Worst to Best
Red Dwarf
Season Four

Season four of Red Dwarf aired from February-March 1991, and saw the series filming being transferred from Manchester to Shepperton Studios. The screening order of the episodes was heavily changed due to real-life events dictating what would be acceptable to broadcast.


by
THE ANORAK
MAY 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 Camille

While Season Three had its weaker moments, Camille is the first genuinely below-par episode of Red Dwarf. Beginning with an inexplicably unamusing "Kryten is taught to lie" sequence (following on from The Last Day, where he lied twice), it features a love story with a giant green blob that's all a bit Galloping Galaxies. It would be unfair to criticise stand-up comedienne Judy Pascoe as the main guest star, as she's now Robert Llewellyn's wife, but she lacks the onscreen drive to really make the part work. Although most of the cast are comedians-turned-actors, they're able to make such limitations work in a way that's rare, and can't always be repeated.
     Yet it's not all that bad, and Kryten's remark about how many of his crewmates are likeable ("some of them... well, one of them.... maybe...") is so good that Doug Naylor has shamelessly reworked it for some Dave episodes. A Tales of the Riverbank discussion between Lister and the Cat is clearly a self-conscious attempt to revisit the Flintstones routine from Backwards, and, along with a Karl Malden reference, betrays the fact that Grant-Naylor were significantly older than the show's target audience. (Craig Charles admits on the commentary that it was a direct attempt to recreate the Flintstones routine and that it "didn't quite get up there").
     Although the title sequence to Season Six gives away nearly all of the (many) jokes that aren't based around Cat sayings or Space Corp directives, there's no worse choice of clip introduction than giving away the Cat's choice of ideal partner. Camille was recorded fourth and was scheduled to be broadcast third, but, due to the romantic element and Meltdown's anti-war theme, was brought forward to launch the season on its Valentine's Day broadcast.

5 Dimension Jump

Although Gunmen of the Apocalypse comes close, Dimension Jump has to take the prize of Red Dwarf's most overrated episode. Regarded as a "classic" by many, and the cause of dozens of T-Shirts, it takes the character of Rimmer and renders it in two dimensions as he meets a parallel counterpart, "Ace". Although all of the Red Dwarf characters started out as somewhat broadly drawn, seasons two and three added depth to Rimmer's character, and Chris Barrie's increasing skill with the part made it the most interesting of all the crew.
      Sadly, Season Four strips this away, as Rimmer becomes more and more unbelievable. No one is so oblivious that they can't understand why others aren't interested in photo collections of telegraph poles, Morris Dancing or anecdotes about Hammond Organs. And, while such things are addressed in three other Season Four episodes, those other episodes don't have the virtue of being praised as classics, or, for that matter, amped-up audience members screeching throughout. The series had excellent models - certainly for the time - but Ace Rimmer's ship never looks anything more than a cheap plastic model.
      A lot of it seems something the cast had more fun making than it is to watch. While broad parody can work in Red Dwarf, it's best when it sticks to stories that are contained within its own reality, rather than crass send ups of Casablanca and Top Gun. Suddenly the series is no longer tangible and real, but "just a laugh". And while the series holding comedy in higher regard than its own sci-fi settings has always been praised here, it's incomprehensible how alternate reality versions of Holly and Kryten can have human forms. (Note that the Cat's alternate persona of a Padre gets next to zero laughs... Grant-Naylor had originally written the stylish Cat as a down-on-his-luck janitor, but the BBC nixed it, fearing that it was negative racial stereotyping).
      The episode was due to end the fourth season, but was brought forward after the outbreak of the Gulf War saw the anti-war Meltdown pushed back in the run. It marks a real downturn in the series as, while perhaps averagely entertaining, it marks a broader take on the format that was often taken as the norm rather than an exception.

4 Meltdown

Although six solo Doug Naylor seasons may have since changed the consensus, for a long time Meltdown was regarded as the worst Red Dwarf episode ever made. It received poor reviews in the usual SF magazines, while the official Red Dwarf Smegazine would regularly eviscerate it. (For what it's worth, its high 8.3/10 vote on the IMDb puts it above 14 Grant-Naylor episodes and 31 post-Grant ones at date of writing).
      Some of it can be more than a little broad, with Tony Hawks making his eighth and final appearance in the series to play a face-slapping Caligula, and the Cat crying in full cartoonesque fashion. But following a highly-regarded episode that gave us two broad versions of Rimmer, it seems strange that this one is often slated for the same thing. Some reviews out there even complain about the footage of Daikyojû Gappa not being cleaned up and integrated more realistically into the episode... despite the fact that its very fakeness is the joke. As with moments like the "instant dinner" in Polymorph, it's perhaps not strictly a "Red Dwarf" joke, but works well enough.
      27 years after Meltdown aired, it's aged quite badly, whereby it's obvious it's cheaply filmed in a park and most of the jokes are incredibly broad. There are some good lines, however, and routines about "the cover of daylight" and "pawn sacrifice" are worthwhile, though Rimmer's complete insanity is hard to come to terms with. Overall it's probably one of the five weakest Grant-Naylor scripts, though better than the majority of episodes from the post-Grant years. It's also a vital episode in terms of continuity, in that it's the first episode to feature Rimmer's light bee, which does seem to contradict earlier episodes, but allows for greater freedom for the character.

