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The Good Dwarf Guide: Series I

The early series have been digitally remastered, but since I haven't seen the new versions, these comments apply to the originals. The enhanced originals are what appear on the DVD.

It's got a bad rep, but apart from the odd rough spot, the first series stands up surprisingly well when viewed again. There are few fancy special effects (some split screen work and the odd polystyrene-foam-throwing explosion just about covers it), the costumes are dull and sets are a monumentally dreary wall-to-wall grey, but the series shines in the area in which Red Dwarf excels: character-driven comedy.

The pace of the show is a lot more leisurely than in the later series. The gentle scene changes here are jettisoned in later series in favour of much tighter editing that rockets the pace along.

As the concept of just what a hologram is takes a while to bed in, Rimmer gets a lot more "physical" things to do in this series than he does later: he sleeps, showers, shaves, cleans his teeth and exercises. Rimmer is two-dimensional in this series compared to his later character: we see his smeggishness and his desire to blame everything on somebody else, but we have to wait until the next series to uncover the self-loathing that makes him what he is. He’s still funny as hell, though. Lister and the Cat both hit the ground running and turn in consistently excellent performances.

Grant Naylor’s involvement was less in this series than it would be from the third series on: they were the writers, while the shows were produced and directed by Ed Bye.

UK: buy video at Amazon   UK: buy video at Sendit   US: buy video at Amazon

UK: buy video at Amazon   UK: buy video at Sendit   US: buy video at Amazon

UK: buy video at Amazon   UK: buy video at Sendit   US: buy video at Amazon

UK: buy video at Amazon   UK: buy video at Sendit   US: buy video at Amazon

UK: buy video at Amazon   UK: buy video at Sendit   US: buy video at Amazon

UK: buy video at Amazon   UK: buy video at Sendit   US: buy video at Amazon

  Series I DVD

UK: buy DVD at Amazon   UK: buy DVD at Sendit   US: buy DVD at Amazon

  Series I & II DVD Pack

UK: no DVD available   US: buy DVDs at Amazon

  Just The Shows (Series I-IV DVD)

UK: buy DVD at Amazon   UK: buy DVD at Sendit   US: no DVD available

  Complete Remastered Series I-III (Video)

UK: buy video at Amazon   UK: buy video at Sendit   US: no video available


SYNOPSIS: The one that started it all. Lister and Rimmer are third and second technicians on board the mining ship Red Dwarf: Rimmer outranks only Lister and Lister outranks only the lab mice. The captain discovers that Lister has smuggled a cat, Frankenstein, on board, and Lister chooses to go into stasis for eighteen months rather than reveal Frankenstein’s whereabouts. When he emerges three million years later, it transpires that due to Rimmer not repairing the drive plate properly, the crew are all dead due to a lethal dose of radiation. Holly brings Lister out of stasis when it’s safe to emerge, and creates a hologram of the person Lister spoke to most: Rimmer. The Cat, a descendant of Frankenstein, who was safely stowed in the hold at the time of the accident, also appears.

COMMENT: This is a hell of a cleverly plotted episode. Grant Naylor manage to pack a great deal of necessary background information in and still leave room for the jokes. In the brief half-hour period, we learn about the Red Dwarf, the characters of Rimmer and Lister and the conflict between them, Rimmer’s desire for advancement and Lister’s lack of it, Rimmer’s complaints about his parents and background, what their lives were like before the accident, the way holograms and stasis work, Lister’s yen for Kochanski and his plans for the future under three feet of water on Fiji.

It works pretty well for a pilot which is of necessity mainly concerned with establishing situation and characters. The pace is amazingly leisurely compared to later series, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if it weren’t for the presence of a fair bit of padding.

Lister comes across at this stage as a happy-go-lucky kinda guy, happy to slob along in an aimless sort of way and have a few laughs with his mates. His essential niceness comes through in his willingness to sacrifice eighteen months’ pay for Frankenstein and also in his defence of the Cat when Rimmer wants to flush him out an airlock. Rimmer is drawn fairly broadly as the quintessential smeghead at first, although it’s hard not to feel a sneaking pang of sympathy when Lister and his friends send him up in front of the whole crew. The Cat is purrfectly feline from the word go and has lots of fun things to do here.

