Thursday, 2 June 2016

AF Countdown: My Top 10 Red Dwarf Episodes*

A couple of articles I had planned didn't come off, so have a top 10 instead

If you’ve never seen/heard of Red Dwarf, it’s a British science fiction themed sit-com about the last human being – Dave Lister - stuck on a giant mining space ship Red Dwarf (and sometimes Starbug, it’s scouter vehicle), he’s not alone though because that wouldn’t make good situation comedy, instead he’s stuck with the ship’s senile computer Holly (who had a sex change half-way through the series), a creature that evolved from his pet cat – just called The Cat – and a hologram of his dead dick of a bunkmate Arnold J. Rimmer BSC (Bronze Swimming Certificate), and later a robot called Kryten. It’s something of a cult classic in America  but here in England it seems a lot more accepted, no different than most of our big sit-coms (of which we have many), probably falling just below the real big guns like Only Fools and Horses and Little Britain in terms of name recognition but easily on the same level as the likes of Porridge, Vicar of Dibley, Father Ted, Steptoe & Son and One Foot in the Grave, probably because it was originally on the BBC so was advertised around a lot of programmes that would have exposed it to lot of people who had no interested in watching a sci-fi sit-com (and still didn’t watch it, just heard about it a lot), and because it was genuinely successful for a while.

My dad was one of those annoying hipster bastards who watched Red Dwarf series, sorry, season 1 when it first aired; I’m told this puts him in a minority after the first episode, I don’t know for sure because I was two but the point of this isn’t to make my dad sound cool (though he totally is) but to explain his burning desire to make sure everyone who got close to being considered his next of kin appreciate Red Dwarf. It was too late for my mum (she’s not dead they’d just broken up by then) but he did show the show to his girlfriend, later second wife, and it worked, this lead to her having a selection of VHS tapes all recorded from the telly during the show’s heyday. There are various things I miss as technology marches on; you will never convince me that CDs have as good a feel to them as vinyl or cartridges for instance and I still want a Sony Talkman, but ‘taped tapes’ – VHSes recorded from TV – are one of the things I miss the most. They held far more than a standard ‘bought’ video (which usually never exceeded three episodes of anything) and you never had any idea what the fuck was on them – you couldn’t fit all the necessary data on the label, the box was usually completely resistant to all forms of pen, pencil and bodily fluid and any piece of notepaper invariably got scrunched to fuck – so it always a nice surprise. It also allowed you to have access to old adverts and idents and taped tapes are pretty much the reason YouTube has so many of those hosted on it. Little Karen’s1 tapes had a fantastic mix of re-runs of series 2 & 3 and first airings of series 4-6 and in line with my dad’s holy quest to make everyone like Red Dwarf I watched the shit out of the following: ‘Thanks for the  Memory’ ‘Queeg’ ‘Parallel Universe’ ‘Backwards’ ‘Marooned’ ‘Polymorth’ ‘The Last Day’ ‘Camille’ ‘DNA’ ‘Justice’ ‘Holoship’ ‘The Inquisitor’ ‘Terrorform’ ‘Quarantine’ ‘Demons & Angels’ ‘Psirens’ ‘Legion’ ‘Gunmen of the Apocalypse’ ‘Emohawk: Polymorth II’ and ‘Tikka to Ride’ as well as the first Smeg Ups official VHS and the fact that I can remember perfectly what episodes were on these tapes should show you a) how often I watched the bloody things and b) how much of an effect they had on me. It also allows you to see how much of a part nostalgia plays in the following choices because this was all we had to watch from Red Dwarf from my childhood and teens, I didn’t see anything that wasn’t on that list until I was an adult and bought the DVDs, yeah that means that my only experiences with Dwayne Dibbly and Ace Ribber were Emohawk, sad isn’t it?

So yeah, I love Red Dwarf, and have many happy memories associated with it (it was one of the very few things me and my EX-Stepmum ever agreed on – others included, weirdly, the X-Files and Shania Twain’s album ‘Come on Over’) and I’ve just rewatched the series plus Smeg-Ups and Smeg-Outs and so now we have a Top 10 that I’ve put 100 times more thought into than what I’m going to buy my dad, to whom I owe my fondness for the show remember, for father’s day this year. So are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin, even if it does mean changing the light bulb2.       

