Cliffhangers have played an important role in Red Dwarf, from the first series through to the eighth. However, they’ve not always been executed very well. Here, we look back on all the cliffhangers, and their resolutions, over the years.
1. Lister’s exam results. (Balance of Power/Waiting for God)
LISTER: How did I do, Mr. Lister, sir!
This left viewers thinking that the entire premise of the show had changed, after only three episodes. Had Lister passed his exam, he would be Rimmer’s superior, and be in charge of the whole ship. This was very well done, but being as it happened so early in the series, it is unlikely that the audience would have been familiar enough with the characters for the joke to work.
HOLLY: The most interesting event that happened recently was that Lister pretended he passed the chef’s exam, although really he failed. That gives you some idea of how truly exciting some days can be around here.
A bit of a cop-out perhaps, but it was a good joke. The status quo is resumed within the first minute, and the main episode can begin. Perhaps Grant Naylor chose not to dwell on the exam results because Waiting For God already had two strong plot lines, and a further one could confuse casual viewers and detract from the main plots.
2. A duplicate Rimmer. (Confidence & Paranoia/Me²)
RIMMER: Welcome aboard, Rimmsie.
RIMMER 2: Nice to be here, Mr. Rimmer, you son of a gun.
Originally, Confidence & Paranoia was written as the last episode of the series, and the final scene was of Kochanski being recreated as a hologram. Fortunately, an episode was dropped from earlier on in the series and replaced with Me²; oddly enough, getting rid of the proposed first series cliffhanger.
LISTER: I wiped the other one.
Unlike the cliffhanger from earlier in the series, this one has an entire episode devoted to it. And what an episode it is. It clearly benefited from being the last one written, as Grant Naylor had got to know the actors, and incorporated their mannerisms and abilities into the script. In the most obvious form, this meant that The Cat was seen roller-skating. The actual resolution itself is interesting and unexpected. Lister persuades the original Rimmer to bare his soul about Gazpacho Soup Day, with Rimmer safe in the knowledge that he is about to be killed, before revealing that the duplicate has already been erased. It also has one of the best punchlines ever – “Souper!”
3. Lister’s babies. (Parallel Universe/Backwards)
RIMMER: I’m going to be an uncle!
This was the first series finale to end with a cliffhanger, something that would be something of a feature a few years later. The events that unfold in the episode lead to Lister discovering the possibility that he could very well be up the duff. In a very funny final scene, Holly recalls that the concept of Lister having babies was first mooted in Future Echoes, although it was unlikely that Grant Naylor planted this seed with the intention of making Lister pregnant a year later.
“Three million years in the future, Dave Lister, the last human being alive, discovers he is pregnant after a liaison with his female self in a parallel universe. His pregnancy concludes with the successful delivery of twin boys, Jim and Bexley. However, because the boys were conceived in another universe, with different physical laws, they suffer from highly accelerated growth rates and are both eighteen years old within three days of being born. In order to save their lives, Lister returns them to the universe of their origin, where they are reunited with their father (a woman), and are able to lead comparatively normal lives. Well, as normal as you can be if you’ve been born in a parallel universe and your father’s a woman and your mother’s a man and you’re eighteen years old three days after your birth.”
An episode called Dad was written to open Series III, but was dropped prior to recording, as it was felt that it could be misconstrued as misogynistic and homophobic. As a replacement, a Star Wars-esque scroll was added to the beginning of Backwards, which was too fast for the audience to read. As such, viewers were very confused about Lister’s lack of a bump, Holly’s change of gender and a new bloke called Kryten arriving on board. Fans could only catch up on what had happened between series if they had a decent VCR or access to the internet, which was uncommon, what with in being 1989 and all. The gap between Series II and III was been the subject of a glut of fan fiction. Fan club magazine Better Than Life handed over the whole of #15 to speculation and analysis of the crew’s unseen exploits.
4. Lister’s fate. (Rimmerworld/Out of Time)
FUTURE RIMMER: We’re far more concerned at the moment about the quite hideous thing that’s happened to Lister.
Cliffhanger fans had to wait a long time between the end of Series II and Series VI. There had been several false starts along the way; Series III’s Polymorph ended with a second polymorph coming onto the ship, but the idea was never re-used. In the Re-Mastered version of the episode, an epilogue explains that the second polymorph hid in Lister’s clean socks drawer; where he eventually died of old age. The next episode, Body Swap, ends with Rimmer kidnapping The Cat’s body, but the status quo is resumed by the start of Timeslides.
