Behold! Former G&T regular feature High & Low, in which we compile both the top ten and the bottom five of a particular Red Dwarf topic, is back, just three years and ten months after the last one. That’s about average for a second-class fansite. We’re no longer attempting to make it a monthly occurrence, but we fancied bringing back the format as an option to use from time to time. And as we not only promised back in 2015 that the next edition would be Holly Scenes, but even went to the trouble of getting Hattie Hayridge herself to pick one of the entries, we’d better finally crack on with it…
10. “This is an S.O.S. distress call…”
Future Echoes – Queeg
Now I know, technically speaking, that’s ten scenes, but what better way to set the mood than with the narrative device that served just that purpose for the first two series? The jokes vary in quality – my favourites being the Shake n’ Vac one, the singing potatoes and “still, you’ve got to laugh, haven’t you?” – but even without them, I’ve always loved the doom-laden tone the distress call gives to proceedings when combined with the original titles, and the way it’s always instantly undercut by a silly gag. They provide a reassuring familiarity to the early episodes, which now invokes such strong nostalgic feelings of warmth for those of us who have grown up with the show.
9. *bonk* *bonk* *bonk*
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the moment selected by Hattie Hayridge herself as her favourite Holly scene, back when I interviewed her for a DwarfCast in April 2015:
I think I’ll do the banging my head on the screen. Danny had the line, you know, “she can’t count to three without banging her head on the screen” and I said “I’ve never banged my head on the screen”, and they went “oh it doesn’t matter”. So I said “well, why don’t I just bang my head on the screen and then it makes sense”. It’s probably why they got rid of me, going “oh God, can’t she just shut up”!
I don’t think I knew prior to this that she’d suggested the call-back herself, which is one of the best examples of a quick yet high-quality throwaway gag in Red Dwarf, along with Holly fainting upon meeting Ace in Dimension Jump, which was also suggested by Hattie. Between this and things like her constantly reacting to dialogue even when she’s just on a tiny screen in the background, and attention-to-detail like ducking when the bomb goes off in Timeslides, Hattie brought far more to the role than she’s given credit for.
8. “I’m in there”
I genuinely find it very hard to decide which is my favourite Holly of the two. It often feels like you’re putting the two actors in direct competition, which isn’t constructive, and it’s also not a like-for-like comparison when you take into account the variations in the writing and the character dynamics across Red Dwarf‘s run. That’s why I could have picked any scene from Parallel Universe, where you can simply enjoy them both working together, effortlessly becoming the best male/female equivalent pairing of the episode. Their initial meeting is the chosen representative in this list, for the way Hattie’s spot-on imitation instantly sells the concept, and for Norman’s punchline, quoted above.
7. “Oh, that’s easy, easy peasy”
It won’t surprise you if I reveal that this isn’t the only scene from Queeg to make the Top 10, given that it’s the one episode where Holly is so central to the plot throughout. Others have him or her kickstart the story before focus shifts to one or more of the “main” characters, but Queeg is unique in making Holly the permanent protagonist, driving the story from beginning to end. After a few scenes exploring the impact of Holly’s replacement on the rest of the crew, this scene puts him front and centre again, moving the story towards its denouement by sowing the seeds of the rebellion against Queeg. And it’s also extremely funny, with Norman feeling more than ever like part of the ensemble, the delicious visual call-back to the Junior Encyclopedia of Space, and the amusing night watchman uniform.
6. “Oh gawd, now the siren’s bust”
Considering she’s barely in it, Holly steals the show on a number of occasions in Marooned, somehow using a very brief amount of screen time in what’s otherwise a two-hander packed full of classic Lister/Rimmer dialogue to provide some of the most quotable lines of the whole episode. Along with various descriptions of the basic colour of things, we get both “this is not a drill, this is a drill” and the iconic “awooga” in the space of one short opening model sequence, the latter of which became one of the most enduring UK TV catchphrases of the 90s, thanks to John Fashanu on Gladiators via Craig Charles on Cyberzone. A masterclass of both Rob and Doug at their economical best – heavy exposition disguised with superb comedy, taking mere seconds to tee up the whole episode – and Hattie making the most of limited opportunities to shine.
