Oh smeg indeed, matey!
All 11 seasons of Red Dwarf are now on Britbox. But with nearly 70 episodes in the show to date, you may be wondering which episodes are more enjoyable than Lister’s breakfast of curry and lager. We can help. We’ve selected 20 episodes that are among the most enjoyable in the series’ nearly 30-year run. Whether you are a novice to the series or a Dwarfer from way back, we think that this guide will be a smeg-free look at the best of what the show has to offer.
But how did we decide which episodes were the most worth your time? We went through what our favorite episodes have been over the years and broke them down into their component molecules to really analyze what made them so entertaining. What we discovered is that our choices for the best installments could all be placed under one of the following categories: Character Development, Great Science Fiction Concepts, Laugh Per Minute Ratio, and, most notably, episodes that feature All of the Above. We then went through the show’s run once more to see which 20 episodes truly stood out, and what category they fit under.
Of course, this is extraordinarily subjective and your mileage may vary. So be sure to tell us which episodes you would have included/excluded and why in the comments. With that in mind, here then are our picks for the 20 essential episodes of Red Dwarf. Fun, fun, fun in the sun, sun, sun awaits.
“The End” (Season 1, Episode 1)
The very first episode of Red Dwarf, “The End” established all that would come after — namely last human being Dave Lister slobbing around the the universe accompanied by a hologram of his dead co-worker and a creature who evolved from his pet cat over the course of three million years. The addled computer Holly (initially played by the brilliant Norman Lovett) added to the charm of the early years, and this episode remains one of the funniest pilots of the 1980s.
Obviously, there is no better place to start your viewing of the series. So what the smeg are you waiting for?
“Kryten” (Season 2, Episode 1)
Kryten wouldn’t become a staple of the series until the third season, but he made his debut in this eponymous episode. David Ross portrays the character with an off-kilter regality that would be lost when Robert Llewellyn took over the role (which isn’t to disparage the second actor’s considerable talents — as evidenced by his tendency to steal scenes).
This episode establishes Kryten as cleaning-obsessed mechanoid who would desire to be more than just his core programming allows, a trait that would become his hallmark as the series progressed.
“Marooned” (Season 3, Episode 2)
The Lister/Rimmer relationship is at the heart of Red Dwarf, and there’s been arguably no better exploration of their dynamic than in this third season effort in which they are both stranded on an icy planet. At times feeling more like an intimate character study than an episode of a sci-fi sitcom, “Marooned” provides great insight into what makes Lister and Rimmer tick. The result is a series best performance by Craig Charles and Chris Barrie that helps make their characters each feel truly human and three-dimensional.
“Blue” (Season 7, Episode 5)
Of all the tumult that swirled around Red Dwarf’s seventh series (as documented here), the biggest blow was Chris Barrie’s limited involvement in that season’s episodes. Sure, Kochanski was now around, but without Rimmer, the show had lost a crucial element. Wisely, writers Kim Fuller and Doug Naylor dealt with this hologramatic pink elephant in the room in the episode “Blue,” which has Lister lamenting the fact that his frenemy is no longer around.
Thanks to Kryten’s tech-savvy, Lister gets to visit a virtual reality tribute to his departed bunkmate called “The Rimmer Experience.” This “place of wonder, excitement and wonder” is part amusement park ride/part egotistical hellscape in which Rimmer’s misguided feelings about himself are brought to life…making Lister reconsider missing Arnold. The clear highlight of the seventh season, “Blue” is a comedic entry that illustrates how the loss of Rimmer impacts not only the Starbug crew, but the series itself. Fortunately, Barrie returned to Red Dwarf for its eighth season, and has remained on board ever since.
“Trojan” (Season 10, Episode 1)
Rimmer’s family background has always been at the core of his various personality defects. But what if one of his supposedly successful brothers was actually even more of a misfit than he is? That question is the centerpiece of the hilarious “Trojan.” But Rimmer being Rimmer, he learns that even when he comes out on top it blows up in his face.
A breezy and light throwback to the show’s glory days, this debut episode of the series’ underrated tenth season comes complete with a brilliant running joke about moose-related traffic accidents and an inspired telephone-shopping subplot.
Great Science Fiction Concepts
“Future Echoes” (Season 1, Episode 2)
Out of the gate Red Dwarf was determined to mix smart comedy with compelling science fiction concepts in a way that would give The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy a run for its Altarian dollars. Exhibit A: The second-ever episode “Future Echoes.”
Here, the crew witnesses a baffling series of events that they come to learn haven’t occurred yet, but most definitely will thanks to a phenomenon that the Doctor himself would best describe as “timey wimey.” As the crew experience these strange peeks into their own future, which include the apparent death of Lister, they — and viewers — discover that the ship’s long journey back to Earth will be anything but dull.
FYI: The circumstances that lead to the birth of Lister’s twin sons hinted at here are later played out in the season two finale “Parallel Universe” (the consequences of which are dealt with in the Star Wars-esque opening scroll featured at the start of the third season).
