With the recent discussions on alt.tv-red-dwarf and the official webboard, we ask – does the lack of continuity in Red Dwarf really matter?

A digital clock above the wall mirrors gives the date as being 22nd March 2077.

LISTER: March the twenty-second. That’s what – three weeks before the crew got wiped out. (Stasis Leak)

LISTER: Kryten, I’m an enlightened twenty-third century guy. Spit it out, man. (D.N.A.)

Caption: THE AIGBURTH ARMS, LIVERPOOL. NOVEMBER 26th, 2155. (Ouroboros)

Mentioning continuity to a Red Dwarf fan can provoke a number of reactions. They can get indignant thinking that you are criticising their show. They can get into it enthusiastically, purely as a bit of fun, or (if you’re feeling snooty) an intellectual exercise; but feel that when it comes down to it, continuity doesn’t really have a huge impact on the show when they watch it. Or, they can go into a huge rant, and talk about how it wrecks their enjoyment of the show, and how Grant Naylor should have done things so much better. Or it can simply bore them rigid; in which case I guess that they’ve stopped reading this article by now, so we can call them cunts without getting any complaints. Hooray!

Of course, fans come in all shapes and sizes, and with completely different opinions and attitudes towards the show. That’s great; it would get pretty boring otherwise. It only becomes a problem when certain people who feel differently to you get angry at your attitude; this sometimes seems to be the case amongst certain (but by no means all) non-nitpickers, who accuse you of not being true fans, or of ruining their show, which is clearly ridiculous. The same is true from hardcore nitpickers, who want to shove what they percieve to be the problems with the show down everyone’s throats, and are unable to accept that people may have a different attitude or view to them. Let everyone enjoy the show however they want; you might discuss your differences, but there is no need to get abusive, or criticise people on a personal level. Something that the people who ran Red Dwarf World should have accepted. Ahem.

But we digress. Our view is that spotting continuity problems with Red Dwarf is purely a bit of fun; the problems don’t usually impact the show in a significant way. Which is a hell of a statement, considering; whilst Red Dwarf is certainly not unique in not caring about continuity quite so much as other series, it certainly plays harder and looser than any other series we know. After all, what other SF series is there that doesn’t know which century it’s main characters hail from? The following is from an interview with Rob and Doug, which was printed in Red Dwarf Smegazine, No. 6 (August 92), which provides some of the answers as to why this is the case:

RDM: You seemed to change the emphasis too, from the continuity based stories of the first two seasons, to exploring other science fiction concepts.

RG: That was a deliberate thing, I do like to do the occasional one where you’re referring back to the series – it’s fun to keep that continuity going – but in the end it’s kind of Aunt Sally stuff, you’re setting up your Aunt Sally and knocking it down.

DN: There’s also this huge science fiction convention where you should be consistent from day one all the way through and people go absolutely wild if you’re not. I find it very, very funny to be quite as inconsistent as we’ve been from beginning.

RG: We do actually pay lip service to the continuity, we do try and if we make a change we sit down and weigh up whether it’s for the better of the show and if it makes the show better we’ll go for it.

DN: Sometimes it affects continuity and you’ve just got to bite the bullet.

RDM: As with the Lister/Kochanski relationship, which now seems to have happened but originally it hadn’t.

RG: We felt that it was less mature, it was kind of school yard mentality that he wanted to go out with this woman and daren’t ask her out.

DN: And ultimately it is pretty boring bringing her back every show and they have a kind of love affair and then get separated somehow. It works better in the novels, but even then in the novels she’s used as an icon rather than being in them much.

RG: She hasn’t got a character.

So, basically, it’s because a) It makes sense to correct any errors you make later if it benefits the show, and b) It’s funny. Seems perfectly understandable to us. We certainly wouldn’t throw around “get a life” epithets at people who feel this ruins the show; that kind of thing is childish and pathetic, and fans tend to get that far too much anyway. But we would ask: why do you care so much? Does it really take away your enjoyment of the show? Does it really actually matter what century the series is supposed to be set in? What’s important is the story, the characterisation, and the jokes.

