Red Dwarf – The First Four Episodes // Recommendation

My copy of the DVD for Series 1 of

Me

My copy of the DVD for Series 1 of "Red Dwarf"

J. L. Ilai, Contributing Writer

Red Dwarf is a classic of British television. Few have managed to reach its level of universal appeal and critical acclaim. I am one such person who gives the series much praise for its exceptionally good comedy and actors. After running through the then whole series (eleven seasons), I wrote a review which I consider to be one of my all time worst. However, a new special is set to air soon and I’ve been wanting to revisit the show for sometime. This seems like the ideal time to do so.

The first series is one that after watching the whole show for the first time, I considered one of the best series of the show. After watching the “Remastered” edition, I didn’t think it was nearly as good. It keeps things straightforward and uncomplicated, which works better than one might think. Its six episodes are low budget and youthful. Things are getting started. The show’s theme song is great. In it, someone cleaning a bit of the ship, before the camera zooms out to show the whole thing. The opening’s ominous and does a great job of showing the scale of the ship. It’s shown from various angles that look very attractive. The instrumentation for the theme have power and grandiose before fading out slowly. It’s great.

“The End”

The events of Episode 1 have an affect on the rest of the series. The episode and the show start by immediately seeing the relationship of the two leads, Lister and Rimmer. For a few minutes, they interact without any other characters. There’s plenty of angles to the scene. Lister dresses and acts slobbishly. He picks on Rimmer playfully. Rimmer dresses very dignified and makes big deals over nothing. We see Rimmer’s foolishness when he berates Lister for confusing two objects with each other before making the same mistake himself. Rimmer makes several mistakes throughout the episode (maybe it’s foreshadowing…). He complains a lot to and about Lister. Sincerely, Lister doesn’t seem to dislike Rimmer. He just finds him uptight and difficult. This is seen when Lister explains the reason he’s picking on Rimmer is because he’s bored. I can’t help but extrapolate on that. Is Lister saying he would like for both of them to take it easy and procrastinate together? Lister at least likes Rimmer more than the other crew members. This is shown when a superior to Lister and Rimmer complains to Rimmer that he’s filing too many complaints about Lister. The numerous superiors seem to like Lister and they’re nice to each other, though that’s not delved into much.

We get a lot of scenes with Lister and Rimmer. Rimmer, at one point, blames his parents for his problems and writes a textbook’s info on his body for a test, claiming it’s not cheating. He seems to believe it. This shows how he handles problems and masks the reality of them. Rimmer’s actor, Chris Barrie, is a skilled impressionist. This is shown off with Rimmer doing an imitation. This is something that will happen more deeper in the show. Chris Barrie is very good at portraying an unlikable, weasley character like Rimmer, but in such a way where you can relate to him and contradictingly, like him. Rimmer has a bit of a breakdown when Lister’s sleeping (it’s not very well written or performed). When Lister wakes, Rimmer starts speaking and acting proper. He’s trying to look good to someone that he doesn’t like or respect and already doesn’t respect him.

Lister doesn’t care what people think of him for the most part. He’s played relaxed by Craig Charles. He doesn’t hold grudges and can look past things that don’t matter. He honestly wishes Rimmer good luck on his test. Despite how annoying Rimmer is to Lister, he can look past that and just be polite. Lister spills some milk when feeding a cat he snuck on board, but doesn’t care. This shows that Lister also makes mistakes, like Rimmer, but reacts to them differently. Lister is the lowest ranked crew meon board, but never is bothered by that. Rimmer is second lowest and holds his power over Lister like a badge. Lister is called up to speak with the captain, who is named Hollister. Lister goes to the ship’s bridge and makes small talk with a female crew member named Kristine Kochanski. It’s not initially obvious what their relationship is. She makes fun of him a little by saying he’ll be admiral and he either doesn’t care about being made fun of or doesn’t get it. The joking isn’t mean spirited.

Sadly, no interesting ideas are covered, something that would be the norm down the line. This whole episode’s purpose is to establish the series. It’s good, but it lacks an identity. The writing and acting isn’t on top form. I really don’t like expository dumps. This episode has two. One from the captain of the ship and one between Lister and Rimmer.

Future episodes are based on the events of Episode 1, so simply reading of them spoils Episode 1.
“Future Echoes”

For those that missed the first episode, Holly gives context at the beginning of each episode from Series 1 Episode 2 to Series 2’s finale in the form of an S.O.S. message. In said message, he gives a joke. This is a clever way of getting viewers informed on the show’s premise. It’s more appealing to returning viewers as there’s a joke. It’s one of the better ways of giving an expository dump.

Rimmer insults Holly and refers to himself as the highest ranking crew member, something he prides, despite only being the highest ranking by circumstance. As retaliation for Rimmer’s rudeness, Holly pranks him. It’s interesting that Holly, a computer, can even pull pranks. This shows the degree of Holly’s free will. Lister wants him and the Cat to go into stasis as it will take a very long time to get back to Earth. We see more of Rimmer’s character when he tries to convince Lister to not go into stasis for the sake of his sanity. It’s an interesting concept that Rimmer is reliant on Lister and Lister is reliant on Rimmer in their own ways. Rimmer also realizes that he was rude and admits it to Holly, admittedly only so he’ll correct the prank on him. At least Rimmer’s learning! Rimmer is also nice to Lister, but only to convince him to not go into stasis. Rimmer complains about being dead and Lister says it’s not so bad.

