Red Dwarf: S05E06: Back to Reality
This particular show was voted the Best Red Dwarf episode by the British viewing public and remains to this day, one of the greatest examples of comedy science fiction ever written!
This marvellous show opens with a mission to explore a planet covered in water, and in particular a ship at the bottom of the ocean. Rimmer reads the ships log while aboard Starbug as Cat, Lister and Kryten investigate the crippled ship.
The ship was called the S.S.S Esperanto. It was an ocean seeding ship sent to find out if the ‘amino acid chain had taken’. The mission was part of an experiment to rapidly accelerate evolution and they had managed to cram 5 billion years of evolution into only 3 years.
However there seemed to be no life left. The ships crew were all dead and the ocean was empty. Kryten ponders the reason why. He and Lister can only deduce that some dominant life form killed all other life on the planet – the experiment had gone horribly wrong.
Lister notices that each of the crew-members have killed themselves, one shot himself, one hung himself and they even found that a fish had killed itself by suffocating itself! Lister then finds some sort of fluid. He puts a sample on Lister’s glove while Kryten performs an analysis using a portable lab device that he brought from Starbug. He finds that the fluid is a hallucinogenic venom secreted by a giant squid. Kryten notices from the readout something very disturbing. He ushers Lister and Cat to escape the stricken craft and return to Starbug immediately.
Once they are on-board Starbug, in the decompression chamber, Kryten explains that the Squid ink has properties that induce despair and that each of them have been contaminated by a small amount. Rimmer talks to them on Navcom and asks if Lister and Cat are feeling ok.
Lister says, “I’m ok, I don’t seem to be affected. It’s true, I don’t think anyone have loved me in my entire life but, there’s nothing new about that!” he whimpers.
Kryten suggests that they get back to Red Dwarf as soon as they can and take a mood stabiliser. He recommends Lithium Carbonate. As the three of them make it back to the Drive Room, Rimmer points out that there is a blob on the sonar scope the size of New Mexico.
Holly and the Red Dwarf crew look at the sonar scope with concern. Suddenly the Despair Squid descends at a rapid rate of knots! The crew quickly work out what to do. Lister determines that the Despair Squid either wants to “kill us eat us or hump us!”
“To be diddled by a giant squid on a first date!” Exclaims Cat, “Think how we’d feel in the morning.” The rest of the crew agree. They decide to make a run for it. Starbug takes off from the bottom of the ocean. Lister bravely steers Starbug away from the giant squid, but the monster gradually closes. They are almost clear when suddenly they are hit by a giant cloud of squid ink. The crew acknowledges that they have been hit and suddenly Starbug crashes into a rocky outcrop and explodes!!
The TV screen flashes the message GAME OVER. (Machine 16. Score 4%) and a voice is heard “For the last four years, you have been engaged in the total immersion game Red Dwarf. As with all role playing adventures you will experience a certain amount of disorientation. It will be several minutes before your real life memories return. In the meantime, please disengage the game paying machinery and relax until an attendant arrives to answer your questions. on behalf of Leisure World International, may we be the first to say Welcome Back to Reality.“
The four are dressed in cream coloured overalls and released from comfy game playing chairs hooked up to a large games console. They each get out of their chairs and try to orientate themselves. It has too be said that this is the last episode of series five and the disorientation was felt also by the viewing audience. Don’t you remember thinking ‘Oh no, don’t tell me that this (all five series) was just a dream!!’ This was soon after that fateful dream in the shower episode of the very popular (at the time) US TV show, Dallas).
Lister is the first to speak, “This is a very, very bad dream. Right?” He says as they all begin to revive.
Rimmer is next to speak, “I’m not a hologram.” He says. He does however have a magnificent head of unmanageable blonde hair.
“I’m half human.” Says a surprised Kryten.
“What the hell happened to my teef!” exclaims a goofy looking Cat with a pudding basin haircut. “I can open a beer bottle with my overbite.”
Suddenly a confident yet scruffy looking attendant appears. He asks if they are alright and explains that their disorientation is perfectly normal. “You’ll be perfectly alright in 20 minutes. So if you can just make your way to the recuperation lounge, I can get things ready for the next lot.”
Apparently, the Red Dwarf game is very popular. It has a two-year waiting list and the games company have only twenty machines. He asks how the crew were killed. Kryten’s tells him that they were killed by the Despair Squid.
“The Despair Squid,” he says dismissively, “There is no way that should have killed you. Why didn’t you use the laser cannons?”
“The Starbug didn’t have laser cannons.” Answers Kryten.
“You Twonk! I meant why didn’t you use the laser cannon on the Esperanto.” Replied the attendant.
“How were we supposed to know that you Brummy Git!” insults Rimmer (Brummy is slang for people from the City of Birmingham – the attendant speaks with an English Birmingham ‘Brummy’ accent).
The attendant explains that the ships name Esperanto means hope, and that hope defeats despair. “It’s a blatant clue innit! ….Blatant!…. Blimey, if you didn’t get that, you must have been playing like puddings.” He concludes. He then goes to ask if Lister managed to get Kochanski. When Lister explains that he didn’t, the attendant tells them that this was the whole point of the game. “Still, you must ‘ave got the easy stuff. Hey, what did you think of the planet of the nymphomaniacs?”
“The planet of the WHAT!?” Exclaims Rimmer.
“Ohhhh, don’t tell me you missed that. Oh that’s a riot that is. Some people spend years on that. Which one was Rimmer? (Rimmer gestures)…. How long did it take you to suss him out them?” Asks the attendant.
“I had him sussed right from the beginning.” Smiles Rimmer confidently.
