Worst to Best
Red Dwarf
Season Eight

Season eight was the final Red Dwarf season made for the BBC, airing from February-April 1999. Generally regarded as the worst season by the show's fans, it has a negative reputation and lead to the programme being discontinued for a decade.


by
THE ANORAK
OCTOBER 2018


The DVD release of the series can be ordered online from Amazon. In the meantime, please join me as I rank the season from worst to best and ask the question... is it really as bad as they say?

6 Pete

Season eight saw the crew return to a newly-restored Red Dwarf after the cliffhanger events of season seven. With the entire crew also restored by nanobots, Lister, Rimmer, Cat, Kryten and Kochanski are given a two-year prison sentence in Red Dwarf's penal department, overseen by the officious warder Ackerman.
      Pete, a two-part story, had a long run as "Red Dwarf's Worst-Ever Episode", before 2017's Timewave proved that the barrel could be scraped even further. It's awful, childish stuff, with Graham McTavish getting even more over-the-top as Ackerman, and a series of erection gags that have no real place in Red Dwarf. While the series always skirted near the line, it used to have, for want of a better term, an element of class, and, if not quite "family viewing", could be watched in polite company without undue embarrassment.
      Plot-wise, then Pete is a mess, featuring all manners of unrelated, sketchy developments. Paul Alexander, co-writer of three season seven episodes, stayed on as the script associate for the season. He also co-wrote the second part of this story and Krytie TV, suggesting that he appealed to Doug's baser instincts for the show. Yet this is a season so corny that punchlines like "no, wrong number" must have been obvious to all but the most oblivious audience member. A season that dusts off so many old comic routines that "he's standing behind me, isn't he?" is seen as being something new. (In fairness, The Inbetweeners dredged up the same hackneyed routine nine years later for its first episode).
      During the first two seasons the Cat was one of the most original characters on TV, though became diluted and lost most of what made him special as the series went on. With the programme becoming more confined, his over-exposure and broadening saw what was once a highlight of the series become predictable and tedious. Despite this, it's still somewhat unsettling to see him completely humiliated by prison bully Baxter (Ricky Grover, wasted in a nothing part). Perhaps the only merit this appalling story holds is that it contains two vaguely amusing lines for Chloe Annette in the second episode, an incredibly rare instance of Kochanski being given anything remotely funny to say.

5 Back In
The Red

A dreadful three-parter that opened the eighth season. While much was made of the ever-increasing viewing figures breaking the 8 million mark, the same opening night 8.05m viewers were clearly far from enamoured with what they saw, and the season bowed out with only 4.24m tuning in. Red Dwarf was a series that had consistently built upon its audience, so losing over 47% of the viewership in eight weeks cannot be regarded as a success.
      It's not just all the appalling elements, like the unconvincing CGI, the jokes that die the instant they hit the air, the cartoonish "salute" sequences, the constant wearying similes, or even the God-awful Blue Midget dance and claymation sequences. While resurrecting the old crew isn't a bad idea (though it's a shame that the Rimmer seen from this point on has no knowledge of seasons 1-7) where it falters is by making them all "komedy characters". Suddenly there's no one "real" to relate to, as everyone, including the Captain, becomes a two-dimensional joke machine.
      Then there's simply how distasteful the programme has become. Referencing the fact that there are no less than eleven rape jokes in this story isn't "politically correct"... because the series was politically correct. Sure, there'd be moments like Lister talking about having mirrors on his shoes to see up girl's skirts, but he was generally respectful of women and appalled by Rimmer's treatment of Kochanski in Balance of Power. Here he regrets that Kochanski didn't have sex with him under what is essentially a date rape drug, and later uses the same serum to try and get Rimmer raped while in prison. It's all awful, nasty, cartoonish stuff, full of people doing things that no one would do outside of a 70s sitcom, and a horribly OTT performance from Robert Llewellyn.

