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Who Corner
For collectors of Dr. Who and British Science Fiction
Strange New Worlds Issue 9 - Jun/Jul 1993

Red Dwarf:
"Towering Dwarf"
by Tom Beck

Calling all Smegheads! You don't know what that means? Read on.

Red Dwarf ™, written by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, is a viciously satirical British space comedy. About to air its sixth season in the United Kingdom, Red Dwarf violates all the rules of television and gets away with it — gloriously.

The premise is simple: boy meets ship, ship's crew dies, boy meets hologram of dead crewmate. Dave Lister, played by the magnificently slobby Craig Charles, is a 22nd century, low-life Liverpudlian. Lister accurately lists his occupation as "bum." He is the lowest-ranking technician on the giant interplanetary mining ship Red Dwarf. His shift supervisor, and chief nemesis, is the appallingly officious, voraciously ambitious, and totally incompetent Arnold J. Rimmer, played by Chris Barrie. Lister is sent into stasis for refusing to surrender the cat he smuggled aboard Red Dwarf in violation of quarantine regulations. While in suspended animation, a malfunction floods the ship with lethal radiation, killing everyone.

Three million years later, the ship’s now-senile computer, Holly, lets Dave out of stasis. To keep Lister (the galaxy's last living human being alive) sane, Holly recreates Rimmer as a hologram. This is not the start of a beautiful friendship.

And that’s only the first episode! What follows is five plus years of bizarre and hilarious mishaps, scrapes, bungled attempts to return to Earth, lots of prawn vindaloo and curry (Lister’s favorite foods), and send-ups of every imaginable science fiction cliche.

In the three million years he was in stasis, Lister’s cat evolved into Felis Sapiens, a bipedal, semi-intelligent species resembling a human but acting like a cat. Played by Danny John-Jules, Cat is the coolest, vainest, laziest, most selfish, and self-centered creature since Madonna. Cat needs no name; like any self-respecting cat, he is naturally the center of the universe.

Red Dwarf
Series Pack on DVD


Rounding out the crew is Kryten, a Series 4000 mechanoid, played with perfect Canadian accent by the rubber-faced Robert Llewellyn. Kryten exists only to serve humans, whether they want it or not. They travel in Red Dwarf into a parallel universe, past black holes and white holes, discover strange planets and stranger life-forms.

Classic episodes include Time Slides, in which an photographic accident may provide a way back to Earth; Justice, in which Rimmer pays for his crimes (primarily that of being Arnold J. Rimmer); Dimension Jump, wherein Rimmer meets ‘Ace’ Rimmer, his heroic counterpart from another dimension; and Back to Reality, in which the crew finds out who they really are. Season six has just completed production in Manchester and will air on the BBC later this year. Early reports are very favorable.

Red Dwarf's special effects (mostly by Peter Wragg, who worked on Doctor Who) are extremely good for a BBC series, particularly the sets, model work, and makeup. The verbal fluency of the scripts is high, especially for invective and abuse. Lister and Rimmer’s constant arguments will have you in stitches, as will Cat’s antics and Kryten’s attempts to learn how to lie, something his mechanoid programming prohibits. The satire is non-stop and dead on target.

Grant and Naylor (under the clever pen name ‘Grant Naylor’) have written two novels loosely based on the series: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers and Better Than Life are both available in the United States, in single volumes and an omnibus edition. A third novel is on the way. Six of their scripts have been collected in Primordial Soup: The Least Worst Scripts. All are available from Penguin Books. Ask your favorite bookseller to order them for you.

There are also two program guides: The Red Dwarf Program Guide by Chris Howarth and Steve Lyons (Virgin Books), and The Complete Guide to Red Dwarf, by Bruce Dessau (Titan Books). Both are worth having, the former for its tons of information, the latter for its many color photographs. These may be hard to find; ask at any bookstore that processes special orders or check at a good science fiction bookshop or convention.

Other Red Dwarf merchandise includes an astoundingly large assortment of T-shirts, audio cassettes of the novels, and a glossy monthly magazine Red Dwarf Smegazine. ("Smeg" is the universal term of abuse and frustration in the Red Dwarf universe. Lister invariably calls Rimmer "Smeghead.") Most Red Dwarf merchandise is available only in the United Kingdom, or at some American conventions such as Visions. One excellent source is the Who Shop International, a London emporium for science fiction books and related memorabilia. Send a self-addressed envelope (SAE) and two International Reply Coupons (IRCs, available at any Post Office) to Who Shop International, 4 Station Parade, High Street North, London E6 1JD. Red Dwarf Smegazine is now accepting U.S. subscriptions at a price of £30 for 12 issues. Checks (in pounds sterling only) to Red Dwarf Subscriptions Department, Lazahold Ltd, PO Box 20, Pallion Industrial Estate, Sunderland S4R 6SN, United Kingdom.

Red Dwarf is seen in America only on PBS and at some science fiction conventions. More PBS stations might air Red Dwarf if viewers requested it. Contact your local PBS station, particularly if they are looking for a new British program to appeal to Doctor Who fans.

Last year NBC considered adapting Red Dwarf for American television. Linwood Boomer produced a pilot in Hollywood from a script by Grant Naylor. Robert Llewellyn was imported to recreate Kryten; the rest of the cast were all Americans. The pilot was not well received and NBC dropped plans for the series. It has been shown at several conventions. To be honest, it stinks. It bears little resemblance to the original Red Dwarf. Still, Red Dwarf USA exists and you might catch it someday.

But forget about that. The real Red Dwarf itself will soon be available in the U.S. on videotape. CBS Fox Video is releasing seasons three and four on August 18 (two tapes per season, three episodes per tape). Inquire wherever you buy tapes or from the Science Fiction Continuum, which is now taking advance orders. Seasons two, three, and four of Red Dwarf are already available on videotape in the United Kingdom; series one is about to be released there.

If you are a fan of British television or of really good science fiction comedy, check it out. l

Also see:
Red Dwarf DVDs
Books about Red Dwarf


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