Friday, November 10, 2017

Ranking the Red Dwarf episodes

This list of The Top 73 Red Dwarf Episodes (1988–2017) was prepared for Ganymede & Titan's 30th anniversary Pearl Poll.

Since compiling the original list from literally rose-tinted memories, I've actually bothered to rewatch my favourite childhood programme with as close to as an objective lens as possible, and the ranking has mildly altered.

Have any of the younger entries risen up the ranks when watched alongside the old "classics" on shuffle? They've slid down, if anything. Red Dwarf is mint.


Colour-coordinating all twelve series by DVD box art hue would just be annoying and not particularly useful, so I've subjectively simplified it to separate the:

Classic Series (I-VI)
Pish Series (VII & VIII)
Largely Acceptable Revival (IX-XII)

Will any plucky latecomers burst the classic bubble? Quite a few. Will any plunge into the pishy depths? I'm afraid so.

73. Pete, part 2

I've always had more of a grudge against the sterile and mirthless series seven than its broad, lowest-common-denominator successor. But after refreshing my memory by reading a synopsis of this one, I can't in good conscience put it anywhere other than last place where it belongs. Jesus H. Corbett.

72. Krytie TV

Hot on the heels of the first promising episode since Rob Grant left, series eight descends into sexist farce. This might have been a conscious attempt to return to the show's sitcom roots, but the tone and the characters have never been further off the mark.

71. Back in the Red, part 3

The drawn-out ending to the undeserving trilogy is where most of the worst bits ended up. Being in the holodeck is an excuse for things to get wacky even by series eight standards, and the braying studio audience laps it up. Not that things make any more sense when they get back to reality and characters are imprisoned for crimes they didn't even commit.

70. Only the Good

Time and a whole bunch of new, better episodes have rid the bitter taste this final '90s episode left for a whole decade. A mirror universe and a chameleonic microbe devouring the ship should have been an exciting one to go out on, but it's mired in wacky antics and crap jokes, Cat's "rock" set piece perhaps being the worst thing Doug Naylor has ever written down (Update: Until the recent 'clitoris'/'spit-on-her-wrist' fiasco, anyway).

69. Beyond a Joke

Some of Red Dwarf's finest episodes are about doubles, giving us deeper insights into the characters as they learn uncomfortable truths about themselves. One of its worst episodes does the same thing. Robert Llewelyn co-wrote this one to give himself more to do, and it's just as good as the Data B-story Brent Spiner wrote for himself in Star Trek: Nemesis.

68. Timewave

I really don't enjoy slagging off new 'Dwarf. I hold out hope every week that we might have a new all-time classic on our hands, and it breaks my heart when they're as wall-to-wall excruciating as this. There are a few optimistic clues that Doug might be trolling us by making an episode that celebrates criticism deliberately shit, but I'm not enough of a conspiracy theorist to find comfort there.

67. Back in the Red, part 2

These episodes are just poor now, rather than offensively bad. This one actually has some nice throwback stuff at the beginning with Rimmer's ambitious conniving and extra-long salute, which is the sort of thing series eight should have been doing throughout. But other callbacks to the sexual magnetism virus and Duane Dibbley just serve to remind how far the show's fallen since series five.

66. Duct Soup

The obvious comparison here would be 'Marooned,' a budget-saving bottle episode done right. The worst thing about Kochanski's arrival wasn't even that we lost Rimmer, it was the reduction of Kryten to a whining, petty bitch. Even though I considered this the worst episode ever growing up, I've probably watched it more times than most of the good ones thanks to its inclusion on the Xtended video, the only Red Dwarf I owned for a while.

65. Stoke Me a Clipper

Oh good, Rimmer's in this one. Two of him! But his (temporary) farewell doesn't live up to Howard Goodall's grandiose score, being too bogged down in lore and not helped by some of the most cringeworthy CGI I've ever seen, which appalled me even at the time. I can see why many casual viewers in the late 90s came to the conclusion that Red Dwarf was a load of shit.

