Back to Reality (Red Dwarf)

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"Back to Reality"
Red Dwarf episode
Back to Reality (Red Dwarf).jpg
In the despair induced hallucination the characters believe that they are (from left to right) fascist police chief Sebastian Doyle, homeless outcast William Doyle, cyborg traffic officer Jake Bullet, and charmless nerd Duane Dibbley.
Episode no.Series 5
Episode 6
Directed byJuliet May & Grant Naylor
Written byRob Grant & Doug Naylor
Original air date26 March 1992
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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List of Red Dwarf episodes

"Back to Reality" is the sixth, and final, episode of science fiction sitcom Red Dwarf Series V[1] and the 30th in the series run.[2] It was first broadcast on the British television channel BBC2 on 26 March 1992,[3] written by Rob Grant & Doug Naylor and directed by Juliet May & Grant Naylor.[4] The plot features the crew waking up from a crash to discover that the last four years of their lives has been spent in a 'Red Dwarf Total Immersion Video Game'. This episode marks the final appearance of Hattie Hayridge as Holly. The episode often tops polls and surveys as the best episode in the entire series.[5]


The Red Dwarf crew takes Starbug to investigate the wreckage of the SSS Esperanto, a ship conducting marine seeding experiments at the bottom of an ocean-covered moon. The ship had great success on its mission to accelerate the planet's evolution, surpassing even their best projections. However it appears that all life on board the Esperanto committed suicide, right down to a haddock which closed its gills and suffocated itself. They discover the deaths are due to severe depression caused by a hallucinogenic nerve toxin. Attempting to evade a gigantic squid, Starbug crashes and explodes.

Instead of finding themselves in little pieces, they wake to discover that for four years they have been playing 'Red Dwarf - The Total Immersion Video Game'. It transpires that not only have they spent four years playing a game, they also played it very badly - for example, early on Rimmer was meant to work out an "obvious" puzzle which would lead to the discovery of a microdot hidden on his swimming certificate, the possession of which would have unlocked his secret identity and a number of special skills. Lister briefly gets to watch the action as another group plays the game as it was intended to be played - the scenario observed involves the team having fabulous space opera adventures and interacting in a far less dysfunctional manner, and a resurrected Kochanski in a passionate relationship with Lister.

The crew set to work learning about their "real" identities based on their possessions, since they have no memories of their "real" lives - supposedly a temporary side effect of the Total Immersion Video Game. Kryten is half-human Cybernautics Division Detective (traffic officer) Jake Bullet. Cat is dorky Duane Dibbley. Lister is Voter Colonel Sebastian Doyle, the head of the secret police in a fascist state, and Rimmer is Billy Doyle, Lister's half-brother and a tramp.

Only Kryten is pleased with his 'real' existence; however, when he is forced to take a human life in order to save a young girl, the mechanoid too begins to despair. As a result of the shooting, the crew then becomes involved in a high-speed car chase with the police. Devastated by the implications of their "true" selves, they are about to commit group suicide when Holly finally manages to awaken them, revealing that Starbug's crash and 'reality' were just a group hallucination brought on by the toxic ink of the "despair squid", which had the intention of causing the crew to commit suicide, just as it had done with the crew of the Esperanto. With this revelation, Kryten realises that all their identities were designed to make the crew destroy themselves; Kryten violated his programming by killing a human, the shallow Cat lost all of his cool and style, Rimmer could no longer blame his failings on others as he and his 'brother' had the same upbringing and Lister did much better than him, and Lister's moral courage was violated with the discovery that he had killed thousands of innocent people. With nothing worth staying for, Starbug begins to head to the surface, as Lister remarks that the crew of the Esperanto truly screwed up by creating a creature that caused despair and destruction wherever it roamed. Kryten jokes that the same could be said of humans, but it isn't well received. Rimmer tells Kryten not to be a smart-alec, and the weary crew head home.


It is revealed in the much later Red Dwarf: Back to Earth that the Cat managed to smuggle a female Despair Squid from the moon on board Red Dwarf with the intention of eating it later, which subsequently escaped into the water tank and led to the hallucinatory events of the miniseries. The female Squid's toxin causes joy instead of despair, with the intention that the victim becomes complacent, causing the crew to choose to remain temporarily trapped in their delusions.

This was the final appearance of Holly on Red Dwarf until Nanarchy in 1997, five years later. According to the events of Psirens, Red Dwarf was "stolen by an unknown party", but it was revealed in Nanarchy that it was actually Kryten's nanobots which stole the ship. The nanobots ended up dumping whatever they didn't need on a planetoid. It was seen in the 2005 web comic Prelude to Nanarchy which was released six years after Red Dwarf ended.

Holly didn't appear again until Nanarchy, played by Norman Lovett in that episode and Series VIII on until Only the Good.... Holly was not featured in Back to Earth.