5. “Strike a light, it’s Gordon”
Better Than Life
It’s rare that we see either incarnation of Holly interact with anyone other than our main crew. Whenever guest characters turn up, he or she is usually either left behind or lurking quietly in the background, and on the few occasions when they do get involved, it’s usually for exposition rather than comedy. Therefore the brief postal chess scene really stands out, as not only does it give Holly the chance to be funny with someone other than his fellow regulars (even though he and Gordon don’t technically talk directly to each other), but it’s his friend that pops up. Salkilld’s memorable performance is undoubtedly the highlight of the scene, but it’s a character that only exists because of Holly, both in its conception and execution.
4. “You left a light on in the bathroom”
And not forgetting of course the interactions that Holly has with the main crew. I’ve always been a fan of the dynamic between Lister and Holly in the early series; back when the relationship with Rimmer was at its iciest and most toxic, Holly was the closest thing Lister had to a friend, relying on him to vent his frustrations and chat through his feelings. The two of them feel like a team, working together to Lister’s benefit and occasionally Rimmer’s detriment, all feeding in to Holly’s overarching duty to keep Lister sane. The NorWEB April Fools gag is a tiny action in this ongoing mission, but the scene showcases the pair’s early relationship beautifully, highlighting just what Holly can be when he’s not merely delivering exposition or kick-starting a plot point, popping up with a solid comedy performance and acting as a light-hearted foil for our main protagonist, like a neighbour or colleague role in a more conventional sitcom. And it also give Rob and Doug the opportunity to recycle some old material, which is absolutely fine when it’s performed so well.
3. “Strike a light, I’m a genius again”
Into the Top Three now and – spoiler alert – this is the highest placed scene to feature Hattie’s Holly. This is obviously in no way a reflection on her, but of the way the character rapidly fell by the wayside in favour of Kryten pretty much from her second series onwards. White Hole was in many ways the last hurrah for Hattie, and for Holly in general until later comebacks, and while it’s unfortunate that she spends most of her equivalent to Queeg switched off, it’s a faultless performance which provides one of only a handful of alternate versions of the character. Her increasingly terse and tetchy responses to Rimmer’s babbling later on could easily have made the list, but I couldn’t not plump for the scene which also includes one of the best (or indeed the best, according to the Twitter World Cup thing we did) guest characters of all time. Talkie could have stolen the show, but Holly gives as good as she gets and the scene is a perfect two-hander, albeit between two characters with no hands.
2. “Everybody’s dead, Dave”
Another scene that’s impossible not to include due to its iconic nature. Mention that you’re a Red Dwarf fan to anyone with the vaguest of memories of watching the show back in the day, and odds are that if they reference anything, it’ll either be “smoke me a kipper”, “do you want any toast” or “everybody’s dead, Dave”. Doug knew this when crafting Holly’s cameo in Series XII’s Skipper, which may have made the list itself if I were able to look past the character’s resemblance to a big blue scrotum. It’s a scene that’s endured for 31 years and counting, perhaps because it’s the very first time that Red Dwarf really shows off its idiosyncrasies. The crew being wiped out marks the end of the preamble and the start of the series proper, and what could be a very dark and heavy event for the audience to process is seeded with humour, yet without being played for laughs itself. Bleak subject matter taken seriously but mined for comedy, with laughs coming from the use of language, the peculiarities of the characters and the absurdity of the situation. That’s the very essence of Red Dwarf right there, in the middle of the very first episode.
1. “We are talking Jape of the Decade”
Yes, as inevitably as Back To Reality winning the next anniversary poll, one of Red Dwarf‘s best ever closing scenes, the punchline to one of its best ever episodes and featuring one of its best ever guest characters, takes the number one slot. It shouldn’t work, of course, given that it’s an ending that was plucked from thin air after Rob and Doug had written themselves into a mess they couldn’t resolve, but the twinkle in Norman’s eye, the joy in the audience reaction and the sharpness of the dialogue all add up to a huge triumph. Even before the rug pull though, it’s one of those rare Red Dwarf scenes that invokes a genuine emotional response – Holly’s goodbye speech, and the other characters realising too late what he means to them, can still put a lump in my throat, even on the thousandth viewing.
