Red Dwarf TV show and why it is a cult classic

Red Dwarf is a popular British science-fiction comedy television series that originally aired in 1988 and has since amassed a dedicated fanbase around the world. The show follows the adventures of the last human survivor, Dave Lister, who awakens from suspended animation three million years into the future, only to discover that he is the only human alive on board the spaceship Red Dwarf. Alongside him are the hologram of his deceased bunkmate Arnold Rimmer, the humanoid feline creature known as Cat, and the android Kryten.

Throughout the series, the crew faces various challenges and obstacles, from battling rogue simulants to encountering their own alternate selves from different dimensions. The show is known for its witty humor, clever writing, and imaginative concepts, which have earned it a reputation as one of the most beloved sci-fi shows of all time.

One of the two writer Naylor said “Generally science fiction isn’t popular is what we were told,”, and “Second of all, it’s always very expensive. That was initially why it was rejected by the BBC.

When first pitched Doctor Who had been faded out by that point, and they had tried Hitchhikers [Guide to the Galaxy] and it wasn’t nearly as good as the books. And it was just sort of, ‘Here’s a genre that doesn’t work.'”


The show’s cast is led by actor Craig Charles, who plays the role of Dave Lister, the last surviving human on board the spaceship. Chris Barrie plays the role of Arnold Rimmer, the hologram of Lister’s former bunkmate who has an intense dislike for him. Danny John-Jules portrays Cat, a humanoid feline creature who is obsessed with fashion and his own appearance. Robert Llewellyn plays the role of Kryten, an android who becomes the crew’s butler and cook after being rescued from a crashed spaceship.

Other notable cast members include Norman Lovett as the original ship’s computer Holly, who later passes on the role to Hattie Hayridge’s character, Hilly, in later seasons. Chloë Annett joins the cast in later seasons as Kristine Kochanski, Lister’s love interest from his former life on Earth.

John-Jules, known for his role as Cat, adds: “As far as the powers that be were concerned, it wasn’t a show that was worthy of commissioning at that point.”

Naylor told radiotimes: “We were just so lucky that Manchester were looking for something a bit out there, and [commissioner] Peter Ridsdale-Scott read it, and without Peter, we wouldn’t be here. He went, ‘Yeah, fine, this is just what we’re looking for because it’s not the same as everything else, it is different.'”

He recalls of the beginnings of the show: “I did think it was going to be a hit but I thought it would be two, three series and out. I also thought it would look better than it did in the first few series! But then when we got into it, and especially when we got into series 2 and we kind of ironed out the wrinkles, then it was a question of let’s see how far we can go with this.

“I was never of the people who thought, ‘Two series is really cool and let’s not do any more than two series,'” Naylor explains. “I think if there’s footage in it, keep going, provided you can get new shows and new ideas and fresh ideas, keep going until you decide that you can’t. So then we were up and running, we were very fortunate”

While Naylor was confident the show would succeed, cast member John-Jules, who starred alongside Craig Charles (Lister), Chris Barrie (Rimmer) and Robert Llewellyn, who took over from David Ross as Kryten, wasn’t so sure.

Lead Cast and Characters:

  • Craig Charles as Dave Lister
  • Chris Barrie as Arnold Rimmer
  • Danny John-Jules as Cat
  • Robert Llewellyn as Kryten
  • Norman Lovett as Holly
  • Hattie Hayridge as Hilly
  • Chloë Annett as Kristine Kochanski

“I said to myself, ‘This is either going to be the greatest show ever made or the biggest pile of poo.’ And that was the schizophrenic attitude that the character needed, you just didn’t know what was going to happen. It was the same as the script, I thought, ‘What’s going to happen with this? This is nuts.’ It was the kind of mindset you needed to be in to play that character, that you didn’t know what the hell was going to happen.”

It’s that kind of attitude that appears to have landed him the role. John-Jules, who was the first person to read for Cat, rocked up to the audition half an hour late in his dad’s wedding suit, and was all but kicked out of the building before learning he’d got the job.

“I remember that first audition very well, where you were the first person we saw for the Cat. You came in and absolutely knocked it out of the ballpark. You were brilliant. And then you left,” Naylor recalls.

John-Jules has a different memory: “I didn’t leave! Paul [Jackson, producer] came up to me and literally grabbed my by the scruff of the neck and threw me out the door.”

“You were half an hour late,” Naylor points out, with John-Jules reflecting: “I think it’s what got me the job, because I was nonchalant. No apology. I walked in and out like my proverbial didn’t smell.”

“Hasn’t changed a bit!” Naylor laughs, with John-Jules hitting back: “And why spoil the habit of a lifetime?”

Summing up why he cast John-Jules, Naylor recalls: “He was everything we hoped for and more. We didn’t quite know whether it existed, him being the very first person who had read for the part. He came in and I remember after he left, I went ‘It’s him! That’s the guy who should play the Cat! But surely it can’t be the first person who walked in.’ And no one came close.”

