Red Dwarf II, episode 5: “Queeg”
Written by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor; originally transmitted 4th October 1988.
Holly’s computer senility causes Red Dwarf to collide with a meteor, forcing the system to replace him with backup software Queeg 500. The crew largely welcome the change until Queeg’s extremely strict regime forces them to reconsider how much Holly means to them, leading to a duel to the death between the two programs.
What do I think of it?
“Queeg” is considered a favourite among fans and it’s not hard to see why. Up until now this is probably the biggest spotlight Holly had ever been given in an episode; come to think of it I can’t think of an episode afterwards where Holly is at the centre of proceedings this much either. As a result we get some interesting themes of mutiny, friendship, ageism and the quiet value of the less prominent members of our social groups, specifically the huge unspoken importance the senile Holly has in the day-to-day lives of the crew. It also showcases the tight group dynamic of the cast: when one member is displaced or replaced, the entire system is disrupted and they have to work to restore it. Useful viewing material for any budding dramatist or comic writer.
The episode has a lot of fun throwing its characters out of their comfort zones. Rimmer, as usual, is undone by his own hubris as Queeg calls his bluff on the exercise routine he supposedly maintains but never actually carries out (due to Holly “conveniently” forgetting to wake him up early enough), which leads to Queeg taking control of Rimmer’s holographic body and forcing him to run laps around the ship even after Rimmer passes out from exhaustion. The image of an unconscious Rimmer being forced to jog around, body pounding away as his thoughtless head lies slumped on his own shoulder, is a recurring delight. As for Cat, naturally his biggest problem is not being able to take as much food as he wants and, for once in the series, we actually get to see Cat working, kneeling on the floor alongside Lister as they scrub it clean with their spit. Possibly my favourite moment in the entire episode comes with Lister’s dinnertime as he laments the loss of the single pea he earned for his hard work (though at least he gets to eat his toast). Queeg pushes these characters to the brink of sanity and it’s a dark, delicious treat to watch.
Not surprisingly, this has been quoted as the favourite episode of Norman Lovett, who played Holly for these first two series (as well as series 8). This might just be his best episode as well: Lovett does a great job here of coming across as sympathetic and quietly tragic without ever dropping his mildly amused deadpan tone. That he does it all as a head against a black backdrop should also be pointed out and commended (as should his retiree get-up, which is simply adorable). Charles Augins also gives an excellently straight-faced and intense guest performance as the tyrannical Queeg. Fun fact, though: Augins was initially brought in to choreograph the “Tongue Tied” sequence from the following episode, “Parallel Universe,” which… you know, let’s leave that one for the next review.
Eventually we get to the final confrontation between Holly and Queeg which, surprisingly, is actually pretty tense. It turns out to be a game of chess which, given the game Holly was playing with that other computer in “Better Than Life”, you could argue had been foreshadowed to an extent. However, given that Rimmer was playing checkers earlier in the game you’d think the writers would have gone for a bit of dramatic neatness and have the final game be the same as the game played at the episode’s start. Then again, dramatic neatness was never really Red Dwarf‘s bag, and as the duel is a battle of wits then checkers isn’t really the right game (they could have had Rimmer playing chess instead, but that comical shot of his cornered piece wouldn’t have worked). The final twist is quite tasty. too, and genuinely threw me on first viewing, though I’d argue that the episode works on repeat viewings even when you can see where it’s going because the plot, humour and characterisation are just spot-on throughout. Definitely a standout episode of series 2. Peace out, suckas!
Some stray smeg:
- It’s a bitter disappointment that we never get to see those singing potatoes in action.
- What, Robert Hardy himself?
- The damage to the damage report machine making it unable to assess the damage reminds me of that bizarre network centre troubleshooter in Windows 7 that can never actually figure out your internet problems because it always has to connect to the internet for it to work. Probably a good sign that we shouldn’t put too much faith in technology.
- Chris Barrie gets another opportunity to show off his impressive impersonation skills as the system malfunctions and he finds himself possessed by the personalities of several crew members, including Lister and Cat. His Craig Charles is impeccable.
- “Smart shoes” might have been a literal joke in 1988, but in a modern world so lazy we now have shoes that lace themselves, you just know someone somewhere is developing ones that do your walking for you too. They’ll probably have stock updates and a Twitter app to boot (pun not intended).