"Gunmen of the Apocalypse" won an Emmy Award, and is a frequently-cited fan favourite.
After barely surviving a battle with deranged killer droids, the boys from the Dwarf are left facing a further struggle for their existence as they are forced to face the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse in a Wild-West inspired artificial reality.
In black-and-white: a beautiful brunette, Loretta, is standing beside the docks at night. A 1938 Bentley stops. A detective, Philip, who bears a striking resemblance to Dave Lister, gets out and approaches her. After a short conversation about how many people she has killed, Lister begins kissing her.
Meanwhile, outside what is revealed to be a game, Kryten cannot get Lister's attention. Lister is playing a game based on a private eye film noir, Gumshoe, in the Artificial Reality Suite. He is standing alone, wearing an AR helmet and gloves, unhooking an invisible bra, grinding his hips, and kissing the air, tongue and all. He is unaware that Kryten has been trying to contact him. Kryten decides to take a different approach and enter the game as a player (Sammy the Squib).
In the game Kryten does not see Lister, but he does see the Bentley from earlier, except now it is bouncing up and down. He walks to the car and knocks on a rear window. Lister and the woman, Loretta, are inside. Kryten informs him that their ship, Starbug, has entered a rogue simulants hunting zone, indicated by the millennial oxide that Kryten has detected in the vicinity. This would also explain the devastation on the derelicts where they picked up the very AR game they are playing. They need to rig for silent running, and that means the game has to be shut off. Reluctantly Lister quits the game.
Starbug is finally in silent running mode with only Cat's sense of "smell" to warn them of danger. Arnold Rimmer starts with recriminations as to why it took so long to get silent running, "Everybody knows you only use the AR machine to have sex." Lister tries to deny it, but Rimmer says he's seen him and that it's pathetic watching him "grind away on his own" day after day and how he wore out the Groinal Attachment in three weeks when it should have a lifetime's guarantee.
Cat "smells" something: a Simulant Battle Cruiser is on an intercept course. They are soon contacted by a Simulant Captain and his lieutenant. Rimmer wants to surrender, but simulants despise humans. If they find humans aboard they are finished, so Lister devises a ruse by pretending to be a race of aliens called the "Vindaloovians". Lister and Cat announce themselves to be Tarka Dal and Bhindi Bhaji, by sticking Kryten's detachable eyes to their chins and being filmed upside down, to fool the simulants.
Unfortunately the Simulant Captain teleports aboard, instantly seeing through the deception. Rimmer embarrassingly misquotes a Space Corps Directive regarding non-violent constraint, which Kryten corrects is actually about the Chinese delegates bringing two cars to a conference. The Simulant Captain proclaims that he is disappointed that they are primitive and will be no sport at all. He then stuns Lister and Cat with a ray gun, also taking Kryten offline and deactivating Rimmer's hologram light bee.
When they wake up three weeks later, Starbug has been completely upgraded, in order to make good sport for the Simulants. They now have laser cannons, and the Simulants have even fixed the squeak on Cat's seat tilt control. They are given a two-minute head start, before the hunt begins. Cat recognises that this is just a game of cat and mouse and advises to be the cat: "the mouse never wins, not unless you believe those lying cartoons". So they immediately disable the battle cruiser in a surprise offensive with their laser cannons. Crippled, unable to return fire and about to explode, the Simulants transmit the Armageddon Virus to Starbug in one last desperate act, and the Simulant Captain says that he will see them in Silicon Hell. The Armageddon Virus infects the navicomp of Starbug, freezing the crew out and locking Starbug on a collision course with a lava moon. They have only 38 minutes to change course.
Kryten volunteers to contract the virus so he can analyze it, and work on a Dove Antidote Program. The only way the others can help is to "watch his dreams." They carry a comatose Kryten up to the Ops Rooms and lay him out on the medi-bed. Rimmer says that he alone should be allowed to use the single-man escape pod, but Lister tells him that it has already escaped - a few nights earlier he had used the release mechanism as a bottle opener while having a few beers.
The gang decide to take Kryten's advice and watch his dreams, where they see that Kryten is the Sheriff of the frontier town of Existence in the Old West of America. He is doing quite poorly, as in the dream he is an alcoholic has-been. The townsfolk mock him and taunt him; if that wasn't bad enough, a band of outlaws, the Apocalypse Boys (brothers Death, War, Pestilence, and Famine), give him one hour to get out of town.
Cat suggests they should try to get inside his dreams and help. So they hook Kryten to the AR machine, and each of them becomes a character from Lister's Western-themed AR game Streets of Laredo and enters Kryten's dreams. Cat is the gunslinger called The Riviera Kid, Lister is knife-man Brett Riverboat, and Rimmer is bare-fist fighter extraordinaire Dangerous Dan McGrew.
