Polymorph (Red Dwarf)

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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 byEd Bye
Written byRob Grant & Doug Naylor
Original air date28 November 1989
Guest appearance(s)
  • Frances Barber as Genny
  • Simon Gaffney as Young Rimmer
  • Kalli Greenwood as Mrs Rimmer
Episode chronology
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List of 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, of his own recipe — Shami Kebab Diablo. The shape-shifting creature appears, as a basketball, and bounces into the sleeping quarters where Lister is enjoying his meal. Lister catches the basketball, and places it on the table before going to look outside in the corridor. The creature rolls onto Lister's plate and changes into a shami kebab to disguise itself. Lister returns to his meal, but as he prods the kebab, it attacks him, triggering Lister's fear. To maximise terror, the creature turns into a boa constrictor, knowing Lister is terrified of them. Completing Lister's fear, the creature returns to its normal shape: A huge, fleshy, slimy-appendaged monster with sharp fangs. From between the jaws, a thin, slimy sucker extends and sticks to Lister's forehead, leeching Lister of his fear, on which the creature feeds.[4]

As Lister recovers in the medical unit, Kryten and Holly explains what the monster is: A "Polymorph"; 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. The crew 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 falsely alerts the others to the Polymorph. The Cat (Danny John-Jules) and Kryten fire two heat-seeking bazookoid bolts down the corridor, where Rimmer is pointing. As the bolts head down and turn back, Rimmer apologises for the mistake. However, the bolts are now homing in on the Cat, and he flees. The Cat manages to trap the bolts behind a door, and, on his way back, he is joined by a mysterious and beautiful woman (Frances Barber) who flatters the Cat on his good looks, appealing to his vanity. Then, she turns out to be the Polymorph and feeds on the Cat's vanity. Kryten rushes round the corner, trying to save the Cat, and is closely followed by Rimmer. Rimmer tells Kryten that it is his fault the Cat was attacked, blaming him for the group splitting up, making Kryten feel terribly guilty for his actions. Rimmer turns out to be the Polymorph in disguise (the real Rimmer having run the wrong way before Kryten found the Cat) and sucks out Kryten's guilt. On their arrival back at the medical unit, Rimmer finds his mother (Kalli Greenwood) lying down with Lister, apparently having had sex with him while they were away. Rimmer's mother expresses the experience to her son in graphic detail which greatly angers Rimmer, only to have his mother change into the Polymorph and devour 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 whatever plan they think up must be as violent as possible (even if it involves him killing himself). The Cat feels he is too worthless to have an opinion and asks the others to pretend he's not there, and Kryten wonders if he can save himself by sacrificing the others while dishing out insults. Despite their disadvantages, the four head back down to the cargo decks to confront the monster. Although things don't start well, by pure luck, the two heat-seeking bazookoid bolts are released and home in on the hottest object in the room: The polymorph, which is destroyed instantly, and all the crew's emotions are restored.[4] The Cat is desperate to clean himself up and Kryten is ready to commit suicide to make up for his bad behaviour from earlier. Outside in space, a second pod floats near Red Dwarf, revealing a sign on the side reading "Contents 2". Down in the cargo bay, the group walk in line, first Cat, then Kryten, Rimmer, Lister - and finally, a second Lister. This second Lister stops turns out to be another Polymorph.[5]

The Remastered version replaces the second Lister scene with another shot of a bouncing ball, coupled with a caption explaining that the second Polymorph, which was less intelligent than the first, was 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 because he was getting tired of fans asking what happened to the second Polymorph.[citation needed]


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. Archived from the original on 6 October 2006. Retrieved 2008-01-07.
  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. Archived from the original on 6 October 2006. Retrieved 2008-01-25.


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

External links[edit]