Worst to Best
Red Dwarf
Season Three

Red Dwarf's third season saw big changes, with a greater leaning towards special effects, Hattie Hayridge replacing Norman Lovett as Holly, and Robert Llewellyn joining as Kryten.


by
THE ANORAK
MARCH 2018


The DVD release of the series can be ordered online from Amazon. In the meantime, please join me as I rank the six episodes from worst to best...

6 The Last Day

The Last Day is the first Robert Llewellyn episode to really focus on Kryten, a situation that would change over the following seasons, with the character becoming increasingly central to the plots. Season three is the oddest run for the character, as he's on board the ship without a real introduction, and the Americanised humour and Llewellyn's uncertain, off-kilter playing makes it something of a bad fit. Thankfully the character's humour would become a little more in tune with the general humour of the series, though could still feel intrusive. Possibly it's also that the voice isn't quite there yet, and the mask is hugely different to what followed, being even more off-beat than the "Bo Selecta" mask of Season X.
      Llewellyn was, to be fair, always a good performer, even if the material wasn't up to scratch. Yet there are notable moments where he struggles with all the exposition he was saddled with, and here, where he receives a birthday gift of a computer chip, he's very obviously reading the description off a cue card. The generally misguided Remastered version does improve on this by splicing in a Rimmer reaction shot to mask this somewhat, though to his credit Llewellyn always mocks his cue card reading on the commentary tracks.
      With these rankings, it often comes down to the fact that comedy is subjective, and so this may be a favourite for many. The idea of a calculator having a spiritual afterlife can either be surrealy hilarious or just plain silly, depending on taste. Personally the concept of Kryten being embarrassed about the middle letters in his name feels very much like a non-joke, though others may be amused. Perhaps more galling is that Lister, an atheist, is given a religious belief just to service the "jokes". Better are the tales of Rimmer as a Samaritan and the story of his uncle Frank, but they're small moments in a generally skippable instalment.

5 Backwards

Season three brings in the most ever changes between seasons, particularly as it aired just 13 months after season two. Perhaps the most jarring is not the new characters (including Holly using the face of his female counterpart from Parallel Universe after Norman Lovett left the series) but the huge upscale in budget after Grant-Naylor took over production themselves.
     The fannish part of viewers may hope for a scene where the grey sets are shown as being a lower part of the ship after they moved up to the officer's quarters but, perhaps sensibly, Red Dwarf was still primarily a comedy series at the time (as opposed to a sci-fi series with jokes) and so all the many changes are brushed aside as a quick gag with a Star Wars scroll text that's too fast to read. (Such continuity-based concerns were finally addressed, many years later, with the grey bunkroom recreated in both 1999 and 2017... proving, perhaps, that such things are better left well alone. It's the same kind of reasoning that explains how Rimmer, a hologram, is able to change costume as part of The Sensational Reverse Brothers.... it simply doesn't matter.
      Backwards itself definitely has its moments, with some decent dialogue sequences... mainly Lister describing how different certain folk heroes would seem in a backwards world, and not the somewhat self-conscious Flintstones scene. For the most part, though, it's a bit of a one-joke affair, as various people are shown doing things in reverse via video trickery, as Rimmer watches on in that horrible "Captain (green) Scarlet" outfit. With Rimmer and Lister apart for the majority of the episode, it's an odd way to start a season, as it removes most of what made the series so successful in the first place. The commentary track has Llewellyn suggest that it's a classic episode, only for Chris Barrie to remark that it's "not one of my favourites, personally", and is met in agreement by Craig Charles.

4 Polymorph

Polymorph is the first Red Dwarf episode to introduce GELFs, or Genetically Engineered Life Forms, which are, after all is said and done, aliens by any other name. Suddenly Lister is no longer the last man alive in a Godless universe, but just the last human in a very populated environment, with a further ten appearances from "GELFS" to date. This, their first and best, sees a shape-changing creature that has been much repeated throughout the series. It testifies to more-dialogue based episodes that moments that were, on transmission, hilarious, such as the infamous Lister and Kryten boxer shorts scene, now hold up less well than the verbal gags... or maybe it's just that Rimmer's "bonk" is an antiquated 80s term that died with Moonlighting.
      Generally though, this still holds up as a pretty amusing episode of Red Dwarf, even if it feels less energetic than the time it aired. This is still Red Dwarf very much with an audience who chooses when to laugh, rather than laugh uproariously at every single line, and so it's notable that in amongst the amusing crew alteregos, Cat's "vanity free" hobo gets only vague chuckles from a more discerning audience. Despite being significantly more advanced, production-wise, than the first two seasons, there's still a lot of fun with the low production values, including a Goodiesesque "snake"... though Barrie and Charles note on the commentary that the microwave joke isn't really a "Red Dwarf gag". What is also notable is how "soft" and grainy the picture quality sometimes looks, as pictured, byproducts of the more primitive editing process 30 years ago, which saw the video stock degrade with each fresh edit.

