Screen Time [Gazpacho Soup Day]: Red Dwarf (Series One)

In the episode “Me2” (Bye, 1988) of the classic British science-fiction comedy show Red Dwarf (1988 to 2020), it is revealed the Arnold Rimmer’s (Chris Barrie) last words were “Gazpacho soup!” and that he made a point to celebrate November 25th as “Gazpacho Soup Day” after a particularly traumatising visit to the Captain’s Table. While this is the perfect date to celebrate the long-running cult series, it clashed with another celebration this year so I’m a day late, but better late than never…

Series One

Air Date: 15 February 1988 to 21 March 1988
Director: Ed Bye
Original Network: BBC2
Stars: Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Norman Lovett, C. P. Grogan, and Mac McDonald

The Background:
In the mid-1980s, creative duo Rob Grant and Doug Naylor created a sci-fi comedy show for BBC Radio 4, Dave Hollins: Space Cadet; this, along with influences from sci-fi classics like Dark Star (John Carpenter, 1974) and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Adams, 1978; Bell, 1981), served as the basis for what would become Red Dwarf. Putting character and comedy before genre, their concept of a comedy set in space featuring dysfunctional characters in an extraordinary setting was initially a hard sell due to its sci-fi trappings. Originally, Alfred Molina was cast in the role of Second Technician Arnold J. Rimmer but, when he dropped out due to difficulties with the character and concept, impressionist Chris Barrie (who’d previously worked with Grant and Naylor) stepped into the role. Liverpudlian “punk poet” Craig Charles was cast as Third Technician Dave Lister and, despite being an hour late to his appointment, singer and dancer Danny John-Jules was cast as “The Cat”, with the actors tackling their roles as being larger-than-life caricatures of themselves. Sardonic stand-up comedian Norman Lovett was cast the the ship’s neutronic computer, Holly, and gained a bit of a reputation, insisting on appearing on camera rather than merely a voice over and refusing to work unless his confiscated football was returned to him. Against all the odds and despite a tight budget, Red Dwarf finally made it to TV screens; however, while five million viewers tuned in to watch “The End” (Bye, 1988), those numbers dropped over the course of the series. Nevertheless, audience feedback was so strong that the BBC commissioned a second series, where the show really hit its stride and became a cult hit. About ten years later, Grant and Naylor revisited the first three seasons and enhanced them with additional digital effects, replacing many model shots and even excising some lines and jokes, which resulted in these Remastered episodes being largely criticised. Still, following this first series, Red Dwarf proved consistently popular even as the duo experimented with more outlandish concepts; after they parted ways and Red Dwarf disappearing altogether, the show returned with a three-episode special, which led to a questionable revival that focused on the far more jaded principal cast members.

The Plot:
When the crew of deep space mining ship Red Dwarf are all killed following a radiation leak, the ship drifts aimless in space for three million years. When the background radiation dies down the ship’s computer, Holly, releases slovenly technician Dave Lister from his incarceration in suspended animation and he’s left alone in the endless void with only the hologramatic recreation of his overbearing superior and bunk mate, Arnold Rimmer, and a creature who evolved from the ship’s cat for company.

The Review:
I grew up watching Red Dwarf, but perhaps not in the way you’d expect. My dad was a big fan of the series and had taped each episode as they aired so we could easily just go to the shelf and shove in a VHS tape to watch it whenever we wanted, but our collection originally started from series two (Bye, 1988). In fact, I’m pretty sure that we were up to series four (ibid/Paul Jackson, 1991) or five (Various, 1992) before I had even seen the first series. This was because, back in the early nineties, re-runs didn’t really work the way they do now; we didn’t have catch-up TV or streaming services, VHS tapes were extortionately expensive and often only contained two or three episodes, and there weren’t any channels like Gold or Dave that constantly showed repeats. I remember being stupidly excited when the first series was announced to be returning to BBC2 in anticipation of the latest series, only to find that the first series was very different to what I have experienced so far, even from the technically similar second series. Of all the classic series’ of Red Dwarf, series one is easily my least favourite and, even now, I rarely choose to watch it over the second or third (Bye, 1989); while I can understand that the show was establishing itself and finding its footing, many of the episodes drag and aren’t very visually interesting to look at. You can tell from the live audience’s reactions that this sentiment was shared as many of the jokes fall a bit flat and the audience seems confused about the premise. This wouldn’t be an issue in the next series and wouldn’t reoccur until Grant and Naylor stopped working together and the show took a noticeable nosedive, but it’s unmistakable here and does somewhat stunt my enjoyment of the first series despite there being a few standout moments and episodes.

The show’s premise is surprisingly dark, with the human race extinct except for one slob.

