Three Dimensional

How Series III expanded the Red Dwarf universe in all directions... without resorting to a Lister-esque diet.

So, those episode titles then. Never ones to shy away from the literal - an episode title should tell you what it's about - working titles such as Men of Honour (for Marooned) were tossed out in favour of mostly one-word titles that tell you everything you need to know.

Three Dimensional

Series III changed the very style of Red Dwarf forever. Changing a grey BBC sitcom of the late 80s into something more far-reaching, long-lasting. Something that, frankly, enabled the programme to be repeated for years to come and barely age a day. Well, except for that stupid rubber snake.

But this isn't about the production of the series - you can go behind the scenes until your brain melts by visiting the Episode Guide section - it's about (as Monty Python never quite said) what has Series III ever done for Dwarf?

Backwards began the season with a bang (or possibly an implosion) - chosen to go first partly on the advice of an Executive Producer who knew how a good gimmick could grab hold of an audience.

It's a peculiar episode story-wise. The addition of Kryten passes without note (high-speed titles aside), with the character included as part of the gang immediately. This tactic, which also worked for Blackadder II, meant that Kryten never felt like an outsider to the audience. The characters think he belongs, therefore he does. (Fan might want to check out Buffy the Vampire Slayer series five, where the introduction of a sister for Buffy played this idea right to the postmodern hilt.) The episodes were even shown in a different order to their recording, meaning that Robert Llewellyn's mechanoid - and Hattie Hayridge's alternate Holly - also had a chance to 'bed in' and find the show's rhythm.

Three Dimensional

Character-wise, though, the Dwarfers are mostly at the mercy of the reverse universe. The very first scene - a now-classic exchange between Lister and Cat on the sexiness of Wilma Flintstone - actually tells you very little about the two individuals. In many ways, and with some obvious rewriting, it could have taken place between any two Dwarf characters - or even non-Dwarfers Rob and Doug's sketch-writing-learned gift for quick set-up means that this could almost be Men Behaving Badly's Gary and Tony talking.

Not so the driving lesson that follows, where Rimmer builds on his power over Kryten, and also the mechanoid's naivety - both of which were introduced in the Kryten episode in the last series. But, as this odd couple wander the backwards Earth, shooting past the potentially-tricky exposition in a flash, it becomes less about the characters and more about the world they have found themselves in. Not to worry, though, there was plenty of that to come later.

Still, some great backwards gags and stunt work later, the Cat performs his usual scene-stealing trick. The 'bushes' scene. Barely a line of dialogue, and one of the biggest laughs of the show. Indeed, so good are the backwards moments on their own that one might just wander right past one interesting Dwarf theme. And not the obvious one about 'time'.

Rimmer and Kryten's desire to stay on Earth, for one scene backstage in a Nodnol boozer, becomes palpable... even emotional. And why not? Trapped on a ship in deep space for the rest of forever? No life, no woman, no curry? (As Lister would say in Series VII) What kind of existence is that? These two are tempted by something that might be better, however wrong it feels.

Three Dimensional

It's a theme that would hit the series again and again. It all started with Lister's laments in Series I - even flashing back to the ship in its pre-accident days - and the attempt to return 'home' in Stasis Leak. But Series III is heavily focussed on the 'I'm A Dwarfer, Get me Out Of Here' idea.

Marooned, obviously, has Rimmer and Lister trapped in an even worse situation than usual, a lifeless ice planet. And Bodyswap sees Rimmer, never content with his form-free hologrammic existence (again a throwback to ideas mentioned in The End and Better Than Life) trying to get into a new body... or two.

Timeslides craves the comfort of the old days - for the only time in the series it shows us a teenage Lister, this reminder of a time when he had friends, a band, and pubs to go to. It's a nostalgia trip for humanity, and for a connection to it. Plus, obviously, here's a real attempt to prevent the life he has now by changing the past. Again.

Which neatly brings us to The Last Day. Perfectly placed as the series finale - by dint of nothing more than the writers being short a sixth script during early shooting - it wraps up this lengthy craving for an 'elsewhere' with a reminder that things might not be so bad after all. Kryten has 'friends' aboard Red Dwarf. He has found a level of freedom that his programming would seemingly never allow. For him, at least, being anywhere else would be worse.

So in Kryten we find what was perhaps missing from Series I and II - a pleasure of being. With the possible exception of Holly aside, nobody on Red Dwarf really wanted to be there. Rimmer hated his status as a 'deadie'; Lister hated both the loneliness (not surprising, him being such a social animal) and also the weight of responsibility being the last human placed on him.

Three Dimensional

Cat, meanwhile, is stuck with a fallen god figure who stinks of indefinable foulness, and a registered member of the Sta-Prest organisation. He doesn't care about them, he doesn't like them, and he'd frankly prefer to find some lady company.

It's a British sitcom staple, for sure. Britcom is a genre given to showing you nasty characters, monsters - Basil Fawlty and Edmond Blackadder for examples - who would rather not have the life they have...and would likely damage people to get out.

But against that there is an argument that viewers eventually tire of moaners. It's hard sometimes to enjoy a situation if nobody else seems to be. The audience needs a character to visit this world with. Someone who wants to be there, just as they want to tune in at 9pm on BBC2. This is the part that American comedy does so well - creating characters that you want to be, excuse me, Friends with - but the real alchemy comes when the two are combined.

Kryten fills the missing hole in the show - not only in his effect on audience perspective, but also in the way that he fills a gap in the psychology. The constituent aspects that the characters had - Lister's liberated lack of convention, the Cat's selfishness, Rimmer's anal-retentiveness - might have been lacking a measure of guilt. And it is this that Kryten provides.

Thank heaven, then, that his depths were plumbed by The Last Day. While Polymorph had swiftly keyed in to just which emotion was most important to the character (and then robbed him of it!), The Last Day does for Kryten what Marooned did for Rimmer and Lister. It plumbs his existence for humour and poignancy. No such thing as Silicon Heaven? Preposterous! Where would all the calculators go?

Three Dimensional

In a series with some of the biggest steps toward 'monsters of the week' - the Polymorph, Kryten's replacement Hudzen - it's easy to forget that it also contains some excellent 'bottle' shows. Bodyswap and Marooned both require no extra characters.

As the series went on, it would become harder and harder not to have somebody show up during an episode. Indeed, the writers seem to know exactly where they've led themselves - the series that, for the first time, was able to add production value to last season's exterior travel and guest characters, spent the whole of the first recorded episode, Marooned, trapped in the tiniest environment possible!

Otherwise, though, you can put a lot of Red Dwarf's future action down to what was created in 1989. GELFs? The polymorph was the first of their kind. And while simulants became the mechanical humanoids of choice in Series IV, Hudzen 10 really is their progenitor. Time travel, of course, was already well played out by Future Echoes and Stasis Leak before Series III took up the baton - but the actual playing with time that Backwards attempted was pretty inspirational when you look at the Time Wand and AR-editing of Series VIII, or the effects of the White Hole.

So what have we learned about Series III? Not too much, probably. Maybe that Kryten filled a hole in the Dwarf universe. Maybe that Grant and Naylor's storytelling had become far more ambitious, but still able to plumb the depths of its characters - perhaps even better than before. Maybe that the illusion of budget can impress more than heavy spending, particularly when creativity is still to the fore, and give a show a longevity.

Oh, and probably that dog food tastes really, really nasty.

Three Dimensional

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