The 5 Best (and 5 Worst) Red Dwarf Episodes

By Rob Bricken in Daily Lists, TV
Monday, April 27, 2009 at 5:00 am
By Chris Cummins

Debuting in 1988 on the BBC, Red Dwarf chronicled the adventures of Dave Lister (the last human being alive), Arnold Rimmer (a hologram of his annoying bunkmate), the Cat (a fashion-conscious creature who evolved from Lister's pet) and Kryten (a clean freak mechanoid). From its cash-strapped early days through to the slickly produced sixth season, the series showcased smart sci-fi concepts and lowbrow humor in a manner that was downright eloquent at times (think The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy with curry jokes). Then came a falling out between creators Rob Grant and Doug Naylor that would leave Naylor overseeing all aspects of the show's production, which marked the beginning of a turbulent time for the "boys from the Dwarf."
The tonal shifts of the Grant-less years alienated many hardcore viewers who felt the show had become a shell of its former self. In the decade since the last episode aired, plans for a feature film fell apart and the BBC announced that it would no longer be making any new Red Dwarf. Just as things seemed hopeless, upstart UK network Dave revived the show for a three-part adventure that finally had Lister, Rimmer, Kryten and the Cat returning to Earth. More on that in a bit. For now, let's take a look at the best -- and the worst -- episodes of Red Dwarf.


5) Back to Reality

Lister is the head of the fascist secret police? Rimmer is his bum half-brother? Cat is a nerdy slob named Duane Dibbley? Kryten is a half-human traffic cop? In this fifth-season finale, the rug was pulled out from underneath viewers by suggesting that the entire series was nothing more than a virtual reality video game the guys were playing in order to escape from their bleak lives. By the middle of the episode, it is revealed that they were all experiencing a group hallucination brought on by the awesomely named despair squid. For awhile though, it seemed like Grant and Naylor changed the game, leaving the audience with one huge mindfuck.

4) Marooned

The Lister/Rimmer dynamic has always been the heart of Red Dwarf, and never has it been explored better than in this episode in which the duo become stranded on an ice planet. With seemingly no hope of rescue, they must do the unthinkable: communicate. The talking leads to some insights on Rimmer's tortured relationship with his dad and Lister's youthful trips to the golf course. In the hilarious denouement, Rimmer praises Lister's selflessness only to discover that his vindaloo-loving shipmate is just as much of a bastard as he always thought he was.

3) Parallel Universe

Opening with a brilliant song-and-dance sequence (unlike the execrable one in "Back in the Red"), the second season finale had Rimmer, Lister  and the Cat visiting a parallel universe with the aid of the Holly Hop Drive. Once there, the guys encounter female equivalents of themselves -- and the Cat meets his canine parallel. Holly makes out with his alternate self, Rimmer gets a lesson in how creepy his pick-up techniques are and Lister is disgusted and aroused by the lady Lister. Comedy aside, the episode illustrates how continuity obsessed early Red Dwarf was by paying off the Lister fatherhood gag from the first season installment "Future Echoes." 

2) Out of Time

After Kryten salvages a time-drive from a derelict spacecraft, the Starbug crew gets an unpleasant glimpse at their future selves. Disgusted with what the years ahead hold for them, Lister, Rimmer, Kryten and the Cat decide to stand up to their fat and bloated doppelgangers. But when his shipmates are killed by their future equivalents, Rimmer discovers that he's "better dead than smeg" and he unexpectedly grows a pair. Following a hilarious first act in which Lister, et al experience trippy "unreality pockets," this episode balances laughs and action as the menace of the future Starbug crew becomes more realized. If you thought the reveal of Captain Picard as Locutus was a great WTF? cliffhanger moment, just wait until you see Arnold J. Rimmer's heroic side.

1) Queeg

The first (and best) Holly, Norman Lovett, was given his chance to shine in this second season episode. After Holly makes one too many mistakes, Red Dwarf's backup computer Queeg takes over and proceeds to make Lister, Rimmer and the Cat's lives hell. Spoiler alert--Queeg was really just Holly all along, playing a joke on the Dwarf crew in order to get them to appreciate just how fantastic he is. The episode's best bit? Holly's attempts to challenge Queeg in various board games instead of a more intellectually stimulating chess match.

Hit the jump for the five worst episodes of Red Dwarf ever made.

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