"Back to Reality" was the first script written[6] and it was thought of at the time that this would be the final series as there looked like there would be a cast availability problem. Other projects and roles looked like taking over their time. Chris Barrie was starring in the increasingly popular sit-com Brittas Empire, Robert Llewellyn went to do Red Dwarf USA and if that were to be taken up he would be over there for the next few years.[7]

Although the budget for the series had increased, certain sets were still able to double for different scenes. The corridors of the holoship, from the episode of the same name, were grunged down and made up for the Artificial Reality suite.[8]

The interiors of the SSS Esperanto was filmed at Sunbury Pumphouse, and were the only scenes directed by Juliet May.

Several model shots of the Despair Squid were filmed but it was decided that they didn't work well. Instead a superimposed shadow was used to illustrate the squid closing in on Starbug.[9]

The episode features Hattie Hayridge's last appearance in the series. The other cast got to play their despair-induced alter egos: Danny John-Jules played Duane Dibbley, Craig Charles played Sebastian Doyle, Robert Llewellyn played Jake Bullet, while Chris Barrie played William Doyle, Sebastian's half-brother.

Lenny Von Dohlen, known for appearing in Twin Peaks, agreed to appear as the cop after speaking with former guest star Frances Barber (series III's Jenny Mutant).[10] The episode also featured a new Red Dwarf crew for the new Artificial Reality game. Anastasia Hille played Kochanski, David Lemkin played The Cat, Julian Lyon played Rimmer, John Sharian played Lister and Scott Charles Bennett played Kryten.[4] 'Red Dwarf Total Immersion Video Game' staff workers were Timothy Spall who played Andy and Marie McCarthy who played the Nurse.[4]


The episode was originally broadcast on the British television channel BBC2 on 26 March 1992 in the 9:00pm evening time slot,[3] and is generally considered to be one of the best of the entire series' run.[11] It has been described as a "classic episode [that] questions our certainty about what is real. It has us believing that what we thought was real was only a simulation of dream, only to reveal later on that the waking up was actually a falling asleep."[12] Another review said that it was "one of the best and most clever episodes ever made – here we see the birth of Dwane Dibbly – 'nuff said."[13] Rob Grant has described this episode as one of his favourites: "that was a show I was sorta in the director's chair for and personally it's a gobsmackingly good show in terms of RD shows."[14]

At the end of 1992 the episode helped Series V gain a nomination for an International Emmy Award,[15] and in 1995, following a BBC viewers vote, it was repeated on 22 December 1995 as 'The Best Ever Red Dwarf'.[16]

The episode had proved popular enough for the BBC to ignore the original running order and use the popular episodes from Series V to maximise sales of the video releases. The episode that featured on the other Series V video release being "Quarantine".[17]


  1. ^ "British Sitcom Guide - Red Dwarf - Series 5". Retrieved 29 January 2008.
  2. ^ " - Back to Reality summary". Archived from the original on 31 January 2008. Retrieved 29 January 2008.
  3. ^ a b "BBC - Programme Catalogue - RED DWARF V - BACK TO REALITY". BBC. Retrieved 12 December 2007.
  4. ^ a b c "Back to Reality cast and crew". Retrieved 29 January 2008.
  5. ^ Survey Results, Red Dwarf Smegazine, issue 10, December 1992, Fleetway Editions Ltd, ISSN 0965-5603
  6. ^ "Red Dwarf Series V Writing". Archived from the original on 30 October 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-07.
  7. ^ Interview: Grant Naylor, Red Dwarf Smegazine, issue 6, August 1992, Fleetway Editions Ltd, ISSN 0965-5603
  8. ^ "Red Dwarf Series V Sets". Archived from the original on 30 October 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-07.
  9. ^ Howarths, Chris; Steve Lyons (1993). Red Dwarf Programme Guide. Section 1: The History: Virgin Books. ISBN 0-86369-682-1.
  10. ^ "Red Dwarf Series V Casting". Archived from the original on 30 October 2007. Retrieved 7 January 2008.
  11. ^ Red Dwarf Smegazine: Survey Results, issue 10, December 1992, Fleetway Editions Ltd, ISSN 0965-5603
  12. ^ Cox, Gary (2010). How To Be A Philosopher: Or How to Be Almost Certain that Almost Nothing is Certain. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 60. ISBN 1441144781.
  13. ^ "Red Dwarf Series 5". DVD Talk. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
  14. ^ "Rob Grant Interview". The Inquisitors Red Dwarf Site. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
  15. ^ News From The Dwarf, Red Dwarf Smegazine, issue 11, January 1993, Fleetway Editions Ltd, ISSN 0965-5603
  16. ^ "BBC - Programme Catalogue - THE BEST EVER RED DWARF". BBC. Retrieved 12 December 2007.[permanent dead link]
  17. ^ "Red Dwarf Series V Aftermath". Archived from the original on 4 January 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-07.

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