Red Dwarf has been a lot of different shows, probably more than any science fiction show that’s kept the same principal cast in place for its entire run. Over the last 32 years it has been a zero-budget flatmate comedy with plots that could be filmed exclusively between a corridor and a bunk bed, a big old high concept episodic sci-fi show that used philosophy to make gags, it’s had a long-running ‘Hunt for Red Dwarf’ arc that lasted two seasons, then reintroduced all the crew it killed off in its first episode, then killed them all again and returned to odd-couple sitcom shenanigans.
Sometimes it is, by sitcom standards, actually pretty hard sci-fi, set in a universe with no alien life, the drama and comedy driven by the isolation of being the last human alive. Other times you can’t seem to move five feet without bumping into the technically-not-alien “GELFs” and “simulants”.
It makes reviewing a new episode on its own terms a challenge because you don’t know quite which show you’re sitting down to review. Is this supposed to be just a knock-about bit of sitcom fun, like the episode where Rimmer leads a planet of waxwork historical figures into battle? Or an attempt at doing what, beneath the jokes, is a very solid bit of character and idea-driven storytelling, like ‘Better than Life’, or ‘Out of Time’?
In the former, for instance, it really shouldn’t bother anyone that a civilisation of cat-humanoids that evolved on a spaceship over billions of years would use cat flaps for all their doors even though that spaceship would never have any cat flaps. You can point out the joke itself isn’t really funny enough for how much screen time it gets, but the world-building shouldn’t actually be irritating (yet somehow it manages to be).