Shiny Shelf

Red Dwarf II

By Jim Smith on 11 February 2003

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

The second season of ‘Red Dwarf’ sees the show hit its peak as out and out sitcom. Grant and Naylor’s writing has visibly matured since the previous series and, still working within budget restrictions similar to those of the first six episodes, they concentrate their increasing skills on the characters and dialogue. The result is, on the whole, richly comic, character heavy TV.

Season opener ‘Kryten’ is the weakest of the bunch, and features an oddly irritating performance from David Ross as the eponymous robot. Scenes of Lister and Rimmer preparing independently, and in their own ways, for a night out ‘on the pull’ are amusing, but there’s little substance to the humour, some of which falls a bit flat. ‘Better Than Life’ though, is a stormer. A strong central conceit (a virtual reality computer game) is paired off with Rimmer’s horror at discovering that his Father is dead. The screenplay uses the complexity and absurdity of the overwhelming nature of grief effectively. Of course Rimmer’s father is dead, everyone he’s ever known has been dead for three million years. Indeed, he himself is a computer simulation of a dead man, but receiving a letter informing him that his father died shortly before he himself did brings all this home. It’s a sad, clever and funny half hour of TV, one of the series’ very best ever and Chris Barrie’s performance is complex strangely moving.

‘Thanks For The Memory’ is another excellent script, one that offers the ‘triple fried egg sandwich with chilli sauce and chutney’ to the culture of the English speaking world, and gives us the sight of Chris Barrie virtually putting his whole fist in his mouth. The characters have by this point become more complex, with Lister and Rimmer’s banter less tinged with genuine hatred and moving towards something resembling a twisted affection. The plot was later comprehensively ripped off for a ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ episodes entitled ‘Clues’, y’know. And remember, if you’ve had your appendix out twice then there’s probably something wrong with your, memory, yeah?

‘Stasis Leak’ is almost equally strong with a d?nouement that the series, despite running for a long time, never went back to. The final scene is exceptional, and again Chris Barrie rises to the challenge and presents us with subtly different versions of Rimmer in different time zones. Watching him here you can’t work out where it all went wrong. Oh, yes you can. It was called ‘The Brittas Empire’ a series so crass it robbed this actor of his considerable powers of subtlety and understatement. CP Grogan’s Kochanski turns up for a reunion, as do Captain Hollister (Mac MacDonald) and Petersen (the now very famous Mark Williams) who gets all the best lines ‘Felicitations, beautiful ladies, my name is Olaf Petersen, I am very good in bed’)

‘Queeg’ is an underrated episode, better than virtually all those which followed it, and it features a strong, amusing performance as the central villain by Charles Augin. Incorporating bits of the song ‘Do Not Forsake Me Oh! My Darling’ from John Ford’s ‘My Darling Clementine’ this too mixes in sentiment and seriousness with the humour and the scenes leading up to Holly’s ‘execution’ are genuinely touching. Altogether now, ‘April, May, June, July and August fool…’

‘Parallel Universe’ brings various plot threads that have been running on and off since Season One’s ‘Future Echoes’ to a conclusion, and also offers us the delights of Rimmer singing ‘Follow The Yellowbrick’ and the Cat showboating ‘Tongue Tied’ a ludicrously epic song and dance number that has to be seen to be believed. And then seen again immediately afterwards. Angela Bruce features as a female Lister from the eponymous parallel universe, and Hattie Hayridge’s female version of Holly (kind of) makes her debut. The comic cliffhanger ending is a doozy too.

Extras include twenty minutes of deleted scenes, some of which are quite amusing, the gag reel (okay, okay ’smeg ups’ shudder), vintage TV trailers (so, so long ago) and an interview with Doug Naylor. Best of all though, is the uncut version of ‘Tongue Tied’ the Cat’s song and dance routine from ‘Parallel Universe’.

As noted in my review of season one, when ‘Red Dwarf’ was at its best it wasn’t the series the show’s producers wanted to make. This, perversely, means that this, the finest season is presumably the one they’re least happy with. For me, the only sadness is in knowing what comes later.

The second season of ‘Red Dwarf’ is that of a clever, emotionally literate and slightly twisted sitcom which is missing real greatness by, to quote its protagonist, “the narrowest of narrow margins”. The next few releases in this series are going to allow all of us to watch that margin grow and grow and grow.

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