?Debuting way back in 1988, Red Dwarf has rightfully earned its place alongside of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Futurama in the holy trinity of sci-fi comedy series’. Set in the far future aboard the titular mining vessel, the series chronicles the misadventures of space slob Dave Lister, Arnold Rimmer, a hologram of his annoying dead roommate, the stylish (and kind of dim) Cat, the cleaning obsessed robot Kryten. To date, there have been eight seasons of the show as well as a three-part special that aired in 2009. Rob Grant and Doug Naylor created Red Dwarf, working on the show together until Grant’s departure from the series after the sixth season. Since then, Doug Naylor has taken the reins of the show, implementing several changes to the series’ basic concepts and characters. Unfortunately, many of these decisions about the creative direction of the show have not sat too well with longtime Dwarfers.
Next year will see the series returning to TV for its first full season since 1999. With that announcement came an explosion of fan debate about whether or not Red Dwarf‘s time has passed. So what, if anything, can be done to help Red Dwarf regain the greatness it once possessed? That’s exactly what today’s Daily List is going to attempt to figure out.
8) Admit Back to Earth Was a Waste of Time
A decade after the eighth series of Red Dwarf ended, the series returned for a three-part special called Back to Earth that aired on the appropriately named UK cable channel Dave. Unfortunately, the new shows seemingly existed only to promote the network and offer up lame Blade Runner-inspired gags. The trouble was that the episode — which had the boys from the Dwarf arriving in circa-2009 London to discover that they were actually characters on a sci-fi comedy — was just a meta-humor-infused retread of the excellent “Back to Reality” episode that came complete with an appearance by the despair squid. Worst still, fans who waited ten years for a resolution to series eight’s “Only the Good…” cliffhanger were rewarded with some lip service about how the unseen ninth season was the series’ apex instead of any real answers about how Rimmer escaped Death (at least this bit of audience contempt on the part of the show’s producers wasn’t entirely unexpected given how poorly the “Out of Time” cliffhanger was handled at the start of Red Dwarf VII). In the interest of fairness, it’s worth mentioning that Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John Jules and Robert Llewellyn are all actually still great in their roles, and the (brief-yet-pointless) appearance of Peep Show‘s Sophie Winkleman infused the show with some much-needed new energy. On a fundamental level, the main issue with Back to Earth is that it seems to be full of ideas that are either undeveloped or misfires in general. This has been somewhat of a problem with the series as a whole since Rob Grant left. With his departure came a move away from character-based humor and an increasing reliance on pop culture references (i.e. the jarring Reservoir Dogs sequence in “Back in the Red”) that serves only to erode the show’s legacy. For the record, I don’t actually expect for Doug Naylor and company to publicly state say that Back to Earth was a huge smeg-up. But wouldn’t it be nice if when the new episodes aired they ignored it completely?
7) Increase the Show’s Visibility in the U.S.
We live in a time when Doctor Who is nearly as popular in the United States as it is in Britain. This turn of events was inconceivable back when nu-Who premiered in 2005. Thanks to a relentless publicity campaign by BBC America, Matt Smith’s Doctor was reached a level of recognition in America unmatched by his predecessors. It’s not just genre fans tuning in anymore either, the Doctor has officially hit the mainstream. In the wake of his success, Torchwood: Miracle Day came to the U.S. as a joint production between the BBC and Starz. While it is true that the series has been struggling both creatively and in the ratings this season, Captain Jack and company have never been more high profile… or had as high of a production budget. I realize it’s a stretch to compare Red Dwarf, what with its offbeat humor and aging cast, to these properties. The point I’m making here is that it now more possible than ever to break a British show on these shores in a revenue-generating way. If BBC America would regain the rights to Red Dwarf, they could capitalize on the influx of new Doctor Who viewers who are voracious for other quirky British programming. Another example of a current love for UK sci-fi is the way that Misfits — a British Heroes (well, except that it is actually entertaining) — is currently getting a lot of promotion from Hulu. Seeing how you are reading this website, chances are you are already familiar with Red Dwarf. But amongst the general public it is still as much of a cult show as Children’s Hospital or The State. The BBC no longer wanted to produce the series, which is why Dave got involved. The trouble is that Dave is a small outfit that doesn’t have the finances to promote the show for a global audience. A partnership with a network or company that has a strong presence in America could not only drum up more attention for the show, but help make the money needed to actually produce the show in the first place. All that said it’s important to remember that an Americanized version of the series is a terrible idea. Just watch the above clip to refresh your memory as to why this is.
