Red Dwarf: a beginner's guide

Get up to speed with the smegging sci-fi sitcom ahead of its long-awaited series 10

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Red Dwarf: a beginner's guide
Written By
Tom Cole

If you’re reading this you’ve probably seen the posters, watched the trailers and overheard lots of people in black t-shirts getting over-excited, but you’ve no idea what this “Red Dwarf X” business is all about.

Well, fear not: we at RT are here to help. After all, with the sci-fi sitcom having been off air for most of the last 13 years, even people who remember calling their friends “smegheads” in the playground could probably do with a quick reminder about the show.

So, before its tenth series gets under way tonight on Dave, here’s our beginner's guide to Red Dwarf:

Situation

Red Dwarf takes place in the dim and distant future, on a mining vessel floating out in deep space. The tenth series of the show is set on board the Jupiter Mining Corporation ship Red Dwarf, which suffered a radiation leak in the 22nd century that wiped out all of its crew apart from the ship’s lowest-ranking technician, Dave Lister.

Lister, who had been frozen in time as punishment for sneaking a cat onto the ship, was released from his temporal prison by Holly, the ship’s computer, after a three million-year wait for the radiation levels to stabilise. Holly then revived Lister’s bunk-mate, Arnold Rimmer, as a hologram to keep Lister sane in the absence of any other human companions.

Unbeknownst to anyone, during the aeons Lister spent in stasis a new humanoid species evolved from his cat and made the ship its home. The feline society eventually waged a civil war, leaving only one of their number alive on Red Dwarf: the flamboyant creature known only as The Cat.

Attempting a return to Earth, the crew answered the distress call of a ship called the Nova 5 only to find its crew long-dead. However, they also discovered a Mechanoid named Kryten still carrying out his duties on the ship, and eventually persuaded the robot to join the Red Dwarf crew. Since then they’ve explored strange worlds, battled intergalactic aggressors, lost (and later, found) their ship and eaten more than their fair share of space weevils…

Characters

Dave Lister

Played by Craig Charles, Lister is a good-natured, dreadlocked Liverpudlian slob. A fan of beer, curry, horror films and the music of RastaBilly Skank, Lister is the last human left alive in the universe. He’s a quick-witted, kind-hearted art college drop-out who, before the leak, enjoyed whiling away his time on Red Dwarf getting drunk with his friends Petersen, Chen and Selby. Nowadays, however, he has to get his kicks by winding Rimmer up and making excessive use of the groinal attachment on Red Dwarf’s artificial reality machine.

Arnold Rimmer

The neurotic Arnold J Rimmer (the J stands for Judas) sports an H on his forehead to indicate his hologrammatic state of being. Played by Chris Barrie, Rimmer is a cowardly, snivelling louse of a man with, as Lister once put it, "a longer yellow streak than a stampede of diuretic camels". His brothers all went on to become Admirals in the Space Corps but Rimmer had to make do with a life as the second-lowest ranking crew member on Red Dwarf. He nevertheless lorded his status over Lister while alive and still harbours dreams of becoming an officer, making his way “up the ziggurat, lickety-split.”

The Cat

Brought to life by Danny John-Jules, the Cat is descended from Lister’s pet moggy, Frankenstein. Of the species felix-sapiens, the Cat is narcissistic and not particularly bright, but generally good natured and amiable. With a wardrobe that would have dwarfed Elizabeth Taylor’s, the Cat’s main concerns in life are looking good and finding a mate. He’s often seen at the helm of Red Dwarf, using his feline sense of smell to sniff out asteroid belts or threats to the ship. He’s by far the coolest member of the crew, and he knows it.

Kryten

A Series 4000 service mechanoid who joined the crew full time in series three, Kryten, with Lister’s help, managed to break his programming and assume a number of human characteristics. Distinguished by his flat-panelled face, which comes in for stick whenever arguments break out on board ship, Kryten is another neurotic. Unlike Rimmer, though, he’s a noble and self-sacrificing character who delights in performing menial chores for the rest of the crew. He’s far more logical, knowledgeable and diplomatic than the rest of the Dwarfers and, despite having been designed as “a pompous, ridiculous-looking, mother-hen clucking, irascible buffoon,” is liked and respected by everyone on board.

Glossary

Here are a few examples of esoteric vocab you might hear doled out by the Red Dwarf crew…

Bazookoids – Guns, usually large hand-held weapons found lying around Red Dwarf.

Gelf – An abbreviation of “genetically engineered life form,” Gelfs are a race of hairy beings who are usually hostile to the Red Dwarf crew. Their manner of speech has been compared by Lister to the sound of a footballer clearing his nose.

Hard light/Soft light – terms used to denote different types of hologram. A hard light hologram has a physical form and can interact with its surroundings, while a soft light hologram can’t.

Smeg/Smegging/Smegger/Smeg-head – In the Red Dwarf universe, smeg is an all-purpose pseudo-swear word with seemingly limitless applications. Rather like “feck” in Father Ted, in fact.

Stasis – A facility on board Red Dwarf that halts time for anyone within the “stasis field.” Lister was placed in stasis after his cat was found on board ship.

Simulant – Often described as Rogue Simulants, these beings are, like androids, artificial life forms. However, Simulants differ from androids in one crucial respect. To quote Kryten, “an android would never rip off a human's head and spit down his neck.”

Starbug – A small green shuttlecraft piloted by the Red Dwarf crew when exploring space outside Red Dwarf. It was the crew’s primary means of transport in series VI and VII.

***

Righto, now you should hopefully be able to hit the ground running tonight. But if you fancy a bit more prep, check out the series trailer and two clips: one here, another here. Red Dwarf X blasts off tonight on Dave at 9:00pm – let’s hope it’ll be smeggin' brilliant, eh Dwarfers?

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