Runners Up: ‘White Hole’ – a great episode for Holly II, Talkie Toaster and Lister’s Crowning Moment of Awesome; ‘Queeg’ – Holly I’s finest moment and the only time chess has ever been funny (oh, except that time where Grandad was playing drafts on a talking chess board in Only Fools and Horses, but isn’t that really the only time drafts has been funny? He was playing drafts even if it was on a chess board? or is it both?, whatever); ‘Better Than Life’ – where I actually felt sorry for Rimmer and the great ‘I can’t read her writing’ bit making a letter about a dead parent hilarious; ‘Legion’ because… I dunno, I just have a massive affection for that episode and ‘Thanks for the Memory’ because it’s bloody touching and has the best sandwich ever.    

10. Smeg Ups
Does this count? Well it was aired on television (albeit in an edited form) but yeah I’m pretty sure I’m cheating  but I’m completely sure I don’t care. If you have no idea what it is, shame on you why are you reading this? But it’s an outtakes special that was released on VHS, if you’ve only been alive AC where complete series DVD box sets are released the day the final episode of the season airs: these VHS specials – usually outtakes or ‘too hot for TV’ clip shows – were very common and really bloody annoying as they often represented the only official release from a series and sometimes still do (Have I Got News For You, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Mock the Week…). The special’s hosted in-character by Kryten and the reason it’s on here is It never fails to make me laugh – and for a comedy show that’s pretty important really, and it ends with Tongue Tied to boot!
Funniest Moment: Everything that could possibly be in, around or flying over a field conspiring to make sure Craig Charles can’t deliver a line

09. The Last Day  
Season 3
Kryten’s warrantee is up, well technically it was up god-knows-how-many years ago but the information’s just caught up with Red Dwarf and Kryten’s…ok with this, because he believes in Silicon Heaven. Regardless Lister decides to give him a proper send-off including a piss-up and a robotic Marilyn Monroe. The episode is just one good joke after another, I can’t think of a single joke that doesn’t work for me and it’s all wrapped up in great character moments and topped with a bloody awesome confrontation with a villain that feels like a legitimate threat in what may well be Kryten’s Crowning Moment of Awesome –where would all the calculator’s go?
Funniest moment: Cat and Lister waking up after the night before and what they find there

08. Dimension Jump
Season 4
Can’t…stop…self…so…sorry…cliché… … …
Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast. 
So in another universe Rimmer isn’t a total smeg head but a walking definition of ‘awesome’ by the name of Ace Rimmer, who agrees to a one way ticket through dimensions and ends up meeting the Boys from the Dwarf and our Rimmer, who he hates as much as Rimmer hates him. The reason this is so low is because it’s really just one joke – Ace Rimmer is not like our Rimmer – and some pathos but it’s on the list because that one joke doesn’t stop being funny the whole episode and because Ace Rimmer is god (what a guy!) and because if I left it off I’m pretty sure Dwarfers would hunt me down and choke me to deal on kippers and old videos of The Brittas Empire, especially after seeing what else I’ve left off.   
Funniest moment: Bongo’s proposal

07. Holoship
Season 5
Bloody hell another Rimmer focussed episode, and he’s the character I like the least, don’t tell me after all these years I’m finally starting to develop the same affection for the prick that every other fan seems to have? But I’ve resisted so long! Anyway the Boys from the Dwarf find a ship that’s wholly a hologram and only staffed with holograms – who have sex three times a day on medical grounds – Rimmer wants in but accidentally falls for Bubbles from Absolutely Fabulous and she him, and she’s going to be his opponent for the test to get him into the ship, and if he wins she’ll be deleted to allow the ship to support his hologram. I really like this episode but I honestly don’t have a lot to say about it that’s not because there’s not a lot involved but simply because I can sum up its qualities very succinctly: It’s funny, it’s touching and it’s got the black bloke from Rising Damp in it. What more do you need? Oh I do have one other thing, Jane Horrocks is scarily like Fenella Fielding in Carry on Screaming in this this and that just makes me happy.
Funniest Moment: Lister to Red Dwaarrrf…

