It was exactly two years ago today that Red Dwarf X burst onto our screens, heralding a brand new era of regular new series, sensible production schedules, and crystal clear communication with the fans as to the show’s future. In a change to your scheduled programming, High & Low looks back on the very best and very worst Series X Scenes. By sheer coincidence, all six episodes have at least one representative in the top ten, although the same even spread does not apply for the bottom five, with one episode taking up 60% of those spaces. What episode could that possibly be? Bearing the usual “only this writer’s opinion, not that of G&T as a whole” caveat in mind, read on to find out…
10. “You now no longer need to have this conversation and can do something else”
Fathers & Suns
I previously put Pree in fifth place in my all time list of best Red Dwarf guest characters, so it’s no real surprise that her introduction would be one of my ten favourite scenes of Series X. It’s a scene that’s already hilarious before she makes her first appearance, with Chris Barrie on fine form with the faux-nonchalant way Rimmer selects Pree’s appearance. Then we see Rebecca Blackstone’s big face – striking and stunning in every sense – for the first time, and are instantly enthralled by her extraordinary delivery of some very clever, and very funny, opening lines. What a way to introduce a character, and the next scene in the episode is even better. We’ll come to that later.
9. “A giant death worm?”
Even the phrase “shit episode” has “hit” in it. There’s actually a surprising amount of bits in Dear Dave that aren’t completely terrible, but this is the only scene that stands up against the best moments of the other five episodes. The charades scene has a fast and relentlessly-funny pace, comprised of pleasingly silly gags and amusing character moments, with Kryten’s paranoia and Rimmer’s over-active fear of danger taking centre stage. Proof that scenes with just the four main characters and zero budget can work well, but only when they’re done right.
8. “That bit looks important”
It’s a bold and unusual move for Red Dwarf to do a scene without any of the core actors, and this is only one of several that take place during The Beginning. The opening young Rimmer scene narrowly misses out on a place in the top ten, as does the later return to the simulant ship, but the hara-kari scene is amongst the best in the whole series. Gary Cady and Alex Hardy are both excellent in this unusually graphic but nevertheless hilarious and beautifully played little vignette.
7. “I clever as a hedgehog”
Yes, it’s another example of The Beginning doing unusual things, but doing them very well indeed. Richard O’Callaghan returns to the series and really shines as the Dwarfers’ annoying next-door neighbour. The key to why it works is the brilliant chemistry between O’Callaghan and Craig Charles, establishing a real sense of a shared history between the two characters, even though the audience have never seen them together before. That and the fact that Hogey’s silly voice is incredibly funny, even if it does sound like he’s saying “you kissed my brother”.
6. “Except for me, him and him”
With the absolute shambles that’s descended to in the latter stages of this episode, it’s easy to forget just how strongly Entangled starts, and it all culminates with this brilliant character-based scene in the drive room. It’s very reminiscent of the dynamic we loved so much in the cockpit scenes in Series VI, but with an even stronger concentration of scene-stealing woofers from Danny John-Jules. There’s absolutely no fat on this scene – every line is carefully crafted, well paced and delivered beautifully.
5. “But you were an utter twat!”
While it’s impossible to shake the feeling that Howard should have turned up at least ten minutes earlier, his eventual introduction is utterly brilliant. Mark Dexter – another new entry in that aforementioned best guest characters list – is of course fantastic as Howard, from the above-quoted sweariness to his joyous reaction that saves the Touch-T sequence from dragging the rest of the scene down. But the real star is the character gags centered around the regular crew, from the introduction of The Cat as Gerald Hampton to the divine joke about Kryten being washed down and given a hat. Like another scene in Trojan that we’ll come to shortly, this cemented the notion that this time around, those four characters that we know and love were well and truly back.
4. “The slime’s coming home”
As Tanya Jones so rightly pointed out in a recent High & Low, Red Dwarf is at its best when the complexities of Rimmer’s character are made integral to a scene, and this is no exception. Just when you thought there was no more room for Rimmer to grow as a person, this episode is all about tearing him apart and putting him back together one more time, and it all culminates in this moment of glory. It serves as an immensely satisfying conclusion to this storyline, this series and possibly to Red Dwarf as a whole, if it has to be. It’s only slightly ruined by the fact that you can clearly hear Seb Patrick going “hooray” when Chris delivers that final line.