But John-Jules admits: “I was thinking the complete opposite. I walked out saying, ‘Well, I f**ked that up.'”

As for the rest of the cast? Naylor says: “Craig pestered Paul Jackson to see if he could come and read! And he hadn’t done any acting. And I’d seen him as a kind of angry stand-up poet. Paul Jackson told me about this guy and I thought, ‘He’s not right. But we’ll see him.’ He came in and he was so charming and so funny and no one else came close to playing Lister.

“We’d worked with Chris Barrie before but we realised whoever we cast as Lister, we’d need to get a chemistry. So good Rimmers we’d seen, but we hadn’t seen a Rimmer that fit with any Lister. So then we got Chris back, we’d recalled Chris… and then we got them together and it’s like, ‘Ah, okay fantastic, we’ve got our Rimmer.’

Naylor continues: “Robert was recommended by Paul Jackson because he said, “There’s this guy I’ve seen playing a robot in an Edinburgh Fringe Show, and I said, ‘Because he’s playing a robot?’ and he said, ‘Yeah.’ So then Robert came in and, again, was utterly charming and funny, but he did say he had this possible Channel 4 series where he was playing a robot. But what was great about Kryten is that he would have to wear a mask so no one would recognise him!”

Kryten was originally intended as a one-off appearance from David Ross. However, when Kryten was brought back as a recurring character, Ross wasn’t able to come back due to another job.

John-Jules admits to being “deflated” at the thought of working with a replacement Kryten – but quickly changed his mind when he saw Llewellyn in action. “He didn’t even have the character nailed. This lunatic was just in the corner of the studio practising these silly walks,” he remembers.

“And silly voices,” Naylor adds.

John-Jules continues: “It was absolutely hysterical. And I had to wipe my mouth and say, I never thought I’d see a man do Kryten better than we’d already seen. And that’s taking nothing away from David Ross.”

The magic of that casting was there from the beginning, with Naylor pointing out that, while some fans say the success came later, there was a core fanbase there from the very early days.

“I think it was third on BBC two with 5.3 million [viewers]. There was a fanbase there almost immediately, so that really protected us, and we got a second series almost immediately as well, so all good.”

Naylor and John-Jules, who are still close friends with the rest of “the boys”, are open about the ups and downs of the past 35 years.

As for the challenges? “Obviously it does get harder because you’ve done a lot of stories so you can’t do those. Everyone’s older. So it does get harder. We haven’t had the budgets, certainly at the BBC heyday when the budgets were brilliant. So it’s been all sorts.”

The lack of budget has been well documented, with Naylor saying he was “famously” disappointed with how the sets looked at the beginning, asking: “Why is it so grey?” But he’s got high praise for the crew who were, at the time, filming panel shows in the week and then perhaps the most bizarre comedy to ever hit British screens at the weekend. Safe to say it took some getting used to.

But the ups have been sky-high.

“I’m sure Doug will agree, I reckon every day working on Red Dwarf there’s at least 20 moments that remind you why you come to work every day,” John-Jules points out. “We laugh just as much, cry, work double hard, and through everybody’s 35 years of whatever issues, whatever is going on in the individual’s lives, there’s the Red Dwarf cast there. We’ve gone through each other’s lives together, literally, the ups and the downs. You don’t work on a show for 35 years and don’t have some kind of emotional connection to all the people in the room.”

And looking to the future, it seems Red Dwarf may land on our screens once more.

In 2021, Naylor launched a High Court action against Grant Naylor Productions, Noel Gay Television and Rob Grant over the rights to the show. The dispute was resolved and was confirmed that both of the writers will continue separately working on Red Dwarf in different media.

While Naylor says he doesn’t know for sure what will happen with the show in future, he adds that he thinks it has a “good chance” of returning.

“I’ve had a lot of interest, people calling me, broadcasters, whatever, publishers – all just in the last three days, it’s been a bit mad, but great. So it’s just getting some meetings together and working out what exactly we’re all going to do,” he says.

Asked whether he’s confident it will return to screens, he adds: “I think it will, yeah. Without wanting to pre-empt anything, there’s real interest, I think.

“Providing the boys are available, which isn’t the easiest thing because they’ve all got these mad schedules, especially Craig [Charles] and Robert [Llewellyn]. But provided we can get everyone available and they do all want to be available, they want to make more, I think we’ve got a good chance.”

As for how far the show will go, he explains: “For me, it’s about do the boys want to do it? Can we think of fresh ideas for new shows that we haven’t done before? Do the audience still like it? And the reason we keep making it is because we have such a good time.

“There might be a stage where we just have a good time and the audience don’t and I’m sure we’ll be told by the audience to pack up and go away! But until then, I think we’re okay.”

Overall, Red Dwarf is a beloved television series that has stood the test of time due to its unique blend of science-fiction and comedy. Its memorable characters, imaginative storylines, and clever writing have cemented it as a classic of the genre, and a must-watch for fans of both sci-fi and comedy.

Author Profile

Stevie Flavio
Film Writer


Leave a Reply