Backwards (Red Dwarf)

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Red Dwarf episode
Backwards (Red Dwarf).jpg
The Cat discovers one of the horrors of being in a backwards world
Episode no.Series 3
Episode 1
Directed byEd Bye
Written byRob Grant & Doug Naylor
Original air date14 November 1989
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
← Previous
"Parallel Universe"
Next →
List of Red Dwarf episodes

"Backwards" is the first episode of science fiction sitcom Red Dwarf Series III,[1] and the thirteenth in the series run.[2] It premiered on the British television channel BBC2 on 14 November 1989.[3] Written by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, and directed by Ed Bye, the episode has the crew travel to an alternate Earth where time runs backwards.

The episode marks the first regular appearances of Robert Llewellyn's Kryten, Hattie Hayridge's version of Holly, the new spaceship Starbug, better production values, and a change in direction of story themes that would cement the show's cult status.[4] The story was later reformulated as a novel by the same name. The episode was re-mastered, along with the rest of the first three series, in 1998.


This story starts with a Star Wars-esque pre-title sequence revealing the events after what happened in "Parallel Universe". Lister has given birth to twins, but unfortunately, they suffered from highly accelerated growth rates and became 18 years old within three days, and his twins were returned to the universe of their own origin. Meanwhile, the ship's computer Holly had a head sex-change operation to become like Hilly, his alternate universe female counterpart with whom he fell madly in love. Finally, Kryten, who was last seen leaving the Nova 5 on Lister's space-bike was found in pieces on an asteroid; subsequently, he was salvaged by Lister and given a permanent position in Red Dwarf's crew, but has lost his old personality.

Rimmer (Chris Barrie) takes Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) out in Starbug 1 for his piloting test and while answering recognition questions they travel through a time hole. They crash-land on a planet which appears similar to Earth. As they reach a roadside they notice a sign which says "Nodnol, 871 selim". Although Rimmer is confused, Kryten correctly states that the sign (when read backwards) actually reads "London, 178 miles". After hitching a lift from a local, they are bewildered that everything is moving in reverse. Holly explains that they have travelled so far into the future that time is running backwards, arriving in the year 3991 (1993).[5]

Kryten and Rimmer are initially disgusted with this "backwards" world. Here, people take money from buskers' hats, and cafes are populated by customers who spit tea back into teacups and messily disgorge chocolate éclairs. Newspapers report events that have yet to happen, and advertise job vacancies that offer good demotion prospects. Rimmer and Kryten quickly discover that they can use their forwardness to their advantage, however, starring in an act called "srehtorB esreveR lanoitasneS ehT" ("The Sensational Reverse Brothers").[5]

Meanwhile, Lister (Craig Charles) and Cat (Danny John-Jules) have been flying around in Starbug 2 for the past three weeks searching for them. They come across the same "time hole" that Starbug 1 did and, despite Cat's reservations, go through it. They close in on Starbug 1 using a homing device and land near the lake where it crash-landed. Upon exiting Starbug 2 Lister complains of feeling some pain—he suddenly has a black eye and his ribs feel like they've been cracked.[5] Lister also discovers to his confusion that he is dry after leaving the lake Starbug 1 crashed in. They have a series of bizarre reverse incidences such as "un stealing" a tandem and "un hitching" a lift.

Lister and Cat eventually track down Kryten and Rimmer at the club where they work, whereupon Lister finally discovers that everything is backwards, after initially thinking they had landed in Bulgaria. However, Kryten and Rimmer are quite content on this planet,and explain they intend to stay, stating in this reality there is no death or illness. Lister tries to convince them to come back, pointing out that various historical figures are now evil: Francis of Assisi is an animal-maiming sadist, and Santa Claus is a 'bastard who sneaks down chimneys and steals kids favourite toys'.

The club owner then fires them for starting a fight, but Kryten argues that they have not started any fight. At the same time, a man takes offence to Lister and Cat "uneating" his pie, and punches Lister twice, healing his black eye and broken rib. Kryten realises that this is actually the beginning of the barroom brawl that got them fired, and a huge fight breaks out in reverse. Eventually everything is restored to its original state and they realise that they cannot stay on a backwards Earth. The final reinforcement of that occurs when the Cat attempts to relieve himself in the bushes, forgetting that everything happens in reverse.[5]


Locations in and around Manchester were used for the episode. This picture depicts the road sign to 'Nodnol 871 Selim' which in reverse reads 'London 178 Miles'.