6) Lose the Self-Indulgence
Pre-Red Dwarf, Danny John Jules was a noted dancer and choreographer (he can be briefly glimpsed during the “Da Doo” musical number in Little Shop of Horrors). He has had the opportunity to strut his stuff on the series several times, most notably in the hilarious “Tongue Tied” dream sequence. Still, this isn’t always the best idea. In the series eight episode “Back in the Red” Jules was involved in a painfully long dance routine that feels like it was a contract stipulation. Unfortunately, the scene does nothing to further the narrative (though it irritatingly presents itself as doing so). Self-indulgence has been a problem in recent years on Red Dwarf, from the unnecessary return of supporting characters to the entirety of Back to Earth. These moments are annoying at best and indicate that the series has lost its way. Speaking of which…
5) Get Back to Basics
Red Dwarf has always succeeded best when it was about four guys stuck in outer space three million years from Earth. Debate continues to rage about what era of the show was the best. Personally, I’m of the opinion that the series has never been better than in the sixth season, when the Red Dwarf gets stolen and the crew embarked on a mission to recover the craft. It was the first time the series attempted to do a season-long story arc and it was a huge, hilarious success that allowed the characters to shine — particularly Danny John Jules’ Cat, who was able to show off aspects of his personality other than vanity. Red Dwarf VI was such an overwhelming success because it juggled interesting adversaries with serialized stories. It marked the creative peak for the series and as such is a template that any future episodes should draw inspiration from.
4) Focus on the Lister/Rimmer Dynamic
Despite its many flaws, Red Dwarf VIII did get a few things exactly right (especially in “Cassandra,” a perfectly executed episode highlighted by masterful timey wimey storytelling that would impress Steven Moffat). Another admirable aspect of the season is its highly publicized “bunk scenes” between Lister and Rimmer that hearken back to the pair’s dynamic in the first two seasons. In the Grant Naylor Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers spin-off novel, there’s an interesting exploration of how Lister and Rimmer need each other in order to avoid being driven insane. This necessary co-dependence has been swept under the carpet on the show as characters like Kryten and Kochanski were given increased roles. Yet at its core, Red Dwarf has always been about how Lister and Rimmer hate each other but still require the other’s presence in order to keep space craziness at bay. Some further exploration of this could result in some truly great new character stories.
3) Get Rid of Kristine Kochanski
There’s an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in which Gul Dukat remarks to Major Kira about how their being on the same side never felt right. That sentiment echoes how many Red Dwarf fans feel about any possible union between Dave Lister and Kristine Kochanski. In the seventh season, Kochanski (Chl?e Annett, taking over the role from Clare Grogan) was added as a full-time cast member after it was announced that Chris Barrie’s role in the series would be limited so that he could pursue other projects. Her forced presence combined with some of the show’s worst scripts to date led to a shaky start for the new Kochanski. There were other issues as well. Due to this new Kochanski being from a parallel world, Annett’s version of the character was more posh than Grogan’s spunky, kind of punk take, resulting in viewers wondering why Lister’s dream girl was suddenly an insufferable snob (and this isn’t even getting into the nitpicky continuity problems raised by the episode “Stasis Leak” regarding the character’s relationship with Lister). Next to his slobbiness, Dave Lister’s defining character trait is the isolation that comes from being the last human being alive. To suddenly jettison such a critical aspect of the character was a huge misstep. Unfortunately, the addition of Kochanski also meant that the Cat’s screen time was now diminished, thus chucking all of his character development from the previous season out the window (things were even worse for Kryten, who was weirdly transformed into a petty robot who’s insanely jealous of the attention Lister gives Kochanski). In the timeline of Back to Earth, Kochanski left Lister and the rest of the Dwarfers behind. Let’s hope when the series returns that plot point sticks.
2) Somehow Convince Rob Grant to Return
The difficulty about writing a list like this one is that from a fan’s perspective it is easy to sit back and bitch about a show without actually being involved in the complexities of its production. So it’s simple to type that Red Dwarf could be saved easily if only co-creator Rob Grant would reunite with Doug Naylor. By doing so ignores the various reasons that the partnership dissolved in the first place. Reasons, I might add, that never have been made especially clear to Red Dwarf fans in the first place. Be it creative differences or personal animosity or whatever, the fact remains that the show just isn’t as good without Grant. The pair called their production team Grant Naylor because they considered themselves a gestalt entity. But, as depicted in “Legion,” once a key component of that team was removed the magic disintegrated. With time ticking ever onwards, the change of a Grant/Naylor reunion seems increasingly unlikely. Still, I suppose there’s always hope, right?
1) Let the Show Die
There’s a theory that you sometimes have to destroy something to save it, so perhaps the best possible fate for Red Dwarf is that no more episodes ever get made. It was (mostly) fun while it lasted, and the great installments of the show still far outweigh the poor. From a realistic viewpoint, even if all the aforementioned steps are taken could the show ever be as great as it once was? Probably not. Will Lister ever get to Fiji? Will the Cat ever get laid? Will Kryten ever find contentment outside of doing chores? I suppose we’ll never learn the answers to these questions. Well, until the inevitable series reboot that is.
Chris Cummins is a pop culture writer and Archie comics historian who has contributed to The Robot's Voice, Den of Geek US, Philebrity, Geekadelphia, Uproxx, and Unicorn Booty. He is the co-producer and co-host of Nerd Nite Philadelphia, and is regularly involved in producing and hosting New York Super Week events. In 2014, Chris began Sci-Fi Explosion, a mix of live performance, trivia and funny clips celebrating the weirdest in science fiction that regularly travels around the United States. He wrote the introductions to the compilations Archie's Favorite Comics From The Vault and (with Paul Castiglia) Archie's Favorite High School Stories. You can find Chris on Twitter at @bionicbigfoot and @scifiexplosion.