64. Pete, part 1

I thought this was funny when I was thirteen. While it's plummeted in my estimation since (not that I've actually watched it since around that time, to be fair), it isn't helped by its association with the second part, which is where all the egregious dinosaur stuff happens. Then again, this does include the basketball game and the Time Wand, so that's fair enough.

63. Back in the Red, part 1

It's easy to treat the series eight opener with disdain when you know where it's leading. It gives you plenty to work with. But at the time, bad gags aside, it felt like the first step in the right, comedic direction after the dreary series seven. Shame it missed the next step and tumbled all the way down the staircase by the time 'Krytie TV' came around.

62. Nanarchy

Just slipping into the worse half of seven, it's at least a relief that the series is over. The return of Holly was probably nice for old-school fans, though I was only familiar with the Hattie Hayridge version at the time, who'd sadly never be seen again. It's a bit self-referential for casual viewers generally, but it's the finale, so I'll allow it. Less acceptable is the fact that it's not very funny and really drawn-out.

61. Dear Dave

The default worst episode of the Dave era until the inexcusable 'Timewave' came along, this isn't particularly good, but there are valid behind-the-scenes kerfuffles to justify that. Then you remember how the similarly chaotic 'Out of Time' came out as a ramshackle classic and you reinforce your standards.

60. Ouroboros

Lister jumps to the assumption that he's his own father in an infinite, impossible loop based on no evidence in a science fiction story that seems brilliant when you're a child. When you're an adult, there's at least Chloë Annet's impractical PVC outfit, I guess? And enjoyable flashbacks to Red Dwarf before the accident, which were always my least favourite bits of the early series, but I'll take what I can get now.

59. Siliconia

Having decided that he wanted to write an episode where the rest of the cast are forced to endure the Kryten make-up, Doug came up with this story to excuse it. It's a fine gimmick, but doesn't break the long string of bad Kryten episodes we've had since his last good one in 1991. It briefly threatened to become a conventionally good Rimmer episode in the middle, but they nipped that in the bud fashionably early.

58. Krysis

A lax attitude to continuity is part of the Red Dwarf experience, so I'm not sure why this one irked me with its weird errors (Series 3000?) and casual bombshells like the talking universe and the revelation that they've just been rounding up to three million years all along. Even aside from all that, I wasn't bowled over by the Mechanoid of the week and the reprise of hilarious GELFspeak.

57. Can of Worms

Like most monster movie franchises, Polymorph is a series of diminishing returns. My hopes weren't particularly high for the first (supposedly) Cat-centric episode, since there are good reasons he's normally relegated to quips and scene-stealing one-liners. It wasn't a great one to go out on, but with the next series already in the wormy can before this one was broadcast, we were spared the legacy anxiety this time.

56. Back to Earth, part 1

If it's hard to consider the 'Back in the Reds' in isolation, this is even more challenging, especially as these three parts are best watched together as the closest thing to a Red Dwarf movie. But that's not how it was broadcast, and when I eagerly gathered with friends for the occasion, I felt unfulfilled by what only amounted to a prologue. Though it was clear things had improved considerably.

55. Entangled

Watching the impressively candid 'We're Smegged' documentary on the series ten DVD, I have a lot of sympathy for the behind-the-scenes problems that led to the mid-series slump. But even before I saw that, I didn't mind this one. The first half, at least. I'd say it's the 'Emohawk' of the Dave era, if they hadn't gone and made a Polymorph III.

54. Epideme

This one wasn't as bad as I remembered at all (though Gary Martin's still annoying). At the back end of the series, we're settled into the cast changes now, even if Kryten still needs to calm down. The production values are pretty good and Craig Charles sells Lister's limb bereavement. It may not be very good by Red Dwarf standards, but it's the series seven thing done well.

53. Back to Earth, part 3

Coronation Street to Blade Runner was never going to be a smooth transition, and in wallowing too deeply in the references, this is almost as indulgent as those Family Guy Star Wars things. If it didn't look so nice, the misguided homage and lazy reuse of 'Back to Reality' plotting would push this further down where it possibly belongs.