Now in Existence, the boys head to the Last Chance Saloon and order drinks. Kryten comes in and sells his guns (his defence personified) and his mule (his dignity personified) to buy a bottle of "mind rotter" liquor. He doesn't recognize his friends. A patron, Jimmy, uses a whip to snatch the bottle from Kryten, and taunts him with it. Lister and the others stand up to Jimmy, using their special skills to defeat him: Lister pins him to the wall with knives; Cat shoots bullets out of the air when his goons Frank and Nuke join the fight; and Rimmer bravely fights Jimmy's friends when they start fist fighting, throwing them over the bar.
Kryten makes a run for it, trying to leave town. If he leaves Existence, it will be disastrous: the virus will have won. Cat stops him just in time at the edge of town using his special skills, doing a trick shot that ricochets around the town before knocking a sign down and knocking Kryten to the ground. They bring him back to the Saloon and try to get him ready for the Apocalypse Boys, sobering him up by making him eat bowl upon bowl of dry, ground coffee. He begins to remember who he is just as the Apocalypse Brothers return. Lister, Rimmer, and Cat stand with Kryten against the outlaws; seeing that Kryten has brought help, Death disables their special skills, making them helpless. They can't even exit the game. They have to pull off the AR helmets to get out.
But their efforts have bought Kryten enough time to create an antidote; the Dove Antidote Program. He faces off with the Apocalypse Brothers and, although they fire off a dozen bullets at Kryten, he is unharmed and he releases the cure. Kryten's guns transform into doves, disintegrating the Apocalypse Boys and neutralizing the virus from the core program. Kryten then wakes up, instantly cured, and he hurries up to the cockpit of Starbug to upload the cure into the navicomp. They try to veer away from the lava moon, but Starbug is already too close. It crashes into a pool of molten lava, disappearing from view for a brief moment. However it arises, smouldering but intact, and flies off into the sunset, the crew "yee-haaa-ing".
- Denis Lill appears as the Simulant Captain and Death
- 'Apocalypse Boys'
- Jennfier Calvert as Loretta
- Steve Devereaux as Jimmy
- Liz Hickling as Simulant Lieutenant
- Imogen Bain as Lola
- Stephen Marcus as Bear Strangler McGee
- Uncredited Stuntmen as Frank and Nuke
Available on the Series VI DVD:
- The original pre-record version of the Vindaloovian aftermath was re-staged more successfully in front of a studio audience. The original take was longer, with the Simulant Captain stood over them watching as they pretended to be Vindaloovians, and the re-shot trimmed it down for time.
- Five dialogue trims, mostly from within the Simulant Battle Cruiser during the battle with Starbug. As the Simulant Lieutenant makes it clear that they have become too damaged in the battle to return fire, The Simulant Captain says that they "will find their corpse has a sting in its tail" regarding the Armageddon Virus, before his death is seen.
DVD Easter Egg
"Gunmen of the Apocalypse" is the subject of a hidden "Easter egg" on the Series VI DVD. This can be accessed on the scene selection menu for the episode, by clicking on the Sheriff badge. An interview with animated visuals features writers Doug Naylor and Rob Grant as a Cowboy and an Indian, and director Ed Bye as a saloon whore. The trio discuss the pre-production, location scouting and problems they had filming the episode - including Chris Barrie's fear of horses and an incident where Craig Charles slapped Barrie's horse and it ran around a field three times with Barrie on it.
- It seems that after the episode "Legion", Rimmer now has the ability to switch between Soft Light and Hard Light drives. The first half of the episode he is still wearing his red (Soft Light) uniform up until they discuss using the AR unit and Lister decides to power-up Rimmer's Hard Light drive, with it being suggested that Hard Light is a greater drain on Starbug's limited power. The very next scene, Rimmer is wearing his blue (Hard Light) uniform. This appears to be the only time Rimmer is seen switching between both soft and hard light drives, thus wearing both uniforms in the same episode, and only wears the blue (Hard Light) uniform for the remainder til Series VII. Rimmer would again finally display the ability to switch between hard-light and soft-light modes in the Series X episode "Entangled", when he switches to soft-light to enter a sealed door in the ERRA station.
- In the previous episode, Kryten mentioned that the only films Starbug has for Lister to watch are Doug McClure films, and asking Lister not to hit him as Lister hates Doug McClure. This may explain why Kryten's struggle against the Armageddon Virus manifested itself into a Western-themed dream, since Doug McClure was in many Western films, and it's apparently all they were watching on Starbug.
