SCI-FI IN RED DWARF
Why Red Dwarf is as clever about its sci-fi as Star Trek.
We all know that Red
Dwarf is funny. In fact, if you were to pull Rimmer, Lister, Kryten and the Cat out of outer space and dump them on planet Earth, you’d still have a pretty good sitcom – albeit one where only one of the lead characters is actually human. It even follows quite a common sitcom set-up. You know the one: take four or five people/cats/ mechanoids/computers (delete as appropriate) who really shouldn’t ever be in a room together – and then force them to live in close proximity, with no chance of escape. It’s a successful recipe that also applies to Father Ted, Porridge, Fawlty Towers and
But there’s something else
going on with Red Dwarf – it’s totally unconventional in the way it manages to be both a sitcom
and a very clever sci-fi show, with those two sides of its make-up existing in perfect quantum entanglement. You can look at it as both a comedy in a sci-fi setting, or a sci-fi show with lots of gags.
Yet crucially, it’s not a spoof of science fiction – arguably the “easier” way to make a genre comedy – and doesn’t make fun of its unashamedly high concept situations. Instead, it takes really clever sci-fi ideas and uses them as an excuse to put its characters (all brilliant sitcom creations) into situations where they do and say really funny things – just because those situations are sometimes silly and often played for laughs doesn’t make them any less smart.
Red Dwarf established its sci-fi credentials right from the beginning (or “The End”, if you’re being pedantic). Not only did it kill off all but one of the ship’s crew – imagine a drama with the balls to do that! – but it made his only companions a
holographic version of his dead roommate (who, because this is a sitcom, he happens to despise); a genius computer (with the dry, laconic manner of a stand-up comedian); and a human-like
“for intelligence of ideas, red dwarf even gives star trek: the next Generation a run for its money – and it’s a lot funnier”
descendant of his pet cat (who happens to have a great love for fashion and talk English fluently). That final human spent three million years in a “stasis field” where time stood still – just to reiterate, that’s THREE MILLION YEARS, a timescale that would give even Doctor Who heart (s) palpitations. Over that time, that one cat has spawned an entire civilisation, devoted to the slightly misinterpreted “religious teachings” of the aforementioned final human. Make no mistake, this is hard science fiction territory – and just because Red Dwarf has fun with it doesn’t make it any less ingenious.
For intelligence of ideas, Red Dwarf even gives Star Trek: The Next Generation a run for its money – and in the humour stakes, Red Dwarf was always light years ahead. Both were their respective countries’ TV sci-fi standard bearers in the early ’90s, and both motored through bold, ingenious premises at warp speed. That Red Dwarf was doing so on a budget a mere fraction of the mega-bucks thrown at Star Trek makes it even more impressive – proof that sci-fi is the genre of ideas as much as spectacle.
Over its 61 episodes, Red Dwarf has played around with time travel, time loops, virtual reality, parallel universes, quantum
“back when the Matrix was still on a floppy disc in the wachowskis’ Pc, red dwarf used virtual reality for some memorable episodes”
entanglement, justice fields, nanotechnology, AI, mechanoids, time-spewing white holes and is the only show we’re aware of where a lead character is actually his own father. It’s also built its own mythology of a posthumanity universe populated by the likes of GELFs and Simulants. This is the stuff great science fiction is made of – and when you have someone as eloquent as Kryten to help you through the complicated bits, it’s a pleasure to be a part of that world. Someone get him and Data in a room for a natter – we have a feeling they’d get on...
The after-effects of Deep Sleep.
Lemons: they should be a key component of any time travel device. A particularly attractive GELF.
We can’t imagine a better place to play golf.