The show begins with the titular mining vessel fully crewed and out in the depths of space. According to Officer Frank Todhunter (Robert Bathurst), the ship houses 169 crew members, from dosgbody technicians like Rimmer and Lister to officers and the ship’s captain, Frank Hollister (McDonald). The dynamic between Lister and Rimmer is established in the very first sequence of the first episode; Lister, a lowly Third Technician, is a lifelong slacker and career slob who is endlessly bored by their mundane duties, which include unclogging food dispensing machines. To amuse himself, Lister likes to wind Rimmer up with singing, humming, and other annoying habits, which has earned him no less than 247 complaints from his superior and bunk-mate. Truth be told, Rimmer is equally as unsatisfied with his job, which isn’t assigned to the ship’s service robots (known as “Skutters”) simply because the machines have a better union. However, Rimmer, believes wholeheartedly in the importance of their essential routine maintenance in keeping the ship and her crew safe on their long journey and is a stickler for the rules and professionalism even though it’s earned him a reputation as a “Smeghead”. This is the primary reason why Lister is so insubordinate towards Rimmer; he can’t stand Rimmer’s stuck up, kiss-ass attitude and would much prefer he got the rod out of his ass, but Rimmer is determined to impress and advance his career to get the respect he feels he deserves. Although Rimmer believes Lister is content to simply slob around with no ambition, Lister actually has a few dreams; his first love is music and he’s an enthusiastic (if terrible) guitar player; he also plans to buy a farm on Fiji where he can breed horses and own a sheep and a cow. He believes he’ll achieve this goal since he saves money by not buying deodorant, socks, and soap and because the prices on Fiji are ridiculously low thanks to a volcanic eruption leaving most of the land three feet below sea level. While Rimmer mocks this plan, Lister is determined to make it work, ideally, with Navigation Officer Kristine Kochanski (Grogan) by his side. Unlike in later series’, Kochanski is Lister’s dream girl who he has been working on plucking up the courage to ask out rather than a former flame who he longed to get back with, and he always makes sure to flirt with her during his many trips to the captain’s office.

Lister’s slovenly ways grate on Rimmer and conflicts with his status as the Cat’s “God”.

While Lister’s insubordinate attitude sees him getting numerous write-ups and reprimands, it’s his housing of an illegal animal that ends up with him being sentenced to the stasis booth for breaking the ship’s quarantine procedures. Refusing to give up his pregnant cat, Frankenstein, Lister is released to find that the entire crew has been wiped out by a radiation leak thanks to Rimmer’s sloppy work. Unlike in the novelisations, where Lister falls into a deep and self-destructive depression following the revelation that everyone he knows (literally everyone) is dead, Lister takes this news surprisingly well; he’s gutted that Kochanski’s dead and that his plan will never come to fruition but still coherent enough to crack jokes about overdue library books. “Balance of Power” (Bye, 1988) offers a glimpse into Lister’s despair as he sits alone in the bar, remembering the fun times with his friends; before the accident, Lister was surrounded by the equally slovenly Petersen (Mark Williams), Chen (Paul Bradley), and Selby (David Gillespie) and the three of them delighted in mocking Rimmer whenever possible, drinking, smoking, and slacking off together at every opportunity. He feels their loss deeply, but is largely ruled by his regret at never making a move on Kochanski, and his pining for her is a recurring theme throughout the series as he tries, and fails, to convince Rimmer to allow him to spend some time with her hologram. Unlike Rimmer, who believes wholeheartedly in the existence of aliens, Lister is of the belief that humanity is alone in the vast universe, but jumps at the chance to pull a prank on Rimmer when he mistakenly believes a garbage pod contains the remains of the fictional “Quagaar” race. Lister does suffer a crisis of conscience, however, when he learns that, during this three million year sleep, the cats evolved into a humanoid species, Felix sapiens, that worshipped him as a God, “Cloister the Stupid”, who would lead them to the promised land of “Fuchal”. The extent of this thread is explored in “Waiting for God” (Bye, 1988), where Lister learns from smell reading the Cat’s books and bible that the cats engaged in violent wars over differing interpretations of Lister’s dreams of opening a hot dog and doughnut diner on Fiji. Lister is distraught at having been “misquoted” but gains a modicum of catharsis when he’s able to pose as his holy self and help bring some peace to a blind, disillusioned, and dying elderly an elderly cat priest (Noel Coleman).

The neurotic Rimmer’s insistence on barking orders often leads to his humiliation.