06. Back to Reality
Season 5
And every ‘proper’ fan has just clicked off of this post (well they wold have if anyone read this blog) in disgust. Back to Reality is generally considered the best episode in the series’ history, generally considered to be perfect and it IS very good I just don’t like it as much as the next five episodes. A Despair Squid causes a mass hallucination amongst the Boys from the Dwarf that they were in fact really just playing a Better Than Life game (something that had appeared earlier in the show) to cause them to kill themselves and it nearly works, in ‘the real world’ Lister is the head of a fascist government, Rimmer is his brother without the Freudian excuses he relies on to get by while being such a total git, Krysten kills a human and worse of all, The Cat is… DWAYNE DIBBLEY!, nerd extraordinaire. I think my main problem is that there’s never really any question about what’s the real world and what’s not, Buffy the Vampire Slayer did this premise (Normal Again, Season 6) and it worked far better because it left you genuinely questioning what world was the ‘real’ one, questioning your own reality and having an existential breakdown, Back to Reality loses that after a fairly short time. But I do like it, I obviously like it enough to put on my Top 10 episodes, I just think it’s a little overrated and indeed not as funny as many other episodes.
Funniest Moment: Timothy Spall’s whole scene, the man’s a genius

05. Quarantine
Season 5
Three episodes from Red Dwarf V in a row? Well that makes Mr Flibble very cross3. Rimmer gets infected with a holovirus and puts Kryten, Lister and The Cat in quarantine just to fuck with them as he goes more and more batshit and develops heat vision and takes to wearing a dress, pigtails and taking orders from a penguin hand puppet who has more fans than most of the characters who were played by actual humans, including the main cast. It’s actually a pretty standard pair of set-ups – a character going mad in a comical way and characters being forced to stay together and playing off of each other and the tension that causes – but it’s executed perfectly and is very funny, it’s not quite as well balanced between the sci-fi/horror and sit com as…well every other episode that’s going to be on this list from now on but it is bloody funny and they do get some creative stuff in with the Luck Virus.
Funniest Moment: the three arguing about each other’s quirks, Kryten’s rant continues to make me a more polite nose blower to this day.

04. The End
Season 1
Being first or even iconic doesn’t always mean that it deserves to be lists based on quality, even on one as subjective as this. Have you read the first issue of Fantastic Four? Or Action Comics? They’re incredibly important to their genre and the characters but…they’re not that good. The End however is a really good episode of Red Dwarf, first episode or no, doing the three things that I think Red Dwarf does best: very funnily dialogue, touching moments with the characters and sci-fi concepts that would work just as well in a straight sci-fi show, and doing them as well as any episode of the show. The episode shows the set-up for the whole concept: Lister has smuggled a cat onto Red Dwarf and this gets him put into stasis as a punishment when he won’t give the cat up (meaning he’ll forfeit pay for that time), but Rimmer fails to repair a drive plate properly and this results in everyone dying. When it’s safe Holly lets Lister out… 3 million years later.
Funniest Moment: Lister, Captain Hollister and a discussion about a cat

03. The Inquisitor
Season 5
Yeah another bloody Red Dwarf V episode, I had no idea I loved this season so much, I hope Season 4 fans hate me cos they’re right too, that had White Hole, Camille and Justice in it. The Inquisitor is genuinely frightening, it has frightened me since I was small – pure existential terror, the fact that I may not have lived my life properly (and a droid will come and kill me for it), and as I grow older and feel I’ve wasted my life more and more it only grows scarier, I don’t think the Inquisitor - or I guess, me - is going to accept ‘I started a blog that nobody reads last year’ as a defence. Yeah that’s pretty much the plot, a droid survived to the end of time and decided there was no heaven or hell so the only thing that mattered was to live a worthwhile life thus he travels through time judging humans and deleting and replacing them in the time stream if they’re judged to have lived a worthless life. In the end Lister and Krysten are judged worthless and are cut loose from the time stream escape before being deleted and have to fight this droid, the titular Inquisitor. Guess what, they win, because this isn’t the last episode in the last season of the show. It’s how they do it that’s the important bit – and they do it funny, smart and timey-wimey with the best villain in the show and the best confrontation with a villain in the show, and it wasn’t for that one time Lister played pool with planets I’d vote his win here as his Crowning Moment of Awesome, yes, picking a TV Trope for a character is very important to me, so what? I have a life! I have friends and the guy in the paper shop knows me and I go into pubs sometimes and I…went to Tescos today.
Funniest Moment: The Cat’s defence – and that it works!

