When was Red Dwarf at its best?


The long-running and much-loved TV series has seen its highs and lows, but are its best days behind it? You know what we do here: explore the data to find out

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.

[You’ll need to enable JavaScript to view this data visualisation.]

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)

1S05 E06Back to Reality9.2
2S05 E04Quarantine8.9
3S03 E03Polymorph8.8
4S02 E05Queeg8.7
-S06 E02Legion8.7
6S04 E05Dimension Jump8.6
-S06 E03Gunmen of the Apocalypse8.6
8S03 E01Backwards8.5
-S04 E03Justice8.5
10S02 E02Better than Life8.4
-S03 E02Marooned8.4
-S04 E04White Hole8.4
-S12 E06Skipper8.4

The Roman numerals aren’t my affectation, they’ve long been used to number Red Dwarf series.


This is the first visualisation I’ve published here using Observable Plot, a JavaScript library for visualising tabular data. Usually I make my charts in R and ggplot2, but this time I thought I’d try something different. Both have their pros and cons, but I think Observable Plot is more suitable to this kind of one-off Web-based vector visualisation.


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?