Red Dwarf: revisiting the second series

Red Dwarf 2

Before its twelfth series lands on Dave in October, I’m rewatching all of Red Dwarf from the beginning. This week it’s time to tackle rebellious androids, virtual reality and false memories in Red Dwarf II.

I mentioned in my look at the maiden run that the first series of Red Dwarf has a pervading sense of futility. The colour scheme is drab, the Lister-Rimmer relationship is often uncomfortably antagonistic, and it takes place entirely within the confines of the ship.

Right from the start of Red Dwarf II, it’s clear that certain things have changed. The opening scene introduces us to Kryten on the Nova 5, proving that in contrast to what Lister insisted throughout series one, the Dwarfers are not completely alone in space. The subsequent bunkroom scene also boasts some more colourful sleeping quarters and a significantly less pixelated Holly.

Kryten and Better Than Life

At the height of my Red Dwarf fandom, there were certain episodes that I watched incessantly and others that I barely watched at all. ‘Kryten’ fell into the latter category, probably due to the peculiarity of seeing the character being played by David Ross rather than Robert Llewellyn, with a plummy English accent and bright red lips. But on this rewatch I found it hugely enjoyable. Sometimes there is nothing funnier than a humorous misunderstanding, and this episode revolves around a big one, as the Dwarf crew are led to believe that Kryten is stranded with three women but later discover they are nothing but skeletons. To quote Rimmer, he’s “the android version of Norman Bates”. Having just rewatched series one, it is noticeable that ‘Kryten’ has a new energy and is more laugh-out-loud funny than what came before.

The fun continues in ‘Better Than Life’ which sees the gang enter a total immersion video game that gives them anything and everything they desire. It’s a brilliant concept that gives rise to some fine-but-not-brilliant gags (Lister’s meal of choice is a caviar vindaloo, his room has an automated toilet, etc) but what really takes the episode to another level is Rimmer. We get to learn a bit more about his childhood and troubled relationship with his father, and when he effectively ruins the game by being unable to imagine nice things for himself, we’re left feeling more pity than frustration.

Thanks for the Memory and Stasis Leak

Rimmer’s character development goes even further in ‘Thanks for the Memory’ in which he drunkenly reveals to Lister than he has never been in love and would give anything to experience it. Feeling sorry for him, Lister decides to implant some of his own memories into Rimmer’s mind, making him believe he once had a love affair. However misguided his actions are, the fact that Lister tries to do something nice for Rimmer marks a big step forward in their relationship. Chris Barrie is on top form in this episode, delivering big laughs while playing drunk (who can forget the triple fried egg sandwich with chilli sauce and chutney?) and also managing to build sympathy for a previously quite unsympathetic character.

After such a well-pitched character piece, ‘Stasis Leak’ feels like a little bit of a regression as we’re taken back to the ship before the crew was wiped out. It does have some good gags though, such as Rimmer’s “Will I really?” response to “In three millions years you’ll be dead” and Cat’s “What is it?” meltdown… even if Rimmer’s encounters with Captain Hollister put me in mind of Red Dwarf VIII. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it! ‘Stasis Leak’ is enjoyable enough but not a standout of the series, and it rather confusingly includes Lister being told by a future version of himself that in five years time he will return to the past and marry Kochanski. Maybe he got his timelines mixed up?

Queeg and Parallel Universe

‘Queeg’ puts Holly front and centre for the first time when he is replaced by a newer, more intelligent model whose authoritarian personality doesn’t sit well with the crew. The episode gets some great gags out of Rimmer’s status as a hologram, as he loses his legs, imitates the other characters due to a glitch and later has his body controlled by Queeg. But this one is really Norman Lovett’s show, and the final reveal of “Queeg never existed, it was me all along” is up there as one of Red Dwarf’s best moments.

I went into rewatching ‘Parallel Universe’ with hardly any memory of it at all, and I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. The plot involves the crew meeting their female equivalents from a parallel universe in which the roles of men and women are reversed. But rather than opting for cheap jokes (pink frilly Skutters aside), the episode actually makes a bit of a point, with Rimmer feeling appalled and violated by the way his female counterpart treats him, when her attitude towards men is exactly his attitude towards women. Similarly Lister thinks it’s attractive when he downs beers and belches, but is disgusted when female Lister does the same. It’s not groundbreaking stuff, but considering ‘Parallel Universe’ aired in 1988 – along with the fact that I can remember much later installments of Red Dwarf where the gender politics are very iffy indeed – it could have been a whole lot worse. Plus this episode gets bonus points for catchy musical number Tongue Tied at the start.

Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back with a series three recap shortly….