4 Only The Good...

That Only The Good... is one of the better episodes of season eight is a testament to how horrifically poor the season is. Attempts to get a film off the ground never received enough financial backing, and the BBC, long rumoured to have been against the series, no longer had the justification that it was bringing in the ratings when those ratings vastly declined over the course of the season. Consequently Only The Good... became the last episode of Red Dwarf for a decade.
      Only The Good... features some okayish scenes and the odd moment of inspiration here and there, but what really sinks it is what a complete mess the whole thing is, structurally. Making Pete look like the most finely-crafted episode ever made, while Red Dwarf didn't need to have tight plots in order to work, this is arguably the loosest they ever did, a "make it up as you go along" excursion that sees Red Dwarf devoured by a virus.
      Discussed endings included Red Dwarf arriving on Earth, and Ace Rimmer saving the day... one that was filmed, and included on the DVD, sees all indulge in a complete non-joke of Rimmer trying to remember a long word, before saving the day and watching the Captain float away into space. While below par, it gives a resolution to the situation with the return of the Red Dwarf crew, the captain drifting helplessly in space as Rimmer pretends not to notice. Instead, they shelved it, and added a cliffhanger at the last minute, as well as a crass scene with Rimmer kneeing Death in the balls.
      Perhaps the most uncomfortable moment occurs with Cat getting a "bitch" while in prison. It's not that it's vaguely homophobic, more that David Verrey plays it broadly, like most of the rest of the cast, in pure "sitcom" acting style, and also the realisation that Naylor, on the cusp of a new millennium, still thought such antiquated tropes had comic currency two decades on from the 70s. Such a mindset perhaps explains the digital fonts used throughout the season, which were hugely dated even at the time.

3 Krytie TV

A satire of Beadle's About, two-and-a-half years after that series ended, though perhaps more up-to-date than Back In The Red's satire of Reservoir Dogs seven years after the fact. The oldest moment here is a "tilting heads to look at something explicit" routine which, in 1999, needed carbon dating. Red Dwarf was always a two-writer show, and having Doug Naylor write alone shows how limited his comic arsenal really was.
      With the real-life relationship between Barrie and Charles having improved considerably, the two-man cell chats returned to the series. Sadly, they no longer had anything worthwhile to say to one another, or, indeed, any gags. Yet most significant is just how sexist this episode is. A more sophisticated episode could have suggested that it was there for satirical purposes, but this is the Dapper Laughs of Red Dwarf, especially as it's based around the nudity of Kochanski, a woefully-written "female" character who would fail every Bechdel Test going. There's no point breaking out a copy of Kaplan's theory on The Male Gaze when the entire point of the episode is precisely proving it.
      Worst of all - at the risk of taking Red Dwarf far too seriously - it also undermines Lister's character, in that being complicit in watching Kochanski naked in front of a roomful of men, it makes him disloyal and lacking in the strict morality that made Lister so appealing for the first five years. And while Red Dwarf always had one eye on some crasser jokes, having Lister cutting off his pubic hair seems too low for the series. Finally, it's also the episode where Graham McTavish decides to camp it up as Warden Ackerman. Although having appeared briefly in three prior episodes, they were relatively restrained performances, but here he goes full panto. Such a decision clearly appeared to be the actor's own, as both Charles and Naylor remark that it wasn't played as written, and, despite Barrie politely praising it on the behind-the-scenes documentary, the commentary track sees him ask "Why did he send it this camp route?"
      Plot-wise, Krytie TV is better worked out than the majority of season eight episodes, causing it to rank highly when ranked against the rest of the 1999 output. However, for a indication of how bad this season truly is, everything from entries 3-6 would comfortably fit in an all-time bottom ten Red Dwarf episodes.

2 Children In
Need Special

It speaks of the dire quality of season eight that this four-minute throwaway charity skit (airing in November 1998, three months before the launch of season eight) should be better than the majority of what it contained. It ends with a cheesy "Lister's guitar" routine, and Kochanski has still to be given a single funny line, but it's pleasant enough, and lacking in the somewhat obnoxious qualities that season eight possessed in abundance.

1 Cassandra

Cassandra upholds its reputation as the "non-rubbish season eight episode". Featuring a superb guest turn from Geraldine McEwan as the titular computer, it wouldn't be the first time predetermination had played a part in a Red Dwarf episode, and, thanks to the Dave Channel episode Fathers and Suns, it wouldn't even be the last time that a future-predicting computer would play a part.
      There are applause breaks in the episode, but somehow, with the more OTT atmosphere, it just about pays off. Rimmer's delight that he'll be murdered while making love to Kochanski is faintly ludicrous, but works because of Barrie's energetic performance. With the presence of Jake Wood as the silly (yet vaguely amusing) character "Kill Crazy", the episode presents Red Dwarf audiences with arguably the guest star who went on to the biggest fame after their appearance... unknown at the time, he went on to be watched by millions as Max Branning in EastEnders. In America he was most famous as the voice of the GEICO gecko, and this episode was the first of five to be screened in the States before its UK debut.
      Cassandra is a good episode, perhaps in the top 30 of the 73 made to date. By itself it justifies critical appreciation of season eight, though it wasn't enough to justify the series continuing. April 1999 marked the end of Red Dwarf on the BBC, and such an occurrence was no longer anything to mourn, Cassandra an aberration rather than the norm.