3. “You’re a bit of a knob”
Lemons is my absolute favourite episode of Series X – I’d put it on a par with the bulk of the episodes from the first six series – so it’s perhaps surprising that this is its only entry in this list. But that all tallies with the main reason I love this episode so much, which is that it’s all one, long continuous adventure story, with the plot as the driving force behind the humour, rather than being a collection of isolated sketches like some of the other episodes in this run. Therefore I’ve cheated a bit by making this entry a collection of consecutive shorter scenes, running from Jesus returning to the past to discuss doctrine with Indira Joshi’s Erin (the latter’s brilliant performance counteracting the slightly pony delivery of James Baxter), to the confrontation between Lister and Jesus, which leads to the revelation that this was all a case of mistaken identity, followed by the cutaway gag of Jesus flogging bags in ancient India. It ties everything up, provides a twist to the tale, and does all that whilst being incredibly funny throughout.
2. “Was he Swedish?”
There are a number of problems to do with the pacing in Trojan, with far too much meandering before the main story kicks in, leading to a rushed and lop-sided closing ten minutes. But the tricky thing is, it’s hard to complain when some of that meandering is this good. This scene is essentially the same gag three times – pompous character tries to make stupid character look stupid, but ends up looking stupid himself – but the brilliance comes from the three distinct ways in which it’s played. Lister revels in his superiority to Rimmer, crafting his response deliberately to cause maximum wind up factor. Kryten, on the other hand, throws his answer away, unflustered and uninterested. But the highlight is undoubtedly The Cat’s contribution. The way that he gets a laugh just from entering the room is fantastic – the audience knows exactly what’s coming, because they know the characters so well, and they’re laughing in advance. But even then, expectations are confounded when Cat changes the pace of the scene to interrupt Rimmer and squeeze in extra laughs just by being himself. Like the Howard scene we discussed earlier, this was the first indication that – unlike previous occasions when Dwarf returned after a long absence – the characters were just as sharp as they were back in the early nineties.
1. “You’re a big, big disappointment to me, David”
Fathers & Suns
If you’re looking for the elements that made Red Dwarf so brilliant the first time around, this scene has them in spades. I’ve spent much of the last twelve years banging on about the fact this this show is fundamentally a character comedy at its heart, which is why that word has appeared fifteen times already in a list of top ten scenes. Needless to say, the exploration of Lister’s personality is what drives this scene, but there’s also the strong sci-fi element, giving it its unconventional and thoroughly entertaining narrative. And yes, both of these elements combine to produce some fantastic comedy, ranging from the emergence of the father/son dynamic to create two distinct voices, to the unexpected reveal of Lister’s guitar being replaced by a cut-out, to the sheer slapstick joy of watching a drunk man falling off his chair. Twice.
It stands out amongst a series packed with good moments as being by far the greatest of them all, and a reminder of exactly why we fell in love with Red Dwarf in the first place. Regardless of when it was made, it’s a fully-fledged classic Dwarf scene in its own right, and it provides hope that – given the right conditions – there’s no reason why a new episode of Red Dwarf couldn’t surpass any that came before it.
I do love Red Dwarf X overall, and I think that there’s enough great stuff in there to compensate for the less successful moments. But perhaps more so than any previous editions of High & Low, this subject really feels like it needs a quick trip into the depths of the bottom five in order to tell the complete story of my reaction to the topic as a whole. Brace yourself.
5. “Moves move”
This scene is not completely awful, and there are some redeeming features, mostly in the opening moments when Rimmer’s taking the piss out of Lister’s depression. But it’s the worst example of a worrying trend for scenes towards the start of Series X episodes that have little to no connection to the actual plot, feel like they’re only there to pad out the running time, and contain dialogue that’s more in Doug Naylor’s voice than it is in any of his characters’. You know the stuff – shopping channels, call centres, Shakespeare’s legacy, health and safety forms, and in this instance, bizarrely, Jacobean chat up lines. The crux of why it bothers me so much is that when Chris Barrie launches into that soliloquy, I’m seeing Chris Barrie doing a bit, and not Rimmer. But hey, this scene is a bit rubbish, but at least it’s not actually offensive, unlike some of the entries further down the list.
4. “Have you got a pen?”
