With Red Dwarf currently enjoying yet another wave of popularity thanks to last year’s 11th season, its upcoming 12th season and the arrival of every episode of the series to date on Britbox — the streaming British TV service recently launched by BBC and ITV — we wanted to look at the way the program has been merchandised since it debuted in 1988. For a show that has been around for nearly three decades and enjoyed both cult and mainstream success over the course of its lengthy run, Red Dwarf hasn’t spawned as much merchandise as you might think (for example, it’s somewhat critical that Lister, Rimmer, Kryten, and the Cat have never has the opportunity to be action figures).
That missed opportunity aside, your pals at Den of Geek want to showcase some of the best swag ever based on the series. From penguin puppets to model kits and beyond, you’d really have to be a smegging gimboid to not want to own some of this far-out paraphenilia. A quick note before we begin: Most of these items were produced in the 1990s, but are still easily available through usual internet suspects like Amazon, eBay, etc., so happy searching!
Mr. Flibble hand puppet
In the fifth season episode “Quarantine,” Rimmer comes down with a holo-virus in which he attempts to murder his crewmates. His accomplice on this riotous reign of a terror? An adorable hand puppet named Mr. Flibble.
Because we live in astonishing times, the UK-based company T2 Distribution Limited actually created their own version of Mr. Flibble. They are quick to point out that “your replica Mr Flibble does not possess Hex Vision and will not try to kill you!” in case you were worried. And yes, we’d be very cross too if this absolutely brilliant piece of merchandising was never created.
Kryten costume shirt
Have a head shaped like a novelty condom? Then do we have the shirt for you. One of many items of apparel available from the official Red Dwarf shop, this long-sleeve shirt features a graphic that allows you to cosplay as Kryten. Perfect to allow you to be the merriest merchanoid on your block or just a comfy thing to lounge around in after you’ve done all the ironing and washing up.
To be clear, there have been numerous T-shirts from the show over the years emblazoned with images and catch phrases. None however are as weird/wonderful as this little baby.
Red Dwarf buttons
Also available from the official Red Dwarf shop are these buttons (or, as our friends overseas have it, badged) featuring the images of the Boys from the Dwarf as seen in the recent 11th season. Grab a set for your backpack or coat and show off your love from underappreciated sci-fi Britcoms.
The Man in the Rubber Mask
Part autobiography/part behind-the-scenes guide to the world of Red Dwarf, this in-depth book written by Kryten actor Robert Llewellyn is essential reading for even the most novice fan of the series. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this tome is Llewellyn discussion of his experiences making the failed U.S. pilot of Red Dwarf…for which he was the only U.K. cast member asked to participate.
Kryten model kit
Given Kryten’s otherworldly appearance, merchandise based on the character was a no-brainer. The best Kryten item ever produced was a model kit of him released by English manufacturer Sevans in 1993. It also is the most infuriating. I can tell you from personal experience owning one of these that was procured during a trip to London in the mid ’90s, Kryten was an absolute bear to assemble and paint in a manner in which satisfactory resembled his television counterpart. The ad showcased above was a best case scenario done by professional model builders, but most people who took on the challenge of having their very own Krytie wound up with a dead-eyed hunk of vinyl and plastic. (Which says more about the average man’s modeling skills than the excellent quality of the product, now that I think about it).
More rare than Kryten are the super-deformed models that Sevans made of Duane Dibley (the cat’s uncool alter ego who debuted in “Back to Reality”) and Arnold Rimmer:
Both of these feature cute, cartoonish versions of the character in models that were also easy to assemble/difficult to paint — much like Sevans’ aforementioned Kryten kit. Apparently plans for a Lister kit were abandoned, which seems incredibly odd given that he is the main character. Smegging hell, what a disappointment that is.
Red Dwarf novels
To date, their have been four Red Dwarf novels. The first two, Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers and Better Than Life, were written by series creators Rob Grant and Doug Naylor prior to the fracturing of their creative partnership in 1993. Both of these works adapt portions of early episodes from the series while doing some impressive world-building that tells you background information about Red Dwarf and its crew that is interesting (i.e. Lister’s love of It’s a Wonderful Life) and unavailable elsewhere.
After they stopped working together, they each released their own Red Dwarf novels: Backwards by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor’s The Last Human. Confusing matters, each of these works contradicts the other, yet both are fun reads that tend to focus more on science fiction than the comedy that has defined the show over the years. As far as ancillary media goes, the Red Dwarf novels are better than most given that they were penned by the series’ creators.
Audio books/radio shows
When it came time to record the audio books for Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers and Better Than Life, the considerable talents of Chris Barrie (AKA Arnold Rimmer) were put to the test. Not merely a standard reading of the novels, these releases were a tour de force performance in which Barrie used his comedy background as an impressionist to imitate his cast mates. The audio books became so successful that abridged versions of both were rechristened as the Red Dwarf Radio Show and broadcast on the BBC world service. Because they feature material that opens up the world of the original series, they are required listening…and an alternative to listening to S Town yet again.
Red Dwarf Program Guide
Lovers of Red Dwarf minutiae, your day has come. Chris Howarth and Steve Lyons’ oft-updated Red Dwarf Programme Guidetells you everything and them some about the show — from an episode guide to trivia bits that will send your mind reeling. (How many appendixes did Lister have, anyway?)
Red Dwarf Smegazine
Personal anecdote time: In the summer of 1993 I was an absolute Red Dwarf junkie, and whenever I needed a fix I would go to a Star Trek convention in the Philadelphia area. There was always one British dealer there who specialized in merchandise imported from the UK, mainly Doctor Who, some Blake’s 7, and lots of Red Dwarf. Although the show was at the peak of its popularity overseas thanks to its just-completed sixth season, in the U.S. it was still an under-the-radar cult hit whose occasional mention in media like Starlog magazine would send my nerdy head spinning.
Imagine then my surprise when at one of these cons this kindly Englishman had a table full of issues of the Red Dwarf Smegazine. An entire publication dedicated to my favorite show? It must be mine. After shelling out what was probably way too much money, I went home and poured over each issue, devouring the cast interviews, original comics and trivias featured inside. Some issues featured attached giveaways like stickers, postcards, and my personal favorite, a Starbug keychain (if anyone found said keychain in the Copacabana burger place on South Street in Philly around 2003, please get in touch, no questions asked).
The point I’m making here is that this magazine was perfect, and all too-short lived. By the time the disappointing seventh season had rolled around, the mag was no more. It lives on thanks to the Internet Archive, which desperately wants you to kill a few hours today by browsing through old issues of the late, great read.
Let’s wrap things up with a look at the greatest piece of Red Dwarf merchandise ever: the Electronic Starbug playset. As I lamented at the beginning of this article, we have yet to get action figures from the series. The closest we have come to date is with Product Enterprise’s Electronic Starbug playset which includes tiny version of Lister, Rimmer, Kryten and Cat, several play environments, and authentic quotes from the series. To be fair, Corgi had done several models from the show (one with similiar mini figs). This one captures the joy of the series best, and its play or display possibilities seem as endless as the show’s potential.
So what have we learned? Only that merchandise is ultimately only as great as the show that inspired it. Fortunately for us, Red Dwarf is pretty smegging great.