A huge part of the series is the love/hate relationship between Lister and Rimmer, with both despising the other’s annoying habits and accusing them of holding them back. While Lister doesn’t really care all that much what people think of him, Rimmer is obsessed by it, constantly trying to impress his superiors and pass his engineer’s exam, only to be met with a series of embarrassing failures, including writing “I am a fish” four-hundred times. So desperate is Rimmer to pass his exams and become an officer that he often resorts to cheating (either using illegal “learning drugs” or writing the answers on his arms and legs as an “aid to memory”), but it’s also stated that his tendency to self-sabotage is just as to blame for his failures as his lack of capability as he wastes weeks creating revision schedules rather than actually revising. Lister is constantly frustrated by Rimmer’s neurotic ways and insistence on following rules and procedures, but Holly explains that he brought Rimmer back as a hologram rather than one of Lister’s friends since he was statistically the best person to keep him sane. Rimmer’s newfound intangibility and sudden death only adds to his neuroses; the first thing he does upon seeing Lister is blame him for choosing the save Frankenstein and thus not being able to help replace the drive plate, before whining that any dreams he had of advancing his career or having a sex life have been forever lost thanks to him now being dead. Rimmer finds solace in maintaining his officious and aggravating personality; he goes out of his way to insult and bring down Lister for being a lazy slob, and throws his weight around as the ship’s highest ranking officer to order Holly to perform menial tasks for him and give him access to the crew’s confidential files, which always results in Rimmer being embarrassed in some way. Interestingly, while Rimmer is later personified by his abject cowardice, he actually tries to attack the Cat when they’re properly introduced and shows so co-dependency on his slovenly bunk mate; he’s distraught at the idea of being turned off when Lister plans to go back into stasis and constantly denies Lister access to Kochanski’s hologram disc simply out of fear of whatever little life he has left being snuffed out completely.

The vain and self-obsessed Cat is more concerned with his appearance than helping others.

Rimmer also has little time or patience for the Cat, a suave, sharply-dressed, hyperactive humanoid with a propensity for dancing, traversing the ship via the air ducts, stopping to admire himself, and claiming everything he sees as his. Though he exhibits knowledge of his species’ reverence for Cloister/Lister, he’s not really a true believer and is more interested in sex, food, and looking good and disparagingly refers to Lister as a “monkey”. His curiosity often causes problems for Rimmer, who has restricted Lister’s access to his vices (mostly cigarettes and booze) to try and coerce him into co-operating with menial tasks; Rimmer’s horrified when the Cat finds Lister’s cigarettes and claims them for himself since they’re so shiny and manages to convince him to return the fags in exchange for being taught how to use the vending machines. This backfires on Rimmer and the Cat, however; not only does the Cat betray him, costing him some leverage in trying to talk Lister out of taking the chef’s exam and thus becoming his superior officer, the Cat gorges himself on fish and ends up suffers from stomach pains. The Cat is largely used as a comedic break; he wanders the corridors “investigating” and looking for food and showing off his “shiny thing”, a yo-yo that fascinates and excites him in its simplicity, much to Rimmer’s disgust and irritation. In “Confidence and Paranoia” (Bye, 1988), the Cat momentarily expresses concern when he spies Lister’s unconscious body but quickly moves on, more concerned with finding something to have sex with and then showing no interest in helping when Rimmer tries begging him for assistance since he’s more focused on playing with his Chicken Marengo. Later, when Lister recovers, the Cat does try to cheer him up with “presents” but ends up stealing his pillow and blanket and trying to take a nap, and even seems genuinely hurt when Rimmer snaps at him. The Cat plays a large role in the series, however, despite his comparative lack on screen time; not only is Lister deeply shaken by his influence over the Cat’s society, he’s determined to keep the Cat from losing a tooth in “Future Echoes” (Bye, 1988) in order to prevent his own inevitable and violent death. Though he’s unsuccessful, and the Cat is largely incredulous to the drama between Lister and Rimmer throughout the series, the Cat does end up socialising with Lister on a few occasions and has some fun moments, such as becoming paranoid about the presence of a dog, taking a crap in Rimmer’s boots, and roller-skating around with a megaphone and large bouquet of flowers trying to court any lady cats.

Driven senile from isolation, Holly is more capable of pulling pranks than running the ship.

Finally, there’s the ship’s computer, Holly, who boasts that he has an IQ of six-thousand (“the same IQ as six-thousand PE teachers”). Before the accident, Holly was merely a glorified announcement system, but three million years of isolation have driven him “a bit peculiar” and resulted in him dropping any formalities and indulging in decidedly un-computer-like conduct. Despite his high IQ, Holly has quite a few limitations; he can only sustain one hologram at a time, he can’t observe or communicate with anyone or anything in the cargo hold, and he’s frequently forgetful, meaning that he’s initially overwhelmed when he has to figure out the precise calculations needed to navigate the ship when it exceeds the speed of light following three million years of constant acceleration. To properly marshal his efforts, he even sets up an answering machine to keep people from bothering him, and he’s ill equipped to handle the lightspeed trip, which overwhelms him once it occurs (as he puts it, “me bottle’s gone!”) Rimmer also makes constant menial demands of him, demanding haircuts and answers to problems happening on the ship without consideration for Holly’s feelings or duties. As a result, Holly enjoys pulling pranks on Rimmer almost as much as Lister does, messing about with his hair and image file to give him Peterson’s arm and keeping the truth of the garbage pod from him for “a laugh”. Holly’s propensity for jokes and pulling pranks also extends to Lister, however; he later tries to stave off his boredom in “Me2” with an early April Fool’s joke where he claims that Norweb have dispatched fighters to claim debts owed by Lister. He also constantly interrupts Lister’s attempts to enjoy a heart-breaking film in “Confidence and Paranoia” when he finds himself at a loose end after reading every book ever written. Frustrated at the constant interruptions, Lister agrees to erase Holly’s knowledge of Agatha Christie in lieu of the computer’s inability to create a lifelike replica of a woman, only to be exasperated when Holly has no idea of what’s happened!

