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Classic TV: Red Dwarf V (1992)

The fifth series of the sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf was first broadcast on BBC2 in February 1992. Rimmer (Chris Barrie), Lister (Craig Charles), Cat (Danny John-Jules), Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) and the ship's computer Holly (Hattie Hayridge) all returned for this season and there were no significant changes to the series format. 

Red Dwarf V begins with a story showing Rimmer in an unusually sympathetic light. In "Holoship", Rimmer is disgusted by the plot of a romantic film, unable to accept the premise that someone would give up their deepest desires in life because of their love for someone they will never even see again.

Arnold Rimmer (Chris Barrie) with Nirvanah Crane (Jane Horrocks) in "Holoship"
Arnold Rimmer (Chris Barrie) with Nirvanah Crane (Jane Horrocks) in "Holoship"

But Rimmer's selfishness is about to be put to the test, when he is beamed aboard a passing ship crewed entirely by holograms. There he is offered everything he has ever wanted. He can be an officer, have status, have a physical body and - since Red Dwarf is always at least a little bit adolescent at heart - take part in the ship's almost mandatory sexual activity, where refusing an offer of sex is considered to be the height of bad manners.

But to join the ship he has to replace one of the existing crew, whose hologram will then be deleted. And the computer has chosen as his opponent Nirvanah Crane (played by Jane Horrocks), an attractive female officer Rimmer has befriended. Rimmer has the chance to win their contest, thanks to a little hi-tech cheating. But will his feelings for Nirvanah overcome his innate selfishness?

"The Inquisitor" continues the "monster of the week" format that was popular in this period. A crazed robot has taken it upon itself to erase from history all those it judges to have wasted their lives, and replace them with those who were never given the opportunity to live. As a ship full of slackers, the Red Dwarf boys are obviously in serious trouble. 

Will the Inquisitor choose to delete the selfish, perpetual under-achiever Arnold Rimmer? Or the vain and self-centred Cat? And will Cat's defence that he has "a great ass" be enough to save him from deletion?

The Inquisitor in Red Dwarf V
Just another mad robot to deal with: The Inquisitor pays a visit to Red Dwarf

The Inquisitor is played in this episode by Jack Docherty (credited as John Docherty) and, if you listen carefully, you can just about discern a Scottish accent. Docherty was the third cast member of the Channel 4 sketch show Absolutely to appear in Red Dwarf, after Morwenna Banks (as a lift attendant in series 2's "Stasis Leak") and Gordon Kennedy (who played Hudzen in Red Dwarf III's "The Last Day").

In "Terrorform", when the shuttle craft Starbug crashes it leaves Rimmer stranded on a psi-moon, an artificial planetoid that maps its terrain to match the subconscious of a given subject; in this case, Rimmer. Given his famously warped psyche, that means the others will have to venture into a seriously weird and dangerous world. 

In "Quarantine" Lister, Kryten and the Cat come across an abandoned research station and accidentally revive a scientist who has contracted a holographic virus that has rendered her insane.

When they return to Red Dwarf, Rimmer, who has grown frustrated with Kryten's repeated quoting of inconvenient Space Corps directives at him, decides to have his revenge and play the situation by the rule book. This means restricting the three of them to quarantine for three months. And, as only one of them is officially a crew member, he can force them to share a single quarters. Have any of the three actually contracted the holovirus? Can Rimmer be persuaded to act more reasonably? And what does the King of the Potato People have to do with it?

Rimmer and girls in "Terrorform" from Red Dwarf V
Rimmer prepares himself for the worst in "Terrorform"

"Demons and Angels" sees Kryten constructing a "triplicator". This will enable the crew to eke out their food supplies by replicating every food item, including the very last strawberry.

The triplicator produces two copies of the strawberry - except that one is perfect and the other disgusting and maggot-ridden. It seems that the machine is splitting every item into its very best and very worst elements. When a freak accident causes two Red Dwarfs to be created, the crew must meet their angelic counterparts - and face their evil twins. 

This is a particularly fanciful episode, but "evil twins" of the main characters is a popular sci-fi trope, used in Doctor WhoStar Trek and many others. The cast do a surprisingly good job playing their evil counterparts - although the angelic versions are not quite so convincing. Danny John-Jules's character just seems a little bit too crazed and aggressive to be angelic and Craig Charles is obviously trying very hard not to laugh as his, something that the editing can't quite disguise.

Rimmer and Mr Flibble in "Quarantine" from Red Dwarf V
Rimmer and Mr Flibble in "Quarantine"

The fifth series concludes with one of Red Dwarf's boldest and most celebrated episodes. In "Back to Reality" the characters are exploring a research facility on an ocean planet. The planet is populated by genetic mutations, including a giant squid that attacks their ship Starbug and destroys it, apparently killing them all in the process.

But they are not dead. Instead, they wake up in a virtual reality suite, where they discover that they are not the crew of Red Dwarf after all, but have in fact been playing a VR game called "Red Dwarf" for the last four years. And not playing it very well.

The ride's insolent technician, played by Timothy Spall, appears and is incredulous when he learns that they have scored only 4% on the game and that they somehow managed to miss the game's highlight, the planet of the nymphomaniacs.

But he's even more incredulous when he realises that Rimmer hasn't even discovered that he is in fact a secret agent, whose mind has been wiped, Total Recall style, so that he can go undercover. But, rather than realising his true identity, he has instead been playing the awful loser character Arnold Rimmer for the whole four years.

Cat, Rimmer and Lister in Red Dwarf V's "Back to Reality"
Cat (Danny John-Jules), Rimmer and Lister (Craig Charles) discover the truth in "Back to Reality"

Reality is even more depressing than their failure in the game. Lister discovers that he is really a secret police chief in charge of torture and executions in a fascist state. Rimmer is his hopeless down-and-out half brother and Kryten is a traffic control cop with the improbable name of Jake Bullet. Most distressingly and hilariously of all, Cat turns out not to be the sharpest, best dressed dude in the galaxy. He is in reality a sad dweeb with the unfortunate name of Duayne Dibbley and an even more unfortunate bowl head hair cut and buck teeth. Have the Red Dwarf boys really returned to reality, or is there something else going on?

Red Dwarf V is probably the series of Red Dwarf with the most notable guest actors, including Jane Horrocks, Timothy Spall, Don Warrington (as another of the holoship crew) and Lenny Von Dohlen as a secret policeman in "Back to Reality". Von Dohlen was apparently persuaded to join the cast by his friend Frances Barber, who had appeared in the Red Dwarf III episode "Polymorph". 

This fifth series also saw Red Dwarf take on a new director, Julie May, as Dwarf's regular director Ed Bye was working on his wife Ruby Wax's TV show. This season had some production problems, as Bye's replacement was herself replaced part way through the series. The writers Rob Grant and Doug Naylor did some direction themselves, including on the episodes "Quarantine" and "Back to Reality", where they were credited as "Grant Naylor". 

The behind-the-scenes issues on Red Dwarf V don't show on screen and this series is sometimes claimed to be Red Dwarf's finest, combining hilarious moments with some strong dramatic concepts and genuine elements of character development. The final episode, "Back to Reality", has often been voted by fans as Red Dwarf's best ever episode. 

Red Dwarf VI, the last season of Red Dwarf with this regular cast, and with the series' original co-writer and co-creator Rob Grant, would appear in 1993. 

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