Gunmen of the Apocalypse is an "International Emmy Award"-winning episode of Red Dwarf. It won the 1994 Emmy for Popular Arts, and in the same year the episode also won the television series Best BBC Sitcom at the British Comedy Awards. Awards Doug Naylor and Robert Llewellyn travelled to the United States to collect the Emmy from Tony Curtis.
First broadcast on the British television channel on 21 October 1993. Written by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor and directed by Andy de Emmony, the Red Dwarf crew find themselves in a wild west town, facing a gunfight against the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
In black-and-white: a beautiful brunette, Loretta, is standing beside the docks at night. A 1938 Bentley stops. A detective, Philip, who bears a striking resemblance to Dave Lister, gets out and approaches her. After a short conversation about how many people she has killed, Lister begins kissing her.
Meanwhile outside, what is revealed to be a game, Kryten cannot get Lister's attention. Lister is playing a game based on a private eye film noir, Gumshoe, in the AR Suite (Artificial Reality Suite). We can see him standing alone, wearing an AR helmet and gloves, grinding his hips and kissing the air, tongue and all. He is unaware that Kryten has been trying to contact him. Kryten decides to take a different approach and enter the game as a player (Sammy the Squib).
In the game Kryten does not see Lister, but he does see the Bentley from earlier, except now it is bouncing up and down. He walks to the car and knocks on a rear window. Lister and the woman, Loretta, are inside. Kryten informs him that they have entered a rogue simulants hunting zone; this would explain the devastation on the derelicts where they picked up the AR suite. They need to rig for silent running, and that means the game has to be shut off. Reluctantly Lister quits the game.
Starbug is finally in silent running mode with only the Cat's sixth sense of "smell" to warn them of danger. Rimmer starts with recriminations as to why it took so long to get silent running, "Everybody knows you only use the AR machine to have sex." Lister tries to deny it, but Rimmer brings up how he wore out the groinal attachment in three weeks.
The Cat "smells" something: a Simulant Battle Cruiser is on an intercept course. Rimmer wants to surrender, but simulants despise humans. If they find humans aboard they are finished, so Lister devises a ruse involving Vindaloovians, a fictional race which consist of Lister and the Cat sticking eyes to their chins and being filmed upside down, to fool the simulants. Unfortunately the simulants see through the ruse, teleport aboard, and render everyone unconscious.
When they wake up Starbug has been completely upgraded, in order to make good sport for the Simulants. They even have laser cannons. They are given a two-minute head start, before the hunt begins. Cat recognizes that this is just a game of cat and mouse: "the mouse never wins, not unless you believe those lying cartons". So they immediately disable the battle cruiser in a surprise offensive. Defeated, the simulants transmit the Armageddon Virus to Starbug, where it infects the navicomp, locking them on a collision course with a lava moon. They have only 38 minutes to change course.
Kryten volunteers to contract the virus so he can analyze it, and work on an antidote. The only way the others can help is to "watch his dreams." In Kryten's dreams, he is the Sheriff of the Wild West town of Existence. He is doing quite poorly. The townsfolk mock him and taunt him; if that wasn't bad enough, a band of outlaws, the Apocalyspe Brothers (Death, War, Pestilence, and Famine), give him one hour to get out of town.
The Cat suggests they should try to get inside his dreams and help. So they hook Kryten to the AR machine, and each of them becomes a character from Lister's western-themed AR game Streets of Laredo and enters Kryten's dreams. Cat is gunslinger The Riviera Kid, Lister is knife-man Brett Riverboat, and Rimmer is bare-fist fighter extraordinaire Dangerous Dan McGrew.
Now in Existence, the boys head to the Last Chance Saloon and order drinks. Kryten comes in and sells his guns (his defence personified) and his mule (his dignity personified) to buy a bottle of "mind rotter" liquor. He doesn't recognize his friends. A patron, Jimmy, uses a whip to snatch the bottle from Kryten, and taunts him with it. Lister and the others stand up to Jimmy, using their special skills to defeat him: Lister pins him to the wall with knives; the Cat shoots bullets out of the air when his friends join the fight; and Rimmer bravely fights Jimmy's friends when they start fist fighting, throwing them over the bar.
Kryten makes a run for it, trying to leave town. If he leaves Existence, it will be disastrous: the virus will have won. The Cat stops him just in time at the edge of town using his special skills, doing a trick shot that ricochets around the town before knocking a sign down and knocking Kryten to the ground. They bring him back to the Saloon and try to get him ready for the Apocalyspe Boys, sobering him up by making him eat bowl upon bowl of dry, ground coffee. He begins to remember who he is just as the Apocalypse Brothers return. Lister, Rimmer, and the Cat stand with Kryten against the outlaws; seeing that Kryten has brought help, Death disables their special skills, making them helpless. They can't even exit the game. They have to pull off the AR helmets to get out.