At the end of DNA, Kryten still has his human body, but he has already decided to go back to being a mechanoid by the end of the episode. More recently, Duane Dibbley ended Emohawk: Polymorph II by blasting his crewmates with liquid dillinium, but we don’t see the thawing process.
LISTER: Look at me! I’m a brain in a jar!
This mini-cliffhanger came about by accident. Originally, the final scene of Rimmerworld was extended beyond the present crew teleporting back home, and the future Lister walks into the room, revealing that the future Rimmer’s line was merely a cruel joke. However, the episode order was fiddled about so that Rimmerworld was now the penultimate episode, and so the final scene was trimmed to provide an interesting spoiler to the ‘terrible accident’ aspect of Lister’s future. Later on, fans would learn that Lister could safely avoid losing quite a bit of everything by not using the time drive, and as such break his destiny line.
5. The death of the crew (Out of Time/Tikka to Ride)
RIMMER: Kryten! There may be a what? A way out of this? Is that what you were going to say? S-Speak, Kryten! How can we change what’s happening?
By far the most dramatic, exciting and unexpected cliffhanger in Red Dwarf ever. Despite the deep mental anguish suffered for three years afterwards, almost all fans recognise that the final scene of Out of Time is just brilliant. The future crew threaten to attack their past selves, and the present crew decide to fight. After a couple of initial good hits, our crew begin to suffer. One by one, the crew are picked off, until only Rimmer remains. He sees his opportunity, and runs to the engine room, intent on destroying the time drive. But it is too late, and Starbug is destroyed by a laser blast. Simply breathtaking. Every fan had their own theory about how the crew would get out of this one, but when the answer finally came they would all be disappointed.
LISTER: We were no match; they killed us, and destroyed everything on board ship – including the Time Drive, which meant there was no Time Drive for them to have in the future, to bring back into the past, to destroy the future of their past selves in the present. Put simply: by killing us they killed themselves, because once we were dead it was impossible for us to become them in the future, and return in time to kill ourselves in the past, even though it was the present.
Of course, Out of Time was never intended to be a cliffhanger. The original ending had Rimmer successfully destroying the time drive, which broke the destiny line and destroyed the future crew. However, as people who have seen the Smeg Ups video can testify, the ending was unsatisfactory, and the cliffhanger ending was preferred. It can be argued that Grant Naylor originally wrote a different resolution to the one we got. If you look closely, the threat warning and the first attack, which disabled the gyroscope, the crew experience a jolt, which is identical to the effect that happens when they enter or leave an unreality bubble. This doesn’t happen on any of the subsequent attacks; so many believed that the whole attack was just a group hallucination. In retrospect, this could have been a McGuffin (a red herring, to throw the audience), or it could be that Doug Naylor abandoned the idea in favour of a brief explanation at the beginning of Tikka to Ride.
Despite its undoubted quality, the ending to Out of Time was one of the most frustrating cliffhangers for Red Dwarf fans, as it would be a further three and a quarter years before it was resolved. Various elements had caused Series VII to be delayed, which are too plentiful to be examined here. Needless to say, when the series finally aired, the resolution was not worth the wait. In a video diary, Lister explains that by destroying Starbug, and the time drive, the future selves created a paradox, which meant that they could never exist in the first place. Despite this, John F. Kennedy kills a past version of himself later in the episode, with no such paradox being created.
For a much more in-depth look at this cliffhanger, as well as some of the alternate endings that could have been in place of it, have a look at our Better Dead Than Smeg article.
6. Lister’s arm. (Epideme/Nanarchy)
LISTER: My left arm, I said! That’s my right. What kind of Navigation Officer can’t tell left from right?
In this episode, the crew manage to defeat a virus by hacking off Lister’s limb. The episode is the first since Out of Time to finish with ‘To Be Continued…’ Despite this, the cliffhanger isn’t too drastic, with all the exciting action taking place in the final scene. The only reason that the caption is used is that the status quo of the series was not resumed. Lister still didn’t have an arm, so the state of affairs was not the same as it was at the beginning of the episode, when all crew members had a full compliment of limbs. Nevertheless, the ending left viewers with a week to speculate how it would be resolved, with many guessing that Lister would be given a false arm, complete with bottle-opener, as per the Future Lister in Future Echoes. Not for the first time, fans believed that seeds planted in that episode would blossom into interesting plots years down the line.
KRYTEN: It’s been a one hundred percent success, sir. In fact, it’s been a five hundred percent success! In fact, they’ve… Well, if that’s all, sir, I think I’ll retire for the evening, good night!
