Worst to Best
Red Dwarf
Season Six

Continuing the celebration of Red Dwarf's thirtieth anniversary, the Anorak Zone looks back at season six, the final season to feature Rob Grant as a writer...


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 Psirens

There's a definite dividing line between "proper" Red Dwarf and the later, weaker attempts at the format. Stories abound that Doug Naylor didn't even know much about science fiction before Rob Grant filled him in, and so Doug wasn't the ideal person to continue the series after Rob decided he wanted to go his separate way. Yet Rob Grant is perhaps flattered by the situation, in that a clear downward trend can be seen during Grant's final season anyway.
      Season six is ambitious in that it attempts to tell a more serialised narrative, the kind of thing not seriously attempted since season one. However, it does see the series sadly descend into a more Americanised, gag-per-minute format, which makes it a very different programme to what came before. Such a change in the dynamic is criticised by Craig Charles on the commentary to Thanks For The Memory, where he misremembers it as coming earlier, with "(seasons) four and five became kind of traditional sitcoms, there was always a Kryten gag about the shape of his head, there was always a Space Corps directive, it became sort of formulaic."
      With new director Andy de Emmony, there was the longest gap to that point between seasons, with a then-lengthy 18 month stretch since season five, dwarfing(!) the 14 months between seasons three and four. The season has a running theme of Red Dwarf being stolen and the crew trapped on Starbug. Perhaps as a result Cat's character is expanded, as there's nowhere for the character to exit in such a confined space. This does raise contradictions in that the character is now given an enhanced sense of smell, something which arguably contradicts what came before. If nothing else, it allows for one of the series' weakest jokes, with a lame "Cat, are you getting any scent from that meteorite?" "I didn't even know they had a duty free shop."
      The script to Psirens was released as part of a script book before it was televised, and so the lack of real humour could be gleaned several months before broadcast. Rimmer's line about "bigger than King Kong's first dump of the day" is indicative of a series that now trades in similes and one-liners at the expense of characterisation. There's also a guitar scene which never really takes off - Lister as bad guitarist is okay for the odd joke, but as the climactic element of an episode, it's lacking. Consequently this limited "gag" has been worn into the ground in the post-Grant years, a desperate fall back for Doug Naylor.

5 Rimmerworld

While having the crew facing regular dangers is a nice dramatic idea, it does throw the "last human being alive" motif of the series into sharp focus when they suddenly occupy one of the most crowded areas of space ever seen. Psirens has Lister awake from 200 years of suspended animation, which perhaps goes to explain how the various GELFs and Simulants have managed to multiply in the interim, and consequently justifies the differing world of the Dave episodes.
      By this stage in the series there is a definite sense that the programme is taking itself too seriously. Rimmerworld featured some of the same sets and an actress as Gunmen of the Apocalypse, and so was consequently filmed back-to-back. Rather anally, a line is given to the Cat to explain how he had the same outfit when they met the Simulants before.
     Beyond the Simulants, it's very much a Rimmer episode, as he lands on a planet cloned by himself. Following on from just the previous season's Terrorform, it does feel like familiar ground and, while there are some decent jokes, there's nothing really outstanding in a likeable but very forgettable instalment.

4 Emohawk
Polymorph II

Emohawk Polymorph II is commonly regarded as one of the weakest season six episodes, though is watchable enough. Cat's previously-unmentioned hypersensitive smell ability here contradicts previous episodes the most, where his ability to sniff out a Polymorph does clash with the original Polymorph episode where he had no such ability.
      The cast often remarked on how tiresome the audience reactions could get during season six, where they're so enthusiastic they roar with laughter at Duane Dibbley's wig before he's even fully revealed. Tales abound of the cast looking off screen during certain sequences of the season, with a wearied, "there goes another one" expression. This said, while Chris Barrie's irritated expressions at Kryten's "Star Corps Directives" does appear to be more than acting, he does appear to be genuinely amused by John-Jules's performance as Dibbley.
     The return of Ace Rimmer is also funnier than the first, given that it's a deliberately OTT performance from a man with stolen emotions, rather than a credible character in its own right. Emohawk's definitely a weak episode, and is appalling fan service, but, if approached with a charitable state of mind, can be amusing in a throwaway sense.
      Lastly, a point of trivia sees the episode often written as "Emohawk - Polymorph II" or "Emohawk: Polymorph II"... the title presented here reflects how it appears onscreen.

3 Legion

Legion is an amusing episode that brings Rimmer's "hard light" form to the series, and features some memorable sequences. However, it's perhaps flattered by coming in such a mediocre season, seeming better than it is because of being surrounded by lesser instalments, and being often overrated as a result.
     Perhaps one of the oddest moments occurs when Legion - a gestalt entity composed of all the crew - willingly takes his mask off to show how he is being reduced with each crew member being knocked unconscious. With no purpose other than to show the viewers at home, it's an ill-thought out sequence in an otherwise pretty funny instalment.
      The strain of behind-the-scenes egos was still running through to season six, so much so that it made Chris Barrie decide to only appear in half of the following season when the programme returned three years later. He was taken aback when his real-life remarks about the lack of professionalism involved in production were used for a line at the start of this episode. What is very notable is that Robert Llewellyn gets the vast majority of all the jokes, the others frequently just feeds... something which must have been almost toxic in such a competitive working environment.

2 Out Of Time

Out Of Time treads familiar ground, with the crew meeting their future selves, and ends with a cliffhanger. It seems as if Grant-Naylor were so uncertain of how to resolve the destruction of the crew that they left in three possible get outs, only one of which - a time paradox - being used when the series finally returned three years later. Considering the scripts were being rewritten up to recording, it's amazing that it came out as well as it did... very nearly the best episode of season six.
      There are three applause breaks in Out Of Time, and the cast remark on the commentary on how future warm up personnel would encourage this so much that even the crew entering scenes during season eight would receive an American-style burst of appreciation, much to their dismay. Stories abound that the audience even laughed during the crew's "deaths", and had to be removed from the soundtrack for the final dramatic scenes.
      Overall, despite being significantly weaker than the rest of the Grant-Naylor seasons, season six still retains the energy that made the others work, despite the obvious ennui of the cast. Of the much-discussed "running gags", most of which are, frankly, tedious, then there's 20 throughout the season, with a combination of "Cat sayings", "Cat fashion gags", "Space Corp Directives", and, most prominently, "Kryten head shape" gags.

1 Gunmen of the

A reluctant first place, as this is an inexplicably popular episode that won an International Emmy and was once voted by fans as the greatest episode of the entire series. Comedy is, as often discussed in these Red Dwarf reviews, subjective, but even the amped audience are notably muted during the four times Cat does his cringingly unfunny "Riviera Kid" dance.
     This isn't to say that the episode is entirely without merit. Well produced, and thankfully shorn of the tedious "running gags" of season six (just one "Article of War" joke taking the same form as a Space Corps Directive routine) it shows an originality that most of its 1993 peers lack. Of course, science fiction shows doing westerns is a surprisingly common occurrence, featuring in, amongst others, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Blake's 7 and The Prisoner.
     Red Dwarf is more contrived than most, giving viewers the unlikely set up that a group of Simulants would soup up Starbug just for sport, and then get taken out themselves with a fluke shot. Despite being unlikely to make even a top 20 of Red Dwarf episodes, it ranks highly in terms of season six, and is better than at least 30 of the 40 episodes that followed. The episode has two DVD commentaries, one featuring the cast and another featuring fans who won a competition.