02. Polymorph
Season 3
A Genetically Engineered Life Form (or GELF, or Polymorph) that feeds on emotions breaks out of its prison and into Red Dwarf, feeding of each of the main cast and turning Lister until a fearless loonie, Kryton into a callous bastard, The Cat into a worthless drunk and Rimmer into Rolf Harris, and somehow include a killer kebab, implications that Kryten and Lister are fucking and The Cat being utterly awesome and dodging TWO heat seeking laser missile things. You remember in The End I went on about the three things Red Dwarf does best and in Quarantine about the balance of sci-fi/horror and comedy: this episode does all of that perfectly, the only reason it’s not number 1 is personal tastes and because I haven’t forgiven this episode for giving me nightmares as a child (and it wasn’t the shape-changing thing that did it, it was the fucking ending!).
Funniest Moment: Alphabetti Spaghetti!

01. Gunmen of the Apocalypse
Season 6
So that personal taste thing, I know that a core part of the character interaction in Red Dwarf is that they don’t much like each other, especially when it comes Rimmer, which is why I like Gunmen of the Apocalypse so much – wherein Rimmer, Lister and The Cat hook up a virtual reality video game system they’ve scrounged (and Lister has been using to have sex with everything) to Kryten’s subconscious to help him fight a virus (played by Rodney Trotter’s father-in-law) and create an anti-virus to save himself and Starbug (which the Boys are trapped on for this season). Kryten’s subconscious has turned the whole thing into a cheap western so the others hook up a cowboy video game and augmented by the skills of the game’s playable characters go and help him out and be awesome in the process. It’s still funny, Rimmer is still a cowardly dick at times, Cat is still egotistical but it’s really nice to see the Boys from The Dwarf standing shoulder-to-shoulder and taking on some bad guys with their special skills adding to the rousing awesomeness on display – this isn’t the only time the group will actually act like friends, but it’s just very noticeable this episode and I  like this sort of thing, I think the likes of The Simpsons, South Park and Family Guy have fully soured me on the ‘dicks to each other’ relationship and now I just prefer it when the characters are genuinely friends and act like it (which is one of the main reasons why I wholly prefer the movie Civil War to the comic book Civil War), I wouldn’t want the Red Dwarf crew to be like this all the time of course, but it’s nice to see it once in a while. The Episode also does all those things I’ve already gone on about in previous paragraphs great too, adding in additional Western tropes to boot!
 Funniest Moment: Kryten interrupting Lister in the back seat

But what about? Yeah there are three episodes notably absent from the list that appear in LOTS of others: Marooned, Backwards and Justice, all of which probably seem even more noticeably absent (if you’ve been paying attention) because theoretically I have nostalgia for all three. Marooned and Justice both have gross out jokes that actually make me feel so sick I skip those scenes (the dog food and Space Mumps jokes respectively) that’s actually enough to bump Justice off the list despite a really strong second half, but honestly I don’t much like Marooned regardless. It has some funny bits in it (the Lolita and Chief Eunuch jokes, for instance) but Lister’s a bit of a prick with the whole cutting up the chest and letting Rimmer burn his soldiers thing, and I don’t think that’s funny. As for Backwards, I’ve never liked it, it kind of freaks me out and I don’t think it’s that funny, again just being one joke but one that doesn’t provide as much enjoyment and variations as Ace Rimmer (at least in my twisted view), it does have the great female aardvark jokes early on but once they get to backwards Earth it loses me.

So there you go, with a bit of luck you disagreed with half my list, because that’s one of the fun things about countdown lists – thinking what your own would be, and with a bit luck you agreed with some of it because that’s another fun thing about countdown lists, being happy things you like made it in. With that in mind all I have to say is its cold outside, there’s no kind of atmosphere, I’m all alone – more or less – let me fly, far away from here: fun, fun, fun in the sun, sun, sun.

1 my dad’s brother had already married a someone called Karan so when my dad began dating and eventually living with another woman called Karen, in the same house that he shared with my uncle and aunt, my aunt became ‘Big Karan’ and my dad’s girlfriend/fiancé/second wife became ‘Little Karen’ and from then nobody in my family ever called her anything else. 
2 that is probably my favourite joke in the whole show by the way.  
3 and no I didn’t lay out this list just for that joke, this is an honest list that just happened to neatly set me up for a perfect reference, sometimes things just work out nicely

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