Well, it was nice to finally get back into the swing of writing about pop music and stuff, but now it’s time to return to what this blog started out with: talking ’bout Red Dwarf.
Red Dwarf II, episode 1: “Kryten”
Written by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor; originally transmitted 6th September 1988.
The first episode of the second series starts on a strange note: no sign of Lister, Rimmer or Cat, we’re instead greeted with the sight of a stranded ship. Inside, a strange android with very human features watches a dodgy old television screen in wonder. As far as I’m aware this is the first genuine affirmation, on Red Dwarf‘s part, of any sort of life, artificial or otherwise, in the universe apart from the crew and the various AI that exists on the ship. As we get further into this series and the show, you’ll start to notice this bleak, isolated universe getting a little more crowded, presumably because Grant and Naylor were running out of things to do with just the three leads. Some have complained about this, particularly in regards to the rather-crowded universe of Red Dwarf X, but I think it adds a touch of warmth to the coldness and emptiness of deep space to just have a few more heads to bash against.
We then head back to Red Dwarf, where Rimmer is once again learning Esperanto with the help of a rather fetching educational programme. As is common with much of early Red Dwarf the episode (and the comedy) is dominated by long scenes of bickering between Lister and Rimmer, and later Holly. Art college and a new musical scale are added to the list of rambling conversations that have no relevance to the plot, but are funny to listen to regardless. That said, plot-wise there’s surprisingly little to say about “Kryten” – which is fine, because it means the situation doesn’t get in the way of the comedy (unlike in later series, but we’ll get there in due time).
It does mean I’m going to speed-run through the plot for a moment, though: they soon get a distress call from the stranded ship, the Nova 5. The android, announcing himself as Kryten, pleads for help, stating that the ship has had an accident, the male officers have died and the female officers are injured but stable. Of course, the randy boys from the Dwarf hear “female officers” and jump to the rescue. They board the Nova 5, only to be met with this:
Of course, we already know the crewmates are dead thanks to an earlier scene, so there’s a lovely, albeit brief dramatic irony to be had watching these guys still dressed to impressed. Of course, they eventually do find out and… well, I just have to say, this scene is absolutely wonderful and one of my personal all-time favourites, in spite of – no, actually, because of its macabre nature. Red Dwarf has always had a flippant attitude towards death and this scene might be the pinnacle of it. Everything clicks together so well: the look on Rimmer’s faceas he comes out of his bow, Lister keeping his promise to big up “Ace”, Kryten’s complete lack of awareness of his mistresses’ fates… not to mention some wonderful lines for Chris Barrie to spit out. I have to add, too, that as iconic as Robert Llewelyn’s Kryten is, David Ross does a tremendous job of setting up the little quirks that Llewelyn would run with, particularly that jittery C-3PO walk.
It’s quite late into the episode that the plot starts to tackle Kryten’s existential angst: with his owners dead, Kryten has nobody left to serve and, as serving others is his sole purpose, he finds himself lost. For an episode focused on a robot, “Kryten” has some wonderful moments of human despair: the moment where he asks “what am I going to do” as the scene simply fades into the next, without a joke or quip from the Red Dwarf crew, is really moving and perfectly delivered by David Ross. But the question stands: who will he serve now his old crew are gone?
Enter Rimmer. Because of course.
So Kryten takes on the new role of Rimmer’s… maid, I guess. Rimmer, being the narky rankophile he is, naturally sees this as Kryten doing what he was built to do, but Lister isn’t impressed. Kryten starts discussing his dreams about one day escaping his servitude and having a garden to himself that he can look after and watch grow – something he did. This is quite a nice, tender moment (and rendered utterly sad by how he eventually ended up) that provokes Lister to encourage him to rebel against Rimmer. A scene later it seems Kryten has ignored Lister’s advice and is still pandering to Rimmer’s every need, even painting a portrait of the man. Of course, in a not-unexpected twist that I’m still not going to spoil too much, Kryten does turn his back on his serving ways. Although there is a carthasis to be felt on the mechanoid’s part the real pleasure of this scene comes, as usual, from watching Rimmer’s micro-tyranny being thoroughly up-ended. His prim bedsheets stained and the portrait he sat for revealed to be nothing more than a simple mockery, Rimmer is left humiliated and paralysed with quiet, hilarious rage as Kryten rides off into the sun, never to be seen again.
Or so we thought. But that’s another story.
Admittedly the pace to this episode is strange: the theme of rebellion is a bit rushed and probably should have been hinted at earlier on. Overall it’s a bit of a strange opener, introducing a new character instead of reintroducing the key dynamic by focusing on Lister and Rimmer, but the comedy is classic Red Dwarf: dark, irreverent and goofy. Also, maybe this is hindsight talking, but it seems as if the writers already knew they weren’t quite done with this character yet, so they don’t go as far as they could have with him while leaving his fate deliberately ambiguous – we never do see him ride off. Of course, he did, and later on they find him… but again, I’m getting ahead of myself.
“Kryten”, then – a flawed episode, but one that serves to introduce a classic character and brings with it some terrific laughs to boot. That’ll do to kick off the series, methinks. Back to the tri viroj next week, though.
SOME OTHER SMEG
- This episode, as I mentioned above, was first transmitted 6th September 1988, less than six months after the first broadcast of “Me2”. That is an impressive turnaround on Grant & Naylor’s part. Beat that, Mrs Brown’s Boys.
- Nice send-up of Neighbours with Androids. I wonder if Futurama took any influence from this for their own robot soap opera, All My Circuits?
- It’s interesting that Lister picks up on Esperanto quicker than Rimmer does. Obvious this means Rimmer is not as clever as he thinks – which would be impossible – but it also subtly indicates that there’s more going on in Lister’s mind than he or anyone else would think. A lesser sitcom would probably have dredged an entire episode out of that premise.
- Rimmer’s pronunciation of “purchase.”
- Anyone else notice that Holly’s new and revised musical scale misses out “I”?
- More on Rimmer’s obsession with aliens.
- Again, Cat gets next to nothing to do in this episode – but you knew that already.
- Don’t touch the milk. Also, probably my favourite bit in the episode.
- Did the female officers all die at the table, then, or did Kryten move them there? Given the way he attempts to make them eat their soup, I’d guess the latter.
- Some great physical comedy from Craig Charles with Lister getting dressed.
- I never realised this before, but doesn’t David Ross’ Kryten sound an awful lot like Freddie Mercury when he speaks?
- Quite the gesture there from Kryten at the end. What time did this air again?