It's all about the reboots nowadays isn't? Hollywood's gone mad for them. In fact, it probably won't be long before sci-fi and superhero movies are literally rebooted halfway through each actual film, much to the baffled excitement of fans. But lest you think this is a new development, let's consider the third series of Dwarf, which is actually a reboot in all but name.
Bold words, you say. But we can back them up, sort of. The whole show looks different for a start – shinier and spanglier, the way reboots tend to be. Holly's played by someone new and considerably more female. The whole crew dynamic's totally different, with Kryten now a full-timer and Rimmer far less of a smirking, preening dolt. Starbug's introduced as a new craft. Plus, the very first episode begins with a Star Wars-type scroll that basically tells us to forget the events of the last series (notably, Lister's kids) and prepare for a whole new start. See? Reboot.
It all kicks off with an episode that's gone down in comedy folklore: the one where everything goes backwards. OK, so it's basically a one-joke episode, but when a joke's this good, who gives a stuffed squirrel? Going through a kind of rift in space, the gang land on an Earth where time runs in reverse – people gulp up beer into empty pint glasses, a barroom brawl is a barroom tidy, and going to the loo becomes an experience disturbing enough to taint your very soul, as the Cat discovers first hand.
Somehow, by a quirk even Kryten would be at pains to explain, the series just gets better. The very next episode, in which Lister and Rimmer are marooned on a dead planet, is said by many to be the greatest Red Dwarf story of all. It's pure, character-driven comedy at its finest, even poignant in places as the pair ruminate on their lives, their disappointments and their grudging respect for each other. Plus we get to see Rimmer recite his favourite speech from Shakespeare (he remembers precisely one word) and Lister chow down on dog food. ("Now I can see why dogs lick their testicles," is his less than glowing review.)
Hot on its heels comes yet another worship-worthy masterpiece of a story, featuring the arrival of the Polymorph: an entity which can assume any shape and suck people's negative emotions out of them. Pretty much every last second of this episode is iconic, from the fear-free Lister becoming a bolshy nutcase ("I say let's just get out there and twat it!") to a drunken, tramp-like Cat to Rimmer becoming a PC type in a "Give quiche a chance" t-shirt. Plus it's got the bit reckoned to be the funniest in Red Dwarf history, with the Polymorph disguising itself as Lister's pants, and Kryten desperately trying to remove it from a terrified Lister's groinal area. Cue lots of accidentally sexual gyrations which look to all the world like the indecent coupling of man and mechanoid. Or, as Rimmer puts it, "You'll bonk anything, won't you Lister?"
Not that Rimmer would particularly mind BEING Lister – in fact, he manages to coax our Scouse slob into swapping bodies with him in the cleverly titled Bodyswap. Rimmer promises to get Lister's body ship shape with plenty of dieting and exercise, and then proceeds to run amok, eating everything and wallowing in mashed potato. It's frankly wrong and disturbing seeing Craig Charles as Rimmer, although interestingly Chris Barrie makes a highly satisfying Lister – remember, he did actually audition for that role to begin with, so the episode's a glimpse of what the show might look like in some Red Dwarf-like parallel universe.
Speaking of time-and-space screwiness, the series then sees Lister go back in time to alter the course of his life and make it distinctly less smeggy. He meets up with his younger self (played by Craig Charles's real-life brother, everyone!), then the singer with acclaimed, trailblazing band Smeg and the Heads. Sadly, his efforts to make himself rich in the future come to nothing, although it does tweak the universe enough to make Rimmer a living, breathing human again. Until he blows himself up while celebrating his good news.
And finally, the series ends on a philosophical note: where do all the calculators go? Why, to Silicon Heaven of course. Thoughts of mechanical death weigh heavily on Kryten when he hears he's about to be replaced by an upgraded and rather more psychotic mechanoid. Luckily, the Dwarfers manage to outfox the nutcase newbie using metaphysics. And you thought they were a bunch of clueless goits…