Updated: May 29
While the differences between Red Dwarf series I and II were miniscule, the changes between series II and III could not have been greater. In all truth, it would probably be quicker to list what didn’t change between these series. It was one of the greatest shifts in Red Dwarf history, but the risk paid off.
As well as cast changes (a farewell to one Holly and an introduction to another) and a new permanent Kryten (Robert Llewellyn), Mel Bibby came on board as a new producer along with Red Dwarf’s writers Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, who now also took on more control as producers. The ship left behind the gunmetal grey and was instead given a cleaner look, which the whole cast preferred, and there was even a new costume designer, Howard Burden, who heightened the looks of all the characters to great effect. This was the first time we saw Lister in his now trademark festooned leather jacket.
Of all the changes, the decision to bring Kryten back and upset the equilibrium of the three main characters was probably the boldest. Rob and Doug were keen not to just copy the tropes of C3PO, or Marvin The Paranoid Android from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. After the first Kryten, David Ross, had been unavailable to reprise his role due to his commitment to a series of theatre shows, series I and II producer, Paul Jackson, who had previously spotted Robert Llewellyn in a one-man Edinburgh show called – Mamon, Robot Born of a Woman, where Robert had (unsurprisingly) played a robot, earmarked him for the role.
While Robert Llewellyn fitted in well with the rest of the cast, there was much deliberation about how the new Kryten should look, act and sound. A myriad of silly walks and accents were tried out, until after much debate Kryten was given a Vancouver accent. Chris Barrie later remarked, "I’ve never met a man with so much patience." as he remembered the endless costume fittings, fine tuning of Kryten’s slightly eccentric gate, and the many inflections of Kryten’s voice during rehearsals.
This second incarnation of Kryten remained firmly in the mould of the first (before his rebellion) timid, downtrodden, overly polite and unable to call Rimmer a "Smmeee heeed". Robert Llewellyn’s Kryten of series III wasn’t quite the one that we’ve become familiar with now, it’s fair to say that he was a work in progress, essentially a peacemaker and a best friend for Lister, he completed the posse and created "The Boys from The Dwarf" that we know today. Still, it’s easy to forget what a truly bold move this was for the series, especially when the show already had a successful formula and could probably have cruised along for a couple more series using the Red Dwarf I & II model.
Craig Charles remarked that Kryten had taken a lot of the exposition away from Holly’s character, who consequently had less to do than Norman’s Holly. However, Hattie Hayridge became the first female voice in the regular cast, something which on reflection was very important for Red Dwarf.
Norman had had issues with filming dates for the show and had his own series, so somewhat reluctantly had left the show, Hattie’s Holly, who had previously made a brief cameo in series II as Hilly now took the reins. Due to the huge amount of change between the series, Holly’s reimagining feels somehow in keeping, and although Norman will always be the ‘Holly’ we all probably remember first, I don’t really feel that Hattie ever gets enough recognition for her brilliant performance as the female Holly. It’s a bit of a shame that we’ve never seen her reprise the role in some of the more recent series, but I digress.
Series III consisted of six episodes broadcast in 1989, they were:
'The Last Day'
It was a strong set of episodes. The Ganymede & Titan Pearl Poll (a quest to rank every Red Dwarf episode from best to worst) found that 'The Last Day' came out well... last, which is perhaps a little harsh on the episode, but may just be a testament to the high standard of the series. 'Marooned' was voted the second greatest episode of all-time, second only to the iconic 'Back To Reality' from series V.
'Marooned' has long been credited as one of the greatest Red Dwarf episodes, albeit in a low-key manner, which is appropriate considering the tone of the episode, when we think about it. Musing over the episode, both Craig Charles and Chris Barrie chose it as their favourite.
Craig remarked how he would have liked to have done it as a two-man stage show. I can see how that would have worked, it was very ‘theatre like’, almost with a Waiting for Godot feel. Rob and Doug had been directly influenced by classic comedy writers, Galton and Simpson (who famously wrote Steptoe and Son) something that’s abundantly clear in this expertly scripted episode.
Elsewhere in the series, 'Polymorph' brought about an iconic Red Dwarf moment, namely Kryten trying to remove Lister’s boxers. This moment made the studio audience go quite literally crazy. The laughter was so raucous Craig and Robert were shouting their lines quite loudly to each other, and after post-production the level of laughter still couldn’t really be toned down so that their lines were completely audible. If someone ever doubts the authenticity of a live studio audience, show them this.
'Timeslides' introduced us to a young Lister (who was actually Craig’s real-life younger brother) and Backwards remains one of the most instantly memorable episodes of Red Dwarf. It certainly pushed the technical limitations of a relatively low budget 80’s sitcom.
And if Series III hadn’t given us enough firsts, it was also the first series to introduce us to Starbug. Series I and II had previously only used the Blue Midgets. The new idea was to have slightly bigger "White Midgets" but when the model designers started pitching their new design Doug Naylor remarked, "It looks like a bug", the designers then revealed they’d already been calling it "Starbug", something both writers of Red Dwarf really liked, so the name stuck. Starbug became arguably the most famous ship of Red Dwarf, perhaps even trumping Red Dwarf itself, so it’s interesting that it was something almost entirely imagined by the Red Dwarf art department.
As the crew celebrated the end of the series there were slight nerves that there wouldn’t be another series. But in the All Change documentary Chris said he felt that there would surely be more. Series III brings us into Red Dwarf’s golden years. In the series that followed Red Dwarf would only continue to reach new heights.
Information collected from the documentary, Red Dwarf: All Change - Series III and Ganymede and Titan.
Previously Published on The Comedy Blog
Written by Rhianna Evans