Red Dwarf: revisiting the sixth series

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With Red Dwarf back on our screens recently for its twelfth series, I’m rewatching it all from the beginning. This week it’s time to be “better dead than smeg” in Red Dwarf VI.

In the time between Red Dwarf’s fifth and sixth series, the crew have lost their ship – apparently thanks to Lister forgetting where he parked it. As a result, Red Dwarf VI is set on Starbug and focuses on the crew pursuing their ship, which ups the stakes somewhat as they’re no longer simply drifting through space in the hope of one day reaching Earth. The sixth series is action- and gag-packed, but a complaint could be made that the characters are more like caricatures and the dialogue is more formulaic than before, with lots of running jokes that are a bit hit-and-miss (e.g. Space Corps Directives and “There’s an old Cat saying”) and at times an overreliance on similes (e.g. “We’re deader than corduroy”).

Psirens and Legion

The series begins by essentially re-introducing the characters, perhaps for the benefit of any new viewers, and explaining the predicament of Red Dwarf being lost. A dishevelled Lister emerges from stasis with no idea who he is and learns from Kryten, to his initial disgust, that he’s someone who consumes cold curry sauce for breakfast. Rimmer gets rebooted, with some nice visual jokes about the size of his neuroses and charisma, and it’s soon clear that Holly has been lost along with the ship. This episode contains some genuine peril thanks to the psirens, who suck out people’s brains (although Rimmer comments “There’s barely a snack on board”) and are visually scarier than most of the monsters we’ve seen on the show before. Their attempts to ensnare the crew deliver some memorable moments, as Cat nearly falls victim to the most obvious trick imaginable, Lister ends up locking lips with a slobbering psiren, and Clare Grogan makes a guest appearance as Kochanski – for the first time since Red Dwarf II’s ‘Stasis Leak’ and also the last time before Chloe Annett took over the part. Other highlights of the episode include Rimmer’s “Lister, tune into Sanity FM”, the “Someone who badly needed a pen” line, and Kryten’s “I’m almost annoyed” after he has been turned into a cube by the trash compactor.

‘Legion’ sees the crew meet a mysterious figure, in a not very flattering green lycra outfit, who welcomes them into his home but seems suspiciously reluctant for them to ever leave. The opening to this episode is full of great gags, including “Someone’s filled in this Have You Got a Good Memory quiz” “But that was you sir, last week – don’t you remember?” and of course “Step up to red alert” “Sir, are you absolutely sure? It does mean changing the bulb”. The jokes continue to flow once Legion is introduced, with the crew trying to use antimatter chopsticks in an attempt to impress him and Rimmer mistaking a light switch for a work of art (“I couldn’t buy it then?” “Not really… I need it to turn the lights on”). Rimmer also finally becomes a hard light hologram, which is quickly put to good use when he gets pelted with food and hit over the head with a vase. ‘Legion’ is one of series VI’s best episodes, with a nice mix of verbal and slapstick humour and a reasonably simple plot.

Gunmen of the Apocalypse and Emohawk

Frequently listed among the top Red Dwarf episodes of all time, ‘Gunmen of the Apocalypse’ takes the boys from the Dwarf to the Wild West. We open with Lister playing a VR game, before the ship is attacked by simulants who despise humans and therefore believe Lister to be “the vermin of the universe” – Cat remarks “I didn’t even know they’d met him”. This leads to the classic moment where Lister and Cat become Tarka Dal and Bhindi Bhaji, ambassadors to “the Great Vindaloovian Empire”, by flipping the cameras upside down and sticking Kryten’s eyes to their chins. The ship becomes infected with a computer virus and the crew enter a simulated world in order to stop it, but the how and why of this is pretty irrelevant – the set-up is just an excuse to take us to the Wild West. Cat’s Riviera Kid persona is fun, as is the scene in which he shoots an enemy’s bullets out of the air, but it’s Rimmer who gets the best moments of the episode, such as ordering a dry white wine and Perrier at the saloon and responding to someone asking if he’s “mighty brave or mighty stupid” with “Sorry, what were the choices again?”. ‘Gunmen of the Apocalypse’ is certainly enjoyable, but I would argue that it isn’t really the ‘best’ or ‘second best’ episode of all time, as it’s often said to be, and that perhaps the reason it stands out in people’s minds so much is because it has a memorable setting.

‘Emohawk: Polymorph II’ has its moments but is identifiably the weakest episode of the series. For a start, three rather forced similes are churned out within the first few minutes, including “My nostril hairs are shimmying faster than a grass skirt on a fat Hawaiian hoola hoop champion”, as well as a Space Corps Directive. The middle segment in which the crew venture into a GELF village and Lister ends up having to marry the chief’s daughter (“One of three, and apparently she’s the looker”) is amusing, and of course “Change of plan – leg it!” is still a classic Red Dwarf moment. In the last ten minutes of the episode, the ship is infiltrated by a polymorph, following on from its first appearance in series III, which is a fine idea since a creature that can both turn itself into anything and steal emotions has plenty of possibilities. However, it is mainly used as an excuse to bring back Ace Rimmer from series IV and Duane Dibbley from series V, for no obvious reason other than to elicit some cheers from the audience. It may have a fun middle segment, but the opening and closing segments of ‘Emohawk: Polymorph II’ are Red Dwarf at its most unimaginative.

Rimmerworld and Out of Time

In ‘Rimmerworld’, Rimmer ends up stranded alone on a planet for centuries, after abandoning his crewmates in a dangerous situation via an escape pod. The episode also introduces the concept that it’s possible for holograms to have health problems and die – something which doesn’t make a lot of sense, but is arguably worth it for the running joke of Rimmer grinding a pair of “Chinese worry balls” to calm his nerves. Aside from the frequent “balls” jokes, the comedic highlights of ‘Rimmerworld’ come when the crew eventually rescue Rimmer and he refers to them as Cit, Titan and Derek Custer, followed by the memorable “Or we could use the teleporter” moment. There are also some good laughs earlier on, when after losing Rimmer, Cat remarks that it’s been “all in all 100% successful trip” and Kryten tries to break it to Rimmer gently that he’s going to be on his own for 600 years – “Remember that medieval war sir, that lasted quite a long time…” However the planet populated by Rimmer clones is not particularly funny in itself, and I don’t think it’s as inventive as the planet inhabited by Rimmer’s personality traits that we saw in series V’s ‘Terrorform’.

Bringing the sixth series and also the Grant Naylor era of Red Dwarf to a close (series VII, minus Rob Grant, would not air until just over three years later) is ‘Out of Time’, which sees the crew get hold of a time machine and encounter future versions of themselves. Before all of this though, laughs come from Rimmer appointing himself “morale officer” and having a rant in which he calls Lister “gerbil faced” and the Cat “an unbelievable git”, as well as from the unreality pockets that the crew find themselves travelling through. The most amusing of these pockets creates the illusion that Lister is a droid – and not just a droid, but one who ranks lower than Kryten. The air of superiority that Kryten suddenly gains is pretty hilarious, as is his eventual discovery that he has been duped. Equally funny is the revelation that the time drive allows the crew to travel through time but not change their location, with Rimmer sarcastically commenting on “the heady medieval atmosphere of pre-Renaissance deep space”. The future selves encounter is perhaps the weakest part of the episode, although it does include the great line “Herman Goering is a bit dodgy?” from Kryten and culminates in a surprisingly heroic moment for Rimmer.

Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back soon with a look at series seven…