Red Dwarf

From Academic Kids

This article describes the British science fiction comedy television series. For the type of star, see red dwarf.
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Red Dwarf logo

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The cast of Red Dwarf as of Season 3. In the foreground from left to right: Cat, Lister, and Rimmer. In the background is Kryten, and on the monitor is Holly's avatar.

Red Dwarf is a British science fiction comedy, created and originally written by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor. It tells the story of Dave Lister, the last human being alive, and takes place on a space ship 3 million years in the future. A pastiche of science fiction in general, Red Dwarf is first and foremost an 'odd couple' type situation comedy.



In the show, the Red Dwarf is a gigantic spaceship belonging to Jupiter Mining Corporation. An on-board radiation disaster kills everyone except for Dave Lister, who was in suspended animation at the time. Three million years later, Lister emerges from stasis as the last human being alive.

Lister is the slob anti-hero with a marked Scouse accent and a craving for Indian food, such as vindaloo curries and shami kebabs, all of which are in plentiful supply on board the ship. He also enjoys a type of music called "Rastabilly Skank," playing the guitar, and singing -- much to the detriment of those around him. His primary desire is to return to Earth.

Lister endures a hologrammatic simulation of a deceased crew member Arnold J. Rimmer. Rimmer, Lister's room-mate before the disaster, is a smug, self-centered, status-obsessed, occasionally neurotic, guilt-ridden loser, loathed by everybody on board. Despite twelve years aboard the ship and an overriding ambition to become an officer, Rimmer remains a chickensoup-machine repairman, the lowest job aboard the ship. It was he who actually caused the radioactive disaster by poorly repairing a drive plate on the power core, though he claims he would have been able to do a better job if Lister hadn't been imprisoned in stasis.

The facility for simulating dead crew members is so resource-intensive that only one such simulation can be maintained at a time. It is therefore reserved for high-ranking and/or essential personnel, but the ship's computer explains in an early episode that it believes Rimmer's company to be essential to Lister's mental health. Lister expresses incredulity, but later implicitly admits that the computer was right, telling another character, Kryten the mechanoid, that "driving Rimmer nuts is what keeps me going".

As the series progresses, Rimmer acquires a tangible physical form for brief periods of time due to various astronomical phenomena, and eventually acquires a "hard-light drive", giving him an effectively real -- albeit indestructible -- physical presence. In later episodes, Rimmer is also manifested as the superheroic character, Ace Rimmer, who hails from an alternate Universe where a pivotal humiliation led Rimmer to develop into a James Bond-like persona.

Also accompanying Lister on his voyage back to Earth is The Cat. The Cat is a member of the species Felis sapiens, evolved from a domestic cat which Lister had smuggled aboard three million years prior, for which crime Lister was imprisoned in stasis. The Cat appears as a typical biped humanoid with slightly elongated canine teeth; he retains a cat-like interest in fish and females, a heightened sense of smell, unbridled vanity, and cat-like obsession towards grooming and appearance. He also has six nipples.

The other principal character is Holly, the ship's computer with a supposed IQ of 6000 (visible as a disembodied head on the screens dotted around the ship). Holly runs most of the ship's systems despite now suffering from computer senility. Among Holly's systems are the service droids known as skutters that clean, perform engineering tasks and function as Rimmer's hands since he initially cannot touch anything non-holographic.

The crew are also joined by the service mechanoid Kryten whom Lister encourages to break his altruistic programming to lie, cheat, and steal in an effort to become more human. Kryten at one time did in fact break his programming, "borrowed" Lister's space-bike and left the ship. He was found smashed against an astroid some light-years away, and was rebuilt with a new personality.

Lister's longlasting crush is Kristine Kochanski, played by C. P. (Clare) Grogan (formerly of 80's band Altered Images). She was killed along with the rest of the crew in the first episode, and several subsequent episodes revolve around Lister attempting to bring her back, either through time travel or as a computer-generated simulation like Rimmer. In various TV series and book incarnations, Lister has either admired Kochanski from afar or dated her for over a month. The discontinuity is never touched upon. In the seventh season, an alternative Kochanski from a parallel universe (played by ChloŽ Annett) joined the series as a regular character.

One interesting aspect of the Red Dwarf universe is that there are no sentient aliens, although there is a large and bizarre mix of intelligent life within the Red Dwarf universe. All of these organisms, however, are in one way or another derived from Earth, a result of developments in robotics and/or genetic engineering during the millions of years the ship has been isolated.

