Often considered Red Dwarf’s greatest series, Season V was at the heart of the golden era of Red Dwarf. It was a sitcom at the top of its game, but it wasn’t all plain sailing. Red Dwarf’s creators, Rob Grant and Doug Naylor even doubted the success of what many Red Dwarf fans consider the greatest episode ever.
The series had lost its previous director, Ed Bye, who had already agreed to direct his wife, Ruby Wax’s television show, The Full Wax. New director, Juliet May, had no previous experience with directing Sci-fi, so Doug Naylor (along with support from Rob Grant) took on directing duties alongside her for most of the series, eventually going solo for Quarantine.
It was something Doug was hesitant to take on, but was urged to by the cast and crew, as they all agreed that there was nobody who knew the show better than the writers themselves. On top of that, the pressure of the strict limits on show running times had started to become a struggle for the writers. A show had strict rules for a twenty-nine minute and thirty second running time with no overrun allowed – no easy task when you’re attempting to weave a complex Sci-fi tale.
The series had seen a budget increase, but that was only around £6000. As a result, funds were still limited. Cat’s new wardrobe for the series consisted of colouring in his old zebra coat from the previous series with ’forty highlighter pens’ to provide Cat with a dramatic new yellow zebra coat.
The episodes in the series are as follows:
Demons and Angels
Back to Reality
It was a Rimmer centric series. 'Holoship' was probably the most serious representation of Rimmer that we’d seen since the first two series, but it was also his most sympathetic portrayal.
His romance with Jane Horrocks’s Nirvanah Crane was strangely believable. Rimmer’s gradual switch from a complete gimboid to actually quite a nice guy deep-down, crumbling somewhat under his neurotic behaviour had been building subtly over the years, but came to the forefront in this series. In particular in 'Terrorform', where Rimmer’s neurosis literally took on a form of its own. 'Holoship' also gave Rimmer what I believe is his greatest ever line, possibly Red Dwarf’s greatest line too: "I’ve come to regard you as people… I’ve met."
Craig Charles, commented on his annoyance that Rimmer got a girlfriend in that episode, when all Lister got to do was eat a cigarette during his front against Don Warrington’s Commander Binks, which unsurprisingly tasted disgusting and wasn’t even in the script anyway. "I don’t know why I did that," Craig said, "It was horrible." Interestingly, Danny John Jules and Don Warrington would eventually work together again, some years later in Death in Paradise, where ironically Danny plays a character called Dwayne/Duane in what we can assume was Death in Paradise’s way of paying tribute to Red Dwarf.
Probably the most instantly recognisable episode from this series is 'Quarantine', which gave us that famous image of Rimmer in a gingham dress holding Mr Flibble. The Mr Flibble puppet (sorry for shattering the illusion) was from a charity shop meant to merely be a placeholder for rehearsals, before they changed it to a monster puppet. However, the new candidates for Mr Flibble were all rejected, until eventually everyone decided that they’d become quite fond of the little penguin.
Robert Llewellyn mentioned in the DVD documentary that he was yet to go to a Sci-fi convention where he didn’t see someone dressed in a gingham dress and army boots. Some more dedicated cosplayers even manage to get hold of a Mr Flibble (yes, you can still buy them on ebay).
More recently, Dave repeated the episode with a cast commentary during lockdown as part of the build up to the recent special, The Promised Land. In terms of fan popularity, it has consistently ranked as the fourth greatest episode of Red Dwarf, whilst 'Demons and Angels'proved the weakest of the season, but still managed to land the impressive spot of number twenty-seven on Ganymede and Titan’s poll. I think this may be due to the fact that it’s never really been repeated quite as much as the others, perhaps because it’s a bit dark. Afterall, it did have Lister eating a spider in it.
Although some might make the case for series VI as the greatest series in terms of comedy, and it was of course the series that won Red Dwarf an Emmy, there isn’t really a stronger series than series V in terms of storytelling. In particular, The Inquisitor is an episode that feels as if it could have been a movie. The idea of a rogue Simulant, who has lived till the end of time itself, discovering that there is no God, nor afterlife and has appointed himself as judge, jury and executioner, erasing people from history if he hasn’t deemed them to have lived a worthwhile life is such a clever plot line.
If Hollywood had got its hands on it at the time it probably would have ended up being the next gritty sci-fi blockbuster starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Kryten is at his most noble here in his fight against The Inquisitor: "But I am not human, and neither are you, and it is not our place to judge them. I wonder why you do?".
Looking back at the series as a whole, you realise that the characterisation was so on point. Lister was especially brilliant in 'Back to Reality'. His turmoil at the realisation that he wasn’t ‘real’ culminated in his inability to cope with his ‘reality’ as a murderous gang boss. The episode is of course, almost unanimously considered the greatest episode ever, continually winning the Red Dwarf fan site’s polls to find the greatest ever episode. It certainly came as a surprise for me to learn that Rob and Doug had serious reservations about it.
The studio audience reaction to the episode had been surprisingly low-key, perhaps due to a large number of retakes that had to be done. With the writer’s new responsibilities as co-directors this concerned Rob Grant especially. Feeling disconcerted with the daunting prospect of patching together an episode that he felt hadn’t worked, he stepped back from production for a few days, whilst Doug worked on the edit.
Eventually, Doug managed to convince Rob that after it had been cut together it was a good episode. Later it was proved that far from being just a good episode, it was in fact a great episode.
A scenario like this really proves that doubt can trick anyone into believing that something truly great is going badly. 'Back to Reality' did have its dramatic moments that maybe in the edit just appeared too dramatic.
The scene in the car park with Lenny Von Dohlen of Twin Peaks fame was pure drama, and brilliantly acted too. But it was the true skill of the Red Dwarf writers that managed to push the drama just far enough, before bringing it back to a joke. (‘That’s traffic control’).
It’s now retrospectively impossible to see how anyone could have thought this episode wouldn’t work, particularly as it introduced us to another of Red Dwarf’s iconic characters, Duane Dibley. Somehow, all Danny had to say to get a laugh was utter the immortal words, "Duane Dibley?"
Duane was a character that evolved fairly naturally according to Danny, originally plans were more along the lines of The Nutty Professor. The ‘nerd look’ that eventually became ‘Duane’ was a result of Red Dwarf costume designer, Howard Burden, once again raiding the charity shops. The false teeth naturally gave Danny a completely different and more ‘Duane’ way of speaking.
‘Back to Reality’ was teased to the cast as an ending, with notes in the script informing them that they were being replaced with the new alternate Red Dwarf characters who we saw getting plugged into the AR machine. But in all seriousness, many did believe that it was the end of Red Dwarf. Crucially, Rob and Doug felt that it was perhaps time to wrap it up or possibly try a new format for the next season.
As it was, that didn’t transpire, at least not in series VI. However, as Robert Llewellyn pointed out, once again within the Series V DVD documentary, if the American remake had been a success, then it really would have been the end of Red Dwarf! And we’ll come to that in the next chapter of The Red Dwarf chronicles…
Information collected from the Series V Red Dwarf Documentary and Ganymede and Titan
Originally published on The Comedy Blog
Written by Rhianna Evans