The Summary:  
One of the first things to note about series one of Red Dwarf is how long and boring the opening title sequence is; sadly, it wouldn’t be until the third series that things would get a bit more interesting and exciting in this regard, and every episode opens with a slow, dramatic, even ominous series of shots showcasing the vastness of the titular mining vessel against the endless black of outer space. It’s not particularly thrilling or engaging, and the presentation (like much of the series’ music) veers oddly towards the ominous rather than the comical. Thankfully, every episode after the first also begins with Holly providing either a bit of context to life onboard the ship, catching people up with the show’s general premise, and dropping a few jokes here and there, almost as a warm-up act to the remainder of the episode. The series also lacks a real appealing visual identity; every corridor looks the same, drab grey (there’s even a joke about this in “Me2” when Rimmer insists on repainting the walls from ocean grey to military grey) and boring grey labels cover all the food and drink throughout the series as well. Even the cigarette packets are unappealing to look at, as are the crew’s uniforms, though this does help Lister, the Cat, and the show’s other colourful guest stars to pop out a bit more with their wild attire. The show’s technology and sci-fi elements are primarily introduced in the first episode and recur in easy to digest ways throughout the series; robotic Skutters glide about the place performing menial tasks (they later showcase some amusing personality quirks, like begging Lister not to leave them with Rimmer, enjoying a movie, and flipping Rimmer off behind his back) and the ship is outfitted with dispensing machines that frequently malfunction. The stasis booth is the focus of the first couple of episodes and essentially functions as a brig for insubordinate crew members, but also allows Lister to survive the radiation leak, but the most prominent technology is Holly’s ability to “resurrect” dead crew members as holograms. We’re introduced to the concept through Flight Coordinator George McIntyre (Robert McCulley) but much of Rimmer’s neurotic behaviour boils down to him being recreated almost perfectly except for the large H on his forehead and the fact that he cannot lift or touch anything and is, essentially, a digital ghost.

The conflict between Lister and Rimmer is at the forefront of the series.

Perhaps more so than any other series of Red Dwarf, series one hinges on the chaotic relationship between Lister and Rimmer. The two cannot stand each other and are constantly finding ways to either put the other down or wind each other up and, while every episode explores their relationship in some way, “Balance of Power” (Bye, 1988) goes all-in with showing just how frustrated Lister is by Rimmer’s oppressive and borderline insane hang-ups. Rimmer despairs of Lister’s hygiene, his taste in music, his lack of ambition, and his slobby nature but is also paranoid about losing his fragile existence in favour of Kochanski. To that end, Rimmer arranges to hide the hologram discs from Lister and refuses to entertain even a short switch off, so Lister resolves to force him to listen to him by passing his chef’s exam. This shakes Rimmer, not just because he believes a chef is a “white-hatted ponce” rather than a real officer, but also because of the very real fear that Lister could actually succeed, especially given that Lister showcases flashes of intelligence and capability throughout the show and he actually tries to revise rather than making excuses like Rimmer. When his attempts at reasoning with Lister fail, he assumes Kochanski’s form and tries to talk Lister out of his efforts; however, while initially crushed by her rejection, Lister quickly sees through Rimmer’s charade, exposing him with ease. Their issues finally come to a head in the final two episodes; interestingly, Rimmer shows genuine concern when Lister’s pneumonia causes physical manifestations of Lister’s Confidence (Craig Ferguson) and Paranoia (Lee Cornes) to appear. In a flash of uncharacteristic concern, and despite how similar Paranoia is to him, Rimmer sees them as dangerous and symptomatic of Lister’s illness since, as long as they exist, Lister can’t recover. Rimmer even tries to distract Paranoia so a Skutter can sneak up on him to sedate him but is unsuccessful, but his concerns are largely out of his selfish desire not to be left alone with just Holly and the Cat for company. In the end, he’s proven to be right, and then gets the last laugh by swapping Kochanski’s disc with his own, creating two Rimmers. At first, both Rimmers and Lister are happy to be rid of each other; Lister delights in being free from Rimmer’s rules and irritations and the Rimmers deck their quarters out with everything they need to motivate (procrastinate) and succeed (self-aggrandise), much to Lister’s amusement.

