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Red Dwarf episode
"Back to Reality"
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 № 6
Airdate March 26, 1992
Writer(s) Rob Grant & Doug Naylor
Director Juliet May & Grant Naylor
Guest star(s) Timothy Spall
Lenny Von Dohlen
Marie McCarthy
John Sharian
Anastasia Hille
Series V
February 20 – March 26, 1992
  1. "Holoship"
  2. "The Inquisitor"
  3. "Terrorform"
  4. "Quarantine"
  5. "Demons and Angels"
  6. "Back to Reality"
List of all 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 episode often tops polls or surveys as the best in the series runs. [5][6 ] 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'.



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. 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 the four years they have spent playing the "game" turn out to have been completely wasted, since they failed to even slightly advance beyond the starting scenario - 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 in outer space 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 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". Recovering, the crew leaves the planet.

It is revealed in Red Dwarf: Back to Earth that the Cat managed to smuggle a female Squid on board with the intention of eating it later, which led to their encounter with a squid toxin causing joy instead of despair. Apparently the squid had escaped into the water tank.


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, but Norman Lovett played Holly in that episode and Series VIII on until Only the Good...; he was not on Red Dwarf: Back to Earth. Hattie Hayridge made her final appearance of Holly in that episode, but from 2004 to 2006, she did some commentaries for Red Dwarf DVD releases with Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Robert Llewellyn, and Danny John-Jules.


"Back to Reality" was the first script written[7 ] 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 issue. 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.[8]

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.[9]

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.[10 ]

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).[11 ] 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.[6 ] One review stated that "it’s no less than perfect, with an inspired mix of ingenious plotting, brilliant writing and stunning performances."[12 ]

At the end of 1992 the episode helped Series V gain a nomination for an International Emmy Award,[13] and in 1995, following a BBC viewers vote, it was repeated on the 22 December 1995 as 'The Best Ever Red Dwarf'. [5]

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".[14 ]


  1. ^ "British Sitcom Guide - Red Dwarf - Series 5". Retrieved 2008-01-29.  
  2. ^ " - Back to Reality summary". Retrieved 2008-01-29.  
  3. ^ a b "BBC - Programme Catalogue - RED DWARF V - BACK TO REALITY". BBC. Retrieved 2007-12-12.  
  4. ^ a b c "Back to Reality cast and crew". Retrieved 2008-01-29.  
  5. ^ a b "BBC - Programme Catalogue - THE BEST EVER RED DWARF". BBC. Retrieved 2007-12-12.  
  6. ^ a b Red Dwarf Smegazine: Survey Results, Red Dwarf Smegazine, issue 10, December 1992, Fleetway Editions Ltd, ISSN 0965-5603
  7. ^ "Red Dwarf Series V Writing". Retrieved 2008-01-07.  
  8. ^ Interview: Grant Naylor, Red Dwarf Smegazine, issue 6, August 1992, Fleetway Editions Ltd, issn 0965-5603
  9. ^ "Red Dwarf Series V Sets". Retrieved 2008-01-07.  
  10. ^ Howarths, Chris; Steve Lyons (1993). Red Dwarf Programme Guide. Section 1: The History: Virgin Books. ISBN 0-86369-682-1.  
  11. ^ "Red Dwarf Series V Casting". Retrieved 2008-01-07.  
  12. ^ "Series V review by Gavrielle". Retrieved 2008-01-29.  
  13. ^ News From The Dwarf, Red Dwarf Smegazine, issue 11, January 1993, Fleetway Editions Ltd, issn=0965-5603
  14. ^ "Red Dwarf Series V Aftermath". Retrieved 2008-01-07.  

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