Thursday, March 26, 2015

Thorough Thursdays: RED DWARF

Prior to this post, I have only tagged Red Dwarf, the British, Science Fiction comedy television series, created by Rob Grant, Doug Naylor, and Grant Naylor, three times on this blog before today.

I may have mentioned it briefly a few other times.

That's just wrong.

Emergency. Emergency.
There is an emergency going on.
It's still going on.

This, this right here, is why I came up with Thorough Thursdays.

How is this possible? How have I not mentioned this show more than three times in the seven years my blog has been around? I'm more than a bit of an Anglophile, and this show is British, Science Fiction, funny, and how the hell have I not talked about this program more than three times?

Red Dwarf is my favorite British comedy series ever, and one of my favorite television shows of all time. I feel like a total gimboid. A complete smeghead. Can you forgive me?

I first discovered Red Dwarf quite by accident. Thanks to my eternal struggle with insomnia, I was up late channel surfing when I came across a PBS affiliate that apparently showed Britcoms in the wee, small hours.

Depending on the night you tuned in you could catch Blackadder, Are You Being Served?, and a few others. A fan of British culture, and humor, I immediately started following the shows I liked best, and tried to catch others when I had the chance.

One night (I forget which day of the week) I stayed up past Are You Being Served? (which was all repeats, as the show had been over for a number of years) to catch an apparently new program called, you guessed it, Red Dwarf.

It was love at first smeg.

From that point on I never missed an episode, until the channel changed up its airing schedule, and I couldn't find what night Red Dwarf was on. It was around that time I met the woman who I would eventually move in with, marry, and...well...divorce, but that is a sad tale for another time. The bottom line is, I never saw the last two seasons of Red Dwarf until many years after the show had been cancelled.

I have, at this point, seen all the episodes of every single season many times over, including the Back to Earth mini-series, and the six-episode Season X (10). To be honest, I've only seen Seasons VII, VIII, and Back to Earth a few times each. Seasons I-III I've watched dozens of time. I really liked Season X.

Where was I?

Ah, yes! So what makes Red Dwarf so bloody awesome? It's a British, Science Fiction, comedy. So basically, it's made of win.

What I love about the series - beyond the fantastically odd-ball premise, quirky characters, and cheesy-but-cool special effects - is the way Science Fiction concepts are used to add a new spin to classic sitcom tropes. The Sci-Fi elements also allow for a few situations that would only occur in the show's unique setting.

Artificially intelligent toasters, love sick, genetically engineered monsters, a starship bigger than a city, Better-Than-Life Virtual Reality games, and a host of other possibilities, are the threats, obstacles, and irritants you'll encounter in Red Dwarf.
Of course, any television series is only as good as its characters.
The characters of Red Dwarf are nothing short of amazing. Exaggerated, but flawed Human individuals, combined with two all-too-human non-Humans, made for a perfect ensemble.
The chemistry of the actors can not be understated. These are a fantastic group of comedic actors who are either honestly, truly fond of each other, or much better actors than anyone has ever given them credit for.
I love these guys. Seriously. I don't know what else to say in this regard.
Except...well...I do a mighty good Kryten impression if I do say so myself.
What's next? Hmmm, ah yes. Gaming it.
I've run only one Red Dwarf game ever, which is a damn shame, as it went over incredibly well. Intended to be the 'Pilot Episode' for a new campaign, player schedules just never lined up right after that first session. What a session though. Bang on, as the Brits would say.
Why does this particular IP make for such a great RPG setting?

Well, first of all, it does just in case I didn't make that clear. Secondly, it combines several elements found in other well known RPGs to create a unique blending, with a dash of humor to achieve a flavor all it's own.

The Human inhabitants of the massive spaceship Red Dwarf, were essentially the working class spacers you'd expect to see in a game of Traveller. In order for the Jupiter Mining Corporation's Solar Class Mining Vessel (in some sources, Leviathan Class) to operate a peak performance, crewmembers of many different careers are required. Think about it, a Red Dwarf type ship would need Scouts, Scientists, Army and Navy, Bureaucrats, Belters, and any number of other jobs.