The series eventually delves deeply into Rimmer’s issues and introduces some fun technology.

However, conflict soon grows between the Rimmers; one is noticeably more driven, more focused, and more demanding than the other and they eventually verbally attack each other and descend into childish squabbling. Lister is able to use this to his advantage, however, to learn the secret of Rimmer’s last words (“Gazpacho soup”). When Rimmer 1 shows up for his erasure in his finest attire and showing off his long service medals, he relates how he embarrassed himself at the Captain’s Table by sending back a bowl of gazpacho soup since he didn’t know it was meant to be served cold. Haunted by the experience, he blamed his ignorance for his subsequent lack of confidence and stunted career, raging at the injustice of such a simple mistake costing him his aspirations. When Lister wipes the other Rimmer, the series seems to end with them finally reaching a level of mutual respect…only for Lister to make a “soup-er” pun to keep their relationship decidedly antagonistic. Gags such as this are commonplace throughout the series, which primarily focuses its dialogue and jokes on grounded, relatable subjects rather than resorting to incomprehensible space jargon. This does happen a few times, however, and mostly lands quite well, but it’s just as amusing seeing Lister accidentally put shaving cream under his armpits, the crew’s interactions with the chirpy Talky the Toaster (John Lenahan), and making topical references about the French and Germans. Probably the best episode of this series is “Future Echoes” for its hilarious use of double takes and time dilations that see Lister have one-sided, out of synch conversations with Rimmer, frantically trying to prevent his death, and him and Rimmer puzzled at how they manage to get two babies on the ship without a woman.

The potential is definitely there but the show would quickly exceed the efforts of its first series.

Primarily, the show is focused on the four main characters; some fun personalities appear in the first episode before being reduced to ashy powder and the memories of them haunt both Lister and Rimmer alike throughout the series. The crew are joined by a couple of additional cast members in the form of Lister’s Confidence (a loud, outspoken, encouraging, and enthusiastic individual who compliments everything about Lister, however slovenly and unappealing) and Paranoia (a twisted little man who criticises everything about Lister and seeks to question him, bring him down, and attack every decision he makes). Frustrated by Rimmer’s overbearing nature, Lister jumps at the chance to spend time with Confidence, who’s won over by his musical “talent” and is so admiring of his “King” that he even keeps Lister’s discarded cigarette butts. Although Lister is a little uncomfortable by Confidence’s blinkered belief in him, he’s inspired by him to search for the hidden personality discs so he can finally be reunited with Kochanski. Lister’s resolve falters when Confidence reveals that he not only destroyed the medical unit but also killed Paranoia to keep them together and he’s distraught when Confidence takes his helmet off in the vacuum of space to bolster his confidence and instantly explodes as a result. Even despite some of its genuinely amusing moments and the pull of nostalgia, I still have to admit that series one is one of my least favourite of the show’s many seasons; everything’s a bit dull and lacking in visual variety and the characters and concepts would be fleshed out far better in even the following series. Even watching the Remastered version of the series doesn’t help as some of the CGI shots, additions, and changes made actually throw off the original jokes. In the end, there’s a lot of potential here; the dynamic between Lister and Rimmer is at the forefront and helps to carry series one to some funny moments, usually at Rimmer’s expense or at Lister’s slovenly ways, but the show definitely found its footing in later series and improved upon the foundations laid down by this first enjoyable, if somewhat awkward, season.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to series one of Red Dwarf? Were you a fan of the show and the concept when it first aired? Did the jokes and gags work for you? What did you think to the chaotic relationship between Lister and Rimmer? Were you a fan of the Cat and his surprisingly dark history? Which episode of series one was your favourite? When did you first discover Red Dwarf and which character, season, and ship is your favourite and why? Would you like to see more seasons and specials, maybe one that finally closes the book on the Red Dwarf story, or do you think it’s best to leave it be for now? How are you celebrating Gazpacho Soup Day today? No matter what you think, feel free to leave a comment about Red Dwarf down in the comments and on my social media.

Screen Time [Gazpacho Soup Day]: Red Dwarf: The Promised Land

In the episode “Me2” (Bye, 1988) of the classic British science-fiction comedy show Red Dwarf (1988 to 2020), it is revealed the Arnold Rimmer’s (Chris Barrie) last words were “Gazpacho soup!” and that he made a point to celebrate November 25th as “Gazpacho Soup Day” after a particularly traumatising visit to the Captain’s Table. Accordingly, this seems like the perfect date to celebrate the long-running cult phenomenon.

