(Special announcement - since I'll be participating on One Web Day on September 22nd, next week's Red Dwarf review will appear on Sunday. So please, no angry e-mails next week complaining that it's Smeggin' Sunday rather than Monday. Thanks for reading!)
In all honesty, I have mixed feelings about Series 3 - no, I don't think it's absolutely horrible; it's a series that feels rather awkward, and some of the growing pains are evident.
And quite frankly, that's a good thing.
At this time, Rob Grant and Doug Naylor are beginning to hit their stride as writers, expanding into more complicated plots and concepts. (See Backwards, Timeslides, and Bodyswap). In addition, the sets are looking a little more polished (thanks to an increase in budget), and unlike Series One and Two, is actually beginning to look like a more polished science fiction show.
Thankfully, though, the writing is beginning to show the signs of Series Four and Five greatness to come - both Rimmer and Lister have had their characters expanded, and even the Cat gets slightly better material. What helps, though, is the recasting of two key parts. Although she's no Norman Lovett, Hattie Hayridge picks up the baton from Series Two's Parallel Universe, giving Holly a nice little Gracie Allen-esqe twist on the character. OK, she doesn't get to do much, but having a female presence amongst the all-male cast helps make some of humor work (especially in The Last Day).
Of course, it's Robert Llewellyn's portrayal of Kryten which helps sell the series. Granted, the character is in his early stages (his accent is more faux-Scandanavian than the later faux-Canadian), but we see the seeds of later seasons begin to be planted. Although it would be easy to play armchair quarterback, Llewellyn really provides a nice contrast to David Ross' initial characterization, which I doubt would have worked. (The end of Kryten suggests the initial stages of a robot's self-discovery; throughout this series, we see those themes going further).
Plus, quite frankly, this season has some very excellent laugh-out-loud scenes, including the aforementioned Kryten wearing a robe and a Ronald Reagan mask(and the Wilma Flintstone discussion) in Backwards, the infamous Kryten/Lister scene in Polymorph, and the "hangover" scene in The Last Day. (Actually, there's more than that, but it's one of those you-have-to-watch-for-yourself scenarios.)
Much of Season Three feels awkward - however, as I had said before, that's a good thing. Initially televised in 1989, it would be another two years before Season 4.
And that's when the fun really begins.