It would be easy, in many ways, to suggest that Red Dwarf was able to pick up where Doctor Who left off in terms of fandom. After all, Survival (Who's final episode) came almost 18 months after The End (Dwarf's debut episode) was televised...but that's a stretch.
By its nature, Dwarf is a situation comedy where the situations are based on a unique mix - characterization and science fiction. (Dwarf has the same relation to "real" science as Who does). However, it's the premise - a low-level technician, through situations beyond his control, finds himself the last human in existence, stuck on a ship 3,000,000 years in the future with a hologram, an evolved cat, and a slightly dodgy computer. It would be easy to turn this into a near-adventure; but this first season of Dwarf (and for the next seven weeks, the other seven seasons) is probably one of the most (in retrospect) modest attempts, often preferring sharply-written scenarios over special effect-driven extravaganzas.
Part of the charm of this first season lays in the series' unconventional casting choices - there isn't the flat-out silliness of most television comedy. This first series works because...well, the cheap sets help sell the idea of a 3,000,000 year old, worn-out mining ship. The scripts are almost existential takes on the characters' situation, including time travel (Future Echoes), religion (Waiting for God), and...well, dealing with everyday trivial stuff (Balance of Power, Confidence & Paranoia, and Me2). Although the idea was ambitious, the execution was very modest - if this were the only series of Red Dwarf, it would still be impressive.
(And you know who deserves the credit? Norman Lovett as Holly. Imagine a sexy, witty computer version of Mike Sterling, and you can get a sense of Lovett's droll delivery. Any actor who can deliver a line like, "I am a computer with an IQ of 6,000...which is the same IQ as 6,000 PE teachers" without telegraphing the joke...is a genius.)
But for the uninitiated, this is well worth watching. It helped cheer me out of a very painful breakup ten years' ago. It has developed its own fandom. And for the next seven weeks, I'll continue to watch it season by season.
At the very least, it'll be more fun than watching The Prisoner on a weekly basis.