Polymorph (Red Dwarf episode)

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Red Dwarf episode
Red dwarf polymorph.jpg
The crew are hunted down by a shape-changing genetic mutant
Episode no. Series 3
Episode 3
Directed by Ed Bye
Written by Rob Grant & Doug Naylor
Original air date 28 November 1989
Guest actors
  • Frances Barber as Genny
  • Simon Gaffney as Young Rimmer
  • Kalli Greenwood as Mrs Rimmer
Series 3 episodes
14 November – 19 December 1989
  1. "Backwards"
  2. "Marooned"
  3. "Polymorph"
  4. "Bodyswap"
  5. "Timeslides"
  6. "The Last Day"
List of all Red Dwarf episodes

"Polymorph" is the third episode of science fiction sitcom Red Dwarf Series III,[1] and the fifteenth in the series run.[2] It premiered on the British television channel BBC2 on 28 November 1989. It is considered by some to be the series' best.[3] Written by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, and directed by Ed Bye, the episode has the crew fighting a shapeshifting, emotion-stealing creature. It is the only Red Dwarf episode to feature a pre-credits warning about the content. The episode was re-mastered, along with the rest of the first three series, in 1998.


Holly (Hattie Hayridge) detects a non-human life-form aboard Red Dwarf and alerts Rimmer (Chris Barrie). Meanwhile Lister (Craig Charles) is preparing a meal, his own recipe — Shami Kebab Diablo. The shape-changing creature then appears as a basketball and bounces into the sleeping quarters where Lister is enjoying his meal. Lister catches the basketball, places it on the table and when he goes to look outside the corridor, the creature then changes shape to that of a shami kebab. Lister returns to his meal and as he prods the kebab it attacks him and changes shape into a huge, fleshy, slimy-appendaged creature. From between the jaws, a thin, slimy sucker comes out and attaches to Lister's forehead, and with a quiet, squishy splat Lister's fear is taken from him.[4]

As Lister recovers in the medical unit, Kryten and Holly explain that a "polymorph" is a shape-changing genetic mutant that went wrong, the 'Ultimate Warrior' that leeches off negative emotions like fear, guilt, anger, paranoia and drains them out of its prey. They discuss their options and decide to run off rather than take it on. They seal Lister (who, due to having no fear, is all too eager to take on the Polymorph) in the medical unit and go off to prepare Starbug for a getaway.[4]

As they travel through the cargo decks, Rimmer nervously points out what he believes to be the polymorph. The Cat (Danny John-Jules) and Kryten quickly let off a couple of heat-seeking bazookoid bolts down the corridor. As the bolts head down and turn back, Rimmer apologises for the false alarm. However, the bolts are now homing in on Cat, and he makes a run for it. He manages to trap the bolts behind a door, and on his way back, he is joined by a woman (Frances Barber) who goes on to flatter the Cat on his good looks, but she then turns out to be the polymorph and drains the Cat's vanity. Kryten rushes around the corner, followed by Rimmer. Rimmer tells Kryten that this is his fault, then changes into the polymorph and drains out Kryten's guilt. On their arrival back at the medical unit, Rimmer finds his mother (Kalli Greenwood) lying down with Lister. This angers Rimmer, and his mother quickly changes into the polymorph and drains Rimmer's anger.[4]

In the sleeping quarters, the emotionally crippled crew try to work out their next move, but things do not go well. Rimmer plans to hit the polymorph with a major leaflet campaign followed up by a series of charity drives, Lister is determined that whatever plan they think up must be as violent as possible (and would hopefully involve him killing himself), the Cat feels he is too worthless to have an opinion, and Kryten tries to work out how he can save himself by handing over the other three while dishing out insults. Despite the disadvantage, the four head down to the cargo decks to confront the creature. Although things don't start well, the two heat-seeking bazookoid bolts are released and finally find their original target, and the polymorph is destroyed.[4]

The four are then restored to normal, with the Cat desperate to clean himself up and Kryten ready to commit suicide to make up for his bad behaviour. The pod that floats by near Red Dwarf reveals a sign that states "Contents 2". Back on the cargo bay, the group walk in line, first Cat appears, then Kryten, Rimmer, Lister - and finally a second Lister. This Lister stops and turns into another eight-foot slimy creature.[5]

The Remastered version replaces the second-Lister scene with another shot of a bouncing ball, with a caption explaining that the second Polymorph, which was less intelligent than the first, stowed away in Lister's clean underpants drawer....where it died of old age many years later. According to Doug Naylor, the reason the ending was changed in the Remastered version was that he was getting tired of fans asking what happened to the second Polymorph.


A Manchester warehouse was used for the cargo bay scenes.

Director Ed Bye drew inspiration for the look and design of the episode from watching the 1979 film Alien just before shooting began.[6] For the cargo bay scenes a warehouse in Manchester was hired for the shooting. Empty cardboard boxes were strategically stacked up and down the warehouse floor to give the illusion of a stocked cargo bay.[6]

Although the episode had a pre-credits warning, about the episode's content, this was more of a plot device as the episode was broadcast past the 9:00 pm watershed.[7][8] During the filming of the Polymorph morphing into Lister's boxer shorts scene the audience laughed so loud for so long that Chris Barrie had to wait several minutes until things had calmed down (the scene is now considered by many to be one of the funniest of the entire series). This also provided extra work in the editing room as the sequence required more work than usual to edit together a workable shot.[9]

