Red Dwarf Series 2
Following the success of S1 Red Dwarf quickly boshed out a second series. This was recorded just three months after the first series aired on TV and broadcast just three months after that. There was a very quick turnover on the show. It probably helped that most of it was low budget and the sets weren’t terribly elaborate.
I’ve always felt the Kryten episode would be held in higher regard if David Ross, who played Kryten here, hadn’t been blown away by Robert Llewellyn in later episodes. Robert’s performance as Kryten defines the character. Ross’ Kryten is a posh butler with an odd shaped head rather than a robot. Kryten is the custodian of a crashed ship; the Nova 5. Red Dwarf intercepts its distress call and goes in search of their crew; three injured females. On arrival they discover the women are all long dead, thus ruining hours of preparation time. Cat has spent so long on it he has to be dragged away from a mirror.
The episode rushes towards a conclusion where Lister tries to teach Kryten to rebel thus leaving most of the gags in this episode surrounding the boys getting ready. Lister is particularly good at this. The t-shirt with only two curry stains on the front, the spray paint on the leg to conceal the hole in the jeans, the smelly moon boots. It’s a solid entry but aside the portrait of Rimmer the last few minutes are so rushed. Kryten was intended to be a one-off so I don’t blame the writers for not drawing out his redemptive arc over a longer time-span. It’s only their decision to re-cast and re-use the character again in S3 that makes this, in retrospect, look like a patchy episode.
Final Rating: ***¼
E2: Better Than Life
Better Than Life is two episodes rolled into one. First off the post finally catches up with Red Dwarf. Holly deadpanning that three million years is about normal for second class post. In the post Rimmer gets some bad news. His dad died. What follows is an incredibly dark 15 minutes of death jokes. Interspersed with Rimmer’s morose grieving and Lister feeling some compassion towards him. It’s a logical extension from Me 2, where Lister has seen Rimmer’s true self and feels sympathy towards him. It’s the heart of their relationship. Cat has less understanding. His “party time for all the little worms” line is one of my all-time favourite Red Dwarf quotes.
From there we enter the Better Than Life total immersion video game, included in the post. We also get a great little aside where Rimmer is watching a news reel about BTL including a line about “rubber nuclear weapons” being deployed in New Tokyo. Better Than Life is the first time they delve into a video game world but not the last. BTL sees the desires of the crew become a reality that they live in, which is fine for Lister and his caviar vindaloo or Cat’s mermaid girlfriend Miranda. However Rimmer imagines he’s slept with Yvonne McGruder (Judy Hawkins). “Twice in one lifetime, I’m turning into Hugh Hefner”. McGruder gets pregnant and gives birth to seven kids. Rimmer is then tracked down by the outland revenue service, who he owes £8k.
Better Than Life is a great concept and it’s so good the writers revisited it in later episodes. As an original this mostly works and as with Kryten is seems to fizzle out a bit after all the great set up. Both halves of the story work really well though and it’s one of the better early Dwarf episodes.
Final Rating: ****¼
E3: Thanks for the Memory
Thanks for the Memory starts with the crew celebrating on a moon. They’re celebrating it being the anniversary of Rimmer’s death. By this point the relationship between Rimmer and Lister has significantly improved. While Rimmer remains the butt of jokes there is a friendship that’s developed. This is especially evident in a few scenes during Thanks for the Memory. Firstly Lister learns, from a drunk Rimmer, that he’s only ever had sex once. So he gives Rimmer the memory of a relationship he had when he was younger with a girl called Lise Yates.
This allows Rimmer to have experienced love and it’s a nice gesture from Lister but inevitably the whole thing falls apart. Rimmer feels embarrassed and everyone gets their memory erased. So when Lister wakes up with a broken foot and four days missing from his life, the crew has to investigate. The episode spends plenty of time dwelling on the relationship between Lister and Rimmer and how it’s changed since they became the only two humans in the galaxy. Lister has a special relationship with Rimmer and Holly is probably right in his original assertion that Rimmer would keep him sane. It’s a solid episode but it has a surprisingly low gag quota that just hurts it a bit. However, you need to see Chris Barrie’s “Dave Lister” in the flashbacks. Wonderful stuff.
Final Rating: ***½
E4: Stasis Leak
What a banger of an episode Stasis Leak is. There’s only one real downside and that’s the writers playing around with time. They say, during the episode, that in 5 years time Lister travels to the past and marries Kochanski. That doesn’t actually happen. However this episode has so many great moments if you can disregard the continuity issues. In “Stasis Leak” the crew find a stasis leak on deck 16 and discover they can travel back three million years and back to Red Dwarf. During the first jump Cat keeps asking what a stasis leak is, leading to Rimmer and Lister explaining it in increasingly dumbed down terms. Another running gag of the episode is Holly not understanding anything that’s going on.