And yet, stretching the concept on continuity problems slightly, there are other problems with certain aspects of Dwarf – situations where, when you study a story, parts actually don’t make a hell of a lot of sense. Consider Timeslides; when Lister changes history, and disappears from the timeline – why does Rimmer still remember him? By rights, he shouldn’t – indeed, seeing as Lister was never on Red Dwarf, and Rimmer was reactivated as a hologram purely to keep him sane, it’s very likely that he wouldn’t be around at all.

It’s a major problem with the story. And yet, it doesn’t really matter. When we’re watching Timeslides, we’re too busy laughing at the jokes, being involved in the story – hell, even admiring the fantastic model shots. The fact that a piece of the story doesn’t really hang together just doesn’t seem to matter compared to all that – indeed, it’s a near unavoidable problem with the story. A similar problem occurs in many time-travel tales. Such as in the film Star Trek: First Contact, when the Borg sphere goes back in time and changes history:

PICARD: They must’ve done it in the past… they went back and assimilated Earth, changed history.

CRUSHER: But if they changed history… why are we still here?

DATA: The temporal wake must have somehow protected us from the changes in the time-line.

I believe the word “somehow” tells you all you need to know here. It makes a vague amount of sense, but it’s really just a technobabble way to get round an unavoidable plot problem. In a Red Dwarf episode, would you rather have this, or a good joke? To us, this kind of thing just isn’t really that important in a Dwarf episode, unlike Star Trek. And to all of you thinking at this point “Don’t give me all that Star Trek crap, it’s too early in the morning”: well done.

However, there is a trap, that is very easy to fall into, when it comes to continuity. We know, having fallen into it ourselves. Reading the document Don’t Leave Us Hanging, an early article we wrote for this particular incarnation of the site, we make some rather snide remarks about the opening of Series VII. Specifically:

Another bloody stupid thing about this resolution is that the camera explodes when Lister explains the paradox to it. For a start, the concept is not that difficult to grasp, and since when is a video camera sentient?

This seemed reasonable to us, and we sat down on our smug arses feeling rather pleased that if we were involved in the production of Series VII, we would never have made such a grave error. Until, we got down to reading the Plot Inconsistencies Project in-depth, and came across the following for Parallel Universe:

There are baby skutters in this episode. There is absolutely no practical, definable need for baby skutters at all, or any reason for skutters to reproduce by making smaller version of themselves.

Frankly, there’s no arguing with that. There is an possible explanation given:

The convergence of eons of time for their remedial AI circuits to evolve and being under the direction of the increasingly dim-witted Holly could have resulted in the emergence of a skutter society where the skutters produced smaller versions of themselves for no good reason.

but that’s rather too much of a stretch for our liking; and a similar stretch could easily be invented to explain away the camera exploding. The point is, we didn’t sit down whining “Oh, that couldn’t happen” when we saw the baby skutters. In fact, we did one thing: laugh. The only difference between baby skutters and the camera self-destructing is that one works as a joke, and the other doesn’t. Continuity, or the joke making sense realistically, doesn’t really come into it.

This isn’t the only example by any means. Indeed, we spotted a new one the other day, whilst watching the excellent Justice. See if you can spot the inconsistency in the following lines:

CAT: Why not tool up with bazookoids, wait for the pod to open, and if it’s one of these bad-ass android dudes, let it eat laser?
KRYTEN: Simulants are almost indestructible, sir. It could easily withstand a volley of bazookoid fire at close range.


RIMMER: What are you waiting for? Gloop him.

There you go; what would appear to be one of the tenants of the plot completely deconstructed. But is it in the PIP? No. It appears that extremely few people have ever noticed this. And how many times have you enjoyed this episode in the past? And has this ruined it for you? I’m guessing not. And the reason it, Justice works on many levels; comedic, dramatic, character-wise, production-wise… the fact that one part of the plot doesn’t really hold together doesn’t actually mean much in the grand scheme of things. What would you rather have – a show that holds together perfectly, but doesn’t work on those other levels? Which is more important?

The worst thing is, this is an uncomfortable moral for us. Our pretentious, thinking man’s Red Dwarf fan persona doesn’t like succumbing to the age-old fan cry of “If it’s funny, it doesn’t matter.” It’s used to shrug off anything wrong with the show; faults in the plotting, faults in the characterisation, faults with the effects, faults with anything. It’s too easy. And yet, we’re forced to accept that actually, despite it often being used as a lazy cop-out, it’s rather more true than we previously thought. You can’t excuse everything with it; but what you certainly can excuse is some lapses in continuity in Series VII and VIII – because the show has always been like that. You can’t argue it both ways – you either criticise every single series for not caring much about it, or you accept that when it comes down to it, it doesn’t really matter. In all series.

