Classic TV: Red Dwarf IV (1991)

Seasons 4-6 of the sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf saw the series at its peak, having firmly found its feet with the new line up of Rimmer (Chris Barrie), Lister (Craig Charles), Cat (Danny John-Jules), the android Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) and the female version of the ship's computer Holly (Hattie Hayridge).

The human version of Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) with Rimmer (Chris Barrie), Lister (Craig Charles) and Cat (Danny John-Jules) in "DNA"
The human version of Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) with Rimmer (Chris Barrie),
Lister (Craig Charles) and Cat (Danny John-Jules) in "DNA"

The fourth series, Red Dwarf IV, appeared in 1991 and saw filming move from Manchester to Shepperton Studios on the outskirts of London. This allowed the actors to rehearse on the actual sets they would be using. Previously, rehearsals had taken place in London while the filming took place further north in Manchester. Shepperton would remain Red Dwarf's filming base for the next 24 years.

There was more retconning in this season, with the original complement of the mining ship Red Dwarf itself upped from 169 to 1,169 and Lister given a brief love affair with Kochanski during their time on board the ship. Previously, he had just been hopeful of one. This would have a significant impact on later series, beginning with Red Dwarf VII, when Kochanski was introduced as a regular character. 

The fourth series starts well with the first episode "Camille", in which Kryten finds what he believes to be a female mechanoid on board a crashed ship. But when he brings her back to meet the others, they literally don't see her in quite the same way. When Camille's former partner finally catches up with her, the episode comes to an end with a Casablanca homage. The mechanoid version of Camille in this episode was played by Judy Pascoe, who would later become Robert Llewellyn's wife.

The Justice World space station in Red Dwarf IV
The Justice World space station in "Justice"

The second episode, "DNA", sees the Red Dwarf boys find an abandoned ship with a DNA-altering machine on board. This allows Kryten to briefly become human - and Lister's curry to turn into a terrifying monster. 

One of this season's best episodes, "Justice", has the crew arrive on a penal colony. There they are subjected to a mind probe to determine if they are guilty of any unpunished crimes. Unfortunately, the probe picks up Rimmer's feelings of guilt about the radiation leak that caused the deaths of almost the entire crew of Red Dwarf, leading him to be sentenced to 9,000 years imprisonment on 1,168 counts of murder. 

His only hope is if Kryten can make a successful appeal. This means explaining to the court that Rimmer wasn't responsible for the leak and is in fact a useless puffed-up dork, who would never be given responsibility over anything more important than the contents of a vending machine.

In "White Hole" the crew experiment with boosting Holly's IQ and they succeed in raising it to 12,000. Unfortunately, her lifespan is also drastically shortened in the process. Somehow, fixing the problem will involve Lister having to play pool with planets. 

This episode also sees the return of perpetual irritant Talkie the Toaster (now voiced by David Ross, the original Kryten in series 2) who just wants to make everyone something toasted. 

Chris Barrie as Ace Rimmer in "Dimension Jump"
"Smoke me a kipper" - Chris Barrie as Ace Rimmer in "Dimension Jump"

"Dimension Jump" introduces one of the series' most famous guest characters, hot shot Space Corps test pilot "Ace" Rimmer. Ace is a version of Rimmer from an alternative dimension, but one different turn in his childhood led him to become a ludicrous over-achiever with perfect hair. Ace is noble, charming, stoical and heroic. So the exact opposite of Red Dwarf's Rimmer. He even has his own catchphrase, usually uttered just before he embarks on some foolhardy piece of derring-do: "Smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast". 

Ace Rimmer was created by the writers in answer to Chris Barrie's frustration at never getting to play the hero. Unsurprisingly, "Dimension Jump" is his favourite episode of Red Dwarf. The other actors also play different characters in the alternative dimension, even Hattie Hayridge, who gets to prove that she is more than just a floating head.

Composer Howard Goodall often provided musical parodies for the series, and this episode includes one of the best, a perfect pastiche of "Take My Breath Away" from Top Gun

The series ends with the classic episode "Meltdown", where the crew find an experimental matter transporter that takes them to the nearest inhabitable planet. There they find a defunct theme park where waxwork droids have broken their programming and run amuck. This has led to perpetual war between the characters of the park's Hero World and the power-hungry inhabitants of Villain World. The latter are led, inevitably, by Adolf Hitler and include Goebbels, Goring, Caligula and Rasputin.

Rimmer with Elvis (Clayton Mark) in "Meltdown"
Rimmer with Elvis (Clayton Mark) in "Meltdown"

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Rimmer takes it upon himself to lead the heroic characters to victory, whipping into shape his soldiers, who include wax droids of Stan Laurel, Queen Victoria, Jean-Paul Sartre and Marilyn Monroe, assisted by his trusty sergeant Elvis Presley. Also among them is a certain Indian political leader who incurs Rimmer's displeasure ("I've got my eye on you, Gandhi!"). 

The running order of Red Dwarf IV was altered before broadcast, because of sensitivities about military subjects during the 1991 Gulf War. This was a particular problem for the anti-war satire "Meltdown", although the re-scheduling of the innocuous "Dimension Jump" seems absurd. 

This fourth season of Red Dwarf was arguably the best yet, finding the team on excellent form. Red Dwarf IV boasts a strong set of episodes, including a couple of the series classics, and introduces one of its most popular guest characters in Ace Rimmer. There's also a continuation of the series' good model work, with Ace Rimmer's space fighter and the Justice Zone space station being particular stand outs.

The same core cast would return for Red Dwarf V in 1992.

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