It is the first episode to feature all the central characters of the show together in a single episode since the pilot episode (Lister, Rimmer, the Cat, Kryten, Holly, Kochanski and Captain Hollister), and also the first episode to showcase the newly nanobot-rebuilt and improved Red Dwarf ship.
In a prison cell in the Tank aboard Red Dward, Dave Lister (Craig Charles) and no-longer-a-hologram and very human Arnold Rimmer (Chris Barrie) have a discussion regarding Lister's recent actions in pouring a tube of something over him, while Lister reads a magazine article about an elderly father upon which he provides incredulous commentary. The episode then moves on to show the circumstances that led to their incarceration...
Three days earlier, Kryten's (Robert Llewellyn) nanobots had rebuilt Red Dwarf, but done so far too large, and to the ship's original design plans before JMC imposed cutbacks. Lister enters the cockpit of Starbug showing off his now non-muscular body and it emerges that the enlargement is a temporary symptom of the nanobots' restoration process, as it soon turns out that Red Dwarf is shrinking around Starbug.
Suddenly the ship is sucked into an air vent, and it becomes a race against time to make it to an area large enough to house the ship before it is crushed. As the Cat (Danny John-Jules) worries about the situation, Kristine Kochanski (Chloë Annett) suggests a detour down an alternative vent. Starbug however ends up stuck up the anus of a giant rat briefly, before it finally escapes the air shafts.With Red Dwarf nearly done shrinking, the corridors rip off Starbug's rear and middle section before the cockpit is sent flying into a cargo bay where it crash lands. With the cockpit crumbling around them, the crew manage to escape mere seconds before it explodes.
Just then, the gang are shocked as they are approached by two human figures in fire-fighting uniforms who are recognised by Lister... Selby and Chen (David Gillespie and Paul Bradley), his old drinking partners. The gang realise that the nanobots have not only restored Red Dwarf but also its original crew, who initially have no idea about the accident which once killed them, the nanobot restoration, or why Red Dwarf is now inexplicably three million years into Deep Space. Captain Frank Hollister (Mac McDonald) quickly arrives in the hangar bay with a security officer named Thornton (Karl Glenn Stimpson) who places Lister under arrest for stealing and crashing a Starbug, flying without a pilot's license and bringing two stowaways (Cat and Kryten) aboard.
Everyone is placed in custody, and Lister is confined to his old Z shift sleeping quarters. Lister then asks Holly (Norman Lovett), who is still loaded into Lister's watch and therefore hidden from the Red Dwarf crew, what will happen if they are found guilty. Holly explains that they will get two years in the brig. Lister is confused as Red Dwarf does not have a brig, but Holly explains that there is a top-secret prison facility known as The Tank contained aboard the ship holding hundreds of inmates who were being transported to a containment facility. Unfortunately they have all been resurrected too, and they are not a nice bunch of guys.
Just as he thinks things can not get any worse, Rimmer enters the bunkroom. However this is not the hologram of Rimmer that left Starbug to take on his Ace persona, but rather the original human Rimmer that was aboard Red Dwarf before the accident that originally wiped out the crew - back in the flesh, without any memory of his earlier time as a hologram, and without any of the subsequent character development, and is as weaselly as ever. Lister tells Rimmer the whole story and asks for help escaping. In exchange, he offers Rimmer a copy of the crew's personal and confidential files from the earlier version of Red Dwarf, still contained in the wreckage of the crashed Starbug in the new Red Dwarf hangar. Rimmer initially refuses, until Lister tells him that with the information he can get the promotion to officer status like he has always wanted. With this, Rimmer agrees and Lister gives him his watch which Holly has been loaded into to help him find what he needs.
While the Cat is examined by the medical staff headed by Chief Medical Officer Karen Newton (Kika Mirylees) and confuses them with his six nipples, musical heartbeat and multi-coloured intestines, Kryten is taken for psychiatric evaluation before Dr. Lucas McClaren (Andy Taylor). Unfortunately, Kryten's erratic personality does not go over well, with him straightforwardly stating that he was created after his examiner died, before his own subsequent resurrection, and that Kryten has, thanks to Lister, developed numerous character flaws of which is he is immensely proud. Almost inevitably, he is recommended to be restored to his factory settings.
Aboard the burnt out wreckage of the Starbug cockpit, Rimmer finds the disc with the crew's files. He also finds two strange tubes and asks Holly what they are. Holly explains that they are positive viruses that Lister picked up from a deranged scientist years earlier; one contains luck and the other contains sexual magnetism. Rimmer quickly tries out sexual magnetism, and walks down the corridor where all the female admire him. Rimmer notes to himself that "the world loves a bastard"...
Back in the Red Xtended
"Back in the Red" was originally supposed to be over an hour and a half long special, detailing the beginning of the biggest shake-up in format in the history of the television series - including Red Dwarf rebuilt and fully manned, and the regular characters, who were formally alone, now in prison.
When it became clear that "Back in the Red" wouldn't be possible to broadcast as is, it was broken down into three separate episodes, of typical episode length, for broadcast - Back in the Red Part I, Part II and Part III. Even then, much of it still had to be cut.
