Second Class Technician Arnold Judas Rimmer may seem like an unusual choice as a favourite character but there is logic in my madness. Having grown up watching ‘Red Dwarf’ on BBC and reading all of the related novels probably before I was old enough to do so, to me Rimmer was the first ‘real’ character to exist in Science Fiction. The show began airing around the same time as ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’, another favourite of mine, and the main characters were so nice towards each other and happy in their lives. Not the case with Arnie. Snide without being clever, ambitious without any talent, Rimmer wanted the world but had no clue how to achieve it.
Perhaps what resonated with me the most was the fact that he wasn’t necessarily a bad man. He wasn’t a villain, he didn’t have the skills to be one. Rimmer was a normal bloke who suffered from a bad situation and attempted in vain to make the most of it. Unfortunately. he never got the breaks.
As a young Science Fiction fan at a time when everyone else was more concerned about Manchester United or Sonic The Hedgehog, I was already on the outskirts of what was considered cool. Wearing t-shirts with both regular and Ace Rimmer in gym class didn’t exactly help matters, especially as a lot of people didn’t actually know who he was. Even less helpful was the homemade ‘H’ that I fashioned out of hologram stickers and cardboard. Although in fairness, it did spark some attempts at creative insults beginning with the same letter.
But I didn’t care. Rimmer always went against the grain of society without realising it, so why shouldn’t I? He liked organ music and was infatuated by Napoleon. Rimmer didn’t have the affability of Lister who was liked by almost everyone he met nor the arrogance and style of Cat. He didn’t have anything of Kryten, which was thankful as I always found him to be quite annoying.
What he did have was bitterness, self-loathing and pity for himself. In abundance. I’m a firm believer that all emotions and attributes should be embraced, not just the ones perceived as positive by others. It’s probably what makes me a grumpy old man trapped in a 30 year-old’s body. Rimmer was a character that despite being one of the ‘good guys’, had no discernible heroic qualities. He wasn’t even an anti-hero. He was just someone who had ideas above his station and couldn’t bear it.
The best part about having Rimmer as a favourite character was that his victories were always much sweeter. For example, take ‘Out Of Time’, when he steps up to take on his and the other Red Dwarf future selves, jeopardising his own existence, or when he realises that he actually possess the characteristics that separate him and alternative universe counterpart Ace Rimmer and leaves the ship to embark on new adventures. Nobody expects him to be brave and that’s when he really shines.
‘Red Dwarf’ creators Rob Grant and Doug Naylor always knew this and their tie-in novels also reflected this. In ‘The Last Human’, Rimmer meets his son who grew up believing that his father was a courageous space adventurer rather than the guy who made sure the soup dispensers were working. Needless to say, the young man is devastated when he learns the truth but when Lister’s evil counterpart takes the entire crew hostage, it’s Rimmer who saves the day, sacrificing himself in the process. He even manages to get a ‘smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast’ reference in without Ace Rimmer being shoehorned into the plot. I struggle to remember another time that I actually cheered when reading a book and I still enjoy that passage of the novel to this day.
A big part of Rimmer’s appeal is of course Chris Barrie’s portrayal. As good as the writing for the character is, Barrie elevates him to another level. It’s actually a shame that Barrie never became as big an actor as he deserved. ‘The Brittas Empire’, while amusing at times, wasn’t the success it could have been and playing Angelina Jolie’s butler in the ‘Tomb Raider’ films, probably isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. To me, Barrie should be up there with other great character actors such as John Cleese and Rowan Akinson. But alas, life imitates art and some of my peers still have to ask who he is.
Everyone else’s loss is ‘Red Dwarf’s gain and apart from a brief sabbatical in season seven, Barrie remained loyal to the show and showed no signs of losing his comedic touch when season 10 recently aired.
During the aforementioned sabbatical, the show really suffered in his absence, with Chloe Annett’s Kristine Kochanski a poor substitute. In fact, of those four episodes that Rimmer doesn’t appear, I really struggle to remember anything of note.
The same goes for season eight, even though Rimmer does make a return albeit as a living person. His character in this series has been reset, losing all of the growth of the previous seven seasons, and lost that miniscule charm that he had cultivated. It seemed to be the fact that he was alive again that ruined it for me. Rimmer was always so bitter about his death, it summed him up perfectly. While everyone else would be ecstatic about another chance like that, he took it as a personal slight and it was yet another reason to complain. Not being able to complain about dying took some of the magic from the character. Although that was hardly the worst thing about season eight.
Thankfully, normal service was restored in ‘Back To Earth’ and the recent season 10 where the old Rimmer seemed to have returned safe and well where so many of his alternative dimension counterparts had failed to do so.
In fact, season 10 probably gave us the most growth for Rimmer. Some family home truths came to light over the course of the six episodes. His brother was also revealed to be a lowly technician and his father was actually an idiot gardener who his mother had an affair with. This second piece of knowledge actually set Rimmer free. Removed from the pressures of his over-achieving family, he becomes the man he knows he can be and saves the day. If ‘Red Dwarf’ does end with this episode then I’ll be a happy man. But of course, if it makes yet another resurrection, then I’m sure Rimmer will revert to the smeghead that we all know and love.
© Aidan Fortune 2012
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