3 Timeslides

Timeslides has probably the most ludicrous plot for a Red Dwarf episode, but it works because it's based around something very tangible. While having mutated developing fluid that can cause time rifts in old photos is deeply silly, it begins as an exploration of Lister's loneliness, and ends with the somewhat tragic payoff that Rimmer has come back to life but dies again. The episode also featured a role for Graham Chapman, but he was replaced by Ruby Wax (the director's wife) as Chapman sadly died before rehearsals.
      It's somewhat sketchy, and sometimes stodgily directed - a dance scene with Rimmer is inexplicably shot in close-up - but there's a lot of pay offs. Some of the continuity doesn't always work out, and not just the fact that Craig Charles's real-life brother playing him as a 17-year-old is clearly at least a couple of inches taller. If the episode is taken completely seriously, then there's no reason why a 17-year-old Lister of c. 2071 would be playing gigs in a pub that looks like it comes from the 1980s, and there's no reason why Rimmer would still exist as a hologram if Lister was removed from the timeline.
      Such shaky logic saw Craig Charles advise that the dialogue of the skiiers in a photograph should be removed as they wouldn't be aware of having their photograph mixed up with Lister's at the time they were snapped. But this was still Red Dwarf when it was a comedy series first, SF series second, and so commendably such things weren't allowed to cloud the issue. Timeslides is a good episode with some memorable dialogue, though the "reset to zero" ending can't help but make it all feel a little inconsequential...

2 Bodyswap

Whether or not the real-life antagonism between Charles and Barrie (c. 1988-1993) was a good thing for the series or not is open to question. Certainly the pair, if reports are to be believed, never had the same antagonism from season seven onwards, but the same period also marks solo Doug Naylor scripts, so the quality of material wasn't there. Such thoughts come to the forefront with Bodyswap, an amusing episode that saw Charles infuriated with Barrie impersonating him. Despite this, it's a commendably vanity-free performance from Charles, who appears semi-naked throughout, with much derision thrown at his physique.
      Filmed without a studio audience and screened later for the laugh track, it sees lots of dubbing as Rimmer's mind gets to take over Lister's body. Lister having his entire mind extracted in seconds is a recall of a joke used in Thanks For The Memory, and was most recently run into the ground in season XII's Siliconia. The lack of studio audience and uncertain dubbing does take away a lot of the atmosphere and make the whole venture seem strangely "off", but it's a good instalment with some highlights. Perhaps most notably, Rimmer's speech in the episode about weight gain was sampled two years later by Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine on their album track Surfin' USM.
      Season three isn't a good season for Danny John-Jules, as not only does he get little to do and his real accent frequently leaks through, but he loses most of his cat-like qualities, features which never returned. However, Bodyswap gives him a little more to do than most of the other five instalments, including the Scrabble game and the final punchline. The Remastered version sees extra footage of this routine, with John-Jules hamming it up and playing with the food, pretending part of it is fake eyes...

1 Marooned

Proof, if any were needed, that all you really need for a good episode of Red Dwarf is Rimmer and Lister confined in a close space, talking... providing, at least, that they have something to say. Of course, such things are harder to write than the more generic "gag a minute" format that the show later devolved into, and any new backstory threatens to contradict what came before: even here Rimmer's story of losing his virginity is at odds of what we learned in season two. Yet Marooned is a real highlight, arguably only bettered once afterwards. Certain shots using hand-held cameras are an odd stylistic choice, but show a series that was still daring to experiment, whether it paid off or not.
      There's some amusing goofs and ill-thought out developments here and there, from the screen projection of Starbug's "windows" not being keyed in when they first appear, to Rimmer being able to smell and touch an microphone control button. Perhaps the most curious though is that Rimmer is revealed to be rich by having saved £24,000... which overlooks that such an amount would likely be next to worthless in 2077, let alone the additional three million and three years.