The Promised Land

Air Date: 9 April 2020
Director: Doug Naylor
Network: Dave
Stars: Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Norman Lovett, Lucy Pearman, Mandeep Dhillon, Tom Bennett, and Ray Fearon

The Background:
Red Dwarf was the brainchild of creators Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, who originally produced a similar show, Dave Hollins: Space Cadet for BBC Radio 4 in 1984. Influenced by sci-fi classics such as Dark Star (John Carpenter, 1974) and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Adams, 1978; Bell, 1981), the duo’s concept of a comedy set in space featuring relatively ordinary characters in an extraordinary setting was initially a hard sell but quickly became a cult hit among audiences. The show remained consistently popular and the duo became experimenting with more outlandish sci-fi concepts up until the seventh season, when the two parted ways, before disappearing from broadcast altogether following the eighth season. In 2008, the show was revived in a three-episode special that aired on Dave, which led to the commission of three more seasons that returned the four principal cast members, now understandably much older and far more jaded. After years of rumours, a feature-length instalment of the series finally saw the light of day in 2020 ahead of a comprehensive retrospective on the popular series. As a life-time fan of the show who had noticed an unmistakable dip in quality since the eighth season, I wasn’t too surprised to find that Red Dwarf: The Promised Land was met with mixed reviews as I remember being mostly unimpressed with it at the time of airing but let’s take another look back and see if it holds up on a repeat viewing.

The Plot:
While exploring Red Dwarf’s cargo bay, Dave Lister (Charles) is able to finally reboot Holly (Lovett), the ship’s computer, who promptly forces the crew to flee for their lives. In the process, Arnold Rimmer (Barrie) discovers technology to upgrade his hologramatic form and the crew stumble upon remnants of the Cat’s (Jules) race of felis sapiens, who worship Lister as  God and are being relentlessly hounded by the ruthless Rodon (Fearon).

The Review:
The Promised Land finally delivers on a concept the Red Dwarf creators had been kicking about years ago by returning to a long-forgotten plot point of the series revolving around the felis sapiens race; in all the length of the series history and the many bizarre plots and characters Red Dwarf has employed, the show never delved into this aspect beyond the first series despite the fact that it would have been pretty easy to have the cat race be recurring antagonists or characters. Instead, all we really know about felis sapiens comes from the Cat (who has little to no interest in the religious teachings of his race and is more obsessed with himself and fashion), an elderly priest (Noel Coleman), and the rough translation of the Cat Bible in the episode “Waiting For God” (Bye, 1988). It goes without saying that the focus of Red Dwarf has shifted quite drastically from the identity crisis Lister suffered in that episode, and which was peppered throughout the first series, and his status as the Cat’s God and saviour of his race was downplayed to the point of nonexistence in favour of him being a slobby, reluctant hero and developing a far more equal friendship with the Cat. The Promised Land, though, finally comes full circle back to these long-forgotten threads and shows that the felis sapiens race (or, at least, part of it) roams the universe on a fleet of warships under the command of Rodon. Rodon is unimpressed that three of his crew, Brother Sol (Bennett), Sister Luna (Dhillon), and Sister Peanut (Pearman), refuse to submit to his rule and, instead, prefer to embrace the antiquated teachings of “Cloister”.

The crew are forced to abandon Red Dwarf allowing Rimmer to upgrade to a temporary diamond-light form.

These three outcasts dress like Lister (at least, they dress like he did in the first two seasons) and believe wholeheartedly in the teachings of the Cat Bible; when they meet Lister, they bombard him with the big questions of life (male genitals, the agony of child birth, why people smell. You know, the usual) and are resolute in their belief that Lister is capable of working miracles since Peanut wondrously regains the ability to speak upon meeting her idol. Lister, meanwhile, has taken to hording junk, eating and drinking more than usual, and seems more distracted and slobby than normal, to the concern of Kryten (Llewellyn), who believes that Lister is having something of a mid-life crisis due to the pressure of being the last man alive. Eager for Lister to procreate and thereby ensure the survival of his species and give him something to focus on, Kryten suggests that the Cat undergoes a sex-change operation, much to their horror. This discussion is interrupted when Rimmer orders Kryten to investigated an unidentified object that appears to be on a collision course with the ship; when the object turns out to be the cats’ ship in need of aid, Rimmer decides that they’re all too old and too past it to go gallivanting off on some rescue mission and so has Kryten erase his memory of the entire event. This exchange goes on for some time before Lister and the Cat reveal that they found Holly’s back-up disk. However, upon rebooting Holly, they find that he’s returned to his factory settings and no longer recognises or remembers the crew or their many misadventures; believing them to be a group of stowaways and criminals, Holly decides to decommission Red Dwarf and drives the crew from the ship. Fleeing in Starbug, the crew plan to catch-up to the ship Rimmer picked up earlier, the Iron Star, and stumble upon advanced hologram technology; Rimmer, excited at the prospect of his form being vastly upgraded, decides to overrule Kryten’s concerns and (after cycling through his various costumes from previous series’) is granted a new “diamond-light” form and transformed into a veritable superhero. Sporting a glistening new uniform, Rimmer is now able to manipulate the density of objects around him, phasing through matter while still retaining his hard-light invulnerability, and even transforming into pure light energy at will…for about two minutes as his Light Bee is drained by the resulting energy surge.