“Timeslides” (Season 3, Episode 5)
You’d have to be a real crypto-fascist to not fall immediately in love with this third-season episode in which Rimmer, Lister, Kryten, and the Cat learn that they can time travel back in time via entering blown-up slides of old photographs. Lister plans on using this discovery to become wealthy/prevent himself from ever getting stranded in deep space by giving his younger self (played by Craig Charles’ brother Emile) a piece of novelty bubble wrap created by one of Rimmer’s schoolmates who became rich from the invention. The plan works, and subsequently the future timeline changes and Rimmer is left aboard Red Dwarf with only Holly for company. Determined to change things back to how they were, Rimmer heads back to his own past and discovers how tricky altering one’s fate can be.
“The Inquisitor” (Season 5, Episode 2)
“The Inquistor” chronicles the story of the titular simulant who, after living until the end of existence itself, discovers that being alive is the greatest gift of all, and anyone who is squandering their life doesn’t deserve to live at all. Thus, he begins travelling through time and those he deems unworthy he puts on trial — allowing them to potentially justify their existence. If those chosen are unable to make a convincing argument for why their lives are worthwhile, they are deleted from history and replaced with people who could have been conceived instead. Obviously this causes problems for the shiftless layabouts aboard Red Dwarf…
“Legion” (Season 6, Episode 2)
The greatest minds in history have been collected to form a gestalt entity known as Legion, whom the Starbug crew encounters during their search for the missing Red Dwarf in the series’ sixth season. At first, the stranger seems determined to make the Boys from the Dwarf’s every dream come true. Then Legion’s true intentions reveal themselves and they learn that he plans to keep them there forever so that he can continue to exist. (Resulting in Lister musing “When I finally get round to writing my Good Psycho Guide, this place is gonna get raves. Accomodations? Excellent. Food? First class. Resident nutter? Courteous and considerate. Psycho rating’s gotta be four and a half chainsaws”).
A lasting character change established by this episode is Legion upgrading of Rimmer’s hologram with a hard light drive — which allows his physical form to become solid and mostly impervious to destruction. Although, as this episode illustrates in comedic fashion, he can still feel pain.
“Cassandra” (Season 8, Episode 4)
The Greek myth of Cassandra inspired this eighth-season highlight written by Red Dwarf co-creator Doug Naylor in which Rimmer (who, at this point in the series, is alive and well) attempts to cheat fate when a computer predicts he is doomed to imminent death. Featuring a spectacular guest performance by Geraldine McEwan and a gleeful performance by Chris Barrie — whose Rimmer learns that he will die after he sleeps with Kochanski — this installment features several delightful twists that get funnier with repeated viewings.
“Better Than Life” (Season 2, Episode 2)
The crew recieve mail for the first time in three million years, and packed among the parcels is the total-immersion video game “Better than Life.” An amped up virtual reality program that exists only to make the players every whim come true, Lister, Rimmer and Cat immediately begin playing. Unfortunately, Rimmer’s negative opinion of himself quickly infects the gameplay…ruining everyone’s good time and potentially sealing their fate in the process.
As a character, Rimmer is Red Dwarf‘s resident punching bag. Yet you still can’t help but feel sorry for the smeghead, and this episode is fully relatable to anyone whose anxiety has ruined what should be an enjoyable time. You’ll come for the jokes, but stay for the insights into the human condition.
“Queeg” (Season 2, Episode 5)
The biggest problem with Red Dwarf’s first two seasons is not enough Holly. Norman Lovett’s portrayal of the once-brilliant computer whose knowledge has been dimmed after three million years adrift in deep space is always enjoyable but he sadly only was given the opportunity to really take center stage in “Queeg.” When Holly’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic, Red Dwarf’s back-up computer, Queeg 500, takes over running the ship. Much to Lister, Rimmer, and Cat’s dismay, Queeg is incredibly strict and forces them to earn their keep. They hatch a plan to restore Holly, which sets the stage for what could be the most hilarious ending in the series’ long history.
“Polymorph” (Season 3, Episode 3)
Because aliens don’t exist in the Red Dwarf universe, the show’s go-to villains are genetically engineered life forms and simulants. These adversaries provide the series with plenty of conflict and even more laughs. An early example of a GELF was the title creature from the third season’s “Polymorph.” An shape-shifting emotional leech of sorts who feeds off negativity from Kryten, Lister, Rimmer, and the Cat, the Polymorph meets its match when it discovers how much the crew changes once some of their primary character traits are removed.
And remember, give quiche a chance.
“Dimension Jump” (Season 4, Episode 5)
Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast!
In an infinite universe, seemingly anything is possible…including a version of Arnold Rimmer from another dimension who is downright heroic. Here we encounter Ace Rimmer, charming, confident, successful, and generally everything that the Rimmer we know and love isn’t. Drawing from everything from Hugh Everett’s “Many Worlds Theory” to good old-fashioned self-doubt among the characters, “Dimension Jump” delves into how our experiences shape not only who we are but who we have the potential to be.
