one of the shows they brought over, however it was about to enter it's eighth and (what we thought at the time would be) final season that very next year.  So BBC America played these episodes while season eight was going but once that came to an end they pulled the program from the lineup.  To my knowledge they haven't played it ever since.  Most streaming sites don't even have the show available to watch.

I was lucky enough to have satellite with my parents at that time and caught Red Dwarf in all of it's glory before it was pulled from the programming lineup.  Slowly over the years I would order a season on DVD  directly from the BBC and finally had every single episode.  So let's take a look at the last 28 years of this show's existence and why it's good to be a Dwarfer!

The Premise

Dave Lister is a third technician on the mining ship Red Dwarf.  It is Dave's dream to save up enough money to buy a farm on Fiji and move there with the girl of his dreams Kristine Kochanski.  However when Dave brings an unquarantined pregnant cat on board, the captain gives him two options; Dave can hand over the cat to be destroyed or he can go into suspended animation for the rest of that particular voyage.  Dave can't possibly hand over the cat and chooses to be frozen in time for eighteen months.  During his time in statis, his roommate Arnold J. Rimmer attempted to fix a drive plate and failed to do so properly causing a radiation leak that wiped out all organic life except those things which were sealed away in the cargo hold, and Dave who was suspended in time.

When the radiation reached a perfectly safe background level, the ship's computer Holly released Dave from stasis. Unfortunately, it had taken three million years for the radiation to decrease and the ship had continued drifting all of that time.  Dave, who is most likely the last human being, decides to beat the odds and try to return to Earth despite it being three million years away.  Holly then revives Rimmer as a hologram to help keep Dave sane in the loneliness of space, which is humorous because neither of them actually like each other and consistently go out of their way to drive the other crazy.  They are also joined by a man simply named Cat who is the last remaining descendant of Dave's pet cat and her kittens.  They had been breeding and evolving in the ship's cargo hold for three million years and now had a human appearance.  In later seasons, the Red Dwarf Crew would also pick up a robot named Kryten, and Dave's romantic interest Kristine Kochanski from an alternate universe where she survived the events on Red Dwarf.

The rest of the show mostly deals with daily life on board the ship, running into strange individuals, bizarre locations, and insane situations along the way all while simply trying to get Dave back home to ensure the human race survives.

The Characters

Dave Lister
Played by: Craig Charles
Dave is a bum with a heart of gold.  Although he does prefer to lie around, be a slob, and eat copious amounts of Indian food, when push comes to shove he can be extremely brave and sacrificial.  He's a very messy version of the every man.  Dave is just a normal guy who has dreams but remains mostly content in his life.  He'll do whatever he can to help make a situation better unless it involves doing the washing.  Dave also believes himself to be a master at the guitar: he most certainly is NOT.  Throughout his years on Red Dwarf he slowly matures to make (some) better decisions and help lead the group out of danger.  He doesn't have an extreme change in any way as he's still effectively the same person... just a bit more mature... well sometimes.

Arnold Rimmer
Played by Chris Barrie
Arnold Rimmer is kind of the pure embodiment of the qualities most people despise or are annoyed with. He's very anal, a strict follower of the rules, pompous, neurotic, weaselly, self-centered, and a coward.  He constantly tries to pass his officer examinations and always fails them.  However this doesn't make him an unlikable character.  Despite all of these qualities he is still funny and charming; in fact he's my favorite character of the series.  He still goes along with the crew and helps out whenever possible despite all of his shortcomings.  You also learn that many of these negative traits are the result of a rough childhood.  Throughout his years on Red Dwarf, Rimmer made several significant changes.  He and Lister were constantly at each others' throats throughout many of the early seasons which partially stemmed from the actors not really liking each other at first (this thankfully changed.)  Rimmer slowly started to mellow out a bit and really became an active member of the crew when his hologram projection unit was upgraded to "hard light" in Season 5 meaning he now had a physical presence instead of just being there as a projection.  That Rimmer also accepted his role in becoming the personality of Ace Rimmer, adventurer and hero across the galaxy and across various dimensions which resulted in his absence for the majority of Season 7.  However when nanobots brought everyone back to life everyone who was on Red Dwarf a the time of the radiation leak, that meant Rimmer was back as a human and back to his old antics... though he mellowed out far quicker than his hologramatic counterpart did. 