With Rob Grant and Doug Naylor directly involved with the third series, under their Grant Naylor Productions team, they radically changed the look of the show.[6] The opening credits sequence sported a new rock guitar version of the Red Dwarf theme tune playing over clips from the series.[7] The opening sequence ends with the first appearance of the official logo of the show which was designed by DeWinters.[6] Mel Bibby had also come on board the crew and re-designed the sets. His influence of Ridley Scott's Alien film clearly shown in the new sets as murky and run-down feel.[8]

Costumes were overhauled as well as Costume designer Howard Burden brought in a new stylish look to the crew. Lister's jacket outfit, having been designed with his art school background in mind, included a voluptuous woman riding a rocket on the back. This woman had indeed been intended to be Wilma Flintstone but was changed to a generic looking female once the legality of using The Flintstones image arose. Rimmer's tunic uniform served as implying his devotion to duty as well as his hologrammatic status. While the Cat's wardrobe reached new heights in the fashion stakes, Kryten's appearance was based on the Series II look but produced more successfully.[9]

Effects also featured more heavily in the new series. The barroom brawl with plenty of fake glass featured a stunt double hurling through a window on the set. Bluescreen backgrounds were used for the actors to film against which was then merged with the cloaked Starbug location footage. Close-up shots were merely filmed on top of a raised platform with only the sky visible in the background.[10]

Starbug was introduced as the new spaceship in place of Blue Midget. Grant and Naylor felt that Blue Midget didn't work well set-wise because of size constraints so they requested that Peter Wragg, and his visual effects team, come up with a design for another ship. The final design, initially called White Midget, was shown to Grant and Naylor and they liked it, but they thought it looked more like a bug so settled on the name Starbug.[11]

The Series III pre-credits scroll detailing the back story was actually intended to be an episode in its own right. Titled "Dad", the episode would have tied the loose ends from series two's "Parallel Universe" where Lister would have given birth to the twins and given them back to the parallel universe Lister version. Grant and Naylor had partially written the script but they decided to scrap the idea as they felt it to be unfunny and potentially offensive to women.[12]

Many of the location scenes for "Backwards" were filmed in and around Manchester. The lake and woodland scenes were filmed in Tatton Park. Series creator and writer Rob Grant can be seen standing on the street with sunglasses smoking a cigarette backwards. The episode's theme gave the writers an opportunity to insert some in-joke dialogue that otherwise wouldn't have been put in. In one scene the bar manager comes into Rimmer and Kryten's dressing room to tell them that they're sacked for un-starting a barroom brawl. In fact he says: "I'm addressing the one prat in the country who has bothered to get a hold of this recording, turn it round and actually work out the rubbish that I'm saying. What a poor sad life he's got!" At the very end (beginning?) of the reverse barroom brawl, an "Action!", said by Ed Bye can be heard.[4]

The character of Kryten was originally intended as a one-off appearance in the series-two episode "Kryten". The character returned mainly to broaden the story potential as Lister was the only person who could really do anything. Rimmer, a hologram, couldn't touch anything, the Cat couldn't be bothered to touch anything, and Holly was incompetent. The show was becoming difficult to write for. At the insistence of Naylor, Kryten returned to complete the team.[12]

Grant and Naylor had approached David Ross with the intention of bringing him back to play the regular role of Kryten. Ross was in a stage play Flea In Her Ear and wasn't available, so they went to see Robert Llewellyn at the advice of Paul Jackson. Llewellyn was in a stage show called Mammon, playing a robot. They saw his performance and were impressed.[12]

The very first scene that Llewellyn filmed was in the episode "Bodyswap" which involved him lighting candles with his fingers. He was wired up for the flame to ignite from his fingertip. The problem was that it was wet on the set and he was sweating so the wiring was backfiring and shocking him. The scene was cut out from the show.[12]

"Backwards" world guest stars includes Maria Friedman as the Waitress, Tony Hawks as a Compere, Anna Palmer as a Customer in Cafe and Arthur Smith as the Pub Manager.[13]

Cultural references[edit]

A Star Wars style scroll is used to explain all the occurrences that had happened between Series II and III.[6] (See also Dad (Red Dwarf episode)). This was the first Red Dwarf episode to parody the Star Wars opening crawl—it was also done at the end of "Dimension Jump" in the fourth series of the show, and at the beginning of the first Red Dwarf USA pilot.