52. Blue

The start and end are indispensable 'Dwarf, with that > and the Rimmer Experience (particularly the fake Lister's Dean Learner-quality acting), but it's let down by all the series VII-ing in-between. The series wouldn't really do moody character drama convincingly until it got rid of the laugh track briefly for Back to Earth.

51. Tikka to Ride

The opener is easily the least worst of the often-abominable seventh series, but it's hindered by that weak resolution to the three-year cliffhanger (a very long time when you're still in primary school) and a resolution that carelessly breaks the rules tediously established in the set-up. The "giant pizza" and cannibalism scenes are sterling black humour though.

50. Twentica

Red Dwarf was back from another fairly sizeable gap, and it was fine. This time travel romp wasn't the strongest episode of the year, but it established the mid-to-late-classic period vibe they were going for just fine. It's fine. And Kevin Eldon's in it.

49. Mechocracy

It'd be the weak filler episode in any other series, but a ship-bound bottle show was welcome relief at this point. Even though it's technically as busy as usual with the voice cast, cutting down to the core four for the most part made this one of the more satisfying entries in the low-bar series twelve, where merely not being annoying is enough to get by.

48. Fathers and Suns

Like a lot of Dave-era episodes, there's some very clever writing here that's let down by some real shitness elsewhere. Lister having a conversation with himself through the medium of alcohol-addled recordings is a story I tried to write once, only not about Lister. I probably wouldn't have included a racist caricature vending machine clumsily commenting on race either. I just remembered the Medi-bot's in this one too, bloody hell.

47. Cured

Like some other series twelve episodes, the clickbait gimmick and strange ending put me off at the time, but rewatching I enjoyed the very classic feel and had plenty of laughs, mainly at Cat.

46. Trojan

Now I'm no longer in the afterglow that lasted a long time after seeing the first regular episode of 21st-century Red Dwarf and being relieved that, not only was it not shit, but actually pretty good, the flaws in this one are harder to ignore and it's plummeted quite a way. It's a Rimmer episode, but I don't like where it takes him.

45. Parallel Universe

Would you look at that? An installment from the classic years – the esteemed series two, no less – has ended up placing lower than one from the maligned series eight. This has always been my least favourite of the original batch. It's saved by some customarily excellent banter at the beginning, including "who nose?" and Holly's blind spot with sevens. But then they enter the parallel universe, which seems to have already reached its eighth series if the sexism and pathetic visual gags are anything to go by. Dog's rubbish, but Arlene Rimmer bothers me the most.

44. Back to Earth, part 2

The creatively budget-saving middle third was always the stand-out part of the trilogy for me, before it went completely up its arse, but this placed considerably, bizarrely higher up the list before I rewatched it and saw sense. I am easily won over by a bit of postmodern wank, it's true, but the appallingly weak gags drag it right down.

43. Samsara

I thought we had a new all-time classic on our hands. I enjoyed all the opening scenes and the mounting mystery so much, it was fairly distressing when things started irreversibly sliding in the second half. That'll learn me for getting my hopes up for a latter-day 'Quarantine,' I ended up with a poor man's 'Justice.'

42. Emohawk – Polymorph II

This is the biggest turnaround from what I thought when I was nine (when I'd only seen a handful of episodes, admittedly). Series six was "my" Red Dwarf for a long time, and it took until the DVD era for me to see that the cracks were showing. Evidently, all the good cockpit banter was used up in 'Legion,' and the second half of the episode, where it becomes a fan-coddling triple-sequel, is specifically the beginning of the end for classic Red Dwarf. Luckily, the remaining episodes of the year pulled it back.

41. Skipper

Like 'The Beginning' five years earlier, the current de facto finale of Red Dwarf has satisfying full-circle callbacks and potentially ends things on a warm and cosy note, the opposite of that hideous 1999 finale that threatened to be the end for a decade. So it's got one of the flimsiest plots they've ever done, which is only there to hang all the nostalgia and wackiness from, but it's a lot of fun.

