The cult BBC sitcom Red Dwarf played a large part in my teenage years. I watched every episode over and over on VHS, quoted the best lines, read the books. But the long gap between series VI (1993) and series VII (1997) meant that eventually I ended up moving on to other obsessions.
Recently I discovered that, although I gave up on it after series VI, they carried on and made a lot more episodes. All the way up to series XIII1 in fact. Turns out I’ve only seen around half of Red Dwarf, which was all the excuse I needed to a) wallow in nostalgia and watch the old episodes, and b) catch up with the new.
The first six series were as good as I remembered: dated, but still good fun. The seventh series seemed like a stark drop in quality though. And that made me wonder, was it just the nostalgia that made the early episodes the best? Did everyone feel the same as me? Would it get better after the series VII lull?
Time to make some data viz2, lickety-split.
IMDb has crowd-sourced ratings for each episode. In the chart above you can see the ratings grouped by series, along with the mean average rating for each series and Red Dwarf as a whole3. It seems the users of IMDb agree with me: the ratings suggest that after finding its feet in series I, Red Dwarf hits its long and consistent peak in series II-VI. Series VII sees the start of a decline that hits its nadir in ‘Back to Earth’ (aka series IX). After that series X regains some of the show’s mojo, and then fades slightly over time — although not before hitting the high of series XII episode 6, ‘Skipper’, IMDb’s joint-tenth favourite episode.
And the highest rated episode? That would be series V’s ‘Back to Reality’ from 1992 (although personally I have a soft spot for series I’s ‘Me²’, which really lays bare Rimmer’s self-hatred).
So it seems that the crowd-sourced story is that Red Dwarf was indeed at its peak in the late 80s and early 90s and, apart from the odd episode here and there, hasn’t reached that high again. But then perhaps we’re all just sentimental and longing for days past, our memories muddied by nostalgia. I haven’t yet watched any of series IX–XIII, so I’ll try and keep an open mind.
Top ten episodes of Red Dwarf (according to IMDb)
|1||S05 E06||Back to Reality||9.2|
|6||S04 E05||Dimension Jump||8.6|
|-||S06 E03||Gunmen of the Apocalypse||8.6|
|10||S02 E02||Better than Life||8.4|
|-||S04 E04||White Hole||8.4|
The Roman numerals aren’t my affectation, they’ve long been used to number Red Dwarf series.
The ratings were collected on the 30th of August 2023. Who knows how they’ve changed since. I mean, you can’t predict the future, can you? Can you, Cassandra?