Red Dwarf: revisiting the eighth series

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It’s time to wrap up our rewatch of classic Red Dwarf with a look back at series VIII…

1999 saw Red Dwarf return for its eighth and final series on the BBC, before taking a whopping ten-year hiatus and relaunching on Dave. Series VIII undid some of the questionable changes that were made in series VII by bringing Rimmer back full time and filming in front of a studio audience, in addition to reintroducing the original Holly, played by Norman Lovett, and the titular ship itself. This may sound good on paper, and from interviews and DVD commentaries it’s clear that the cast had a great time making it, but in reality Red Dwarf VIII is the weakest series among I-VIII. Although the seventh series has its problems, it still feels like Red Dwarf, whereas the eighth frequently feels like it belongs to a dumber, broader, lazier show.

Back In The Red: Parts I, II and III

Series VIII picks up where VII left off, with Lister, Cat, Kryten and Kochanski arriving on board Red Dwarf, which they have spent the past two series in pursuit of. It isn’t the old, empty Red Dwarf though – it’s a new version constructed by nanobots, who have not only rebuilt the ship but also resurrected the entire crew including Rimmer. The gang are arrested for crimes against the Space Corps as soon as they land and, over the course of episodes 1-3, must try to prove their innocence.

With some sensible rewriting, it feels as if this story could have easily been told in two parts instead of three. As it stands, Back In The Red feels rather messy and confused, taking several strange turns along the way. For instance, Kryten pointlessly gets restored to his factory settings for all of a few seconds, before returning to normal with very little effort, and at one point the gang disguise themselves as ‘the Dibbley family’ for no obvious reason other than to get a cheer of recognition from the audience. Not to mention the infamous scene in which Cat performs a seemingly never-ending dance with Blue Midget… There also isn’t a lot of tension as we watch the gang trying to prove their innocence, and later escape, due to the fact that we’ve already seen Lister and Rimmer in prison at the start of the series, so we know they’re going to end up there eventually.

Red Dwarf has always been a rather broad comedy, despite its sci-fi setting, but series VIII has significantly more juvenile humour than before. Not far into Back In The Red: Part I, a shrunken Starbug accidentally gets jammed in the rear end of a rat, which is amusing when it is hinted at but then less so when we actually see it. Part II sees Rimmer present Captain Hollister with a crude glove for applying pile cream, plus Kryten forces his assessment panel to sit on the toilet in front of him so they appear less intimidating. This first batch of episodes also features Rimmer using the sexual magnetism virus, originally mentioned but never used in series V, to make himself irresistible to women, which contributes to the show feeling a lot less family-friendly than usual.

Cassandra and Krytie TV

Cassandra is by far the best episode of series VIII, with a comparatively tight plot that focuses on our core group of characters without any of the wacky supporting characters getting too much in the way. The opening bunk scene has some strong gags, from Holly’s suggestion that Lister could shorten his prison term by becoming a dog, to Rimmer mocking Lister for signing up for the Canaries, followed by the big punchline of “It gets worse as well… I’ve signed you up too.” Once the gang meet Cassandra, a computer who has accurate visions of the future, highlights include Cat hitting Lister over the head after being told they can’t die, mistakenly thinking they can’t feel pain, and Rimmer telling Lister “Don’t get ideas above your station, and your station is Git Central.” Cassandra’s prediction that he will sleep with Kochanski and die within the day allows for Rimmer’s funniest material of the series, and even Kochanski gets a good line as she discovers Rimmer isn’t really going to die and says “Aww but Cassandra promised.”

After the peak of Cassandra, it all comes plummeting down in Krytie TV which sees Kryten, having been classified as a woman (don’t ask), getting reprogrammed by male prisoners to make him secretly film female prisoners in the communal showers. This premise would perhaps feel less icky if the episode devoted some time to the female prisoners getting their own back in some way, but this doesn’t happen at all. The women remain nameless objects throughout, and the second half of the episode involves Lister mistakenly vandalising the prison warden’s quarters and then having to clean up in a race against time. Remember when this used to be a sci-fi sitcom, instead of a show about some blokes mucking about in a prison?… There are a few laughs scattered throughout Krytie TV, such as “Attack of the Giant, Savage, Completely Invisible Aliens”, but it’s very difficult to get past the unpleasant, laddish premise. It’s also difficult to not come away thinking less of Lister, who claims to be in love with Kochanski but doesn’t show any signs of respecting her as a person at all.

Pete: Parts I and II

Red Dwarf continues to feel less and less like itself in Pete: Part I which begins with Lister and Rimmer reporting to Captain Hollister’s office after playing a prank on the prison warden. For some reason, the Captain decides that a suitable punishment will be for Lister, Rimmer and co to take on the prison guards in a basketball game, although they ultimately win by slipping something similar to viagra into the guards’ half-time drinks. Again: Remember when this used to be a sci-fi sitcom, instead of a show about some blokes mucking about in a prison? The Captain then sends Lister and Rimmer to peel a mountain of potatoes, and their attempt to cheat using a virus results in them completely losing their clothes and hair. One good thing about this episode is that Kryten, Cat and Kochanski are actually given their own plot, as they embark on a Canaries mission minus Lister and Rimmer, and find a device that allows them to manipulate time. Pete: Part I ends with the gang accidentally turning a bird into a dinosaur using the time wand. Tedium ensues.

Pete: Part II is frequently named as Red Dwarf’s worst episode of all time, and for good reason. It’s all very puerile and not particularly funny, from the gang trying to feed the T-rex a giant curry and Captain Hollister describing the vomit/diarrhoea-filled aftermath, to the Captain getting a massage and inexplicably failing to notice when his masseuse swaps places with a dinosaur licking his back. Amongst all of this, there’s also a silly subplot that doesn’t really go anywhere about Kryten making himself a penis called Archie.

Only The Good…

Red Dwarf’s misguided eighth series comes to an end in Only The Good… which is certainly an improvement on Pete but serves as an unsatisfying finale overall. This is mainly because the threat of the episode doesn’t get introduced until over halfway through, so the climax feels rushed as if it has come out of nowhere. After Rimmer has an argument with a vending machine voiced by Tony Slattery, Kryten gets tricked into congratulating Kochanski on her period, and Lister and Rimmer are forced to down some illegal hooch, it emerges that Red Dwarf is being eaten by a microbe and will soon be destroyed. In an attempt to find an antidote and save the ship, Kryten creates a mirror universe in which Rimmer then gets stuck by himself. The idea of an alternative reality where Rimmer is the ship’s captain, Cat is a professor and so on is an interesting one, but it comes into play so late in the episode that we barely get any time to explore it at all.