40. M-Corp

The latest series confusingly saved its better episodes for the back half, and this plot-heavy one pairs up nicely with its joke-heavy predecessor. A busy guest cast list doesn't bother me when they're only virtual characters, and the long longed-for loneliness is brought back in quite a major way, almost like it's an apology. The ending's bloody weird in the way series twelve gravitates towards, and I'd be annoyed by it if I thought for one second it would ever be mentioned again.

39. Balance of Power

The second ever episode of Red Dwarf (if you watch in production order so things make slightly more sense), this is a perfectly enjoyable episode, but possibly the least memorable of the entire run. Rob and Doug may have gone deliberately sci-fi-lite to appease sceptics at the BBC, but it's telling that the sci-fi-heavy 'Future Echoes' was bumped up the schedule to replace it.

38. Cassandra

It introduces Kill Crazy, reduces Kochanski to a sex object and includes the "become a dog" joke, but I still stand by 'Cassandra' as the good episode from series eight, not just the slightly least worst. In referencing 'Future Echoes,' it brings back the depressing, determinist time travel approach that hasn't been seen since the early years. And shut up, Kill Crazy's funny anyway. Only in this episode.

37. Officer Rimmer

Rimmer-based episodes are usually a dead cert, series seven aside, but it seems most people didn't share my enthusiasm for this one as they were fixated on its abrupt ending. I can't say I even noticed. Rimmer's consistent in failing to learn from experience and stabbing his crewmates in the back at the first opportunity, and the bio-printing machine is another inspired piece of sci-fi kit.

36. Give and Take

Another retro installment, this adds modern cinematography to jazz up what's otherwise the umpteenth time the Boys from the Dwarf have been chased through a pumping station by a maniac. There are a couple of twists that vary in quality and comprehensibility. I'm still not sure whose kidneys Rimmer's supposed to have blown up.

35. Lemons

This was a fun one... wasn't it? It might not hold up to some of the older jaunts, but the location filming was a fresh of breath air in the otherwise claustrophobic series ten, and it goes satisfyingly overboard in the blasphemy stakes too, excused by a Life of Brian-esque denouement. If you're a Red Dwarf fan but you hated this one, there's something wrong with you.

34. Stasis Leak

It's a convoluted time travel tale that should be right up my street, but I've never been all that fond of this one. It's partly because I don't really enjoy revisiting the populated Red Dwarf before the accident (you can imagine how much I loved series eight then), partly the cheap location filming that tries to convince us an ordinary Manchester hotel is orbiting Jupiter, and the magic door gimmick itself just seems lazy. Grant Naylor didn't adapt it in the novels, so it probably wasn't one of their favourites either.

33. Demons and Angels

Easily the worst story in the best overall series (III & IV are yet to make an appearance in the ranking, but let's not go all G&T with statistics), this is really quite a nasty episode that's as close as the series gets to the torture porn of Rob Grant's Backwards. But before that unpleasantness kicks in, we get to enjoy the spectacular explosion of Red Dwarf and "thankfully Holly's unaffected."

32. Confidence and Paranoia

If I wasn't specifically a Red Dwarf fan, I doubt I'd be able to spot this early one in a parade of its ocean/military-grey stablemates. It's one of the earliest examples of Rob and Doug coming up with wacky sci-fi shenanigans that avoid aliens and robots but still have room for guest stars. It's also the finest episode for the heartlessly selfish first-series Cat, who may be best Cat.

31. The Beginning

The other end of series ten is another Rimmer episode that's probably a bit indulgent and has another unnecessary variant on Simulants just to make the universe ever more annoyingly populated. But two series on, it's still my favourite of the modern era and worthy of a place in the classic run. Admittedly, in the frustrating part of the classic run where I'm shoving all the imperfect ones I have minor issues with.

30. Psirens

I resolutely haven't "grown out" of Red Dwarf, but series six in particular has plunged a few rungs from childhood favourite to one of the lesser classic years, bar a couple of notable exceptionals. This dawdling re-pilot isn't one of them. There's a conscious attempt to be funnier than series five, which is mostly successful, but the plot is borderline-VII in its seriousness and continuity masturbation. It also kicks off a trend of recycling ideas, with the Psirens basically being an evil Camille.