Production history

The first series aired on BBC2 in 1988. Seven further series have so far been produced, and a film is currently in pre-production. The idea was originally developed from the Dave Hollins: Space Cadet sketches introduced on Grant and Naylor's 1984 BBC Radio 4 show Son of Clichť.

Rob Grant and Doug Naylor wrote the first six series together, before Grant left in 1996 leaving Naylor to write the next two with a series of new and less well-known writers, notably Paul Alexander.

Series I and II were BBC productions, series III was made by Paul Jackson Productions, and all subsequent series were made by Grant Naylor Productions. In practice these changes were only cosmetic; all eight series were made for and by the BBC. At the beginning of series IV production moved from the BBC's Manchester studios to Shepperton.

The theme tune, incidental music and chart hit 'Tongue Tied' was written by Howard Goodall.

A period of four years elapsed between Series VI and VII. The show was apparently not expected to last beyond five series, indicated by the closure of major plot elements and continuity during the first two series. However, Grant and Naylor were contractually obliged to make eight series for the BBC. When the series returned, it was filmized and no longer in front of a live audience. Although critics praised the higher production values for Series VII, when the show returned two years later for Series VIII, it had dropped use of the filmizing process.

In 1998, on the tenth anniversary of the show's first airing (between the releases of Series VI and VIII), the first three series of Red Dwarf were remastered. The remastering included reformatting the series in widescreen, applying film grain techniques and more critically replaced model shots with computer graphics, cut small pieces of dialog and changed music and sound effects. Red Dwarf Remastered was met with a generally poor fan reaction, no further series were remastered and the later DVD release reverted to the original versions.

Episode list

See List of Red Dwarf episodes.

Characters and actors

Main article: Red Dwarf characters

Regular cast

Semi-regular characters in series 8

Recurring guest characters

  • Olaf Petersen (played by Mark Williams) appeared in three episodes and is mentioned regularly when Lister talks about the days before the accident.
  • Selby and Chen (played by David Gillespie and Paul Bradley, respectively) appeared in three episodes altogether.
  • Frank Todhunter (played by Robert Bathurst) only appeared in the first episode but was regularly mentioned in following episodes.
  • George McIntyre, a Welsh officer, appeared once in the first episode as a hologram at his own "Welcome Back Reception".
  • Kill Crazy (played by Jake Wood) appeared in four episodes.
  • Baxter (played by Ricky Grover) appeared in the last three episodes of the series.

Recurring guest actors

  • Tony Hawks was the warm-up man for the first few series of Red Dwarf and has often been called 'The Fifth Dwarfer'. He also appeared on screen as the host in Better Than Life, the voice of various food dispensers (and a talking suitcase in Stasis Leak), the compere in Backwards, and Caligula in Meltdown.


Red Dwarf

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The second, CGI Red Dwarf

The spaceship Red Dwarf is an enormous (five miles long, according to the novels) mining vessel owned by the Jupiter Mining Corporation and commanded by Captain Frank Hollister. All of Red Dwarf's systems are controlled by the computer Holly. Red Dwarf has a large complement of shuttles, including Starbugs, Blue Midgets. Also mentioned but never seen is White Midget (See Starbug). It is powered by a Bussard ramjet and can, theoretically, keep going forever. It has so far been travelling for roughly 3,000,000 years. The ship has enough food and drink to last 30,000 years (although they've run out of cow's milk, Shake 'N' Vac and have just one After Eight mint left, which everyone is too polite to take). The crew size was repeatedly stated in the first series to be 169, but the number grew with time: in the Series 4 episode "Justice" it was said to have been 1,169, and in the books the figure is given as 11,169. In the programme, however, these continuity errors are more or less ignored and are usually regarded as unimportant by the majority of the show's fanbase.

Red Dwarf itself was the main setting for the first five seasons of the programme, but was apparently lost for 200 years before the first episode of Season Six. It was later discovered that a collective of rogue nanobots which formed the mechanoid Kryten's auto-repair system dismantled Red Dwarf and created their own nano-version of the ship. The crew chased this nano-version of the ship in Starbug 1 and eventually convinced the nanobots to rebuild the ship. As a joke, the nanobots revived the dead crew as well, causing some disorientation among the formerly dead denizens of the reconstructed Red Dwarf. The rebuilt ship was based on the original specifications, meaning it was even larger than the Red Dwarf of the first five seasons, with a quark-level matter/anti-matter generator and a karaoke bar (this was at least partly meant as justification for new sets and a new CGI model of the ship's exterior). The ship was again destroyed by a corrosive chemical but all of the crew (bar Arnold Rimmer) managed to escape in the Starbugs and Blue Midgets.