The Cat
Played by Danny John-Jules
Cat is basically the end result of placing the mind of a cat inside the body of a human as he shares many personality traits with his feline ancestors.  He is instinctive, a show off, cares for himself more than others, obsessed with his personal image and style, and not overly abundant in intelligence.  He'd be more likely to organize his sock drawer than volunteer to help someone else on the ship.  When Lister went into suspended animation, his cat gave birth to her kittens and over 3 million years they evolved into this humanoid shape.  However warring religious factions who believed Lister's laundry list was a star chart to the promised land decided to leave the ship in search for "Fushal" (Fiji) and left the sick and elderly behind.  Cat was born from two of these individuals and eventually became the last member of the cat race on board.  Cat did change throughout his time on Red Dwarf, however his was a bit more subtle.  At first he showed very cat-like tendencies like licking his clothes clean, lapping up milk, and having an obsession with shiny things and fish.  These tended to fade away as he acclimated himself to being more like a human and act similar to Lister and Rimmer.  Many of these more extreme cat-like behaviors stopped though his love of fashion and being cool never stopped.  Eventually he became the crew's pilot as his keen nose was able to detect things around them.

Played by David Ross (1 episode), and 
Robert Llewellyn (rest of series)
Kryten is an android who serves many functions on the ship including cook, maid, and scientific authority as knowledge of almost everything has been uploaded into his memory banks. He is programmed to serve any human and will do anything Lister or Rimmer ask of him even if he knows it's insane (usually in Rimmer's case.)  When they first met Kryten he was a service bot on a crashed vessel.  At that point he was a very obedient and quiet robot who was basically a doormat.  Lister decided to break his programming to give him independence and eventually was successful.  This resulted in Kryten leaving Red Dwarf, taking Lister's space bike, and eventually crashing and having to be rescued/rebuilt by Lister.  Lister, however was not able to do a full restore and as such Kryten was left with a pleasant but fairly neurotic and obsessive personality.  When Rimmer left and Kochanski became a permanent crew member, his neurosis escalated highly resulting in quite a few meltdowns.  Thankfully with Rimmer's return he also snapped back to his senses.

Played by Norman Lovett (Seasons 1-2, 7-8)
and Hattie Hayridge (Seasons 3-5)
Holly is the Red Dwarf computer which has an IQ of 6000, though most people question the validity of that statement.  Why is this questioned?  Well that's because Holly tends to be a bit of an idiot and a goof.  When the radiation leak occurred, Holly made it his goal to ensure Lister's safety and sanity and as such was left on his own for three million years...which probably explains his lack of IQ.  After meeting with his female counterpart in a parallel universe, he decided to change his face to that of his female self for seasons 3-5.  At the beginning of Season 6, Red Dwarf is lost and with it went Holly, however when Red Dwarf was restored by nanobots at the end of Season 7, the original Holly was re-created and stuck around till the end of Season 8.  I can't say a whole lot about Holly because while he/she is a funny part of the show that's mostly Holly's entire purpose.  They just show up, maybe explain something that Kryten explains further, and be a goof.

Kristine Kochanski
Played by Clare Grogan (Seasons 1, 2, & 6)
and Chloe Annett (Seasons 7-9)
Clare Grogan's Kochanski you never really get to know.  We see her in the first episode as being generally nice but then when she returns for Season 2 and 6 it's not actually her.  Her season 2 appearance is actually Rimmer using her body scan, and Season 6 is a mental projection trying to fake out Lister.  Chloe Annett however plays the alternate universe Kochanski and we do get to know her.  Kochanski joins in Season 7 and is from a parallel world where she was placed into suspended animation for not reporting Lister's cat.  As such, she survived the radiation, and Lister was brought back as a hologram and became her lover.  Kochanski is a woman of class and just wants things to be a little more civilized.  She hates the fact that she has been stuck in this dimension with a slobby and somewhat reckless version of the man she loved.  Despite this she definitely pulls her weight as the navigator for the crew and gets used to life on board.  Some time after Season 8 she leaves Red Dwarf unable to stand seeing Lister in the rut he has allowed himself to be in.

