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Red Dwarf

Entry updated 19 November 2023. Tagged: TV.

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UK tv series (1988-current). A Paul Jackson Production for BBC North West; from Series IV, a Grant Naylor Production for BBC North. Produced by Ed Bye, Rob Grant, Doug Naylor. Directed by Bye. Written Grant, Naylor as Grant Naylor; in season VII, Naylor, Paul Alexander, Kim Fuller, Robert Llewellyn; in VIII, Naylor, Alexander. Cast includes Craig Charles as Lister, Chris Barrie as Rimmer, Danny John-Jules as Cat, Robert Llewellyn (season III onward) as Kryten, Norman Lovett (Seasons 1, 2 and VIII) and Hattie Hayridge (seasons III-VII) as Holly, and Chloe Annett as Christine Kochanski (VII and VIII). Ten seasons (given Roman numerals from season III onwards, as in Red Dwarf III) of six 30-minute episodes each to VI; eight episodes in VII and VIII; in place of IX (but subsequently given this numbering) there followed the Dave Channel's Red Dwarf: Back to Earth, a serial of three 30-minute parts; six more episodes from the Dave Channel as X. Colour.

At its best probably the best blend of humour and sf on television since The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Red Dwarf – a true situation comedy – rapidly became a cult success. Red Dwarf itself is a very large, very dirty spaceship with only one crew member, a definitively working-class Black Liverpudlian, Lister, a Last Man who has been in Suspended Animation for millions of years. Also present are a tyrannical but self-pitying Uploaded character, Rimmer, who manifests as a hologram and outranks Lister; an inordinately vain humanoid called Cat, descended from Lister's pet cat; the wry and varyingly dysfunctional ship's Computer, Holly, seen only as an on-screen Avatar; and, later, a varyingly obsequious Android trained to serve, the admirable Kryten. Miracles of sf evocation – Time Travel, Black Holes, Alternate History, Parallel Worlds, Psi Powers, Virtual Reality and other such tropes – are performed with considerable wit and style on, one might deduce from the deliberate tackiness of the whole endeavour prior to season VII, a tiny budget. At its radical fringes, UK television of the 1980s specialized in comedy emphasizing vulgarity, despair, Entropy, stupidity and lack of hygiene, and the people behind Red Dwarf have impeccable pedigrees in this field: executive producer Paul Jackson had made the nicely revolting The Young Ones (1982-1984) and Filthy Rich and Catflap (1987), and Grant and Naylor had been head writers for the politically satirical puppet series Spitting Image (1984-1989).

Red Dwarf's characteristic tacky charm faded slightly with season VII, with better special effects but intermittently weaker scripting; the character of the series changed drastically in season VIII, which opens with the discovery that the magic of Nanotechnology has restored the entire ship crew annihilated in the first episode of season 1 – thus losing the familiar sitcom character focus. This in turn was followed by a three-part story for the Dave Channel, Red Dwarf: Back to Earth (2009), reckoned by fans as the ninth series (IX). Accepting this numbering, the further series Red Dwarf X aired in 2012 and returned to the tradition of independent episodes, of which there were six.

Season 1's first episode "The End" (1988) was remade as a 1992 pilot for US television, directed by Jeff Melman, with an almost entirely changed cast (except for Kryten) and toned-down characters; it failed to sell.

Spin-off books as by Grant Naylor (Grant and Naylor) are Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers (1989), Better than Life (1990) – these two assembled with additional material, including the pilot script, as Red Dwarf Omnibus (omni 1989) – and Red Dwarf VIII (1999). Two selections of scripts are Primordial Soup: Red Dwarf Scripts (coll 1993), as by Grant Naylor, and Son of Soup: A Second Serving of the Least Worst Scripts (coll 1996), as by Grant and Naylor. Scenes from the Dwarf (coll 1996 chap), also as by Grant and Naylor, comprises eight brief script extracts, three from episodes later appearing in full in Son of Soup. Other novel Ties are Last Human (1995) by Naylor alone and Backwards (1996) by Grant alone. [PN/DRL]

see also: BSFA Award; Shapeshifters; Time in Reverse.

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