Series IV Turns 30

In a month of anniversaries, Series IV hits a significant milestone.

26 February, 2021

February is a pretty crowded month when it comes to Red Dwarf anniversaries, and we couldn't let the period pass without highlighting the occasion. The 15th marks the first episode's original broadcast, all the way back in 1988, and we also see anniversaries of the first parts of Series V and VIII, the latter half of Series VII, and even Red Dwarf Night, which was originally broadcast 23 years ago this month. But this year sees a particular landmark as Series IV turns 30.

Join us as we take a look back at this seminal series.

Series IV Turns 30

Originally intended to be broadcast later in the series' run, Camille first aired on Valentine's Day 1991 and it couldn't have been more appropriate for the day. Featuring Robert Llewellyn's now wife, Judy Pascoe, and Craig Charles' partner at the time, Suzanne Rhatigan, the episode's Casablanca homage remains a firm favourite to this day.

Camille was the first episode broadcast to have been recorded at Shepperton Studios, a studio that remained the production's home for 24 years, until the team shifted to Pinewood for Series XI. It was clear from this opener that writers Rob Grant and Doug Naylor were truly firing on all cylinders, broadening the Red Dwarf universe in both story and production terms, with an episode firmly rooted in character, but explored through a high-concept science fiction premise. It was a clear sign of what was to come.

Series IV Turns 30

Originally entitled Do Not Alter, the second episode, DNA, featured a retcon that contradicted the established version of events from previous series. Following the world building that had been carried out in the recently published first two novels, the episode is the first time Lister admits to having had a previous romantic relationship with Kochanski, a decision that would have long-term knock-on effects for the show, and arguably even lead to the character returning, (albeit played by Chloë Annett rather than Clare Grogan) full time, for Series VII and VIII.

DNA is also noteworthy for featuring an un-made-up Robert Llewelleyn, who had previously appeared sans make-up as Jim Reaper in The Last Day. While this may have been great from a story perspective, leading as it did to some of the show's most quotable lines ("double polaroid," anyone?) this decision was not warmly received by everyone, and in fact deeply disappointed Robert's young family who attended the studio audience recording expecting to see him clad in the suit. You just can't please some people.

Like Camille before it, DNA showed Red Dwarf hitting its stride, with the production and the writers working hand in hand to create creature effects and miniatures to tell a story that was unique in the television landscape of the day. A truly remarkable achievement.

Series IV Turns 30

The third episode, Justice, made huge contributions to Red Dwarf lore. Perhaps most influentially, the episode features the first ever simulant in the Red Dwarf universe. Simulants are of course commonplace in Red Dwarf these days, appearing in almost every subsequent series in one form or another, but it all started back here, with Nicolas Ball's now iconic performance establishing one of the most frequently-returned-to class of antagonists in the show's history.

It was also an episode that again, like DNA, retconned the backstory to account for the widening scope the show was now following. This time, the writers chose to increase the deceased crew roster from 169, as specified in The End, up to 1,169, a much more fitting number for the expansive direction the show was taking. And as the first episode to feature Sunbury Pumphouse as a shooting location, it also unwittingly added to the design template, with the location being returning to time and again, right up until Series XII.

Series IV Turns 30

From a behind the scenes standpoint, the fourth episode, White Hole, is significant for two main reasons. Firstly, it was co-directed by producer Paul Jackson when series director Ed Bye was unable to attend the studio audience recording due to illness, and secondly, it remains the only episode in Red Dwarf history to take its main story from the novels, rather than the other way around, with much of the concept first appearing in Better Than Life.

It also introduced a very memorable guest character into the mix, and while John Lenahan's toaster from Series I and II may have technically pre-dated it, it was David Ross' performance here that cemented the now iconic Talkie Toaster into popular culture. Online Red Dwarf groups are to this day filled with his quotes, and the role made such an impact that he was resurrected 26 years later in Mechocracy, again, voiced by David Ross.

Featuring a prominent storyline for Hattie Hayridge's Holly, along with a rare costume change (black jumper to blue jumper to account for the floating head), according to co-writer, Rob Grant, the episode was also praised by Professor Brian Cox for its scientific foresight. Not bad at all for a prime-time sitcom.

Series IV Turns 30

Looking back at Dimension Jump, it's strange to consider that this episode was ever considered controversial, but back in 1991, when the series was enjoying its first terrestrial broadcast, BBC bosses felt that the characterisation of Ace Rimmer as a war hero clashed uncomfortably with the ongoing Gulf War, and consequently, the episode was pushed back in the line-up in the hope that a solution could be found. Fortunately, the Gulf War ended on 28th February 1991 (the night that Justice was first broadcast) meaning Dimension Jump could be shown without concern.

Since then, the now legendary Ace Rimmer has of course emerged twice more, with both Series VI's Emohawk: Polymorph II, and Series VII's Stoke me a Clipper featuring the character. He has adorned t-shirts, mugs, greetings cards and key rings, and is forever associated with the show. It's an episode with real emotional heart, and another shining example of the way Red Dwarf uses science fiction concepts to explore the inner worlds of its complicated characters to mine important truths about the human condition.

That, and it's pretty bloody funny too.

Closing with Howard Goodall's specially recorded Hammond Organ closing theme, it isn't difficult to understand why Dimension Jump still regularly loiters at the top of many fan's favourite episode lists. And fun fact, if any of you are wondering what happened to the Cat's hat from the episode, it was given away to a lucky audience member at the studio audience recording of The Beginning, just under 21 years after the episode was first broadcast.

Series IV Turns 30

An episode that audiences back in 1991 might not have even seen were it not for the end of the Gulf War, was the series closer, Meltdown. Originally intended to open the run, the episode's satirical anti-war message meant that it was pushed back in the schedules until, like Dimension Jump, it could be shown without controversy.

Meltdown is notable for its sizeable guest cast, the largest the team had assembled up to that point. It included a memorable role for fifth Dwarfer Tony Hawks as Caligula (with the then little-known comic, Eddie Izzard taking over his warm-up duties), but perhaps the most interesting guest stars were the monsters encountered by Rimmer and Kryten upon first arriving on the planet. And, for those of you who were wondering, those dinosaurs were taken from the 1967 Japanese monster movie, Gappa: The Triphibian Monster, should you wish to watch it.

Series IV Turns 30

Meltdown concluded a run of six incredible episodes. Series IV is a powerhouse in Red Dwarf's history and achieved what every subsequent series should. It built on what preceded it, while simultaneously improving and setting the standard for what was to come. On the strength of this series, BBC bosses first approached Rob Grant and Doug Naylor with their plans to release the show on VHS, a clear sign that they had something special on their hands. It's no wonder that Series IV remains one of the fan's most loved outings.

Series IV Turns 30

Series IV is available on both DVD and Blu-ray, as well as multiple streaming services. For further information on the series, please see our complete guide.

A very happy 30th anniversary to Red Dwarf IV. Whether you were there at the time or caught it later, we thank you for watching.

Grant Naylor Productions is not affiliated with the stores linked to in this article and no commission is paid on purchases via these links.

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