Notable areas of the ship include:

  • Rimmer and Lister's original sleeping quarters - The main setting for the first two seasons. A grey room with bunk beds built into the wall, a table, two lockers, a sink with a mirror that also acts as a computer screen and a voice activated toilet. It made a reappearance in the first episode of Series Eight.
  • Rimmer and Lister's second sleeping quarters - In season three, they relocated to a room in the unused Officer's Block; substantially larger, with a cream colour scheme and en suite shower as well as classier versions of much of the apparatus from their original quarters.
  • The Drive Room - The control centre of the ship, where Kristine Kochanski used to work as well as the other top officers and ship's captain. Also contains the Navicomp, the ship's navigational computer, and several computer monitors which Holly used to project his image and communicate with the crew.
  • The Science Room - This became the crew's main area of conducting technical business such as mind swaps and consultations with Holly, the ship's computer, in Series 3 to 5.
  • The cargo bay - The area of the ship where the fleets of Starbugs and Blue Midgets were stored and from where these ships launched and landed.
  • White Corridor 159 - The initial site of the accident that wiped out the crew.
  • Parrot's Bar - A wine bar on G Deck, apparently named purely for a Casablanca gag. ("We'll always have Parrot's.")
  • The Tank - A two-hundred cell prison on the top-secret Floor Thirteen. Contained four hundred hardened criminals on their way to a penal colony on Adelphi 12. And, in season 8, the main cast.

Blue Midget

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Blue Midget, original version
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Nova 5

Blue Midget is a type of shuttle. The craft was used mainly in series 2 before being replaced by Starbug. In series 8 Blue Midget was redesigned to resemble a bubble car, with retractable legs for take-off and landing (also enabling them to dance).


The JMC transport vehicle Starbug is a small shuttle craft. It is green in colour and has three bulbous sections; the cockpit, mid-section and engine rooms. Starbug is featured from the third series of Red Dwarf, replacing Blue Midget as the crew's primary choice of shuttle and became the show's primary craft in series 6 and 7. Series 6 began a full 200 years after the final episodes of season 5 during which time only Kryten was "conscious". During this period it is presumed that Kryten remodelled Starbug for the crews needs. Starbug became much larger and gained sleeping quarters, an engine deck, an artificial reality suite and a hangar bay in the process. Since series 6, Starbug has been armed with laser cannons.

It originally seemed as though there were only 2 Starbugs on Red Dwarf, aptly titled Starbug 1 and Starbug 2. Starbug 1 was the one that featured the most, with Starbug 2 only appearing once in series 3 and once in series 5. Throughout seasons three to six, Starbug 1 has crashed many times and always seemed to be fully repaired by the next episode. In series 8 it was revealed that there was an entire fleet of Starbugs (and Blue Midgets) stored on Red Dwarf.

According to the cast commentary on the Red Dwarf DVD's, Starbug was originally named White Midget.


Ace Rimmer's ship, Wildfire, appears in "Dimension Jump" and "Stoke Me A Clipper". Its purpose as part of Ace's mission is to explore alternative realities. Upon Ace Rimmer's return in "Stoke Me A Clipper", the ship is given to the next generation of Ace.

Nova 5

The wreck of the Nova 5 was discovered in the second series episode "Kryten." The series 4000 mechanoid Kryten was still servicing his long-dead crew when encountered by the members of the Red Dwarf.

In the seventh series episode "Ouroboros," it was revealed that Kryten was responsible for the accident that killed the ship's crew. A reason has not been given in the series, but Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers explains that the crash was caused by Kryten cleaning the computer with soapy water.

US version

A pilot episode for an American version was produced for NBC in 1992, though never broadcast. The show followed essentially the same story as the original UK pilot, substituting American actors (including Craig Bierko as Lister, Chris Eigeman as Rimmer, Hinton Battle as the Cat and Jane Leeves as Holly) for the British; the one exception being Robert Llewellyn, who reprised his role as Kryten. The pilot was unsuccessful.

A later pilot consisting of scenes from the first pilot edited in with new footage (and featuring Terry Farrell as a female Cat) was also unsuccessful.