3 D.N.A.

Season Four is perhaps the least essential of the first five or six seasons, the one where the shows becomes less about Lister trying to get home and more about the "caper of the week". Kryten's part is greatly increased, and even the Cat decides he wants to be an active participant in Starbug-based adventures, as all six stories are based around events that happen outside of the ship. Some of them work, others don't, but the series suddenly becomes, for the main, less essential, largely because the emotional lives of the crew are generally unaffected.
      D.N.A. is a decent enough episode, featuring such memorable moments as Kryten being turned to human form, "taking the front and the back", the spare heads and the curry beast. Although Red Dwarf wasn't made to be endlessly rewatched and analysed several years after the fact, the overt Robocop reference does date this one a little more than most, and some of the content is playing to the gallery, with both Charles and Llewellyn notably aware of the audience in the "double polaroid" scene.
      In terms of trivia, then this is the first episode to deliberately contradict what went before and place it more in line with the novels: Lister describes himself (and is described by the DNA machine) as being from the 23rd century, whereas it had previously been established that the events of the first episode began in 2077. He is also revealed to have dated Kochanski, with the writers feeling that him spending all this time longing for an unrequited love he never dated was unrealistic, despite the fact that this IS the kind of thing that lonely, isolated men would obsess over. Perhaps even more unbelievable is Rimmer not liking Glenn Miller...

2 White Hole

Season Four of Red Dwarf did see the programme begin to get more of an "adventure of the week" series and steer away from its roots. The fundamental issue with the show's set up is, of course, that if it followed its natural path of Lister getting home, the series would end. Four years in, and the the plots and jokes begin to dictate the characters, rather than the other way around.
     White Hole does try something slightly new by restoring Holly to genius level, though Hattie Hayridge's chemistry with the cast was never as strong as that of Norman Lovett's, possibly because she didn't share the off-screen tension that her predecessor possessed. While it is, ostensibly, a second Holly-based story - though the character is offline for much of it for plot reasons - it's no Queeg in terms of the material she's given. (It's especially notable that in the commentaries the others frequently talk over her, or disregard what she's saying, though this might be more systematic of male culture as a whole, or the extra people in the commentary booth, rather than something specific to Hattie).
      White Hole is generally one of the better instalments, but, much like Season Three's Timeslides, finds its entire plotline undone by the end, causing it to feel somewhat inconsequential. Also of note is that the programme is still in the part of its lifespan where the audience chose whether or not to laugh at each joke, audibly offering up no mirth to the Cat's remark about Holly banging her head on the screen. In terms of trivia, then Craig Charles's affectation of calling people "man" reaches its peak here, with no less than a dozen instances of the term.

1 Justice

The fourth season marked a move to Shepperton Studios instead of the previous Manchester base, and the vast increase in ship rooms and corridors is an improvement. However, visually Season Four is perhaps the blandest of the first six seasons, with a very flat lighting scheme. This is particularly obvious with Craig Charles's skin tone, which is notably different to how it appears in other seasons, and makes his suggestion here that "maybe I could wear a turban and pretend I'm from India" work. The cast regularly discuss the lighting for the following two seasons, with the balance between Kryten's face and Danny John-Jules's skin tone causing problems for the lighting director, and seeing the lights frequently turned down.
      Justice begins with a slightly silly visual gag, featuring Lister with a giant "space mumps" head, but soon progresses into one of the finest editions of the series, featuring a karma-based field system, and the question of Rimmer's guilt over the radiation leak that killed the Red Dwarf crew. Continuity is changed here, with the writers tying the series more to the strong series of novels, changing the number of the crew from 169 to 1,169. A top ten Red Dwarf episode, this one isn't as crammed with laughs as other instalments, but instead is filled with concepts and ideas... a rare occurrence of Lister being on the receiving end of a final punchline sees his preachy nature interrupted by a fall through a manhole, which the others welcoming the peace and quiet.