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The Hut's TV Gold: Red Dwarf Series 5, Episode 6 - Back to Reality

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

Welcome to The Hut's TV Gold, a series of short reads from The Hindsight Hut about the best episodes from my favourite television shows. These views are purely my own opinion and other people’s preferences are also completely valid. Beware, spoilers!

“Are you seriously telling me you were playing the prat version of Rimmer for all that time? For four years?” Timothy Spall’s Andy ruthlessly roasts Rimmer.

The plot

While searching ocean seeding spaceship the SSS Esperanto in an uninhabited ocean, Red Dwarf’s crew encounter apex predator the ‘Despair Squid’. After being sprayed by the creature's hallucegenic ink, the confused quartet wake up in a strange facility suffering an identity crisis and face their worst fears.

Why select this episode?

I had several episodes in mind for this feature but having re-watched them as a middle aged man, this one left the biggest impression. I was struck by ‘Back to Reality’s’ confidence and willingness to tackle very dark themes. Red Dwarf has always been at its best when it focuses on what makes Lister and co tick and this is, for me, the strongest example.

What's so good about it?

‘Back to Reality’ explores male fragility, mental health, suicide and is still poignant and funny, which is an impressive feat. The Dwarfers are left questioning their sense of self when they suffer a mass hallucination and are tricked into believing that they have been playing the videogame ‘Red Dwarf’ for four years. It's a clever move, harking back to 'Better than life' and leaves the characters and audience alike buying the premise. Heartrendingly, they discover they are not who they thought they were. The new personalities are formed from the darkest fears lurking in the deepest recesses of their minds, which has disastrous consequences.

An image from Red Dwarf Series 5 Episode 6 - Back to Reality.
Alternate characters: The Red Dwarf crew think they are completely different people in Back to Reality

Cleverly, this reopens and deepens existing insecurities. Rimmer and Lister’s odd couple relationship is given a new twist when they learn they’re half-brothers. While Lister’s Sebastian wears expensive clothes, Rimmer’s Billy is a vagrant who smells of yak dung. It’s a heart-breaking moment for the insecure Arnold, who has no excuses for his abject failure. Meanwhile, Lister’s moral code is left in tatters when he learns he’s a high-ranking member of a fascist regime infamous for murdering dissidents.

Throughout, humour and sadness go hand-in-hand to create genuine pathos and drama. Poor shallow Cat is left a gibbering wreck after discovering he’s really a staggeringly unstylish uber-dweeb called Duane Dibley. Kryten is initially excited to discover he's half-human police officer Jake Bullet, only to be left devastated after he kills a fascist in cold blood. The episode's message is funny but sobering: our view of ourselves is fragile and if its breaks then so do we. The incredibly grave issue of male suicide is even addressed as the crew, having been driven to despair, attempt to kill themselves before being rescued by Holly.

Sounds depressing, any jokes?

Writers Rob Grant and Doug Naylor sprinkle plenty of funny moments to balance the light and the dark, including a suicidal fish. The chase scene at the end is classic Red Dwarf silliness and utterly joyous, while Timothy Spall steals the show as Brummie know it all Andy, who roasts the Dwarfers when they wake from the game.

In conclusion

It's the culmination of years of great writing and character building by Grant and Naylor and has never been bettered.

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Blog - Strange Days: Tales and Memories and Murder


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