The series was created by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor. In addition to the television episodes, there are four novels, a radio version adapted from the audiobooks, two pilot episodes for an American version of the show, tie-in books, magazines, and other merchandise.
Despite the pastiche of science fiction used as a backdrop, Red Dwarf is primarily a character-driven comedy, with science fiction elements used as complementary plot devices. In the early episodes, a recurring source of comedy was the Odd Couple-style relationship between the two central characters of the show, who have an intense dislike for each other yet are trapped together deep in space. The main characters are Dave Lister, the last known human alive, and Arnold Rimmer, a hologram of Lister's dead bunkmate. The other regular characters are Cat, a lifeform which evolved from the descendants of Lister's pregnant pet cat Frankenstein; Holly, Red Dwarf's computer (Series I-V, briefly in the final episode of VII, VIII); Kryten, a service mechanoid (Series II-present); and Kristine Kochanski, an alternative-reality version of Lister's long-lost love (Series VII-VIII).
One of the series' highest accolades came in 1994, when an episode from the sixth series, "Gunmen of the Apocalypse", won an International Emmy Award in the Popular Arts category, and in the same year the series was also awarded "Best BBC Comedy Series" at the British Comedy Awards. The series attracted its highest ratings, of more than eight million viewers, during the eighth series in 1999.
The revived series on digital channel Dave has consistently delivered some of the highest ratings for non-Public Service Broadcasting commissions in the UK. The show has been critically acclaimed, and has a Metacritic score of 84/100. Series XI was voted "Best Returning TV Sitcom" and "Comedy of the Year" for 2016 by readers for the British Comedy Guide.
The main setting of the series is the eponymous mining spaceship Red Dwarf, which is 6 miles (9.7 km) long, 4 miles (6.4 km) tall, and 3 miles (4.8 km) wide and is operated by the Jupiter Mining Corporation. In the first episode set sometime in the late 22nd century, an on-board radiation leak of cadmium II kills everyone except lowest-ranking technician Dave Lister, who is in suspended animation at the time, and his pregnant cat, Frankenstein, who is safe in the cargo hold. Following the accident, the ship's computer Holly keeps Lister in stasis until the radiation levels return to normal – a process that takes three million years. Lister therefore emerges as the last human being in the universe – but not alone on-board the ship. His former bunkmate and immediate superior Arnold Judas Rimmer (a character plagued by failure) is resurrected by Holly as a hologram to keep Lister sane. At the same time, a creature known only as Cat is the last member on board of Felis sapiens, a race of humanoid felines that evolved in the ship's hold from Lister's cat, Frankenstein, and her kittens during the 3 million years that Lister was in stasis.