The episode also had some of the show's most effects intensive scenes done yet. Animatronic versions of both the small and large Polymorph creature versions were created. The small version was voiced by production manager Mike Agnew. The larger model, which was prone to tipping over, collapsed before the final shot. Blue screen was used to shoot the creature and added to existing footage of the crew. To achieve the Polymorph morphing into all the different objects the traditional locked-off camera and jump-cut procedure was used.[10] The newly introduced Bazookoids provided more video effects as two heat-seeking laser bolts were fired and ended up chasing the Cat. The heat-seekers were given sound effects borrowed from the lightsabers of Star Wars.[10]

Guest appearances included actress Frances Barber who took on a scene as 'Genny Mutant', Kalli Greenwood, who played Rimmer's mother, and the show's first appearance of Rimmer as a young boy, played by Simon Gaffney.[11]

Cultural references[edit]

The theme of the episode is a parody of Ridley Scott's 1979 Alien film which features a Xenomorph. The Polymorph's transformations also resemble the Alien's various transformations, from the early small worm to its large incarnation with a huge jaw holding an extendable emotion sucking tongue.[12] The scene where the polymorph shapeshifts into Lister's boxer shorts has a literary parallel in Damon Knight's 1964 short story "Maid to Measure" where a jealous and witchy lady literally changes into a bikini for the use of the woman who's her deadly rival.[13]

Rimmer also says "What about the Rimmer directive, which states never tangle with anything that's got more teeth than the entire Osmond Family." This a reference to the band.


The episode was originally broadcast on the British television channel BBC2 on 21 November 1989 in the 9:00pm evening time slot,[8] and was well received by fans, many considering it to be the series' best.[3] It came second in a Red Dwarf Smegazine readers poll, gaining 9.3% of the votes.[3] DVD Talk described it as "a great episode because the actors really have fun with their newly transformed attitudes."[14] On the Series III DVD the producers mention "Polymorph" as one of their favorite episodes from the series.[15]


The remastering of Series I to III was carried out during the late 1990s.[16] General changes throughout the series included replacement of the opening credits,[17] giving the picture a colour grade and filmising,[18] computer generated special effects of Red Dwarf and many more visual and audio enhancements.[19]

Changes specific to "Polymorph" include:

  • The original pre-opening credits warning for viewer discretion on the following episode has been removed.
  • A scene near the beginning with The Cat being disgusted by Lister's choice of cutlery was removed
  • The polymorph entering Red Dwarf CGI duct systems has been added.
  • Lister wrestling with the dummy snake has been re-worked and tightened.
  • Kryten's lines have been re-dubbed to remove the English accent from a cargo bay scene.
  • Mrs Rimmer's voice has been re-dubbed with a new actress to fit in more with the character.
  • The end sequence of the second Lister following the crew has been replaced with an epilogue shot, which explains that the second polymorph hid in Lister's sock drawer and died of old age.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "British Sitcom Guide — Red Dwarf — Series 3". www.sitcom.co.uk. Retrieved 2008-01-25. 
  2. ^ "TV.com — Polymorph summary". www.tv.com. Retrieved 2008-01-25. 
  3. ^ a b c Readers Survey Results, Red Dwarf Smegazine, p. 27., issue 10, December 1992, Fleetway Editions Ltd, issn=0965-5603
  4. ^ a b c d Howarth & Lyons (1993) p. 62.
  5. ^ Howarth & Lyons (1993) p. 63.
  6. ^ a b Bye, Ed (2007). Polymorph remastered commentary (DVD). Bodysnatcher DVD Boxset, Green disc: BBC. 
  7. ^ Howarth & Lyons (1993)
  8. ^ a b "BBC — Programme Catalogue — RED DWARF III THE SAGA CONTINUUMS - 3, POLYMORPH". BBC. Retrieved 2007-12-11. 
  9. ^ "Red Dwarf Series III Production". www.reddwarf.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2008-04-21. Retrieved 2008-01-07. 
  10. ^ a b "Red Dwarf Series III Effects". www.reddwarf.co.uk. Retrieved 2008-01-07. [dead link]
  11. ^ "Red Dwarf Series III Casting". www.reddwarf.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2008-04-21. Retrieved 2008-01-07. 
  12. ^ "Red Dwarf movie connections". www.imdb.com. Retrieved 2008-01-08. 
  13. ^ Langford, David (2009). Starcombing. Wildside Press. p. 35. ISBN 0809573482. 
  14. ^ "Red Dwarf III review at DVD Talk". www.dvdtalk.com. Retrieved 2008-01-25. 
  15. ^ "Red Dwarf III review at Genre Online". www.genreonline.net. Retrieved 2008-01-25. 
  16. ^ "Remasters of the Universe". www.reddwarf.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2008-01-04. Retrieved 2008-01-28. 
  17. ^ "Red Dwarf Series I Remastering". www.reddwarf.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2008-01-18. Retrieved 2008-01-30. 
  18. ^ Remastering Crew (2007). The End Re-Mastered DVD Commentary (DVD). Bodysnatcher DVD Boxset Red disc: BBC. 
  19. ^ Remastering Crew (2007). 'Re-Dwarf' Documentary (DVD). Bodysnatcher DVD Boxset Red disc: BBC. 
  20. ^ Remastering Crew (2007). Polymorph text commentary (DVD). Bodysnatcher DVD Boxset, Green disc: BBC. 
  21. ^ "Red Dwarf Series III Aftermath". www.reddwarf.co.uk. Retrieved 2008-01-25. [dead link]


  • Howarth, Chris; Steve Lyons (1993). Red Dwarf Programme Guide. Virgin Books. ISBN 0-86369-682-1. 

External links[edit]