However, the comparison between the UK and US shows is interesting: the anti-hero, slobby pantheist Lister was replaced with a muscular hunk when he is translated for American TV. When Lister learns that three million years have passed in the UK show, he says "I've still got that library book..."; in the American version he says "My baseball cards must be worth a fortune!"

It is also interesting to note that the multi-ethnic cast of the British original (John-Jules is black, Charles bi-racial, and Barrie and Llewelyn white) was replaced by an entirely Caucasian one for the second US pilot (the first pilot still had a black Cat), leading John-Jules and Charles to dub it 'White Dwarf'.


The franchise has expanded to include four novels, written by the show's creators, Doug Naylor and Rob Grant.

Last Human and Backwards are both (different) sequels to Better Than Life, and are not consistent with each other.

All four books were published in audiobook format, the first two read by Chris Barrie with Last Human read by Craig Charles and Backwards read by its author Rob Grant.

The BBC World Service re-recorded the first two books as The Red Dwarf Radio Show with Chris Barrie narrating and included additional sound effects. The first series was broadcast on 3 December 1995 to 17 February 1996 and the second March 13 1997 to March 28 1997.

The song "Tongue Tied", originally featured in a dream sequence in the episode Parallel Universe, was released as a single in 1993. It reached number 17 in the UK charts. It was expected to get higher, only a planned Top Of The Pops performance did not come to happen, thus halting momentum for the single.

A planned Red Dwarf: The Movie has been delayed from its original schedule. According to the official website, it will enter pre-production 'shortly', with details of a release date to follow. Unfortunately it has been over a year since any news has been heard regarding the movie.

Invented words

Red Dwarf is famous for using the word "smeg" in order to remove swearwords from the show and to add to a futuristic terminology. Some examples of the word in context are "smegger", "smeghead", "smeg off", "smeg-for-brains", and "smegging hell". The character of Rimmer tells a vending machine in one episode to "...smeg off, you smeggy smegging smegger!" The writers of Red Dwarf have stated that they invented the word and that it has no connection with any similar real words, such as "smegma"; however, lexicographer Tony Thorne, in his 1990 Dictionary of Contemporary Slang (ISBN 074752856X), reports instances of "smeg" (and derivatives) being used as a term of "mild contempt and even affection" among "schoolboys, students and punks" as early as the mid-1970s – a decade or so prior to the inception of the Red Dwarf phenomenon – and unequivocally traces the etymology of the term back to "smegma".

The idea of an invented, substitute curseword was borrowed from the BBC sitcom Porridge, which brought the word "naff" into popular usage.

There are other terminologies invented by Red Dwarf that are not as well-known as "smeg". Given the sarcastic and argumentative nature of the show's plotlines, many of these other new words are derogatory designations including "goit" (one who is annoying or awkward — perhaps adapted from the word "git" and "oik") and "gimboid" (one who is stupid or clumsy — similar in meaning to "moron", and possibly an adaptation of the word "gimp").

The currency in use at the time Red Dwarf left the Solar System was apparently the "dollarpound", divided into one hundred "pennycents".

In one episode, Cat uses the word 'Jozxyqk' in a Scrabble game, claiming it to be a cat word meaning "the sound you get when you get your sexual organs trapped in something".

A class of beings that makes recurring appearances in the programme are GELFs, an acronym for Genetically Engineered Life Forms.

Several sets, seen often in the earlier episodes, have the phrase "Level Nivelo" prominently displayed on one wall. "Nivelo" is not an invented word within the series, but rather the Esperanto word for "level". In the Red Dwarf universe, the constructed language Esperanto is in much wider use than it is today, and Red Dwarf is officially a bilingual vessel. See the first episode in season two, "Kryten", in which Rimmer attempts to learn Esperanto.

In the episode "Back To Reality", Timothy Spall's character Andy refers to the regular cast as "a bunch of twonks". Twonk is also used by Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses. He often calls Rodney a "dozy little twonk".

Whilst on his own for three million years, Red Dwarf's computer, Holly, decided to entertain himself by inventing Hol Rock, a fictional decimalised version of music. The notes he invented were 'H' and 'J' and he was convinced it would be a whole new sound. Unfortunately triangles would need an extra side, pianos would be the length of zebra crossings and women would be banned from playing the cello.

See also

External links


Cast Links

de:Red Dwarf fr:Red Dwarf


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