But their efforts have bought Kryten enough time to create an antidote; the Dove Program. He faces off with the Apocalypse Brothers and releases the cure, neutralizing them instantly from the core program. When Kryten wakes up, he cures Starbug and tries to veer away from the moon, but Starbug is too close. It crashes into a pool of molten lava, disappearing from view for a brief moment. However it arises, smouldering but intact, and flies off into the sunset, the crew "yee-haaa-ing".
DVD Easter Egg
Gunmen of the Apocalypse is the subject of a hidden "Easter egg" on the Series VI DVD. This can be accessed on the scene selection menu for the episode, by clicking on the Sheriff badge. An interview with animated visuals features writers Doug Naylor and Rob Grant as a Cowboy and an Indian, and director Ed Bye as a saloon whore. The trio discuss the pre-production, location scouting and problems they had filming the episode - including Chris Barrie's fear of horses and an incident where Craig Charles slapped Barrie's horse and it ran around a field three times with Barrie on it.
As available for viewing on the Series VI DVD:
- The original pre-record version of the Vindaloovian aftermath was re-staged more successfully in front of a studio audience. The original take was longer, with the Simulant Captain stood over them watching as they pretended to be Vindaloovians, and the re-shot trimmed it down for time.
- Five dialogue trims, mostly from within the Simulant Battle Cruiser during the battle with Starbug. As the Simulant Lieutenant makes it clear that they have become too damaged in the battle to return fire, The Simulant Captain says that they "will find their corpse has a sting in its tail" regarding the Armageddon Virus, before his death is seen.
- In the previous episode, Kryten mentioned that the only films Starbug has for Lister to watch are Doug McClure films, and asking Lister not to hit him as Lister hates Doug McClure. This may explain why Kryten's struggle against the Armageddon Virus manifested itself into a Western-themed dream, since Doug McClure was in many Western films, and it's apparently all they were watching on Starbug.
- It seems that after the episode "Legion", Rimmer now has the ability to switch between Soft Light and Hard Light drives. The first half of the episode he is still wearing his red (Soft Light) uniform up until they discuss using the AR unit and Lister decides to power-up Rimmer's Hard Light drive, with it being suggested that Hard Light is a greater drain on Starbug's limited power. The very next scene, Rimmer is wearing his blue (Hard Light) uniform. This appears to be the only time Rimmer is seen switching between both soft and hard light drives, thus wearing both uniforms in the same episode, and only wears the blue (Hard Light) uniform for the remainder til Series VII. Rimmer would again finally display the ability to switch between hard-light and soft-light modes in the Series X episode Entangled, when he switches to soft-light to enter a sealed door in the ERRA station.
- Rimmer: Lister, she's a computer sprite, and surely that's the point; she's just a load of pixels.
Lister: Yeah, but what pixels!
- Cat: Wait, I know this game. It's called cat and mouse, and there's only one way to win; don't be the mouse.
Lister: What are you saying?!
Cat: I'm saying, the mouse never wins. Not unless you believe those lying cartoons.
- Bear Strangler McGee: Man beans up in the hat of Bear Strangler McGee is either mighty brave or mighty stupid. Which are you, boy?
Rimmer: I'm sorry, what were the choices again?
- Kryten: Now, if you'll forgive the rather confrontational imperative, go for your guns you scum sucking molluscs!
- Written by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, the script was originally titled "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse", and then had the working title of "High Midnight",
- During filming of the episode, Janet Street-Porter was BBC Head of Art & Culture and when she received the ambitious script for "Gunmen..." she sent out a memo that all production for this episode must be stopped immediately due to the fact she believed it too difficult to film, too costly and too time-consuming. By the time the Red Dwarf crew received her memo, filming had already wrapped and even post-production already started.
- The episode was first broadcast on the British television channel BBC2 on 21 October 1993 in the 9:00pm time slot. With over 6 million viewers and an International Emmy Award in 1994, the episode is considered to be one of the better efforts from the sixth series.
- The plot of a drunken sheriff defending his town against an incoming gang of cowboys parodies Rio Bravo. The artificial reality plot also shows similarities to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode A Fistful of Datas. In fact, as mentioned in the A to Z of Red Dwarf, Patrick Stewart, saw this episode before he had ever heard of Red Dwarf. Viewing it as a serious sci-fi, he considered the plot so similar he was going to call his lawyers until he watched it further and started laughing.
- The episode also has references to the 1971 film Gumshoe which the artificial reality game is based on and "Butch Accountant and the Yuppie Kid" references the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
- The line "Have infection, will travel" said by Brother Death is a reference to the American western series titled Have Gun – Will Travel.
- Red Dwarf composer Howard Goodall composed a Western-sounding version of the Red Dwarf Theme which is used as the crew fly into the sunset and over the credits.
- Denis Lill appears as the Simulant Captain and Death
- 'Apocalypse Boys'
- Jennfier Calvert as Loretta
- Steve Devereaux as Jimmy
- Liz Hickling as Simulant Lieutenant
- Imogen Bain as Lola
- Stephen Marcus as Bear Strangler McGee
- Backwards the fourth Red Dwarf novel by Rob Grant, which features plot from the episode.
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