In the opening scene between Lister and the Cat, they discuss whether The Flintstones' Wilma Flintstone is sexy or not. They come to the conclusion that they are insane for discussing such things, since she would never leave Fred.[14]

Kryten's spaceship examination, which includes registration reading, "if you'd like show me to your vehicle", "in your own time", direction instructions, recognition test and stopping distances all mirrors the same examination that UK citizens take with DSA examinations.

Both Genghis Khan and Doug McClure are referenced by Rimmer when trying to ascertain the time period.

The Big Bang theory, as well as expansion and contraction, is explained by Holly as the reason why this universe is running backwards. To look inconspicuous Kryten walks into the cafe wearing a Ronald Reagan rubber mask. The newspaper that Kryten has is titled Yadretsey, or Yesterday forwards — a parody of the Today newspaper that was published at time of production. Kryten reads a headline from the paper, about a bank robbery committed by a man named "Michael Ellis" - a recurring character in the Monty Python series.

Lister sings the line, "I didn't come here looking for trouble, I just came here to do the Red Dwarf Shuffle", an obvious homage to the 1985 Chicago Bears song Super Bowl Shuffle.

Kryten and Rimmer think that the backwards world is wonderful, pointing out that when the second world war comes around again, millions of people will come back to life, and Hitler will retreat across Europe, liberating France and Poland. Lister though looks at the other side of the argument and states that in this universe St. Francis of Assisi is the petty-minded little sadist who goes around maiming small animals and that Santa Claus is a big guy who sneaks down chimneys and steals all the kids' favourite toys.

The pre-title sequence[edit]

The Star Wars type scroll used to update viewers on recent events from the previous series

The Star Wars-style scrolling text is used to explain all the occurrences that had happened in the meantime between the last episode of Series II - Parallel Universe - and this, the start of series III.[6] The text gives a brief explanation to resolve the issue of Lister's pregnancy, the reason why Holly now looked like Hilly, and why Kryten had come back aboard the Red Dwarf and why he also had changed. The Star Wars style scrolling was intentionally sped up faster than viewers could actually read for the purposes of comedy.

Here is the text:[15]




Three million years in the future, Dave Lister, the last human being alive discovers he is pregnant after a liaison with his female self in a parallel universe. His pregnancy concludes with the successful delivery of twin boys, Jim and Bexley. However, because the twins were conceived in another universe, with different physical laws, they suffer from highly accelerated growth rates, and are both eighteen years old within three days of being born. In order to save their lives, Lister returns them to the universe of their origin, where they are reunited with their father (a woman), and are able to lead comparatively normal lives. Well, as normal as you can be if you've been born in a parallel universe and your father's a woman and your mother's a man and you're eighteen years three days after your birth.

Shortly afterwards, Kryten, the service mechanoid who had left the ship after being rescued from his own crashed vessel, the Nova 5, is found in pieces after his space bike crash lands onto an asteroid. Lister rebuilds the 'noid, but is unable to recapture his former personality.

Meanwhile, Holly, the increasingly erratic Red Dwarf computer, performs a head sex change operation on himself. He bases his new face on Hilly, a female computer with whom he'd once fallen madly in love.