8 comments on “Continuity Announcement

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  • Good article. And good points. (I actually found the camera exploding quite funny despite lacking logical sense, but point well made.)

    As for the little continuity thing concerning the simulant, I’m proud to say I picked up on it. I like to try to reason such inconsistencies out (probably a bit of a stretch to put me into the ‘intellectual exercise group though.)

    In the case of this issue, I figured maybe Kryten was exaggerating, probably having never met a simulant himself. Maybe what he said was all based on hearsay. You know, how tales grow as they’re passed on around those fire where space-dogs spin yarns of mind-splitting terROR! (Sorry had a bit of a funny turn then.)

    The simulant’s own attempt to trick them into giving up their weapons could fit this theory. (Although there are other possibilities, like not wanting to scratch his bodywork maybe. Or he was just a sadistic scumbag who liked to play with his victims. Well that goes without saying I guess.)

    Trouble is, that doesn’t work as Rimmer wouldn’t know that. It doesn’t make sense that he’d tell Lister to “Gloop him!” if it would just end up being an FX way of attracting the sim’s attention (the sci-fi equivalent of the lion/tea-towel/love-spuds scenario).

    In the end though it’s a very funny exchange culminating in (for the pedant Paddons* who read this, this is purely from my memory so might not be exactly word-for-word):

    “It’s a shame he’s not asleep!”
    “You’d gloop him if he was asleep?”
    “I’d gloop him if he was on the job!”

    … which comes to one of the article’s points. A good gag goes a long way to covering a multitude of inconsistencies. Well not a multitude, but a few.

    And it’s such fun reasoning them out. (For me anyway.)

    An yeah. I think with episodes/series/etc people dislike, there’s a tendency to exaggerate, find problems in things that they’d normally accept elsewhere. Possibly wouldn’t even notice elsewhere.

    *A new term I’ve created. It almost rhymes doesn’t it?**
    **Just kidding… Oooh guilt chip overload. Gnnnnnn!

  • Yes, this makes a very good point about overlooking nitpicks if the rest of the episode is up to standard. The recent Stasis Leak Dwarfcast includes the gaping plothole that Lister and Rimmer could just pop down to Ganymede and stay there, considering this is a better alternative than being alone in Deep Space*.

    It’s similar to the well-worn Tikka quandary (why not stay in Dallas?) but not brought up nearly as much. No prizes for guessing why.

    * I guess it can be excused by the fact that Lister knows he’ll fulfil future history by marrying Kochanski in five years time so he has to go back and wait. A similar ploy to why he doesn’t go into Stasis following Future Echoes.

  • i dont think theres a problem with the changing crew nuumbers ,centuries,lister and kochanskis relationship, thats just to help moove or change the story to fit the series, and can be explained away with merging dimensions timelines and ect..
    i went back and listend to the tikkaa pile of smeg dwarfcast and completely agree that its completely shambolic to explain how they survived a fight with there future selves ,then about 20 minits later have kennedy do the exact same thing ,with different results,

    a pile of smeg

  • I don’t let them ruin my enjoyment of the show, and some of them don’t bother me much at all, but there are the odd inconsistancies that bug me, some nearly every time I see them. For some reason, the biggest offender to me is when Kryten explains at the end of ‘Back to Reality’ that the hallucination caused Rimmer despair because he could no longer blame his failings and shortcomings on his parents as he shared an upbringing with a richer, more important, half-brother. This seems to completely ignore the fact that, in reality, he shared an upbringing with two richer, more important full brothers – just doesn’t make sense to me at all!

  • I’ve never understood what Rob Grant meant by Aunt Sally stuff. Not a phrase I’m familiar with.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aunt_Sally

    It’s like a bowling pin. Setting up a bowling pin is done with the intension of then knocking it down.

    I think he is saying that when writing in deliberate continuinty points for a later pay off, in television, it can be limiting to a 2 part writing processes of Set Up and Reveal, and he preferes a freer or different approach to writing.

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