It should be clear by now that I absolutely adore the character of Holly, but I’m not one of those who’s clamouring for his or her return in a hypothetical future series of the show. After all, it’s been tried once before, and if you need a reminder of how that went, it’s now time for the Low section of our rundown…
5. “We’re getting some lift”
But first, let’s start with a memorable and well-loved scene that’s widely regarded to be one of the funniest it its episode. I am of course a big fan of the pretending-to-like-Rimmer scenes in Terrorform, but looking at it from Holly’s perspective, it’s emblematic of the character’s decline. Having largely been completely absent throughout the episode, her only contribution to the big comedy denouement is to commentate on Starbug’s take-off procedure and give updates on its altitude. Everyone else gets to do funny character-specific things to provide laughs and resolve the plot, while she’s doing neither. Of course it’s a brilliant scene in its own right, but its inclusion here is as a manifestation of the way both Holly and Hattie became increasingly sidelined throughout Series IV and V.
4. “Become a dog”
So obviously when a regular cast of five is too many to satisfactorily sustain, and the difficult decision is made to drop one of them entirely, the next logical step is to bring them back for a series where you’ve added an extra two regulars, a load of recurring guests, resurrected the entire original crew and invented a whole new prison population for good measure. If there wasn’t enough material to go round in Series III-V, there definitely wasn’t in VIII, which means that in order for the much-vaunted returnee to have anything much to do, we get extraneous, irrelevant and ultimately inconsequential scenes like this, awkwardly tacked on to unrelated stories. Which might be alright if it was funny, but it isn’t.
3. “It’s the theory you only tell your relatives”
Back In The Red (Part Three)
Not everything that Holly does in VIII is bad. I like the useless pre-warning he gives ahead of the cell inspection, and the long and short versions of his take on the dinosaur situation, and I’m even starting to warm towards the moon impression, which makes me feel slightly dirty. It’s just that the misses far outweigh the hits, and some of the one-liners that make up the bulk of his contribution to the series are woeful. Such as this notoriously bad gag about the Theory of Relativity, which has the added indignity of being part of the same sequence as the baffling plot-twist that Holly secretly masterminded the events of Back In The Red for the lols, and is in turn followed by the woeful and inexplicable egg-head version of the character.
2. “The Nostrilomo”
Back In The Red (Part One)
But at least most of the worst Holly bits in Series VIII are fairly stand-alone – either isolated vignettes at the start of unrelated scenes, or quick-fire gags that can easily be ignored. This utter nonsense, however, comes along to interrupt and utterly derail a previously exciting action sequence, killing the pace stone dead and halting the momentum of the new series within minutes of it starting. And it doesn’t even work as a charade. The film’s not named after the ship, and that’s not what the ship’s called. The worst thing about Holly in VIII – and this is the ultimate example – is that there’s nothing of his original character in there, he’s just a generic idiot. The whole point of Norman’s Holly was that this supposedly all-powerful futuristic supercomputer behaved like a slightly dour, put-upon, middle-aged bloke. Now that he’s mugging and smirking and playing for laughs, the deadpan charm is completely gone.
1. The Re-Mastered Replacements
Yes, I know. It always feels like a bit of a cheat to cite Re-Mastered as the worst of something, as it’s such low-hanging fruit. But come on. It’s one thing to write new material for a character and for it to not live up to the old stuff, it’s another thing entirely to discard the old stuff and replace it with something worse. There are many levels on which the new Norman material in Re-Mastered doesn’t work. There’s the fact that something that was done to introduce consistency across multiple series results in the character looking completely different in wide shots and close-ups within the same scenes. There’s the uncomfortable revision of UK-centric cultural references to supposedly more universal ones, which is guaranteed to rub people up the wrong way. Then there’s the extra gags that are inserted into pre-existing scenes, hampering the pace and rhythm of the original versions. But mostly, it’s the performance that ties it all together with a ribbon made from rotten fish guts. With ten years having passed and no audience or fellow cast members to play off, Norman was never going to be able to recapture the essence or energy of his late-80s Manchester vintage, which rather begs the simple question: why bother?
Because the vague conclusion we can draw from all of this is that Holly was a wonderful character throughout the first few series of Red Dwarf, portrayed by two actors who both deserve to have their contributions to the show recognised and lauded. But then the show changed, and the sad consequence of that is that there’s no longer a place for Holly in the dynamic, beyond possibly a guest appearance now and then. It would be impossible to recapture the magic that produced so many highlights in the early years without reversing the evolution that resulted in the character being dropped in the first place, and if Red Dwarf has a future, it shouldn’t try to live in the past.