29. Bodyswap

With only twelve places separating its best and least best, Red Dwarf III appears to be the most consistently strong, albeit not-the-best series. 'Bodyswap' is the Life, the Universe and Everything of series three, in that I tried to convince myself it was an unappreciated masterpiece in my youth, but I've grown to realise it's only as okay as everyone else thinks. The extended auto-destruct sequence set-up with its confectionery punchline is one of my favourite Red Dwarf jokes and better than the actual plot.

28. DNA

That's all the series accounted for now, the best least-best episode belonging to the year that feels the closest to a default comfort zone to me (if you ignore the weird 'Meltdown'). This was the first episode I saw – specifically the out-of-nowhere ending with the curry monster, which sets the template for many a Dave-era denouement, so my preadolescence wasn't corrupted by being encouraged to imagine Kryten's long, seemingly fascinating erection. Robert Llewelyn felt uncomfortable playing the human Kryten and I feel a bit uncomfortable watching him.

27. Timeslides

Series three is the only stretch of the series that could be accurately described as 'zany' (series eight doesn't count, I'm talking about the good years). In episodes like this and 'Backwards,' there's not really any effort made to make the wacky shenanigans plausible or internally consistent, but that's not a major problem because it's still really funny.

26. The End

Red Dwarf's pilot is mainly functional, but there are plenty of funny scenes in there too, from Rimmer's failed cheating technique to everybody being dead, Dave. I read the book version long before I saw this, and yes that's superior, but that doesn't count against the episode this time (see: 'Better Than Life,' 'Backwards').

25. Better Than Life

It's a certified classic, but since I read the books a long time before I saw the early series, this original, lighter take on the BTL concept has always felt unavoidably watered down to me. Then there's the regrettably overcast "fantasy" beach scenes and some really appalling effects (looking at you, right-way-round mermaid), which I wish didn't bother me, but I've never been able to get past. On the positive side, the early scenes where Rimmer learns of his father's death are some of the best in the series.

24. Waiting for God

This is the one fans usually opt for when sinking a veteran episode below some cocky upstarts. I can only presume they've forgotten all about the Quagaars sub-plot and Rimmer's explosive rage and are focusing entirely on the cat priest tot. I think series one works best in production order, with this episode completing a loose opening trilogy establishing the hopeless loneliness of the cosmos before we move on to wacky space antics forever.

23. Meltdown

Traditional received opinion is that this chronicle of wax genocide isn't very good. Received counter-response is that, actually, it's really good. I thought I subscribed to the former, but it's only gone and ended up looking quite respectable, and not even my least favourite from that year. Everything involving the main cast is fantastic, shame all the extras keep butting in.

22. Backwards

Another all-time classic that I can't help comparing to its novel equivalent, which also had some reverse continuity errors, but which you had to think hard to notice, rather than being baffled when every effect lacks a logical cause. It's strange to think now, but some series I & II fans must have been confused and disappointed by the new direction the show took in 1989. It all worked out, but I understand where these hypothetical people were coming from.

21. Terrorform

This is one of the best-looking episodes that I could rewatch forever. But like a few other episodes around this point in the list, it's inconsequential fun that doesn't tell us anything we didn't already know about the characters. This is technically a Rimmer episode, but he doesn't do much except get his nipples rubbed while waiting for the self-serving rescue party.

20. Rimmerworld

More or less Terrorform II, I prefer this one for making the Rimmerworld less metaphorical and more incestuously literal. I can't decide whether the return of the Simulants is satisfying inter-series continuity or boring repetition, but any episode that includes "or we could use the teleporter" is safe from criticism.

19. Polymorph

Another one of those rip-roaring, action-packed episodes that's probably at its peak when you're twelve, it'd place a bit lower if not for the oft-forgotten gem of an opening scene where Lister prepares a meal using sterilised medical equipment to Cat's disgust. It's clean, it's been cleaned.