The Seasons

Season One - 1988
The beginnings of this show are a little rough.  The budget was practically non-existent for this show and you can really tell it.  The costumes seemed like stuff people just had in their own personal wardrobe with the exception of Cat.  The sets had an astounding amount of gray in it; basically everywhere you looked everything was gray.  Not to mention that sometimes doors would stick or walls would shift ever so slightly.  It's definitely noticeable.  Every single story this season also took place on Red Dwarf alone and involved internal issues/ideas/struggles.  However the scripts were solid, funny, and imaginative so these things can be ignored for the most part.  They also decided to record the series live in front of a studio audience so that you could get real feedback on the performances and jokes.  They continued to film in front of a live audience for the majority of the series.  During this season we meet our main three, see echoes of future events, watch as Lister tries to be a higher rank than Rimmer, learn about the cat people, Lister contracts a mutated cold virus, and Rimmer duplicates himself.

Season Two - 1988
Season Two had just about as pitiful of a budget, however they had noticed the gray on gray problem and started adding brightly colored props to help offset it.  This season was more of the same, but with a little more adventurous stories.  Most of the stories involved things on the ship still but they were able to venture out to a few locations and other places outside the ship a couple times.  This season we briefly meet Kryten before he runs off, go inside a video game that makes dreams reality, see Lister tamper with Rimmer's memories, find a leak in stasis allowing them back on the ship before the radiation leak, deal with a hardened alternate personality for Holly, and jump to a parallel universe where genders are reversed and Lister ends up pregnant because he slept with his female self in their world.

Season Three - 1989
Season Three brought a lot of changes and ushers in the 4-season "golden era" of the show.  It starts off with a Star Wars style text scroll (that goes faster than you can read) which explains Lister had twins then took them to the alternate universe to live then they picked up Kryten who had a new personality.  The budget must have been significantly increased as the show began using more locations and started exploring worlds, realities, and having outside forces affect their lives more often.  Also the gray corridors and rooms of the ship were gone as in between seasons they moved on up to the Officer's Quarters which meant all new sets with varying colors and contrasts.  It was a very good look for the show and the overall quality surged from all the changes.   This season we find a reality where time runs backwards, Lister and Rimmer are stuck on an Ice planet, a shapeshifting alien steals the crew's negative emotions, Rimmer swaps minds with Lister in order to get himself a body, Kryten discovers the photography fluid has mutated allowing them to walk into pictures and interact with the past, and Kryten's warranty period is up and his replacement is coming soon...with a shotgun.

Season Four - 1991
Season four is basically more of season three and is the 2nd season of what I consider the best years of the show.  The quality of the show is still high as well as the creativity and humor.  It's basically so close to "more of the same" that I don't think you can really tell a difference between this season and the previous season.  With only six episodes per season that isn't a bad thing because there is no way you can run out of original ideas or original modifications of ideas.  This season Kryten falls in love with a chameleonic life-form, Kryten temporarily turns into a human while Lister fights off a Curry monster, Rimmer is wrongly sentenced to several lifetimes in prison and the crew prove his innocence by proving he's an idiot, the crew encounter a white hole spewing out time, an alternative version of Rimmer named Ace Rimmer shows up, and the crew find themselves on a planet filled with wax robotic duplicates of famous figures from history who are involved in a war.

Season Five - 1992
While season five is still along the same levels of quality and humor, the stories have suddenly taken a much darker tone for this season.  It's yet again "more of the same" but just with a bit of a psychotic twist to it.   This season Rimmer joins a hologramatic ship's crew because a crewmate of that ship fell in love with him.  When he finds this out he returns to Red Dwarf so that she can exist once more.  We also meet the Inquisitor who travels through time erasing people who have wasted their life's potential putting Kryten and Lister in danger.  The crew lands on a psychic moon who becomes the manifestation of Rimmer's diseased mind.  Rimmer contracts a hologramatic plague and not only quarantines the others but tries to kill them.  The ship is triplicated by accident with the original, one containing everything bad about the ship and the last containing everything good about the ship.  When the original explodes they must find the pieces on the good and bad ship to make it whole again...and deal with the good and bad versions of themselves.  Finally, the crew find an underwater base and end up victim to The Despair Squid whose psychic ink makes the crew think they have actually been playing a Red Dwarf video game for years and are actually people whom they despise.

