In a series that saw Series III’s dramatic changes bed in, the boys from the Dwarf were now convinced that they had a hit on their hands. Production of the series moved away from Manchester to the then more hi-tech Shepperton Studios. The show had entered a new decade and the only way was up for Red Dwarf.
There were no big changes in this series, in fact the only change was a “retconning” of Kochanski and Lister’s relationship. Their history was changed from Kochanski being a mere crush of Lister’s, to a brief period where the pair had actually dated; and although she didn’t make an appearance in this series this was a significant change to Lister’s backstory. We also met a much more assured Kryten who was given even more to do in this series, he had a love interest and even became human.
It’s a well-known fact that Robert Llewellyn’s then girlfriend, now wife, Judy Pascoe, played Camille. It was a genuine on-screen romance as Red Dwarf’s writers, Rob Grant and Doug Naylor coyly suggested she take on the role knowing of their relationship. The result was probably Red Dwarf’s most charming episode with some killer lines, including my personal favourite, when Kryten is trying to persuade Camille to meet the rest of the crew:
“But you haven’t met them, you’ll like them! Well, some of them, well, one of them…maybe.”
The episode ranked highly in Ganymede and Titan’s Red Dwarf Pearl Poll (a mission to rank all the Red Dwarf episodes) but despite only just making the top 30 of all the 61 Red Dwarf episodes, it was surprisingly the lowest scoring episode of series IV in what surely must be a testament to the overall quality of this season. Afterall, this was the episode where Kryten learned to lie and call a banana a small, off-duty Czechoslovakian traffic warden.
The episodes in the series were as follows:
'White Hole' was the fan favourite of series IV and also ranked as the sixth most popular episode of Red Dwarf in Ganymede and Titan’s Poll. It was the episode that saw the masterfully delivered line "So what is it?" from Danny John Jules and also saw David Ross return to the series, (the original Kryten, who had been unable to reprise the role for series III due to prior theatre commitments), his Talkie Toaster was one of the most memorable guest characters in all of Red Dwarf. The simple idea of a chirpy AI toaster who was fixated on making any variety of grilled bread products is still one of the most beloved minor Red Dwarf characters... "Aww, so you’re a waffle man!".
Talkie wasn’t the only classic character that debuted in series IV. Ace Rimmer arrived in ‘Dimension Jump’. It was an episode born out of Chris’s desire to play a ‘nice’ character for a change. At this time, alongside Red Dwarf, Chris Barrie was also starring in The Brittas Empire and had expressed to Rob and Doug that he was getting tired of playing such banal characters, and how great it would be to play a hero for a change.
The James Bond-esque Ace was born out of that idea. Chris Barrie loved playing Ace and was especially fond of the wig – the fact that in subsequent appearances of the character they couldn’t use the same wig was something Chris Barrie wouldn’t let go of. Of course, it is said that it went back into the BBC costume department and wasn’t found again, but rumour had it that it was such a good wig that it was stolen.
Despite Ace’s popularity, 'Dimension Jump' was an episode that created a few cast tensions; Craig Charles admitted that he and Chris Barrie had an edgy relationship on set. A particular moment was singled out by Craig, it was when Ace and Lister were battling the storm.
Chris Barrie struggled filming the scene, and as one bucket of water hit him full in the face, he exclaimed that he felt as if he was drowning. ‘We’re meant to be space heroes,’ Craig Charles recalled himself jibing and likened his and Chris Barrie’s relationship throughout this series as ‘like an old married couple’ but also commented on how well that relationship had worked for the golden era of the show, as real life tensions were poured into their performances.
There was also an issue with Cat’s alternative persona in 'Dimension Jump'. In the original script Cat’s flipped character in the alternative dimension was a cleaner, but cast fears over that being a possible racial stereotype during the read-through caused Cat’s alternate incarnation to be rewritten as a wise old padre instead. Reflecting on this controversy years later Craig said:
“Sometimes you just don’t think about these things, and you know it’s easy to just flip it. Rimmer’s a git in real life let’s make him a superhero, the Cat’s super cool in real life let’s make him a slob, but there are other implications that sometimes you need to think about.”
He added that Red Dwarf was a top-rated BBC sitcom where race was never an issue and is set in the future, a place where race, colour or creed is extraneous. “Race won’t be an issue in the future,” Craig said, “and I think that’s one of the ‘goods’ that comes out of Red Dwarf.” Danny added: “It’s ridiculous because we had the most politically correct show on telly anyway.”
‘Meltdown’was probably the most ambitious undertaking of the entire series. The episode saw a huge cast of “look-alikes” join the Dwarfers; many of whom turned up to the shoot in full costume. Most memorably being Elvis, who also performed his classic rendition of The Red Dwarf theme tune.
The show continued to be loyal to Tony Hawks (their then warm up man). Tony made his most memorable appearance in Red Dwarf as Caligula: “Rasputin I’m very cross!” He joined a long line of studio audience warm ups who managed to get in front of the camera, the most famous examples include Bill Pertwee, who became a Dad’s Army regular with Warden Hodges and Kenneth MacDonald’s Mike in Only Fools and Horses who was initially only supposed to have a brief one-off appearance.
Red Dwarf VI hit our screens in 1991, and there was some controversy about the series run’s collision with The Gulf War. ‘Meltdown’ was rescheduled to the end of the series as the BBC feared it would cause offense.
Despite the unnecessary cruelty to Winnie-The-Pooh, it’s hard to see why the episode would upset people. Looking back at the decision for the Series IV DVD documentary, Danny remarked that it was: “PC gone mad.” While Craig said:
“Stuff like that really annoys me. People should be less anal about that. It was shot in all honesty, in good faith, erm okay events have overtaken it but this is the episode they shot – rather than say “Oh no we can’t put that out while there’s a war going on!” So, you can put it on after the war has gone on? I don’t get the difference you see.”
According to Doug Naylor the show was costing roughly £200,000 an episode, but the entire series managed to come under budget by £150,000, something that perturbed him, as all that money could have gone on screen. However, it probably helped keep Red Dwarf in the BBC executives’ good books, not that they would have needed much persuading to recommission another series, as Red Dwarf was not only doing well in the UK, but also just starting to do well across the pond. It was by the end of series IV that the cast realised the series had become something of a cult classic. But in the coming series Red Dwarf would achieve true international recognition. Join me for a look back at Series V soon Smeg Heads!
Information taken from the Red Dwarf documentary Built to Last, Ganymede and Titan and the official Red Dwarf Website.
Originally published on The Comedy Blog
Written by Rhianna Evans