18. Marooned

Not putting 'Back to Reality' in the top five might be controversial enough for some, but this is tantamount to mutiny. Considering I've generally grown to favour character-based episodes over the adventure ones, not putting this near-two-hander closer to the top could be related to me not having watched it for a decade or so. Or maybe I do need my sci-fi fix in episodes after all. Rest assured, we're in the part of the list where I love them all now.

17. The Last Day

An unexpected candidate for the best of series three? It's one of the less talked-about, anyway. Like 'Bodyswap,' I like that it takes time out for low-key character banter, before this week's homicidal maniac makes his delayed appearance at the end. Rimmer might have the best episodes overall, but 'The Last Day'/'Camille' was a solid double bill for Kryten, continuing into 'DNA' if you're more partial to that than I am.

16. Camille

I pleasantly surprised myself by putting this unconventional entry in my top 10 on G&T's 25th anniversary poll, and I've disappointed myself by letting it randomly drop a few places this time. Partly because I'd forgotten how good its fellow love story 'Holoship' is. I still think it's an overlooked classic compared to some of the more gimmicky episodes from the era, and if I had to choose only one scene from Red Dwarf to preserve for future generations, it'd be Lister teaching Kryten how to lie.

15. Justice

This is the first time the crew comes across an actual outpost as opposed to a crashed or drifting derelict (I think), which you could pinpoint as when the series lost touch with its lonely origins and the universe started to become too populated. But it's a belter, so I can't be too miffed. Lister's off-screen head-bursting was one of the first Red Dwarf scenes I saw. I was here to stay.

14. Holoship

This is a grower of an episode. It's not immediately obvious that it's a classic until you think of all your favourite Red Dwarf quotes and realise two-thirds of them come from here. The overly tight editing is a bit distracting though. I don't know how Grant Naylor could accidentally write a script that was 50% too long by this point, and then accidentally film it all too.

13. Thanks for the Memory

Fan site Ganymede & Titan likes to take credit for popularising this underappreciated early classic, but it was popular enough when me and Simon were putting on Chris Barrie voices to quote it in school. And it impressed one amateur screenwriter so much that he sold it to Star Trek: TNG with different character names.

12. Queeg

My excuse for not placing 'Marooned' higher was that I like a bit of sci-fi with my comedy, but then I go and pick this. Maybe I'm disproportionately favouring it because it's the one true Holly episode ('White Hole' is even higher for different reasons), or it could be that making the characters work hard seems like much greater peril than being chased by baddies every week in the later years.

11. Future Echoes

Unlike 'Better Than Life' and 'Backwards,' the novelised version of 'Future Echoes' isn't as effective as the televised original with its understated special effects. It's a bit weird that Lister doesn't care about his future son's untimely and unavoidable death, and how gleeful Rimmer seems to be when he thinks the same thing's in store for Lister, but I can ignore that when we're dealing with a defining slice of sci-fi-comedy.

10. The Inquisitor

Series five is a pretty dark and depressing year that I wouldn't recommend watching in one go. Until I got round to renting the video, I only knew this episode from Howarth & Lyons' synopsis in the Red Dwarf Programme Guide, which enthralled me. The replacement Lister and Kryten could be a bit better, but the message that you should be judged according to your own standards is a powerful one. And the Inquisitor looks bloody great.

9. Kryten

Assuming it's not 1988, the first time you watch this will always be a little distracting as you get used to that not being the proper Kryten. Once you've got that out of your system, watch it again to fully appreciate one of the early classics. The skeleton reveal is one of the best bits in all of Red Dwarf, and it's even better the second time when you get to experience it anew through Chris Barrie's face acting.

8. Gunmen of the Apocalypse

Of all the unforgettable episodes you wouldn't think required a rewatch, I did need to be reminded how much I adore this unapologetically gimmicky one to bump it up the ranks. The Vindalooians may be more hilarious when you're nine, but Kryten's drunk, dejected sheriff improves with age, and the volcanic moon might be the series' single most impressive technical achievement.