In both the past, where Rimmer is suffering badly from hallucinations brought on Lister serving him freaky fungus, and in the present there are loads of good bits in this episode. Rimmer’s highlights include his pet lemming story, which is all over the place. The “helicopter wallpaper” line had me in bits because I’d just forgotten about it. Also he runs afoul (heh) of Captain Hollister dressed as a chicken. “I don’t take orders from poultry”. It would be easy to just focus on the Rimmer stuff because it’s so good but Lister has a sensational rant about the kind of man his girlfriends leave him for. Dependable, and other words that end in “able”, and it’s “always wine”. “What would you like your cornflakes dear? Oh I think I’ll have some wine!” Finally Cat gets incredible throwaway stuff in this episode. The bit with the “a dog! And it’s strangling that woman” is sensational.
If they’d found a way to reach a conclusion without breaking their own continuity (again) this would arguably be the first Red Dwarf episode to be basically perfect. Unfortunately I can’t get past ‘five years in the future’ meaning everyone has funny facial hair. So close. Best Dwarf episode to this point though.
Final Rating: ****½
The only real problem with Queeg, as an episode, is that once you’ve seen it and you know the pay off it’s always in the back of your mind when you’re watching it. Like any film with a big twist ending. However I do remember seeing it the first time and being upset by Holly getting replaced and being ‘erased’ near the conclusion. The farewell speech he gives the crew is genuinely emotional stuff.
The rest of the episode is brilliant. Following on from Stasis Leak, Queeg is another banger. It’s a Holly-centric episode with a load of great Holly one liners. “The damage report machine is damaged”. “That’s a load of Tottenham that is. A steaming pile of Hotspur”. Holly continues to be borderline incompetent. He fails to notify the crew of a meteor strike and when they’re repairing the damage he accidentally tells Lister the wrong cables to connect causing Lister to be electrocuted. As a result he’s replacing by the backup computer; Queeg 500.
It’s not just a Holly episode though. There are two tremendous story based monologues. Lister’s “smart shoes” story about them wanting to see the world and stealing a car. Also, Rimmer’s “Porky Roebuck” story where he was nearly eaten in Space Cadets (“he’d bagsied my right buttock”). It fleshes out the Holly plot, which is already great. Holly is accused of having one source for all his space research; the junior encyclopaedia of space (it’s the only one with pictures). When Lister then quizzes him about space you can see Holly pull out the junior encyclopaedia of space. It’s a good gag. This is also a great Rimmer episode. His Porky Robuck story is a great Rimmer bit but also he gets to do impersonations of all of the cast when his hologram malfunctions. Chris Barrie having the time of his life out there. During S2 it became pretty apparent that Rimmer was a more interesting character and Lister’s slobbishness could only take him so far. Rimmer was written to be more complex and Barrie’s performance drove the entire show.
It’s a toss up between Queeg and Stasis Leak as to which episode is the jewel in the crown of S2. Both episodes are very effective and very funny but also return us to the status quo.
Final Rating: ****½
E6: Parallel Universe
As series 2 came to a conclusion the writers once again choose to monkey around with reality. Parallel Universe sees Holly create the “Holly Hop Drive”, which allows Red Dwarf to go anywhere. Only he miscalculates, probably because he has a problem with “7s”, and we end up in an alternative matriarchal universe.
A lot of Parallel Universe centres around how much Rimmer and even Lister dislike their female equivalents. Female Lister isn’t feminine at all and Female Rimmer treats all men like sex objects. It’s holding a mirror up to the horny personalities of the male characters and reminding them that women are people too. A concept Lister seems familiar with but one Rimmer completely isn’t. This episode shoehorns in some action for the Cat with a big song and dance number leading the episode off and his parallel universe equivalent being a dog.
None of the Parallel Universe characters really smash it other than Hilly (Hattie Hayridge) who would replace the departing Norman Lovett as the face of the ship’s computer. Lovett lived in Scotland and had become increasingly frustrated at having to travel to London for rehearsals and to Manchester for filming. Switching over to Hattie Hayridge for S3 makes sense based on her performance here.
Parallel Universe is a good idea for an episode but having Angela Bruce doing a Craig Charles impression never quite hit for me. Suzanne Bertish is better as the female Rimmer but both struggle to measure up to the series stars and that, for me, made Parallel Universe a bit of a dud compared to what it could have been.
Final Rating: ***½
S2 is better than S1. There’s no argument about that. The cast have found their feet in the roles and the writers can write better for the actors, knowing their strengths and weaknesses. There isn’t really a bad episode here. Kryten only scores lowly because of David Ross being replaced as Kryten, and more effectively, by Robert Llewellyn. S2 is the last one in greyscale as the producers managed to hire Mel Bibby to take over set design thus creating the ‘look’ of Red Dwarf that became so iconic. In spite of the improvements from S3 onwards, S2 does hold a special place for me. Better Than Life is an excellent episode. I remember debating at school as to whether we could actually be playing the game without realising it. Stasis Leak and Queeg are both top tier episodes filled with funny monologues, great gags and good storylines.