Lister is straight into his character without hesitation, and the Cat is inspired from his first appearance. Chris Barrie as Rimmer seems slightly less fully realised at this stage, and in fact it’s not until "Me2" that we really start to see his depths.

THE BEST BIT: Holly’s "everybody’s dead, Dave" routine and Rimmer’s agonised face when he finds he’s wiped the exam answers off himself.

THE WORST BIT: That stupid salute. Deeply unfunny the first time, with the irritation factor increasing exponentially thereafter.

IMMORTAL DIALOGUE: "She won’t be much use to you in Fiji now. Not unless you want something to grit the path with."

"Death? It’s like being on holiday with a group of Germans."


Smeg ahead: In this ep we witness the first use of the term "smeghead", joined in later episodes by Grant Naylor’s other neo-insults such as "gimboid" and "goit", which convey a satisfactory level of insult while staying inside the BBC code.

Joe’s army surplus and costuming, can I help you?: The Cat gets the lion’s share of the minuscule clothing budget in the first two series, and never looks less than dazzling. Rimmer, on the other hand, gets stuck with some rather unflattering beige duds, while Lister’s stuff, appropriately, looks as if it was picked out of a skip.

How do they do that?: The skutters appear in this episode for the first time, although with not even with what you might call a wheel-on part. And they’re called "service droids" until the next episode. They’re radio-controlled, and kudos to the designers, because they did a fantastic job.

For a minute I thought it was "Star Trek: The Movie": Howard Goodall’s music for the series is fantastic: the closing song is inspired, and he reworks the theme to admirable effect for incidental music. However, the opening credits used throughout the first two series are less successful, giving in their ponderousness the impression that a mini "2001: A Space Odyssey" is about to roll into view.

Who said that?: In this ep we also get to see Chris Barrie’s amazing talent for impersonation for the first time. Grant Naylor make occasional use of this in later episodes, and it’s always a high spot.

Arnie, your hair: Rimmer appears in this episode when alive with his hair gelled flat, and God, does it look awful. It’s pretty clear with careful observation that Chris Barrie’s hair approaches sentient life form status all by itself, and obviously the hairdresser assigned to work on the first episode nearly had a nervous breakdown and ended up subduing the stuff with a megaton of gel just to get the guy on the set. After intensive counselling and numerous positive affirmations she was obviously able to return to work, as when Rimmer appears as a hologram and thereafter he does so without having his hair plastered down quite so repulsively.

Let’s start again, and everybody stand still this time: In one of the most famous contradictions of the series, the crew complement of Red Dwarf is given as 169 people, whereas later, in "Justice", the number is given as 1,167.

And don’t come out till we’re all dead: Why on earth would the captain put Lister in stasis? That’s not going to find the cat, is it? "Here, kitty, kitty" might have been more effective.

Nobody could pass the engineering exam: What was Petersen, a Catering Officer, doing sitting at a console in the Drive Room at the time of the explosion?

And so do policemen: The series was made in 1987, and the first thing that strikes you now is how young the actors look, especially Chris Barrie.



SYNOPSIS: The ship enters lightspeed, and the crew begin to see echoes of the future. Rimmer foresees what he thinks is Lister’s death, but turns out to be Lister’s son’s death. Lister finds out he’s going to have twin boys, but doesn’t know how.

COMMENT: Gee, they just couldn’t wait to get going on that time travel stuff, could they? It seems an unwritten rule of the Science Fiction Writers’ Guild that if you don’t do ’em, you wake in the night to find the ghost of Gene Roddenberry pelting you with tribbles. This one raises some interesting questions and sets up the plot to follow in "Parallel Universe". It also brings with it the usual trail of time-travel paradoxes and problems that require an advanced degree in quantum physics to figure out. It works okay as an episode, although it’s nothing startling. It’s the one I like least of the first series.

THE BEST BIT: The looks on the crew’s faces when Lister says "How do I get two babies?", and the skutters beating their heads against the wall.

THE WORST BIT: This is going to be an unpopular remark, but I hate that stupid talking toaster. It’s a joke extended until it screams, although it wasn’t so bad in this episode. Overuse later on jaundiced me for this one, when the thing really is perfectly inoffensive here, if I’m totally honest.

IMMORTAL DIALOGUE: "I am Holly, the ship’s computer, with an IQ of 6,000 - the same as 6,000 PE teachers."

"There’s loads of things I’ve never done!....I’ve never read - a book!"