The episode starts with a re-cap, introduced by Kryten. This is the first and the only time to date that a character has addressed the audience directly. Holly’s distress calls of the first two series were aimed at potential rescuers, while Lister’s recap in Tikka to Ride and Hollister’s recaps in Series VIII were part of their own video diaries. This is the only time any character is aware that they are part of a TV show, outside of the Smeg Ups videos and Can’t Smeg Won’t Smeg.
The main focus of Nanarchy is Lister’s struggle to cope with the loss of his limb – from playing the guitar, to dunking bic-bics, to ‘wipe duty’. At first, it seemed that Doug and his co-writers had taken the predictable route and given Lister a false arm. However, the arm was unsuccessful, and the nanobots were invented. This also brought back Red Dwarf and Holly for the first time since 1992, and the nanobots went on to become a key part of the subsequent three episodes.
The actual cliffhanger from the previous episode was not resolved until the final scenes, when Lister was injected with nanobots, who over-compensated by giving Lister a beefy new body. So in a way, the cliffhanger was only half-resolved, as Lister only turned back to his normal self at the start of the next episode, Back in the Red (Part One). Meanwhile, the nanobots went on to produce a cliffhanger of their own.
7. A very big Red Dwarf. (Nanarchy/Back in the Red (Part One))
CAT: Er, guys… We’ve got a problem!
In a rather funny ending to the episode, Starbug flies into Red Dwarf’s cargo bay, the door of which seems bigger than it was when they last saw it in Demons and Angels (the ship didn’t actually feature in Back to Reality, which was the last episode of Series V). In the cargo bay, they see another Starbug, which is several hundred times larger than theirs. This effect was achieved by taking a brief loop of Starbug poised to take off from an earlier episode, with a CGI Starbug flying around on top of it. Series VII was the second consecutive series to end with a cliffhanger, after previous series only had one at a time.
KOCHANSKI: It’s not Starbug that’s expanding, it’s Red Dwarf that’s shrinking!
Two years later, the cliffhanger was resolved by having Starbug fly through a shrinking Red Dwarf. This is explained as being part of the nanobot’s molecular process – reproducing things to be larger-than-life, before taking them back to their normal size, as per Lister’s body. By the time the sequence has ended, Starbug has been destroyed, leading to the premise of Series VIII, as Lister is arrested by the crew of Red Dwarf, who have also been resurrected by the nanobots. Once again, Doug Naylor confounded our expectations and thrown the fans completely off their guard, despite the BBC doing their best to spoil the surprise by broadcasting a Star Wars-parody trailer, which gave away the entire plot of Back in the Red, after a repeat of Parallel Universe a week previously.
8. Eight episodes, five stories. (The whole of Series VIII)
When evaluating Series VIII, you have to take into account the monetary problems that the series faced, right from the start of production. The fact that the series had the same budget as Victoria Wood’s dinnerladies angers the fans almost as much as it does Doug Naylor. The series-opener Back in the Red was originally billed as an hour-long special, but when the series finally broadcast, it was in fact three regular half-hour episodes. Whether the decision to scrap the proposed special was down to the BBC, or whether Doug decided against it in order to reach the sought-after 52-episode mark remains unknown.
With one story now taking place over three episodes, Series VIII had more than its fair share of cliffhangers. Part One, as well as resolving the end of Nanarchy, ended with Rimmer walking off with Lanstrom’s positive viruses from Quarantine. This is an odd place to end the episode, as there is no real dramatic element to keep the viewers interested, despite Rimmer’s funny “The world loves a bastard” line (in fact, the cliffhanger ending probably ruins the impact of the line by over-exaggerating it, if anything). Part Two starts with a caption explaining that Red Dwarf has been rebuilt, followed Hollister recording his video diary, explaining that several members of his crew are being charged for crimes against the Space Corps. After Part Two ends with a pointless Reservoir Dogs pastiche, Part Three starts in a similar manner. This time, however, Hollister’s diary is absolutely huge. It features no less than ten clips from the previous two episodes, and a great deal of Hollister babbling on. This was presumably done to help stretch an hours worth of material into three half-hour slots. However, the montage does include one brief, previously unseen clip; in which Rimmer drops a hefty file onto Hollister’s desk.
Fortunately, Cassandra and Krytie TV turned out pretty much how Doug intended, which is evident as they are perhaps the most watchable episodes of the series. However, the history of Pete is very unusual. Originally, the two parts of Pete were two separate episodes; Captain’s Office and Pete. For reasons known only to Doug Naylor, a simple ‘To be Continued’ caption was insufficient to join the episodes, so Captain’s Office was renamed Pete (Part One). This is very stupid, as the first part has very little to do with Pete until the final minute or so. By retaining the original titles, perhaps Doug could have avoided at least some criticism about stretching a mere few plots over an over-long series. Again, Part Two’s recap is used to fill up the episode, containing seven long clips, some of which are totally unnecessary for new viewers to understand the episode. After a series of problems and compromise, the final episode was to prove the most unsatisfactory of all.