Other things that appear here that recurred in this series are jokes about a death, Lister and Cat adds very little to the episode. He interacts very little with the episode’s plot. This episode’s main highlight is how it shows off how the character’s react to and act in certain situations. It doesn’t get too deep, but it is something. One moment I liked is how in Episode 1, the Cat doesn’t eat with a spoon, but here and in later episodes, he does. Did Lister teach him that? More character growth is shown when Lister’s scared of dying, though he earlier said it wasn’t a big deal. Rimmer’s various ways of treating situations give him lots of depth.

“Balance of Power”

There’s some interesting developments in this episode. Rimmer is rewarding Lister with cigarettes for obedience. Why does Lister follow this? Because Rimmer is hiding the stock. Rimmer is getting smart. If him simply being higher ranked than Lister won’t work, then he’ll force it upon him. It was odd to learn that Rimmer needs to sleep and he gets tired. Why? He’s a hologram. Lister continues to pine over Kochanski. I can’t help but wonder why he doesn’t ask Holly to turn off Rimmer and turn Kochanski on? He only ever asks Rimmer.

Cat’s once again segregated from the episode. He doesn’t appear until between nine to ten minutes in. Cat takes the cigarettes, despite not smoking. He just likes that they’re in shiny cases. He doesn’t understand that not everything’s his. This is understandable as he is a cat and for some time he was more or less alone. He shows great unintelligence when he initially seems unable to count past five, though he knows what six is and that it’s higher than five. He is shown to be a fan of fish in this and the previous episode, but how would he know what fish is? When would the cats have had a chance to obtain some? They’re in space!

This episode points out the nonsense of the rules everyone follows. It shows the intelligence and foolishness of the characters. To varying degrees, they try to one up each other and oftentimes it backfires for the characters. Rimmer tries his hardest to trick the others and it backfires on him pretty hard. He holds his status as the highest ranking member above Lister, but each time he does it ends up being to his detriment. This episode doesn’t try to be anything other than a character piece, unlike the last two episodes. It works well because of that. “Balance of Power” is efficient, funny, and does a great job showcasing the personalities of Lister and Rimmer. Sadly, Holly and the Cat are short changed.

“Waiting for God”

I was glad to see this episode would be covering the religious aspect of the show. Sadly, it’s not too in depth, but even what we get is nice. The episode starts with Holly revealing to the audience that Lister faked the exam that he took last episode. He follows this up with “That gives you some idea of how truly exciting some days can be around here.” I like the cheeky way of advertising the show with that line. The exam or Lister’s status aren’t brought up again in this episode or the rest of series 1. Why not try to fit the reveal on the end of last episode instead of having it in this one? It would be better to just not bring it up at all.

Rimmer’s obsessive and retentive ways continue to be shown. He so much wants to look good for who knows? We learn he hangs his underwear on coat hangers. Rimmer sees a space pod of unknown origins come by the ship. He’s more or less confident it’s aliens who can give him a body, something he’s wanted recurringly throughout the show. Rimmer wants to talk to someone about the pod so badly, he wakes up Lister. When Lister wears one of Rimmer’s shirts, Rimmer makes a fuss, but Lister is nice enough to offer it back. Holly tells Lister it’s a garbage pod, but they both think it’d be funny to not tell Rimmer. This is interesting to me as Holly’s a computer. We’ve seen a few times where he made jokes.

Speaking of Lister, he learns from a cat book about some of the complexities of the religion around him. The cats even fought in a war over it. There’s a joke about death when we learn the war was fought over the color of a hat Lister would wear in the business he dreams of having. Holly says most of the cats left Red Dwarf with Lister’s laundry list, thinking it was directions to the “promised land”. The God plot stops for a bit, then resumes with Lister telling Rimmer he doesn’t want to be God. Rimmer says he would like to be God. That’s a nice, quick way of showing more of Rimmer’s complex. Lister feels bad for indirectly hurting the cats, but Rimmer is more focused on the pod. Rimmer has poorly placed faith, just like the cats. Rimmer’s trying to decipher useless info on the pod, like how the cats tried to decipher Lister’s things and learn what they mean. We get good acting from Lister when he speaks of wishing he could change what happened.

It was good that we finally got a story for the Cat, even though it mostly followed Lister. The Cat infamously doesn’t get storylines, so you got to take what you can get. This episode stayed focused on its core idea, which had foreshadowing earlier in the series, but Lister and Rimmer still got time to interact. This one gets you thinking about religion, at least a little. It’s intelligently thought out and creative. The priest’s guest actor, Noel Coleman, was good in the role. This is probably the first great episode, though “Balance of Power” was pretty good.