Red Dwarf belongs to a very fortunate group. Despite the most recent episodes being a source of disappointment, the show retains its high regards. Series 7 onwards, including revivals, have done nothing more than broadcast desperation to cling onto old glory, rather than paying tribute to the cult classic. Still, the show manages to be fondly remembered on merit. Maybe it’s because it had more quality to offer over a period of time than something like Heroes, which now has its good season dismissed as an anomaly. Think that link is a bit tenuous? Well, it is. But there are probably a few mutual fans.

Rob Grant and Doug Naylor’s BBC comedy Red Dwarf is a show people generally seem to just…find. Parents tell their kids about it, Netflix boasts it in its library and the jokes still land. Without the new episodes from Dave, the show would still be talked about in certain circles. The comedy does not age because it is so human. The series is classified as a sci-fi comedy, but the space setting is more for establishing relationships rather than being the driving force.

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The only survivors aboard a mining vessel all have clashing personalities and, crucially, no way to avoid each other and remain sane. They are forced to interact or else face a life of solitude. Unlike other settings such as a pub, there’s no point when the viewer can question “why don’t they go somewhere else?”. Humans need conflict and there’s plenty of it. Later on, there are more interactions with alien races and mutant psychos, but the primary relationships are key.

Initially, there were just three stranded souls upon the Jupiter mining vessel Red Dwarf- Lister, Rimmer and the Cat. Technically, there are four if you want to count ship computer Holly as a sentient being. Lister (Craig Charles) is a slob, skating through life based on little more than sheer luck and somewhat charm. Rimmer (Chris Barrie) is career-driven hologram and ambitious without the brain-power to back up his own ego, or a physical form to impose any true authority. The Cat is the epitome of vanity, selfishness being something that was apparently never bred out of the feline species.

In series 3, we were introduced to Kryten, a series 4000 mechanoid. Robert Llewellyn provides the straight character, his delivery less manic and offset against the outlandish situations they find themselves in. This was also when we were introduced to Hattie Hayridge’s version oh Holly, taking over from Norman Lovett. With these changes came a clear detachment from the previous two’s tone. The original 8 series can be divided into three sections; series 1 and 2 were raw, establishing communication and experimenting with how each would react to the others’ successes and failures.

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Series 3-6 are the most identifiable episodes, and the ones with episodes most likely to feature in a top 5 episodes list. Grant and Naylor’s writing was confident. They could pass off increasing levels of ridiculousness and totally believing within the world they had created. From series 3, the crew became more exposed to extraterrestrial life, allowing for an expansion of their traits when faced with extreme situations. Lister’s cocksure attitude was exemplified as he staggered through situations unscathed. Rimmer’s cowardice, despite not being vulnerable to actual physical harm, was twinned with extra levels of double crossing. Cat saw some positive development, his selfish ways still obvious but with the occasional tendency to briefly consider his peers.

Series 7 and 8 struggled with the loss of Rob Grant. The adage ‘don’t know what you have until it’s gone’ became particularly relevant, as what we had were interesting character dynamics.. The latter series’ came off as desperate, their comedy forced and jokes lost in a colourful haze unseen with the previous style of filming. (Seriously, it was preposterously bright). Introducing Kristine Kochanski (Chloe Annett) to replace Rimmer did not work. Kryten’s displeasure at her company did not compare the whole crew’s disdain for the hologram. Instead, there was an unwanted relationship being dangled as a possibility. The hopelessness was gone, a female was there to provide relief to men lost in space and lamenting their entire collective existence. Hattie Hayridge’s departure coincided with Kochanski’s addition to the crew, which then led to Norman Lovett’s re-introduction in series 8. With that, everything appeared as desperation to tick demographic boxes rather than write jokes.

Even with such negative influence on popular opinion coming from those 16 episodes (though there were good moments, like the Rimmer song in season 7’s Blue), the good times win out. The show’s charm came from a budget that seemingly consisted of 50p and a paperclip. The performances and writing hold it together, the terrible effects acting as a comedy seasoning. Without real terror for character nor viewer, the focus never slips and the comedy is never lost in an effort to traverse and extra genre. Red Dwarf is a testament to how important talent is. Without visual effects, you can still hold an audience’s attention. Just make sure you’re good at what you do.

Best episodes: The End, Better Than Life, Marooned, Timeslides, Justice, White Hole, Meltdown, Terrorform, Quarantine, Back to Reality, Legion, Gunmen of the Apocalypse, Rimmerworld, Out of Time

Created by: Rob Grant and Doug Naylor

Cast: Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Hattie Hayridge, Danny John Jules, Robert Llewellyn,  Norman Lovett, Chloe Annett

Country: UK

Number of Episodes: 52 (series 1-8)

Episode Runtime: 30 mins

Year: 1988- 1999, 2009-