And now the saga continuums






The episode was originally broadcast on the British television channel BBC2 on 14 November 1989 in the 9:00pm evening time slot.[3] As with all episodes in the third series, "Backwards" gained healthy viewing figures, increasing on Series II efforts.[17]

Although Series III was received well as a whole, "Backwards" was picked out as a highlight. One review described it as "a particularly inspired episode, making brilliant use of video tricks to enhance the intricate details of the storyline."[18] Sci-Fi Dimensions described it as the best episode of the series, and said that "admittedly, this episode is inconsistent in its treatment of the backwards principles, but even the inconsistencies are part of the fun!"[19] agreed that the episode was "the season's best" and "has the season's best philosophical rant".[20] The Red Dwarf Smegazine readers poll listed the episode at number four with 7.1% of the votes.[21]


The remastering of Series I to III was carried out during the late 1990s.[22] Changes included replacement of the opening credits,[23] giving the picture a colour grade and filmising,[24] computer generated special effects of Red Dwarf[25] and many more visual and audio enhancements.[25]

Changes made specific to "Backwards" include an animated shot of the ejected Rimmer has been added to the opening scene with Starbug with scream and thump sounds enhanced. Starbug's sounds have been remixed and enhanced throughout. A new time-hole tunnel sequence has been added when Starbug travels through it. POV landscape shots have been added as Starbug enters the backwards Earth. Fire elements and sound effects have been added to the Starbug crash. The cafe exterior has been added as a transitional shot. The cloaking Starbug has been added to the existing empty shot of Lister and Cat arriving on 'backwards' Earth. The end credit sequence has been flipped and reads in reverse.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "British Sitcom Guide - Red Dwarf - Series 3". Retrieved 2008-01-25.
  2. ^ " - Backwards summary". Archived from the original on 18 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-25.
  3. ^ a b "BBC - Programme Catalogue - Red Dwarf III The Saga Continuums - 1, Backwards". BBC. Retrieved 2007-12-11.
  4. ^ a b Howarth & Lyons (1993)
  5. ^ a b c d Howarth & Lyons (1993) p. 60.
  6. ^ a b c d "Red Dwarf Series III Production". Archived from the original on 27 August 2001. Retrieved 2008-01-07.
  7. ^ "Red Dwarf Series III Music". Archived from the original on 11 March 2002. Retrieved 2008-01-07.
  8. ^ "Red Dwarf Series III Sets". Archived from the original on 6 October 2006. Retrieved 2008-01-07.
  9. ^ "Red Dwarf Series III Costumes". Archived from the original on 6 October 2006. Retrieved 2008-01-07.
  10. ^ "Red Dwarf Series III Effects". Archived from the original on 6 October 2006. Retrieved 2008-01-07.
  11. ^ Interview: Peter Wragg, Red Dwarf Smegazine, issue 8, October 1992, Fleetway Editions Ltd, ISSN 0965-5603
  12. ^ a b c d Interview: Grant Naylor, Red Dwarf Smegazine, issue 6, August 1992, Fleetway Editions Ltd, ISSN 0965-5603
  13. ^ "Backwards cast and crew". Retrieved 2008-01-25.
  14. ^ "Backwards movie connections". Retrieved 2008-01-08.
  15. ^ Red Dwarf:Backwards
  16. ^ According to the Red Dwarf III DVD release, it went unnoticed that this line was repeated twice until it was too late.
  17. ^ "Red Dwarf Series III Aftermath". Archived from the original on 6 October 2006. Retrieved 2008-01-07.
  18. ^ Berman, Garry (2011). Best of the Britcoms: From Fawlty Towers to The Office. Taylor Trade. p. 74. ISBN 1589795660.
  19. ^ "Red Dwarf Series III review at Sci-fi Dimensions". Archived from the original on 7 January 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-25.
  20. ^ "Series III review". Archived from the original on 4 January 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-25.
  21. ^ Reader Survey Results, Red Dwarf Smegazine, p. 27., issue 10, December 1992, Fleetway Editions Ltd, ISSN 0965-5603
  22. ^ "Remasters of the Universe". Archived from the original on 4 January 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-28.
  23. ^ "Red Dwarf Series I Remastering". Archived from the original on 18 January 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-30.
  24. ^ Remastering Crew (2007). The End Re-Mastered DVD Commentary (DVD). Bodysnatcher DVD Boxset Red disc: BBC.
  25. ^ a b Remastering Crew (2007). 'Re-Dwarf' Documentary (DVD). Bodysnatcher DVD Boxset Red disc: BBC.
  26. ^ Remastering Crew (2007). Backwards text commentary (DVD). Bodysnatcher DVD Boxset, Green disc: BBC.
  27. ^ "Red Dwarf Series VI Aftermath". Archived from the original on 4 January 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-25.


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

External links[edit]