Why Red Dwarf is as clever about its sci-fi as Star Trek.

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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

plenty more.

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.

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