Season Six - 1993
The creators decided to make some changes for this season to shake things up.  Immediately following the final episode, Red Dwarf goes missing and the crew are stuck on the small ship Starbug as they try to track down the main ship.  Rimmer also receives a hard-light drive during this season which gives him a physical presence and the ability to actually do things.  Whether or not this was intentional, the show also became a sort of "monster of the week" type thing with each episode having them dealing with a new enemy from outside the tiny vessel.  This season we meet some psychic life-forms that want to eat everyone's brains, find a creature made up of the collective consciousness of the people around, jump into Kryten's brain via a video game to fight off a virus in Starbug's mainframe, encounter a second polymorph sent after the crew when they double cross a tribe, Rimmer gets sucked into a black hole and terraforms a world filled with thousands of clones of himself, and after finding a time travel device, they are flagged down by themselves from the future for help.  When the current crew meet the future crew and see what depravity the time drive has caused they send the future crew away who decide to kill everyone on the current day's Starbug.

Season Seven - 1997
The series co-creator Rob Grant decided to leave the show to pursue other options.   This left Naylor to write the series by himself and caused the four year delay.  The filming of season six was apparently so hectic that not only did Naylor want to change the show, but Chris Barrie wanted to only be part of a small number of episodes.  As such, the show was tailored to have Rimmer exit Starbug and have Kochanski from an alternate universe join the team.  This and next season would be 8 episodes long instead of 6.  The show was also not filmed live for this season and was shown to an audience later to record the laughter... this resulted in some laughter being longer than the pause given and some lines being hard to hear.  The tone of the show was very different as some episodes kept the science fiction but others sort of went to the type of thing you would see on a normal family sitcom like Everybody Loves Raymond.  The actors loved this change but the tone shift was very odd and made the show somewhat less enjoyable.  I say somewhat because although I like other seasons as a whole better than this one... this also has probably my favorite episode and two of my favorite individual jokes of the entire series.

The explanation for why the Dwafers were ok is kind of great.  Their deaths in the previous season created a paradox which reset time to before they got the time drive.  Because if the future crew killed the past crew, they wouldn't be around to grow old and turn into the future crew to kill themselves.  This season the crew accidentally saves JFK and has to fix history so that he is assassinated, We see Rimmer leave Starbug to save people around the universe as the new Ace Rimmer, they pick up Kochanski from an alternate universe and Dave finds out that he is his own father, They get stuck in the air ducts when Kryten gets jealous of Kochanski, Lister reminisces about Rimmer and misses him, Kryten's head explodes after Lister asks to put ketchup on a lobster, the crew find a person with some sort of zombie virus that results in Lister losing his arm, and finally Kryten is searching for his nanobots to build Lister a new arm but can't find them.  Why can't Kryten find his nanobots?  They deserted him around the time of the despair squid from season 5, hopped on Red Dwarf, Junked everything they didn't need onto a made-up planet, and traveled the area of starbug in a microscopic version of Red Dwarf.  When Kryten makes them rebuild Red Dwarf and Lister's arm things don't go according to plan.

Season Eight - 1999
Seson Eight is a little more like a mixture between Seasons 7 and 5 honestly.  The show returned to being recorded in front of a live audience.  The cast was expanded greatly and the sets were completely different.  Why?  When the nanobots returned Red Dwarf, the DNA from the dust piles where people had died was still on the ship and therefore everyone, including the hardened criminals being transported to a secure facility, were revived as well.  The Starbug crew enter Red Dwarf and are taken into custody for stealing Starbug.  They are placed under a hypnotic state for their trial (as well as the revived Rimmer who was acting strangely.)  Eventually they are cleared of the charges as they accept they died and were revived...however they were found guilty of using the ship's confidential files and sentenced to 2 years in the ship's prison.  The rest of the season they spend in prison and doing various jobs while there.  This season the crew is on trial and sentenced to jail.  While on prison exploration duty, Lister finds a computer who can accurately predict the future and it tries to ruin his life/happiness.  Kryten starts hijacking the prison TVs to produce his own shows and be a sort of mob boss, the dwarfers find a time stick which eventually turns a bird into a T-Rex, and a metal eating virus appears on Red Dwarf and begins destroying it forcing Rimmer to find a cure in an alternate universe.  This ends in a cliffhanger where everyone but Rimmer is gone/has died and Rimmer kicks the grim reaper between the legs.

Side Note: If you're hoping for an explanation of how they get out of this situation... yeah you won't find it.  They just chose not to provide an answer and even tease it towards the end of Season 10 but don't actually reveal anything.