Forget I ever mentioned it: There’s a massive plot hole in this one: Lister and the Cat are going to go into stasis, and stay there until the ship reaches earth, since after all, as Lister says, it’s going to take four thousand years just to turn round. But they don’t go, and it’s never mentioned again, despite the crew frequently discussing later how they can get back to Earth.

Family values: We get our first introduction to Lister’s convoluted family history in this episode. Lister has a picture of his father, but he later says he was abandoned in a pub at six weeks old. His adoptive father, perchance, or was the photo lovingly tucked under the pool table? And how do we explain the picture of his grandmother, whom he says brought him up? Er.....

My brain hurts: The idea of echoes from the future raises many questions that don’t bear too close an examination, lest brain implosion take place. For example, when Rimmer is talking to himself and Lister is looking on, Lister should be able to see himself as well in the echo. Ye canna change the laws of physics (except when it’s convenient).

Things are developing nicely: The Polaroid of Lister and the twins develops while the credits run. Cool touch.



SYNOPSIS: Lister recalls what Saturday night used to be like three million years ago. Fed up with Rimmer being his superior, Lister decides to take the chef’s exam. Rimmer brings back Kochanski to persuade Lister not to sit the exam, but Lister rumbles that it’s Rimmer in Kochanski’s form. Lister says he passed the exam - but he’s lying.

COMMENT: This is a classic episode. The Rimmer/Lister scenes are wonderful, and the Cat has some very nice moments with the mirror, the shiny things and the fish. There’s genuine pathos as Lister remembers the Saturday nights of yore, and he has a touching scene with Kochanski before he realises she’s really Rimmer. Rimmer is in full smeghead mode here, but the glimpse we get into the isolation of his life when alive undercuts the contempt we feel for him. This one is a fantastic intersection of great writing and excellent characterisation, and shows that you don’t need a big budget, a nice set and a ton of special effects to turn out a gem.

THE BEST BIT: There’s a lot of competition, but the skutters watching the Western have got to take the prize. These little guys are unbelievably cute. Rimmer with Kochanski’s hips and the Cat protecting his fish are also terrific.

THE WORST BIT: The 4,691 irradiated haggis. Enough already!

IMMORTAL DIALOGUE: "I’ve been fished to death!"

"And on that day, Lister, Satan will be skating to work."


Hologram physiology 101: How come Rimmer can’t touch anything, or feel anything if anyone touches him, but feels pain when he hits himself? And we also hear the sound of a slap when Petersen’s arm connects with Rimmer’s body (not to mention the sound of Rimmer’s running feet). As well, in "The End", Rimmer tries to lean on a table and falls right through it, whereas he manages at all other times to sit, lean on, lie on and generally drape himself over furniture of all descriptions.

Will you please shut up, I’m trying to sleep: Holly tells Lister that he shared over 14 million words of conversation with Rimmer. If Lister had been with the company eight months ("Waiting for God"), this equates to a minimum of 40.5 words per minute round the clock. If he’s been with them two years ("Me2") the word rate is 13.5 wpm. Fast going, even for a bigmouth like Rimmer.

Bunkum: There are quite a few scenes here and elsewhere with Rimmer lying in his bunk. But you’ll never see him stretched out at full length: the bunk’s not long enough for him to lie in it without bending his knees! No wonder he used to stay awake all night talking to Lister.

As the stomach turns: If you were in any doubt about Rimmer’s total smeghood, this episode lays it to rest. The scene with him peeking down Kochanski’s blouse and then fondling the breast he gets left with is truly nauseating. Creep de la creep.

You’ve gotta be faster than that: Why didn’t Lister grab Kochanski’s personality disk while he had the chance?



SYNOPSIS: Holly picks up an unidentified object: Rimmer thinks it’s an alien artefact from the Quagaar civilisation and that the Quagaars will have the technology to give him a new body, but it turns out to be a Red Dwarf garbage pod. Lister learns to read Cat, discovers the story of how he became the God of the Cats and meets the dying High Priest of the Cat religion.

COMMENT: This episode contains a lot of excellent stuff, although it's let down by the High Priest. The underlying tone is fairly sombre: we discover the tragic fate of at least half of the Cat race, we witness Lister’s sense of responsibility for this, and we feel an unwilling stab of pity for Rimmer when we find he is hoping for aliens to get him a new body. Once again, there’s some great character-driven dialogue here.