In all fairness, the above-quoted line is actually pretty good, and Craig’s throwaway delivery distracts you with a laugh before you notice how weird the rest of the scene – and indeed the latter portion of this episode – truly is. Irene E is not a very good character, and while I’m not suggesting that there was any sort of dodgy intent behind the writing, you can’t help but feel uncomfortable when the first human woman in the show for years is ogled at by the men, acts like a stereotypical dumb blonde from the 1950s, is killed in an arbitrary and functional manner, and the only reaction to her death is one of disappointment from Rimmer that he’s not going to shag her. And they say they can’t write for women…
3. “I’ve never seen a ceiling before”
As stated previously, Dear Dave is not entirely awful, which surprised me somewhat on a recent rewatch when I found myself chuckling more often than I expected to. It’s very clearly botched together, and any semblance of a plot is nonsensical at best, but it almost gets away with it… until it completely and utterly falls apart in the last five minutes. It’s hard to feel much sympathy for the behind-the-scenes problems this episode suffered when you’re faced with the sight of Dave Lister solemnly fucking a vending machine for a really, really long time. Seriously, it goes on for ages. And it doesn’t even work as a gag. That’s not how you lift things. Why is Lister doing this? A cheap laugh can be a great laugh if it’s done right (see: Polymorph). But this is just weird. Then it’s followed by the sight of Cat walking round with a shitty arse, which in turn is followed by…
2. “What an absolute slag”
Look, I see what the intention of this punchline is. I see why it’s supposed to be funny. Lister’s having a moment of maturity and personal development, which is then undercut by him having a callous and childish reaction to some shocking news. That’s fine, and I get it. But really, “slag”? I love David Lister – we’ve watched him grow and develop into a working class role model and the moral heart of the show – but I don’t want to love a man who uses that word in – crucially – that context. That’s why it’s a problem – one poorly chosen word completely undermines everything we’ve learned about this person in the previous 59 episodes. And aside from all this, thinking about it now transports me right back to how disappointed I was to discover in the aftermath of the broadcast that there’s a sizeable number of men of all ages that have absolutely no issue with that word, and see no discrepancy whatsoever in it being used by a supposedly enlightened and admirable male character. For that reason alone, this scene can fuck right off.
1. “Ooh, me so solly, or something”
Fathers & Suns
Yes, yes, I know. It’s Taiwan Fucking Twatface, and I’ve been bollocking on about how terrible this scene is for the last one year and fifty one weeks. I really don’t want to go into it too much, so just look back to the Instant Reaction Dwarfcast, my Fathers & Suns review, the semi-retrospective Dwarfcast and the low bit of High & Low: Guest Characters if you’re somehow unfamiliar with my opinion on the matter. But what I will (briefly) say is: like the previous scene, it’s not the concept I have a problem with, it’s the execution. No topic should be off-limits for comedy, but if you’re going to tackle a controversial one, you’d better be damn clear as to what your intentions are.
So that’s how we’ve decided to mark the second anniversary of Red Dwarf X: an article that, by its very nature, is two thirds positive and one third negative. But aptly enough, that’s roughly how I feel about the series as a whole, two years on. The overall excitement and enthusiasm that inevitably greets a new series will always wane over time. When you start to become more familiar with the material, you start to notice more flaws, and for a while the less successful bits are invariably the ones that stick in your mind. But there’s a third and final stage to the process of forming a lasting impression of a series, and that’s the stage we’ve reached now, two years on. The extremes of positivity and negativity have both given way, and you can start to look at things more objectively.
And the conclusion that I’ve reached is that Red Dwarf X was – largely – bloody great. As a whole, it doesn’t quite live up to Series I-VI, but it’s a vast improvement on VII and VIII, and as such I’m really happy that it exists, and consider it a worthy addition to the Red Dwarf canon. And yet I know that – even two years on – there’ll still be people who strongly, violently and loudly disagree with my assessment of the series as a whole, and of the individual scenes detailed above. And these are people whose opinions I really, genuinely respect, whether they be internet acquaintances, bona fide friends, or even fellow G&T writers. So maybe it’s still too soon to start thinking about Red Dwarf X‘s legacy. Maybe we need another series to come along before we can truly give it context. Maybe news of that needs to emerge sooner rather than later, before all the momentum is lost and any new series becomes another comeback rather than a continuation. Please. I really don’t want to talk about Taiwan Tony any more.