Back to Earth - 2009
It had been ten years since the cliffhanger ending of Season 8.  With an ending quite like that fans assumed the series was dead but here came Back to Earth.  Now Back to Earth supposedly takes place after season ten though it was released before what would be season ten.  They also constantly make references to season 9.  There is no Season nine.  This is actually sort of season nine though it's supposed to be something after ten and
sorry... let's try this again.

Ten years after season 8, the movie Back to Earth was presented to us in three episodes.  The original four returned to their roles and were on a highly upgraded Red Dwarf.  Kochanski is assumed dead, Rimmer is a hologram again, and there is no explanation for how they escaped the ending of season 8.  When a dimension jumping creature somehow finds it's way on Red Dwarf, the science officer of Red Dwarf's hologram appears and intends to delete Rimmer while helping Lister restore the human race.  However when she uses the technology harnessed from the creature it states their reality is not valid and they are thrust through a wormhole into our reality where they are just characters on a TV show.  Eventually they track down Craig Charles and find their creator.  While there, Lister gets the help of some children who help him realize Kochanski is still alive; Kryten confirms she had only left Red Dwarf and told him not to tell anyone.  After meeting with their creator and killing him, they discover that this reality is actually an illusion.  The creature on Red Dwarf was actually the female version of the despair squid and her ink creates joy.  Eventually they all come back to their senses and decide to continue on their quest for Earth.

Season Ten - 2012
The Dwarfers were back for another full season after thirteen years!  The show was able to have a good budget with decent effects and a high production value.  It was once again filmed in front of a live audience.  I truly believe that this was supposed to be the final run for the crew as certain plot points from the entire show are concluded and while the first episode of Season 1 was called "The End"  the last episode of this season was called "The Beginning."  During this season, Rimmer finally catches up with his brother Howard and tries to one-up him, Lister gets drunk and deals with him being his own father in the worst way possible which almost ends in his death, the crew get teleported and stuck in 23 AD where they meet up with Jesus...though it turns out he's not THAT Jesus, Lister gets attached to an explosive device when he loses Rimmer in a bet, Lister becomes involved in a love triangle with two vending machines, and Rimmer finally learns about who his real father is and is able to overcome his neurosis to help the Dwarfers win a seemingly losing battle.

This would have been a good bookend to the series as a whole and if no other episodes were created I would have been fine with that.  It ended on a wonderful note.  However as luck would have it, we are getting at least two more seasons of this fantastic show!

Unique Attributes

So, I know what you may be saying.  With so many other options for science fiction out there, what makes Red Dwarf stand out?  What makes it unique?  Well there are a couple things.

The first thing of note about this series is that it has a strict "no aliens" policy.  This is very bizarre for a science fiction show based in outer space.  However for this series, everything is based off Earth and humanity in general.  Yes we do run across several strange and bizarre creatures, however all of them are the result of human experimentation, human augmentation, evolution of an existing creature found on earth, or genetic projects gone wrong.  Nothing exists in the vastness of space that doesn't have it's origin from Earth in this series.  You would think this might limit the show, but it just meant that they needed to make things a bit more inventive.

One other thing to note is the use of a created curse word.  It should come as no surprise to anybody that a group of only men hanging around for years together would most likely be a bit more crude than a group of mixed gendered company.  The creators either wanted to portray this fact while being able to keep the show viewable to most audiences or they just wanted to have a funny sounding word being said occassionally; it's hard to tell which.  That brought about the creation of the word "smeg."  Smeg is used in this series as a substitute for words that couldn't be uttered on prime time television to increasing hilarity.  You will often hear insults such as smeg head, shut the smeg up, and he's taking the smeg.  On the rare occasion you'll get Season three line  "What the smegging smeg's he smegging done?  He's smegging killed me!"


If you haven't had the wonderful opportunity to check this show out then I would highly suggest finding a way to do so.  The first two seasons can be a little rough if you aren't used to dealing with low budget productions but the comedy value and imagination are always present no matter what season you pick up.   Now, I have been told by others that this show sounds more funny than it actually is once you start watching it by a couple people who I have recommended it to in the past.  However they were only able to watch part of the first season before Netflix pulled the show from its lineup.  I was serious when I said Season 3 started it's golden era, so if you're having difficulty, feel free to jump forward to season three.  This show is a gem and something I hold dear to me.  The characters are wonderful, the comedy is on point, and the mixture of science fiction and goofing around is perfect.  This will always be one of my favorite shows and I hope that you too get to experience this for yourself.

This is Ghost, fading into the darkness.
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