The title of this episode is particularly cool, as it has a triple meaning: the play on "Waiting for Godot", Lister’s situation as the unwilling God of the Cat people, and Rimmer’s waiting for a deus ex machina to give him a new body.

THE BEST BIT: Lister and Rimmer’s Quagaar conversation by the garbage pod. Contains lots of priceless dialogue, the Quagaars, and the skutters, who are always a winner.

THE WORST BIT: The High Priest. God, he’s boring. That scene seems to go on forever.

IMMORTAL DIALOGUE: "There’s a brilliant one where Dick buys this ball, this big ball, this big red ball..."

"Mankind doesn’t even have the technology to create a toupee that doesn’t get big laughs."


Fawlty logic: Rimmer’s yelled rant about the Quagaars sounds suspiciously like a homage to Basil Fawlty, Britcom king extraordinaire.

Say what?!: The stream of conflicting information on Rimmer’s sexual past starts here. Rimmer marvels aloud to a shocked Lister at what it must be like to make love to a woman. Either he’s forgotten Yvonne McGruder (after all, it was only twelve minutes, including the pizza), or she didn’t fall into that category.

Feed me, Seymour: The Cat demands that Lister feed him, which is surprising given that he knows how to work the food dispensers.

Full credit due: Instead of showing Rimmer’s reaction as he finds out that the Quagaar spaceship is actually a garbage pod, they instead freeze the credits a couple of times and we hear Rimmer in voiceover. This a brilliant wheeze, as it has the element of surprise, and it’s also infinitely funnier than seeing him say it.



SYNOPSIS: Lister contracts a virus which makes real his fevered hallucinations. His Confidence and his Paranoia appear, and after killing Paranoia, Confidence urges him to go outside the ship to retrieve Kochanski’s personality disk. Confidence explodes when he takes off his oxygen mask, but Lister escapes unharmed clutching the precious disk. Unfortunately, when Lister attempts to bring Kochanski on line, he finds that Rimmer has shuffled the disks, and a second Rimmer appears.

COMMENT: Things get off to an excellent start, with a terrific scene for Holly in which he gets Lister to erase his Agatha Christie memories. Then they get even better, with another classic Rimmer/Lister scene in which Chris Barrie does a hysterical teethcleaning/shaving mime and Rimmer discusses La McGruder for the first time, revealing himself in the process to be a gentleman of the old school. This is also the Cat’s best episode in terms of feline jokes in the entire series, with the spraying, chicken-catching and laundry scenes. Things are mildly intriguing during the hallucinations of the fish and the mayor, despite the cheapo internal combustion SFX. There are some very cute skutter scenes in the med unit. Things go downhill slightly with the arrival of Confidence and Paranoia, whose humour is a wee bit monodimensional. But it’s still overall a good ep. It's also notable for being about as special effects-heavy as this series gets, what with the combusting Mayor of Warsaw and the exploding Confidence.

THE BEST BIT: This is a toughie: it’s a dead heat between the priceless Yvonne McGruder conversation and the Cat’s laundry. Special mention, too, for the armed (with a thermometer) and dangerous skutters in the med unit.

THE WORST BIT: OverConfidence.

IMMORTAL DIALOGUE: "Serves her right for being concussed, doesn’t it?"


The wench with the winch: The plot thickens - we find that contrary to what was said in the previous episode, Rimmer is no blushing virgin, even if his victim was hallucinating at the time.

I heard it through the grapevine: When the second Rimmer appears, he knows what has been said to the first Rimmer prior to his appearance, which implies that the hologram simulation unit is continuously updated by Holly so that holograms are au courant when booted. However, in "Holoship", the female hologram the crew are interviewing as Rimmer’s replacement doesn’t know about the crew’s lifestyle until they tell her.

It depends how I feel: Holly manages to produce two holograms here by turning off all unnecessary systems. However, in other situations, such as when the crew want to bring Dr Lanstrom on board ("Quarantine"), this doesn’t seem to be an option.

Keep the day job: Argh! Craig, that singing!

No wonder his trousers were so short: Lister says here that the reason Rimmer had such a dismal social life was because he let his Mum buy all his casual clothes. But in "Better than Life", we find that Rimmer divorced his parents when he was fourteen.