9. A good ending? The Smeg It Is! (Only the Good…)
Since Series VIII first aired, we have learnt that the series could have ended in one of five ways. This information has been gathered from the Series VIII Script Book and the testimonies of those who were present at the recordings.
a) The original intention was to finish the series with an epic episode, titled Earth. The crew were to have regained control of Red Dwarf, discovered the ability to travel vast distances, arrived at Earth and crash land somewhere in the Pacific, causing a massive tidal wave which wiped out the super-evolved civilisation that lived happily on the planet. A final shot of Lister and Rimmer swapping insurance details with the survivors would have been a fitting end to a fine programme. However, like many plans for Series VIII, this was scuppered by budget constraints, and could not be filmed. There have been rumours that this idea will be incorporated into a ninth series or a special episode to round off the show, but no announcements of this kind have been made by Grant Naylor Productions or the BBC.
b) The ending that was originally filmed was of Rimmer finding an antidote to the virus that was eating the ship, and regaining control of Red Dwarf, refusing to allow the crew back on board. A famous publicity shot of Rimmer looking out of a porthole and smoking a cigar was derived from this scene. In a move of sheer excellence, Futera’s set of Trading Cards included some previously unseen photographs, as well as the actual script for this ending. The deviation from the broadcast version starts just after the Talia scene:
INT. CORRIDOR – DAY
Rimmer walks along the corridor carrying the virus in the tube. He constantly turns the wrong way into lifts and doors and has to correct himself. Officers pass and salute him. He tries to salute but can’t do it until he swaps hands. He passes the dispensing machine.
RIMMER: It’s the Captain speaking. Any chance of a free bar of chocolate?
MACHINE: It’s my pleasure, Captain.
Rimmer takes chocolate.
RIMMER Do the perks never end?
Lister – dressed very smartly as an officer – appears, clearly looking for him.
LISTER: Captain, you should be back in bed, sir. We’ve been worried.
RIMMER: I’m fine, uh (not sure who he is) thing. Thank you.
LISTER: How’s the squirrel?
RIMMER: The squirrel? It’s, uh…
LISTER: I’ve missed it.
Lister places his hand on Rimmer’s shoulder.
RIMMER: My God, you’re my lover. Well, it’s over, you hear me? Whatever we once did with my squirrel is past. I’m different now.
LISTER: I’m your first officer, sir. Squirrel’s your nick name, sir.
RIMMER: We’ve never been to bed together?
LISTER: Certainly not, sir.
RIMMER: Excellent. Never sleep with anyone you work with. Really embarrassing when you break up and you’re both waiting to use the photo copying machine.
He reaches a sign which says ‘science department’ in mirror writing.
RIMMER: What does that say?
LISTER: Science department, sir.
RIMMER: Excuse me.
We then return to the broadcast version, for the scenes with the mirror equivalents of Kochanski and Cat. However, afterwards:
INT. FLIPPED CORRIDOR – DAY
Rimmer runs down the corridor with his formula.
RIMMER: The antidote. I did it.
INT. HOLLISTER’S QUARTERS – DAY
Kryten is fiddling with the machine.
KRYTEN: I think that’s fixed it. Powering up the machine.
Machine powers up. Rimmer steps through the mirror.
RIMMER: I did it. The antidote.
Rimmer hands formula to Kryten.
KRYTEN: This is the formula for the virus, not the antidote.
Rimmer takes paper back. It says: “ZOGOTHONIUMELIUMOXIIXIEXIPHULMIFHIDIKALIDRIHDE”.
RIMMER: It’s different.
KOCHANSKI: The formula must have changed back into its mirror opposite, now you’ve returned to our universe.
CAT: So now what?
KRYTEN: You’re going to have to memorise it.
RIMMER: Memorise it? We’re all dead.
He exits through the mirror.
INT. MIRRORED HOLLISTER’S QUARTERS – DAY
RIMMER: (reads) Cesiumfrancolithicmyxialobidiumrixydixydoxhidexidroxhide.
INT. HOLLISTER’S QUARTERS – DAY
Rimmer steps through the mirror.
RIMMER: Cesium – hang on.
RIMMER: Cesiumfrancolithicmyxia –
Exits. Caption: “two hours later.” Rimmer returns.
