Red Dwarf is a long running British science fiction sitcom (even though it hasn’t had many episodes, or even seasons, due to long hiatuses), shown first on BBC Two from 1988 to 1993 and then from 1997 to 1999 and later by the digital channel Dave with a special in 2009, a new series in 2012 and two more confirmed for 2016 and 2017. There are twelve series, including the special “Back to Earth” as a series, as well as several books.
The show is a sitcom based around, usually just a limited number, of people, most of whom don’t like each other very much. Some are former crewmen of the titular Jupiter Mining Corporation mining ship Red Dwarf. Following a radiation leak in the very first episode, the ship’s computer took it out into deep space. Six million years later, and the radiation levels have returned to normal, leaving just one human survivor.
Dave Lister is the last human being alive. Formerly the lowest ranking member of the crew, he is the only crew member to have survived the radiation leak due to being put in stasis for 18 months without pay as a punishment. His self professed career is ‘bum’ and he has a liking for lager and curry. Lister is generally genial but lazy, but is not fond of Rimmer.
The Cat is a member of a species which evolved from Lister’s pet cat Frankenstein, who was pregnant (Frankenstein was the reason why Lister was in stasis, as he was being punished for bringing her on board). A very vain individual with an extensive wardrobe, Cat is very self obsessed and the only member of his species on the Red Dwarf, the only other who had remained on the ship dying of old age in the first episode.
Arnold Judas Rimmer is (usually) a hologram (he’s occasionally alive, generally briefly) of Lister’s dead bunk mate and nominal superior (not that Lister listens to him much) who Holly brought back as the ship’s hologram to keep Lister sane, even though there are other crew members that the latter would have preferred. Rimmer is an all round pretty reprehensible excuse for a human being, with no good qualities, and not well liked by anyone – including, as it happens, himself. Something that is shown on several occasions. He is ambitious and desperately wants to become an officer but lacks the ability to do so. A martinet fond of quoting regulations, which he usually gets wrong.
Kryten is a service mechanoid who first briefly appeared in series II but appeared as a regular from series III onwards, played by a different actor. Programmed to serve humans, he was rescued from a crashed ship. Kryten calls the others ‘Sir’ and ‘Mister’ as that is what he is designed to do.
Holly is the computer of the Red Dwarf. After 6 million years, the once-genius level artificial intelligence has gone computer senile.
Kristine Kochanski (played by a couple of different people), an officer on the Red Dwarf with whom he had a brief fling, is the love of Lister’s life.
Only Lister and the Cat appear in every episode, with Rimmer following just behind. Kochanski is more of an occasional guest star (although she was a regular in a couple of series); Holly is a regular for those series that it appears in, but there are many in which the AI does not appear.
Unlike many space explorers, these are incompetent, lazy and, especially in the case of Rimmer, cowards. The crew often come across wrecked ships and old space stations, all human in nature – there are no aliens, a conscious decision on the part of the show’s creators. Many of these have various different pieces of advanced technology, some of which is salvaged and much of which tends to be rather dubious in its efficacy. There are also various human-derived threats, mostly artificial and created creatures, but not much in the way of real people.
Another common theme is time travel, and the crew on more than one occasion meet alternate versions of themselves from the past, future and alternative presents and dimensions.
Series VIII was rather different to any of the preceding series, with much more in the way of regular cast, giving the show an entirely different feel. This may have been a mistake; after series VIII – which ended on a cliff-hanger to a degree – the BBC didn’t renew the series. Possibly the changes were too big. Part of the appeal of Red Dwarf was the small number of people forced to live with each other.
Ten years later, the channel Dave did a three episode special, “Back to Earth” (effectively, and retroactively, series IX), with just the four main characters again, although this didn’t really resolve the cliff-hanger from series VIII. Dave commissioned series X following the success a few years later and there was a passing reference to the end of series VII in this series. Following the success of X series XI and XII were commissioned and filmed back to back with XI showing just short of four years after X.
What the Smeg?
‘Smeg’ is an invented swear word used in the series along with various derivatives, such as smegging and smeg off, which gives the impression of swearing without actually saying anything offensive. Of course, the meaning can be determined by the context in which it is used. Smeg and its derivatives do fill in for swearwords with different meanings depending on how they are used. It bears many similarities to Battlestar Galactica‘s ‘frack.’
Red Dwarf II
Red Dwarf III
Red Dwarf IV
Red Dwarf V
Red Dwarf VI
Red Dwarf VII
Red Dwarf VIII
Red Dwarf: Back to Earth
Red Dwarf X