"Back in the Red: Xtended" is the full episode, as Doug Naylor originally intended, spliced together from all three episodes at full length, and is available for viewing on the Series VIII DVD. The Xtended edition features several additional dialogue scenes restored.
The hour-long edit of the three-part story, released to DVD, includes lines of dialogue that more clearly explain why Red Dwarf is initially so large when recreated by the nanites, as well as explaining why aspects of the ship do not match what was seen in earlier seasons (Lister even references the fact his old quarters have changed slightly, and are not as untidy and smelly as they once were).
The following deleted scenes were not restored in the hour-long, "Xtended" version of the episode, but are available for viewing on the Series VIII DVD:
- The opening scene in the prison bunk is extended, where Lister reads from "StarStruck" magazine and talks about the 83-year-old old movie star Argyle Somerfield, who has just had a baby with his 34-year-old nurse.
- Lister's arrest after crashing the Starbug in the hangar bay is significantly extended. After MP Thornton asks Lister if he would requires any form of legal aid, and Lister says "a lemonade and a really large scotch", Lister is seen being manhandled away. His old drinking buddies, Selby and Chen, who are present to help put the fire out, shout out to Lister not to worry, and that they'll stick by him. "Fighting by your side, me Petersen and Selbs, though thick and thin" (confirming that the still-hooded third figure is Petersen). Selby repeatedly looks at his watch, and Chen then says that they'll stick by Lister as long as it doesn't interfere with their drinking commitments. They discuss getting Lister "the best damn lawyer money can buy", before Selby reminds the others that the bar has just opened. Chen finishes by saying "terrible piece of luck for poor Davey boy. Whose round is it?" It is apparently Petersen's round. As they walk off they discuss how much they hate firefighting.
- As Lister is put under house-arrest in his old sleeping quarters, he notices his old robot goldfish, McCartney, has also made a nanobot-reconstructed return - but is still defective. He picks McCartney up, smashes it against the fish tank and throws it back in, and McCartney has started working again.
- Chief Medical Officer Karen Newton asks Captain Hollister how Red Dwarf is now three million years into Deep Space. Hollister replies: "nobody knows. It's going to go down in history as once of the great mysteries. To rank alongside the Marie Celeste and the popularity of broccoli."
- Mac McDonald reprises his Captain Hollister character.
- Paul Bradley and David Gillespie returned as Selby and Chen.
- Andy Taylor played Dr. Lucas McClaren, the ship's psychiatrist.
- Karl Glenn Stimpson played MP Thornton.
- Kika Mirylees appeared as Chief Medical Officer Karen Newton.
- The original iteration of Lister and Rimmer's sleeping quarters (not seen since Series II) are also recreated by the nanobots, and Lister is held there briefly under house-arrest (the set was recreated from the originals). This is the last time the original iteration of the sleeping quarters are seen in the show.
- Holly flashes the words "Sickbags on Standby" just as Rimmer was attracting the female members of the crew after taking the sexual magnetism virus. This could be a fourth-wall-breaching moment as the message was displayed as if it were addressing the audience.
- Kryten is greeted by the ship's psychiatrist, Dr. Lucas McClaren. In the Series II episode "RD: Queeg", Rimmer turns into Brannigan, who is identified by Lister as the ship's psychiatrist. Interestingly enough, Brannigan and McLaren have similar high-pitched-sounding voices, presenting a missed opportunity for continuity. However an interview with Talkie Toaster on the official Red Dwarf website reveals that Brannigan was McClaren's predecessor.
- Although the series is now once again being videotaped, a brief shot of the Cat in a recap from "RD: Nanarchy" is shown on film.
- Kochanski's hair causes a continuity error. Although the story is supposed to take place immediately after "Nanarchy", Kochanski sports a completely different hairstyle and hair colour, not to mention waistline, than what she had at the end of the preceding episode.
- Whilst Karen Newton gives the Cat a medical in this episode, Captain Hollister notes his six nipples and wonders what the female of his species must be like. Cat says "pretty easy to please in bed". Since Cat has never met a female of his species except in the "lost episode" of the previous series, "Identity Within", this is likely be referring to Ora/Aura who he loses his virginity to, possibly making "Identity Within" canon.
- The thing that Lister is said to have "poured all over" Rimmer was likely the sexual magnetism virus, as seen in Part III of Back in the Red (as the prologue actually occurs after this scene).
- The opening episode was originally planned as an hour-long special. This would give the show the opportunity to introduce the new setup. However the episode overran and the opener turned into a three-part story.
- Holly: (after Starbug in a rapidly shrinking Red Dwarf flies into a rat while flying through the air vent) I hope we don't get stopped by the cops. They don't like it when you're rat-arsed!
- As well as revisiting the concept of Positive Viruses from "Quarantine", the episode also goes on to mention Dr. Hildegard Lanstrom by name. This also confirms how the revived male Holly retains the memories of his briefly female past.
- This episode features a sequence set in a close recreation of the sleeping quarters from Series I, right down to the guitar and porthole. It's most likely be due to the fact that the timeline the ship is running on is set before the radiation leak in The End and those were Rimmer and Lister's quarters at the time.
- Rather than using the re-designed Space Corps uniforms briefly seen in a parallel universe flashback in "Ouroboros", they appear more similar to their classic look, only a darker beige with less outlining.
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