3 million years after a radiation leak wiped out the crew of the mining ship Red Dwarf, the sole survivor, Dave Lister, is revived from stasis. For that inconceivable amount of time the ship has been accelerating away from Earth across vast regions of space. Although joined by a life form evolved from his cat and a hologram of his dead bunkmate, the possibilities of further companionship seemed beyond remote.
However it seems this ship isn’t quite as removed from civilisation as it might be. Throughout the first series, the crew are alone in the universe and the confines of the ship are their whole world.
That all changes at the start of series II with a distress call from the crashed Nova 5 . The boys from the Dwarf were delighted to find any form of intelligence even if it did turn out to be the android equivalent or Norman Bates but did they ever question how the vessel got so far into deep space?
The novel Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers makes rather a large plot point of the Nova 5’s superior engines – the Duality Jump. This drive allows the ship to traverse large sectors of space in a single bound – the journey that took a giant red trashcan 3million years could be covered in three months. It seems reasonable then to assume that ships from the relative future of the Red Dwarf crew had superior drives.
In addition it is perfectly plausible that ships could have drifted into deep space. It may be somewhat implausible considering that vessels can get lost so easily in Earth’s oceans and space in more or less infinite but coincidences can happen, just as the DNA ship drifted into the path of the Dwarf.
Later series show that powerful engines of the Nova 5 would seem to be a rule rather than an exception. It is apparent that the human race has managed to colonise deep space. Justice World demonstrates that at the very least there were stations located in deep space. Similarly Legion’s complex was conceived and populated by famous Earth scientists to from Kryten’s time period.
The events of series V confirm an even more established presence of human life in the region. Dr Hildegarde Lanstrom’s research station on the ice planet suggests that the human race has settled on planets, however remote. The artificial psi-moon from Terrorform also indicates that perhaps the star system is some kind of experimental space lab.
That theme continues in Back to Reality with the SSS Esperanto, a Class D Space Corp seeding ship sent out to accelerate life on the ocean moon. Humans it seems are at the very least experimenting in deep space with a view to colonisation and presumably their ships give them a means to get back to Earth. It seems highly improbable that entire fleets of ships would spend millions of years in stasis for the sake of science.
Throughout series VI It becomes increasingly apparent that the Starbuggers occupy a charted region of space. The asteroid belt that Starbug traverses in Psirens is a “giant spaceship graveyard” and presumably not even every ship in the sector was brought down by the psychic-manipulator GELFs.
In Emohawk: Polymorth II, the crew are charged by a Space Corps External Enforcement vehicle making it apparent the sector is policed. In addition Kryten is aware of the GELF Zone and even knows the language of the Kinitawowi tribe.
This mapping of space becomes even more apparent in series VII and the discovery of the Leviathan deep beneath the ice. The presence of former Red Dwarf crew member Caroline Carmen dates the ship right back to the time of Lister. One might assume that this ship has drifted for millennia in the glacier until Lister examines the Navi Comp and finds out the ship burned out its engines heading to Delta VII and its research base.
This is clearly a named planet a presumably a populated one. So it seems even around the time of Red Dwarf’s disappearance the human race had found ways to colonise the galaxy.
In contrast it seems that the region of space is deep enough to send ships that might be dangerous. The SSS Silverberg was programmed to head for deep space as Cassandra’s ability to predict the future was deemed too dangerous was the human mind to cope with.
Similarly the 28th Century test ship the Gemini 12, with its powerful time drive, was also programmed to head for deep space to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands, although the addition of the stellar fog with its minefield of unreality pockets suggests that theft was also a possibility.
It seems that getting back to Earth isn’t really such an impossible dream for the Red Dwarf crew. There are ships far faster and better equipped than the crimson short one but perhaps it’s the safer option. The dream of Earth represents hope: perhaps knowing it’s gone for certain would be too much for Lister to handle.
Even after they lost the mother ship the posse never considered inhabiting any other vessel and instead opted to track it for hundreds of years. For Lister, Rimmer, Cat and Kryten, Red Dwarf is home.