The series was created by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, who also wrote the first six series. The show originated from a recurring sketch, Dave Hollins: Space Cadet part of the mid-1980s BBC Radio 4 comedy show Son of Cliché, also scripted by Grant and Naylor. In addition to the television episodes, there are four bestselling novels, two pilot episodes for an American version of the show, a radio version produced for BBC Radio 7, tie-in books, magazines and other merchandise.
In 2008, a three-episode production was commissioned by the digital channel Dave. These episodes were screened in April 2009 during the Easter weekend and comprised a three-part story titled Red Dwarf: Back to Earth. Unlike the majority of the original BBC episodes, this mini-series was a comedy drama filmed without a studio audience or an added laugh track.
Despite the pastiche of science fiction used as a backdrop, Red Dwarf is primarily a character-driven comedy, with off-the-wall, often scatological 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 and 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; Kryten, a service mechanoid; and, as of Series VII to Back to Earth, Kristine Kochanski, an alternative-reality version of Lister's long-lost love.
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 over eight million viewers, during the eighth series in 1999.
Series X consists of six episodes, recorded in front of a studio audience in December 2011-January 2012. The opening episode of this revived series was broadcast on 4 October 2012, on Dave and also on Dave HD.