The Boys from the Dwarf attempts an experiment to make Holly brilliant again, but it has the side effect of reducing her operational lifespan to a matter of minutes. She shuts herself off, leaving the crew helpless against the time-distorting powers of a White Hole.
Kryten rebuilds Talkie Toaster after Lister had smashed it to pieces with a lump hammer and thrown into the Waste Disposal, due to it constantly asking if he wanted toast or toasted products. As the toaster immediately begins asking if it can grill anything, Kryten explains to Lister that the repairs were part of an experiment to restore the mental functionality of damaged artificial intelligence. That is, he has found a way to restore intelligence at the cost of reducing its lifespan. He reasons if it worked on the toaster, it could work on Holly's computer senility and restore her original IQ of 6,000. Later, the gang go down to the Holly Room to perform the experiment. There, they discuss what they could accomplish if Holly does manage to regain her genius intellect while noting she has been getting more senile recently, now even banging her head on the screen merely to count.
The experiment begins and is a success... in fact, it is even more of a success than anyone anticipated and Holly's IQ is increased to a whopping 12,000. As she revels in understanding everything about everything, she asks Talkie Toaster for questions only to constantly get asked if she wants anything toasted. Eventually the machine asks why Holly's IQ is now so high, and Holly explains there was a miscalculation and checks her remaining runtime, and the display reads 3.45... however she soon realizes that this isn't in years but in minutes, and shuts herself down straight away to preserve how little life she has left.
With Holly off-line, this also leaves Red Dwarf adrift with no navigation, and no operational Engine Core. Under emergency battery lighting, the crew are forced to smash their way into the Science Room (using Kryten as a battering ram against dozens of unresponsive doors) to find out what happened. After some difficulty, Rimmer forces Holly to be activated, only to shut her down again quickly when they find out how little life she has.
The crew are forced to gather supplies without elevators and, without the vending machines, forced to cook food without appliances. They only have artificial gravity, air, emergency lighting and Rimmer's emergency back-up for his hologram light bee. Even with this, Lister and the Cat will be dead in a couple of months when the emergency power runs out. Rimmer refuses to be switched off, despite the massive power drain on the batteries his hologram creates. Rimmer and Kryten head to the supply decks (a journey that will take days without the lifts) while Lister and the Cat are forced to fend for themselves. Cat even tries to fry eggs using a hair dryer (having tired of cold baked beans), and later goes to sleep with an electric blanket, all powered by a very tired Lister on an exercise bike.
While Kryten and Rimmer are on their way back from the cargo bays with food and supplies, they begin experiencing strange time distortions: on one side of the hall time is sped up while on the other it's slowed down. While explaining it to Lister and the Cat, the place in the conversation they're having jumps around, causing the conversation to go on indefinitely. As time constantly rewinds to the beginning of the conversation, Cat repeatedly asks what the distortions are. Kryten eventually gives the explanation for this - the solar system Red Dwarf is passing by contains a a White Hole, the opposite of a Black Hole, which is spewing time and matter chaotically into the space around it.
They enlist Holly's aid in finding a solution and she concocts a plan for Starbug to fire an experimental thermonuclear device into a nearby star, causing a solar flare that will knock a nearby planet into the White Hole and plug it. Lister compares it to playing gravity pool which he was once a master of at the Aigburth Arms and declares Holly's coordinates won't sink the planet into the White Hole. Lister insists on aiming the shot himself, much to Rimmer's protest. They decide to put it to the vote, with Rimmer siding with Holly and Lister siding with himself. Even though both the Cat and Kryten agree with Rimmer, they vote for Lister (Cat refusing to vote for someone with bad dress sense and Kryten unable to side with a hologram against a human). The four head out in Starbug and take up position and Rimmer is appalled as Lister drinks beer to prepare (Lister insists he plays better when "just nicely drunk"). Lister takes the shot and though it initially appears he's missed, the "trick shot" works and the White Hole is plugged up and destroyed, and time rewinds to the point before they encountered the ion storm and the white hole, before they made Holly a genius, and before they repaired Talkie Toaster.
Realising that no one is going to remember the events, and before Starbug vanishes from the now-redundant timeline, Kryten takes the opportunity to ignore his programming and finally deliver a barrage of insults in Rimmer's direction.
Available on the Series IV DVD:
- Lister gets a chance to fully catalogue his abilities. These include pool, being a good lover, and he can belch the whole of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" whilst balancing two pints of cider on his head.
- The full version of Lister's pool fantasy is presented complete with Craig Charles' legendary prowess on the pool table, although the scene is without finished visual effects.
- Red Dwarf had been subject to a significant power drain in the episode "Me2", when projecting two holograms of Rimmer. However, "White Hole" is the only episode of the show whereby all the non-essential systems of the ship are shut down, running on emergency back-up power and leaving the crew helpless. It is established that, without the main engines proving electricity (that is powered indefinitely by the front ram-scoop), Red Dwarf can run on the solar panels and battery-back up, but only for a few weeks.
- It is possible that the experimental nuke fired from Starbug was a modified mining torpedo.
Behind the scenes
- Extensive model work was done for the "pool with planets" scene that never made the broadcast episode for timing reasons.
However, these excised model shots can be seen in the special features on the Series IV DVD.
The extended model shots include more of the solar flare, and before that the experimental nuclear missile being fired into the star from a small launcher on the hull of Starbug in close-up, which was not seen in the broadcast episode.
- Kryten: Space Corp Directive 195 clearly states that: in an emergency power situation, a hologrammatic crew member must lay down his life in order that the living crew members might survive.
Rimmer: Yes, but Rimmer Directive 271 states just as clearly: "no chance, you metal bastard".
- The Cat talking to Rimmer: Will you relax?! I've seen Gerbil Face (Lister) play down in the recreation room. He's a diva! He can knock those stripey balls around that table all night long, and I'll tell you what: I've never once seen him lose a single ball down one of those holes.
- Talkie Toaster: I have a third question; a sensible question. A question that will tax your new IQ to its very limits and stretch the sinews of your intellect to bursting point.
12,000 IQ Holly: This is going to be about waffles, isn't it?
Talkie Toaster: Certainly not. And I resent the implication that I am a one-dimensional, bread-obsessed, electrical appliance.
12,000 IQ Holly: I apologise Toaster. What is your question?
Talkie Toaster: OK, here is my question: Given that God is infinite, and the universe is also infinite, would you like a toasted teacake?
- Talkie Toaster: How about a muffin?
Lister: Or muffins! We don't like muffins 'round here! We want no muffins, no toast, no tea cakes, no buns, baps, baguettes, or bagels, no croissants, no crumpets, no pancakes, no potato cakes, and no hot cross buns, and definetely, no smeggin' flapjacks!
Talkie Toaster: Aaah...so you're a waffle man!
- According to Kryten since the timelines of this have been erased no one should remember it ever happened. Yet in "Demons and Angels" Lister mentions that he played pool with planets. It's possible that Kryten was incorrect and the crew did remember this experience (thereby explaining why they made no similar attempt to restore Holly's intelligence); alternatively, since the episode ends with a non-intelligent Holly talking with the crew of this timeline, the 'real' crew may have been able to witness the actual 'pool game' and put together some idea of what happened.
- In a reference to a previous Red Dwarf episode, David Ross, who played Talkie Toaster, was the original Kryten in the episode "Kryten".
- The Missile Command theme can be heard at one point.
- Lister dislikes Cinzano, and he uses it as an example of how good he was at gravity pool - saying that it was his nickname as once he was put on the table, he couldn't be got rid of.