There’s some surprisingly heartfelt moments amidst the cat drama and sci-fi action that sees the crew marooned.

While exploring the Iron Star, the crew stumble upon the cat escapees, who are immediately in awe at meeting their idol; as in “Waiting For God”, Lister is reluctant and uncomfortable at being worshipped as a God and insists that he’s simple a normal, unremarkable man. While he wants to tell them the truth, as he did with the Cat, Kryten and Rimmer discourage him from destroying their faith and he begrudgingly decides to play along while also vowing to protect them from Rodon’s pursuit. Rodon is unimpressed to find that their God is actually real as is concerned only with the rebels and the Anubis Stone they possess; he’s easily able to acquire the stone thanks, largely, to Lister not actually being the all-powerful deity the clerics believe him to be and orders his lackeys to throw them all out of an airlock as a message to those that would defy his authority. Thanks to Rodon’s impatience to destroy the Iron Star, the crew are able to elude their captors and make a harrowing escape in Starbug, though Lister impulsively jettisons the ship’s engines when they catch fire, sending them into an uncontrollable death dive to a desert moon. Thankfully, the hitherto-unknown Starbug owner’s manual reveals that the ship possesses emergency parachutes (as well as being a hybrid and having a hovercraft mode) and, while the Cat fashioned himself a jacket and mittens out of one, the back-up parachute is deployed, and the crew makes a successful crash-landing. Marooned on the moon with no food, water, fuel, or hope of escape, the crew are driven into a sandstorm when Rodon attacks and Lister begins to question the decision to keep the truth from the cats in their midst. Similar to when he worked to help Kryten break his programming, he is uncomfortable with the cats being so dependant upon him rather than thinking and acting for themselves and ultimately decides to break the truth of to them. When Kryten is unable to speak a bad word against Lister, Cat volunteers to do the deed but is quickly (and amusingly) reminded of everything Lister has done for him and briefly joins them in their worship of Lister, so Rimmer steps up to the task. Unfortunately, while he relishes the opportunity to tell them the awful truth about Lister, he is interrupted by a crashed piece of debris that may hold the key to their escape; in order to catch up to the piece of debris, Kryten is forced to conserves all available power, reducing Rimmer to low power mode. Thanks to being in mono and greyscale, and Cat’s goading, Rimmer begins to question his relevance and existence as he faces both his impending end and questions his identity. This does, however, give Lister an opportunity to show just how much he’s grown over the years; at one time, it would have been him criticising Rimmer and tearing him down but, instead Lister snaps at Cat for harassing Rimmer and is ultimately able to convince his long-time frenemy that he is a relevant and appreciated member of the crew with a heartfelt analogy comparing Rimmer to moonlight.

Rimmer ultimately saves the day and then reluctantly gives up his superpowers to save Kryten.

After being buried by the sandstorm, and with little options available to them, Rimmer comes up with the crazy idea to have Kryten establish contact with Red Dwarf and convinces Holly to load up his last save file, thus restoring his memories to the full. However, now suffering from three million years’ worth of computer senility, Holly’s only suggestion is to use one of Red Dwarf’s thermonuclear torpedoes to dislodge Starbug, a tactic which succeeds…but also destroys the entire moon in the process! However, Rodon and his fellow ferals managed to beat them back to Red Dwarf and, when he takes Luna hostage, Lister is forced to admit the truth about who he is, much to the disappointment and heartbreak of his devoted followers. Disgusted by these revelations, Rodon is satisfied to order Red Dwarf’s destruction with a time bomb; it’s also randomly revealed that Rodon is the Cat’s older brother and that the cats purposely left him behind for being “uncool”, thus spurring him to devote his life to being fashionably cool. Facing certain death, Lister performs one last miracle by revealing that the seemingly useless Anubis Stone in fact houses an incredible power source. He then uses this to power Rimmer back up to his diamond-light form, which allows Rimmer to save the ship from destruction by flying the bomb out into space. After a brief fake out where Rimmer appears to die (it’s already been established that his hard-light form is invulnerable to harm so it’s pretty obvious his diamond-light would be equally impenetrable), the crew fly head-first towards Rodon’s ship and Rimmer projects a beam of light into the bridge, turning Rodon’s crew against him and forcing them to crash into a nearby asteroid. Rimmer then reluctantly sacrifices his superpowered form to repower Kryten with the Anubis Stone (though he isn’t shy about rubbing this act in Kryten’s face) and the cats are returned to their people, their faith reaffirmed but now placed in Rimmer after witnessing his heroic actions.