- The episode also has references to the 1971 film Gumshoe, on which the artificial reality game is based, and "Butch Accountant and the Yuppie Kid" references the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
- The line "Have infection, will travel" said by Brother Death is a reference to the American western series titled Have Gun – Will Travel.
- The plot of a drunken sheriff defending his town against an incoming gang of cowboys parodies Rio Bravo.
- Written by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, the script was originally titled "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse", and then had the working title of "High Midnight".
- This episode was filmed in Laredo, a cowboy-inspired town which is maintained by a club of Wild West enthusiasts in the county of Kent in the south-east of England. It is close by to the Brands Hatch motor racing circuit. In 2005, twelve years after filming this episode, Kryten's actor Robert Llewellyn returned to the Laredo to film a ten minute documentary on the town, Red Dwarf: Return to Laredo. It was created especially for the Series VI DVD. Documentary on YouTube
- During filming of the episode, Janet Street-Porter was BBC Head of Art & Culture and when she received the ambitious script for "Gunmen..." she sent out a memo that all production for this episode must be stopped immediately due to the fact she believed it too difficult to film, too costly and too time-consuming. By the time the Red Dwarf crew received her memo, filming had already wrapped and even post-production already started.
- The artificial reality plot also shows similarities to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "A Fistful of Datas". In fact, as mentioned in the A to Z of Red Dwarf (first broadcast on Red Dwarf Night), Patrick Stewart, saw this episode before he had ever heard of Red Dwarf. Viewing it as a serious sci-fi, he considered the plot so similar he was going to call his lawyers until he watched it further and started laughing.
- Red Dwarf composer Howard Goodall composed a Western-sounding version of the "Red Dwarf Theme" which is used as the crew fly into the sunset and over the credits.
- Rimmer: Everybody knows you only use the AR machine to have sex!
Lister: That is not true!
Rimmer: Yes true, it's pathetic watching you grind away on your own. Day after day. You're like a dog that's missing his master's leg. That groinal attachment is supposed to have a lifetime's guarantee. You've worn it out nearly three weeks!
- Rimmer: Lister, she's a computer sprite, and surely that's the point; she's just a load of pixels.
Lister: Yeah, but what pixels!
- Cat: Wait, I know this game. It's called cat and mouse, and there's only one way to win; don't be the mouse.
Lister: What are you saying?!
Cat: I'm saying, the mouse never wins. Not unless you believe those lying cartoons.
- Cat: You're gonna go along with one of my plans? Are you nuts? What if we all get killed, I will never hear the last of it.
- Simulant Captain: See you in Silicon Hell!
- Jimmy: Why don't you try it Sheriff? They say you used to be faster than a toilet stop in rattlesnake country.
- Lister: Rimmer, what Westerns have you seen? Butch Accountant and the Yuppie Kid?
- Bear Strangler McGee: Man beans up in the hat of Bear Strangler McGee is either mighty brave or mighty stupid. Which are you, boy?
Rimmer: I'm sorry, what were the choices again?
- Bear Strangler McGee: That pays for hat. Now what about the insult?
Rimmer: Ok, you're a fat bearded git with breath that could knock out a grizzly
- Brother Death: We are gonna cut you up so small the worms won't even have to chew.
Rimmer: You can't frighten me. I'm always scared.
- Kryten: Now, if you'll forgive the rather confrontational imperative, go for your guns you scum sucking molluscs!
The episode was first broadcast on the British television channel BBC2 on 21 October 1993 in the 9:00pm time slot. With over six million viewers and an International Emmy Award in 1994, the episode is considered to be one of the better efforts from the sixth series.
"Gunmen of the Apocalypse" is an "International Emmy Award"-winning episode of Red Dwarf. It won the 1994 Emmy for Popular Arts, and in the same year the episode also won the television series Best BBC Sitcom at the British Comedy Awards. Doug Naylor and Robert Llewellyn travelled to the United States to collect the Emmy from Tony Curtis.
On the Internet Movie Database, "Gunmen of the Apocalypse" has a weighted average rating of 8.6 out of 10. Out of the 73 total episodes in Red Dwarf, this rating places it 8th highest rated out of the 73.
In late 2017, prominent fan site Ganymede & Titan ran the Pearl Poll from among hundreds of fans. The aim of the Pearl Poll was to produce a "definitive" list of all 73 episodes of Red Dwarf in order of their popularity. In February 2018 the list was published, and "Gunmen of the Apocalypse" was voted third highest out of the 73 episodes.
- Series VI DVD Collector's Booklet
- "The Starbuggers" Series VI DVD documentary
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