“Emohawk: Polymorph II” (Season 6, Episode 4)
While this particular writer is in the camp that feels the sixth season of Red Dwarf is its masterpiece, there are others who are put off by its serialized storytelling, recurring jokes, and fan service. If these things bother you, steer clear of “Emohawk: Polymorph II.” Taking story elements from “Polymorph,” “Dimension Jump” and “Back to Reality,” the episode creates a stew of warm familiarity that brings back the Duane Dibbley and, in a way, Ace Rimmer characters and combines it with home run-hitting gags about the GELF language and Lister’s unexpected wedding plans. That said, the overly broad humor and callbacks that came to plague later seasons can all be traced back here. On its own though, this one has some smegging brilliant stuff in it.
All of the Above
“Parallel Universe” (Season 2, Episode 6)
Opening with the Cat’s musical dream sequence and ending with the cliffhanger reveal that Lister is pregnant, “Parallel Universe” is a confident second season finale in which Rob Grant and Doug Naylor have perfected the show’s mix of sci-fi and comedy. There are some priceless moments here, including the creepy interaction between Rimmer and his female counterpart and the Cat’s disgust with having his parallel world equivalent being a slobbish canine. A nice bit of future continuty has Holly canoodling with his gender opposite (Hattie Hayridge, who would assume the role from the third to fifth seasons), and the prediction of Lister’s kids from “Future Echoes” gets a major pay-off here.
For my money though, the best part of “Parallel Universe” is the performance of the goofy love song “Tongue Tied” that leads off the episode. The tune was such a fan favorite that Danny John-Jules released it as a single accompanied by a Red Dwarf-centric music video in 1993, where it tragically didn’t top the charts. The music-buying public can be real smegheads sometimes.
“Stasis Leak” (Season 2, Episode 4)
Thanks to a rip in the space-time continuum aboard Red Dwarf, Lister gets a shot to travel back to before the accident killed the ship’s entire crew–including his would-be love, Kristine Kochanski. Meanwhile, Rimmer wants to save himself from death, and hatches a scheme to use a stasis pod like the one Lister was kept safe in for 3,000,000 years to get his living counterpart to utilize so he isn’t wiped out. However, Lister also wants to utilize this tactic, but with Kochanski. But before the Dwarfers can bring anyone back to the future, which is their present, they encounter other versions of themselves in a chronological comedy of errors.
“Back to Reality” (Season 5, Episode 6)
As this guide to essential Red Dwarf episodes is making increasingly apparent, the series has a knack for mining the idea of virtual reality games to great effect. But what if Red Dwarf itself was the virtual reality game, and the characters we thought we Lister, Rimmer, Kryten and the Cat were in fact a fascist, a bum, a traffic cop, and a style-deficient nerd? “Back to Reality” toys with this idea as the fifth season came to a close. While writers Rob Grant and Doug Naylor show their hand a bit too early, for awhile the episode completely changes everything viewers thought they knew about the series, making this an all-time great.
“Gunmen of the Apocalypse” (Season 6, Episode 3)
What was that we were just saying? The final alternate reality-based installment to make this essentials guide comes from the sixth season, which allows the Red Dwarf crew to participate in that time-honored trope of a western-themed episode of a sci-fi show.
Infected by a simulant-created computer virus, Kryten is thrust into a Wild West fever dream where his very life (and those of his Starbug crewmates) are on the line. Lister, Rimmer and the Cat are able to tap into his experience, where, taking on the guises and special abilities of Western virtual reality game characters, they attempt to help him lasso up the bad guys and save the day.
More “A Fistful of Datas” than Westworld, “Gunmen of the Apocalypse” is yet another example of how the series’ was at its best during its continuity-driven sixth season.
“Out of Time” (Season 6, Episode 6)
Was it Arnold Rimmer who once said that each man becomes what he fears the most? In a show in which time travel is on the table, anything’s possible. The sixth season finale “Out of Time” has the Starbug crew pillaging a secretive Space Corps test ship that has a Time Drive on board. Theorizing they can use this to help them on their journey to Earth, they loot the machine and hook it up to Starbug…only to discover that without an accompanying drive that can also propel them through space their discovery is useless. Or is it?
They soon encounter their future selves, only to discover that their older counterparts were eventually able to travel through time and space and have become huge gluttons who are the type of people who socialize with Nazis. Future Kryten wears a toupee, the old Cat is balding and wears bad suits, Rimmer is a morbidly obese hologram, and, worst of all, Lister is just a brain in a jar. Disgusted by who they might become, the present-day Dwarfers decide to destroy the Time Drive, which results in a deadly battle with their futuristic doppelgangers and a truly unexpected moment of heroism and self-sacrifice from Rimmer.
“Out of Time” crams a lot of boldness into its half-hour running time. Along with the aforementioned storyline, there is a subplot about bending reality that makes it seem as if Lister is not the last human being alive, but an android who is less advanced than Kryten. The culmination of the season’s search for Red Dwarf ends on a shocking cliffhanger and a moment that seemingly changed everything for the show. Certainly, after this episode aired Red Dwarf was never the same again, though not as intended (co-creator Rob Grant left the series shortly after this aired). As it is, “Out of Time” marks the end of one era for the series, yet Red Dwarf endures. So we encourage you to watch all 20 of the episodes mentioned here, then see what else the show has in store for you.
Unless you’re content with being a smegging gimboid that is.