I have a herring problem: We never do find out just what physical form the hallucinations take, but it’s a fairly safe bet that they take the form of their physical analogue, since the Cat had no trouble polishing off the herring. This being the case, we’d expect Confidence and Paranoia to be human, so it’s a little surprising seeing square chunks of concrety-looking stuff being thrown out when Confidence explodes.



SYNOPSIS: The two Rimmers initially get on like a house on fire and set up housekeeping together. As a result of the move, Lister finds Rimmer’s "deathday" video and discovers that he died with the words "gazpacho soup!" on his lips. The situation deteriorates between the Rimmers, and in the end Lister tells them he is going to switch one of them off. Under a death sentence, Rimmer tells Lister about the time he was at the Captain’s table and sent the gazpacho soup back to be heated. Rimmer blames all his subsequent lack of success on that pivotal moment. At the end of this tale, Lister reveals he has switched the other Rimmer off and that he had told this Rimmer he was going to die just to get the soup story out of him. Lister promises never to bring up the topic of gazpacho soup again, but the promise is quickly broken.

COMMENT: You could pretty confidently predict that any episode centred on Rimmer was going to be a winner, and this one sure is. It’s brilliant from start to finish. Grant Naylor yank on the emotions by making you feel sorry for Rimmer, then pointing out that not only is he a smeghead, he’s also a vicious bastard who prefers to kick his opponent when he’s down. The gazpacho soup story neatly crystallises the essence of Rimmer’s life position: everything is somebody else’s fault. Just fantastic.

This is the only episode to start immediately after the preceding one: this and "Confidence and Paranoia" are virtually a two-parter.

There’s some very nice special effects work in this episode with the two Rimmers: they’re very convincing on screen.

THE BEST BIT: Too tough to call. Holly’s red-hot April Fool jape stands out, but it’s not better than the Rimmer stuff, just different.

THE WORST BIT: There isn’t one. They don’t put a foot wrong anywhere.

IMMORTAL DIALOGUE: "We’ve got enough food left for thirty thousand years, but we’ve only got one After Eight mint left. And everyone’s too polite to take it."

"I’m far, far, far too much of a gentleman to stoop to that kind of shower room mentality. All you need to know about Yvonne McGruder is - I gave her one."


Good citizen: The close-up on Rimmer’s face and his strangled gasp of "Gazpacho soup!" is a lift from "Citizen Kane", at the beginning of which Orson Welles dies in close-up with the word "Rosebud!" on his lips.

Future echoes: Rimmer is heard to observe of his twin: "What a guy!"

I never thought of that before: Lister’s joy at being rid of Rimmer begs the question of why with the entire ship vacant he never moved into his own room before. (Okay, we all know the answer to this question, but still.)

Mr and Mrs: Lister’s references to the Rimmers as a married couple foreshadow Rimmer’s aspersions on the relationship between Lister and Ace in "Dimension Jump".

I like a man in uniform: Rimmer actually gets a costume change in this one, with the advent of the "Officer and a Gentleman" white uniform. Not bad, actually.

My nostrils want their own contract: Chris Barrie gets the chance to hurl abuse at himself: ("...your curly-haired, sticky-out-eared head"). This is a mere rivulet, though, in the torrent of personal abuse which continually flows onto his head. During the six series, there are jabs at his hair, his ears, and at least five separate nostril references.

I am the starlight: Danny John-Jules in this episode gets to show off the rollerskating skills previously honed in "Starlight Express". Rolling stock, we’re rolling stock....

Blowing in the wind: Rimmer’s death video shows him dying well across the room from Captain Hollister. However, in "The End", Rimmer and the Captain’s dust piles are shown as being right next to each other in the centre of the Drive Room. In addition, in "The End" Holly identifies Petersen’s dust pile in the Drive Room: however, the death video shows no sign of Petersen there.

It just seemed that long: Rimmer accuses Lister of humming maliciously for two years. But hang on - didn’t Lister say in the last episode that he’d only been with the company for eight months? Perhaps there was a change of ownership. If Lister is twenty-five and had been in his previous job for ten years, he was lucky he managed to fit in art college at all - even if it was only for ninety-seven minutes.


Reviews By Gavrielle Homepage Stephen Donaldson's Gap Series Review Stephen Donaldson's Mysteries Review Red Dwarf Episode Guide by Gavrielle Perry Reviews By Gavrielle Links Contact Gavrielle