Even the main characters fit into Traveller pretty easily as Rogue (Dave Lister), Bureaucrat or Navy (Arnold Rimmer), Scientist with some Navy Skills (Kryten), and either Rogue or Barbarian (Cat). Your mileage may vary, but it isn't that hard to figure it out.

Now let's talk about the ship itself. I've said before that megadungeons don't impress me much because I'm used to playing in, and running, RPG campaigns where the PCs live in a huge megadungeon that takes them to their adventures. The Red Dwarf is 5 miles in length! You could easily spend a dozen adventures just exploring the vessel.

Now, what if it wasn't the Red Dwarf? What if a Scientific Exploration vessel suffered a similar accident. Lost for over 3 million years and exposed to space opera style radiation, who knows what might form on the ship. Imagine a Red Dwarf-USS Enterprise, or better yet (as I used in my campaign pilot), a Red Dwarf-Starship Warden from Metamorphosis Alpha.

The adventures, obstacles and opponents potential is truly unlimited...kind of. While it is not clear if there are any sentient aliens in the setting, Humans are responsible for genetically engineering life forms (GELFs), many of which have developed their own cultures, and societies.

Mechanical lifeforms were also left behind by the long, lost Human race. There are Mechanoids, Humanoid Robots that generally aid Humans (like Kryten), Simulants, highly organized, Human hating Androids with their own empire, and Rogue Simulants, which look a lot like Borg, and while homicidal, they are considerably less likely to flay you alive, and roast you with turmeric, and a touch of Coriander.

If you do not run a Red Dwarf game,
I will challenge you to a duel across time, and space.
Oh come on. It's fun. There's nothing else to do.

If opponents you can talk to aren't your thing, there are bizarrely mutated GELF creatures, time distortions, various diseases, your own self doubt, and alternate versions of yourself from parallel universes to deal with.

I mean, how could it get any cooler? It's like every post EXONAUTS has ever made meets Monty Python!

In conclusion (if I don't conclude now I could seriously write for another hour or two on this), I highly recommend checking out the entire series, including Series X. You can avoid Back to Earth, it won't kill you, as it isn't their best work and kind of muddles the concept a bit.

After that, I wouldn't be surprised if Red Dwarf game ideas start forming in your head. You might also want to check out the official Red Dwarf RPG if you can find it. Written, designed, and published by Deep7, the game is no great innovation in the annals of system design history, but it is a very funny, well written book by true fans.

The Series Sourcebook, the only supplement produced for the game, is fantastic. An episode by episode breakdown of every season, what it was about, how the characters were different, and what the stories were about is included. It also includes stats for every single character, creature, device, spacecraft, vehicle, and anything else that appeared in each episode. Quite impressive.

One final note:

This post is notably devoid of references to Kristine Kochanski, the female character added to the series in Season 7, and appearing in 7, 8, and Back to Earth. She occasionally showed up in flashbacks, time warp episodes, and such in the previous Seasons.

While the actress who played her in Season 7 and beyond, Chloe Annett, is a lovely woman, and a very good actress, I didn't think she had compatible chemistry with the rest of the cast. I mean it worked, it was funny, but the presence of the character really threw off the show's dynamic.

The series producers, and creative team agreed, and she was not present in Series X (although she is referenced).

Onward, and remember, it's not really a party until someone wakes up with a traffic cone. Now, smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast.

Barking Alien


  1. I love Red Dwarf. The golden period for me is series 3 to 6 but there's something to enjoy in all of it, except maybe Back to Earth.

    1. I agree.

      I take the whole Back to Earth thing as an alternate universe, or side story. Let's face it, Red Dwarf is full of those, so why not?

  2. I have only watched a couple of episodes of the series, but read the first book and really liked it, even as it had its moments of pathos.

    1. I can't recommend the series enough.

      I should see how familiar with the show the members of my group are. To understand Red Dwarf is to understand me, and vice versa.

      Man, that's deep.

  3. I enjoyed the show and managed to pick up the RPG. I can sing most of "Tongue Tied," but I need to practice more on the nonsense bits.