KRYTEN: Oh, Cesiumfrancolithicmyxialobidiumrixydixydoxhidexidroxhide.
RIMMER: You’ve heard of it?
KOCHANKSI: Cesiumfrancolithicmyxialobidiumrixydixydoxhidexidroxhide? It’s really famous.
CAT: Cessy what?
LISTER: Cesiumfrancolithicmyxialobidiumrixydixydoxhidexidroxhide. I used to drink it in Chemistry all the time.
RIMMER: Let’s just make some up and get rid of this damn microbe. Smegging smart-alecs.
INT. LANDING BAY – DAY
Model sequence – Kryten pours a new solution onto the affected areas and we see the damaged sections repair themselve.
Model sequence – Red Dwarf in space. Loud rock music.
INT. CORRIDOR – DAY
Lister swigging lager, smoking cigar; Kochanski swigging champagne, and smoking a cigar, and the Cat also with cigar doing a conga down the corridor. They dance past the open door of –
INT. HOLLISTER’S QUARTERS – DAY
Rimmer, feet up, is smoking a cigar. Kryten is doing some ironing, smoking a cigar. He peers out of a port hole.
KRYTEN: Sir, up ahead. It’s the Captain and the crew. Shall I programme the ship to slow so they can board, sir?
Rimmer walks to the window.
RIMMER: Full ahead, Mr. Kryten. I see no ships.
Model sequence – Hollister peers out of Blue Midget porthole.
Rimmer peers out of a Red Dwarf porthole. He ‘Rimmer-salutes’ Hollister.
INT. CORRIDOR – DAY
Rimmer walks into the corridor and walks up to the dispensing machine. He puts in a coin.
RIMMER: I owe you this.
Rimmer starts to walk away from the corridor, puffing cigar.
MACHINE: And I owe you this.
A can of coke screams down the corridor
RIMMER: Every dog has his day.
MACHINE: And today’s the day, and I’m the dog.
Coke can hits Rimmer’s head and he falls face first into the floor
MACHINE: (howls like a dog)
With the exception of the mirror Lister bits, this does sounds like the best possible ending. All the crew were seen to be ultimately happy, after a traumatic spell in prison. And above all, the status quo of the series would have been resumed, with the entire prison scenario ending up as one, long, temporary situation. However, those who actually saw the ending when it was shot think otherwise. Friend-of-the-website Karl Eisenhauer says that the ending simply didn’t work, and describes one part, where the crew all repeat the name of the antidote, as ’embarrassing’.
c) Karl’s views were shared by Doug Naylor, who decided to cut off the action at Rimmer being knocked out by the dispensing machine, staring at the burning antidote and drifting out of consciousness. This could have been a poignant and intriguing ending to the series, rivalling that of Out of Time. However, Doug decided to gauge the opinions of his young children, who told him that the ending was too dark. This is what you get when you trust the opinions of eleven-year-olds over the opinions of the experienced crew.
d) Doug decided to combat the alleged darkness by bringing back Ace Rimmer to save his other self. This would have clearly been atrocious. The character had already been overused by that point, and to bring him back would have soured the fine performances of Dimension Jump, Emohawk and Stoke Me A Clipper. Fortunately, Doug decided against this, and it was never filmed. Unfortunately, the idea he came up with wasn’t much better.
e) The final possible ending is the one we ended up with. Apparently, he came up with the idea about ten minutes before the Ace Rimmer ending was due to start filming, and he tells a good story about how he sent Ed Bye off to hunt down a cloak, some sandals and a scythe, something which he managed within a few minutes. In the ending, Rimmer collapses, looks up and sees the imposing figure of the Grim Reaper (played by Bye himself) staring down at him. After Death helps him to his feet, Rimmer knees him in the groin and runs off. Do skeletons even have testicles? As Rimmer said in Future Echoes, “you can’t whack Death on the head”, so how come you can smack him in the bollocks? (One explanation that has been mooted for this is that the whole sequence takes place in Rimmer’s mind, and symbolises his struggle to regain conciousness. It’s probably the best possible explanation, although if true it’s needlessly confusing and obtuse.) The series ends with the worst caption ever: “The End” being replaced with “THE SMEG IT IS”, which is just plain stupid, unfunny, and irritating.
Cliffhangers have played a big part in Red Dwarf. They, along with their resolutions, got gradually more exciting, before culminating in the fabulous ending to Out of Time. However, in recent years they weren’t quite what they were, with the cliffhangers not very exciting, and the resolutions often somewhat of a cop-out. Unless we get a Series IX, perhaps the latest one might prove to be the least satisfying of all.