7. Legion

Like 'Out of Time,' I'm guilty of letting nostalgia influence this one, since it was probably the first full episode I saw. But I downvoted 'Emohawk' to hell, so I think we're probably fine. Blending series five's dark sci-fi drama with series six's conscious efforts to be funnier, the gags are so good in this one – from light bulbs and light switches to Rimmer's slapstick suffering – it feels like the ideal Red Dwarf formula has been cracked. No wonder Rob Grant felt he was done then.

6. Back to Reality

Seemingly everyone else's favourite, I've always slightly underrated this one, which I think was due to reading all the hype about it for years before I finally got the chance to see it (the series V byte one video was particularly elusive back in the day). I've got over that now, and I can't fail to be impressed by one of the smartest, best-looking and exquisitely-crafted episodes. If only I'd watched it in 1992 so I could have joined in.

5. White Hole

A Star Trek: Voyageresque reset button ending doesn't spoil this time-warping survival story, especially as a later reference to the supposedly forgotten events makes it clear that Kryten just made a mistake for once. I went through a phase of finding the persistent toaster annoying, but I just rewatched this one and he's Stewart Lee'd his way back to funny now. Knowing that we might have got a 'Garbage World' episode instead of this one is tantalising, but I'm not prepared to exchange.

4. Me²

This cautionary tale of self-evaluation has always been among my favourites. It's better than the novel version, because of Chris Barrie x2, but I pretend the book's explanation of why Rimmer doesn't get along with himself is in the episode, because it's invincible headcanon regardless. Recorded after a sizeable gap, there's a huge step up in quality and confidence from the other first series episodes.

3. Out of Time

I'm not sure if I saw this when it first went out or on one of many repeat runs, but either way, the wait for series seven was a long one. The nostalgia doesn't get bigger than this one, because it was incredibly exciting as a child, but there's plenty of great stuff crammed in there too, from nightmare visions of the future to a chocolate finger cabin complete with picket fence. Robert Llewellyn is visibly reading from an autocue and I don't even care.

2. Dimension Jump

Red Dwarf's take on the garden of forking paths is one of the most effective demonstrations of that popular sci-fi trope, despite being exaggerated for comic effect. I found Ace Rimmer insufferable in his later appearance/s, but here the cocky smugness and heroics strike the right balance. Although the fans in their celebratory Ace T-shirts seem to have missed the point that he's clearly the lesser of the Rimmers.

1. Quarantine

This has occupied the top spot ever since I first saw it as a teenager. Whenever I feel insecure that my favourite episode is the one where Rimmer puts on a dress and has a penguin puppet, I comfort myself that it also has the magnificent luck virus scenes, the tetchy quarantine scenes, Kryten making a casual masturbation reference and a real sense of peril. It hasn't escaped my attention that most of my top five are Rimmer episodes. Arnie does it best.

Series rankings

I awarded a point for each successive step up the ziggurat and used my lacking maths to work out that my favourite years on average are:

1. Series V:  57.83 points
2. Series IV: 57.00
3. Series VI: 53.17
4. Series III: 48.67
5. Series II: 48.50
6. Series I: 48.33
7. Series X: 28.00
8. Series XI: 27.17
9. Series XII: 23.33
10. Back to Earth: 23.00
11. Series VII: 14.13
12. Series VIII: 8.75

Judgemental colour key confirmed. I'll presumably add more worthless supplementary stats when they come to me.

Best bytes

Here's one. If VHS wasn't an obsolete medium and most of these tapes hadn't been discontinued in the late '90s, which three-episode collection would offer the best value for money according to my point scores? Related question, what am I doing with my life?

1. Series IV Byte Two
2. Series V Byte Two
3. Series VI Byte One
4. Series II Byte One
5. Series V Byte One
6=Series III Byte One
6=Series IV Byte One
7. Series I Byte Two
8. Series VI Byte Two
9. Series III Byte Two
10. Series I Byte One
11. Series II Byte Two
12. Series VIII Byte 1 (4 episodes)
13. Series VII Byte One
14. Series VII Byte Two
15. Series VII Byte Three (2 episodes)
16. Series VIII Byte 2 (4 episodes. Even with twice the number of episodes as the video above it, the back half of series VIII still can't drag itself up from the bottom).

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