“What really, you found the captains message right away?”
“What Captains message?” Says a surprised Rimmer.
The attendant explains that Rimmer was a hand picked special agent from the Space Corps on a secret mission to destroy Red Dwarf in order to guide Lister in his destiny as Creator of the Second Universe. A manoeuvre which involved Lister jump starting the second Big Bang with the jump leads from Starbug. “that’s the ultimate irony isn’t it!” concludes the attendant, “Lister, the ultimate atheist, turns out, in fact, to be God!”
Lister looks on, stunned. “oh, yer not telling me that he played the Pratt version of Rimmer for four years!! Oh that’s a classic that is!”
The four disgruntled ex-members of Red Dwarf enter the Recuperation Lounge and a nurse asks, “Is there a Dwayne Dibbly here?” Their memories haven’t yet returned and no one can guess who they are. Cat prays that it isn’t him.
It turns out that he is. The nurse passes Cat a briefcase and tells him that these are his things and that the medical officer will be down in 20 minutes. The case contains Cat’s anorak and thermos flask and his nylon shirt, plastic sandals and his key to the Salvation Army Hostel. Cat is mortified! “So this is really me! A no-style gimbo with teeth that the druids could use as a place of worship?”
Lister opens Kryten’s case. He turns out to be a Detective in the Cybernautics Division of the Police Division. Kryten rather likes the idea of that, until he finds out that he is only a traffic policeman.
Kryten opens the case marked Billy Doyle. Rimmer supposes that the name is one of a desperate character, a bank robber or miss-fit. A no-hoper! The case contains a smelly overcoat and other meagre tramp-like possessions – all of which, belong to Rimmer.
The final case belongs to Lister. The contents reveal items of great worth and style. His watch is very expensive and clothes are of very high quality. He works for a company called CGI and has a limousine in the long-term car park. Lister is non other than Sebastian Doyle – brother of William! Lister is Rimmer’s real life Brother! (the story just gets better and better!).
The four decide to leave quickly. Despite their memories not having returned. As they walk out of the back door, Lister walks by a viewing console of next game players and notices that these guys are already succeeding. The new Lister has already saved a grateful Kochanski and she melts in his arms as they escape some dangerous escapade.
When they get to the car park, they notice a poster asking that the reader vote Fascist for a third term! Another reads, “Be a Government Informer. Betray your Family and Friends. Fabulous prizes to be won.”
As they reach Lister’s car a young child runs passed them hotly pursued by a man dressed in a black suit and pointing a gun at the child. The escaping child is shielded by our heroes – an apparent act of treason. The man in black raises his gun to execute them when he recognises Lister as the Voter Colonel. The Voter Colonel is the Section Chief if CGI the Ministry of Alteration, A department of the Government that alters people from being live people to being dead people (wadda line!).
Suddenly the little girl makes a run for it. The man in black aims to fire when he is shot by Kryten!! We are all reeling from the shock of seeing Kryten kill another human when suddenly we see them back on Starbug enacting the story, seemingly oblivious to their true circumstance.
I remember being absolutely shocked by this. I was completely taken in by the story as it developed and to suddenly see the crew back in Starbug (still playing at Red Dwarf so to speak) was really disorientating.
In the car park the crew escape in the car. In Starbug, Holly tries to break through their hallucination, “For the three thousandth time, you’re hallucinating. Can anyone hear me?” she shouts frantically.
The crew however, are in the car trying to escape the Fascist Police following behind with motorcycles armed with rocket launchers and helicopters. They jump a raising bridge and completely trash an expensive black Mercedes limousine. Of course we don’t actually see all this. The BBC know when to spend money on special effects and when to save it. They decided to enact this whole scene in the relatively inexpensive surroundings of the Starbug storage room, sitting on boxes.
They do however return us to the imaginary scene as our four intrepid heroes make their way down a one way alleyway. They each hide behind a rubbish bin in front of a burger bar. Kryten is so upset that he shot someone, that he attempts to terminate himself with a bullet to his brain.
Rimmer too has had enough, “This is a nightmare, I’m on the run from the Fascist Police with a murderer, a mass murderer and a man in a bri-nylon shirt….. and now my best flashing mac is about to get splattered with an android’s brain. – After you with the gun.” he tells Kryten.
“Yeah, count me in too.” Adds Lister.
“Ditto!” ditto’s Cat
There is however, only one bullet. While there is still time, the four of them line there heads together and Kryten aims the gun so that one bullet would kill them all.
“Kryten, I’m broadcasting on a higher frequency, can you here me now!” shouts a desperate Holly. Kryten hears the voice and lowers his gun. Holly the manages to get Kryten to turn on the Lithium Carbonate cylinder in Starbug even though he believes he is in an alleyway and turning the release wheel of a fire extinguisher. The crewmembers gradually revive themselves as the gas is released.
The mood stabiliser saved them in the nick of time. They would soon have died in the same way as the crew of the Esperanto. Everything had been an hallucination brought on by the Despair Squid attack.
Each would have killed himself because the hallucination caused them to enact the very thing that would have driven them to suicide. In Rimmer’s case, it was because he could no longer blame his lot in life due to a poor upbringing since he had a successful brother. With Kryten it was the killing of a human being, The Cat couldn’t stand being everything he despised as couldn’t Lister.
The danger was passed, Holly destroyed the Despair Squid with Limpet mines. They take off and return to Red Dwarf and the final episode of the series ends.
I can’t think of any science fiction TV episode (of any show) as funny or innovative. For me, it was perfect!
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This episode review is © 1999 – 2019 Tony Fawl.
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