The Summary:
Being a lifelong fan of Red Dwarf, I’m always excited to see the guys back on screen and getting up to all kinds of wacky hijinks and, ever since series eight, I’ve been continuously disappointed. You can really feel the absence of Rob Grant; ever since he left, the show hasn’t been the same and slowly, but surely, fell back on recycling the same old jokes and situations whilst sweeping all of the character progression under the rug. Thus, by the time the series came back on Dave, the Cat was right back to being a shallow, self-obsessed egomaniac rather than an independent and strong-willed character; Lister went right back to being a slobby layabout; Kryten regressed into a neurotic wreck; and Rimmer acted more like his season one incarnation than the developed and fleshed out character he was by season seven. To make matters worse, what little interest in continuity the show had was completely thrown out of the window, with sets, models, and outfits continuously changing with each of Dave’s productions and the show constantly dodging the unresolved cliffhanger of season eight in favour of random wacky shenanigans in space.

It’s great to see the characters back in action but a lot of the old magic is noticeably lacking.

Sadly, Red Dwarf: The Promised Land is no different in this regard; the only character who appears to have grown a little bit is Lister, who is now much more sympathetic and understanding to Rimmer and far more pragmatic and capable in tight situations thanks to his years of experience in dire scenarios. Yet this is never fully capitalised on and is massively downplayed in favour of random gags like Kryten’s sex change suggestion and laborious exposition and call-backs to previous episodes. Even the chemistry between the returning cast members is notably awkward; there’s a number of obvious pauses after they deliver lines where they wait for the laugh track or for the next line, which really interrupts the flow of their conversations and the few moments of genuine humour in the feature. The Promised Land puts a lot of its eggs in one basket, that being the depicting of the cat race. Accordingly, Rodon’s fleet resembles a cat’s face, the door to his private chambers is a cat flap, he and his minions all have exaggerate cat mannerisms similar to the Cat in the first series, and they’re all easily distracted by moving lights. Unfortunately, this all quickly outlives its charm; it’s one thing for one character, the Cat, to act this way but even he dropped the more annoying aspects of his personality by the second series and seeing a whole bunch of new characters take on the worst aspects of his character gets old very quickly. Equally, I found the call-backs to previous episodes and events more aggravating than anything else; Lister sings the Om Song, the crew run through a very truncated version of their past misadventures when bringing Holly up to speed, and Cat even drops a mention of the backwards world at one point and all this does is make me wish I were watching one of the earlier, far superior episodes of the show.

Some of the gags land and the feature has a lot of untapped potential in its premise.

It’s not all bad, to be fair. There are a couple of funny gags, such as Holly’s back-up disc being a gigantic floppy disc, Rimmer’s deep and overly dramatic voice when in his diamond-light form, Rimmer racing around with extension cords to prolong his lifespan, and Cat joining in with the cats’ “Listey-Listey” song. There’s also a definite sense that the crew are older and more world-weary (maybe “space-weary” is a better word) now: Kryten’s suit (which looks the worst and fakest it’s ever been) is all cracked and patched up; Lister’s rant about not finding the Cat attractive alludes to the possibility of him being impotent; and Rimmer asserts that they’re all too long in the tooth for any elaborate hijinks. Yet, once they are in the heat of their latest misadventure, the crew are still able to get by on the last few remnants of that old spark they had in season six, surviving through a combination of dumb luck, the stupidity of their enemies, and a modicum of competency on their part. Unfortunately, though, it’s just not enough to really capture the old magic of when Red Dwarf was at its peak. I was really excited when Red Dwarf first came back on Dave and was hoping for one last event to tie up all the loose ends and bring the story to a close. Instead, it feels as though Dave put the show on life support and has been dragging it out ever since. I would have much preferred to see maybe three one-hour specials that brought the story full circle, maybe even bringing the crew back to Earth or using time travel shenanigans to bring their story to a close. Instead, we keep milking the same gags and treading the same ground in a series of self-contained, meaningless episodes that, rather than celebrating the long-running cult show, merely serve as a bleak reminder of how great it used to be.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.


What did you think to Red Dwarf: The Promised Land? Did the jokes and gags work for you? What did you think to the inclusion of the cat race and Rimmer’s new diamond-light form? Are you a fan of the Dave era of Red Dwarf? Do you agree that it lost a lot of its magic after Rob Grant left or have you enjoyed the show regardless of the obvious dip in writing quality? Which character, season, and ship is your favourite and why? Would you like to see another feature-length special, maybe one that finally closes the book on the Red Dwarf story, or do you think it’s best to leave it be for now? How are you celebrating Gazpacho Soup Day today? No matter what you think, feel free to leave a comment about Red Dwarf: The Promised Land, or Red Dwarf in general, down in the comments.