Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.
Written by Rob Grant & Doug Naylor. Directed by Ed Bye. Broadcast on BBC2.
Regulars: The same line-up as series one. Holly’s face is no longer pixellated.
Episode 1: Kryten (6 September 1988): For the first time we meet a character from outside Red Dwarf itself. They crew find an android called Kryten (David Ross), who’s living on a crashed space ship. Although he takes a while to accept the fact, his crew died a very long time ago… A consistently funny episode that hits the ground running. There’s a real confidence on show now. David Ross is good fun as the subservient, earnest Kryten.
Observations: The episode starts with a clip from a futuristic soap opera about robots called Androids. The theme tune is very Neighboursy, while Tony Slattery voices one of the characters. We see the gang’s shuttle, Blue Midget, for the first time.
Best gag: Lister, Rimmer and the Cat travel to Kryten’s ship, thinking it contains three attractive female officers. But when they arrive they learn that the women are just skeletons. Kryten – who’s deluded and thinks the girls are still alive – returns from making some tea, and Rimmer points out that the crew has died. Kryten: “My God, I was only away two minutes.”
Episode 2: Better Than Life (13 September 1988): This entertaining episode has some nice character stuff for Rimmer, who learns that his father has died. He then has to confront his bullying dad in a virtual-reality computer game the gang are playing called Better Than Life… The information about Rimmer’s childhood goes a long way to justifying why he’s such a prat.
Observations: This episode, the show’s eighth, is the first to include scenes set outdoors – albeit in a VR simulation. The production team filmed on a beach, a golf course and surrounding areas. Tony Hawks gets another role and appears on screen this time: he plays a character within the Better Than Life game. A fantasy version of Yvonne McGruder, a crewmember mentioned in series one, is played by Judy Hawkins. Rimmer’s dad is played by John Abineri. Ron Pember appears as a tax collector.
Best gag: Learning that Casablanca has been remade, Lister is outraged. “The one starring Myra Binglebat and Peter Beardsley was definitive!”
Episode 3: Thanks for the Memory (20 September 1988): Feeling sorry for Rimmer’s inadequate life, Lister decides to give him some fake memories of an exciting romance… This is a tremendous little mystery story, effectively told in flashbacks. It’s really funny and there’s no fat on it anywhere. (They never explain how Lister and the Cat wipe their own memories, however!)
Observations: Because he’s a hologram powered by the ship, when we see Rimmer on the surface of a moon he has to stand in a ‘hologramatic projection booth’ – that idea will get dropped! Blue Midget features again.
Best gag: Rimmer’s drunken confession about his only sexual experience: “Yvonne McGruder. A single, brief liaison with the ship’s female boxing champion. March the 16th. 7.31pm to 7.43pm. Twelve minutes. And that includes the time it took to eat the pizza.”
Episode 4: Stasis Leak (27 September 1988): The gang find a wormhole that allows them to travel to March 2077 – ie, three weeks before the accident that killed the crew… A fantastically structured and paced episode that both uses and mocks time-travel clichés. It ends with a surreal scene featuring three Listers, three Rimmers, the Cat and Kochanski.
Observations: The episode starts with a black-and-white flashback to 2077. In this scene – and later on when the regulars time-travel – Captain Hollister returns from series one. Kochanski and Petersen also appear. Morwenna Banks cameos as a lift stewardess. Tony Hawks voices a talking suitcase.
Best gag: The Cat repeating “What is it?” as Lister and Rimmer try to explain the stasis leak.
Episode 5: Queeg (4 October 1988): Holly’s inept management of the ship results in a back-up computer, Queeg 500, taking over. He soon puts Lister, Rimmer and the Cat through gruelling exercise drills and on meagre rations… A nice ‘bottle’ episode with a phenomenal punchline. In fact, the whole thing is a lead-up to the big woofer waiting at the end.
Observations: Charles Augins plays Queeg. It’s specified that it’s been 14 months since Lister came out of stasis. A scene where Rimmer is affected by a virus and repeats other characters’ dialogue gives Chris Barrie a chance to show off his impersonation skills.
Best gag: Holly reveals that he was pretending to be Queeg all along. “We’re talking jape of the decade. We are talking April, May, June, July *and* August fool.”
Episode 6: Parallel Universe (11 October 1988): An okay episode in which the gang travel to an alternative reality and meet other versions of themselves. Lister sleeps with his equivalent and ends up pregnant… It has some good moments, but it’s a bit one-note.
Observations: There’s no title sequence or intro from Holly. Instead we launch right into an elaborate dream sequence of the Cat’s: him, Lister, Rimmer, Holly and some sexy women performing a 1960s-ish LE song-and-dance routine on a gaudily lit stage. (The track, Tongue Tied, was later released as a Red Dwarf-branded single. It reached number 17 in October 1993.) Hattie Hayridge makes her Red Dwarf debut playing Hilly, the computer in the alternate reality. The other corresponding characters are played by Angela Bruce (as Deb Lister), Suzanne Bertish (Arlene Rimmer) and Matthew Devitt (Dog). Bruce and Bertish are very good.
Best gag: The fact that Lister would one day fall pregnant was seeded in series one. Rimmer takes great delight in reminding Lister about it, and is then gleeful when he remembers that childbirth is agony.
Best episode: Thanks For The Memory. Worst episode: Parallel Universe.
Alternative version: As with series one, all of series two was ‘remastered’ for a VHS release in the 1990s. The results were ghastly.
Review: The writers have clearly decided to break their self-imposed rule about the show being contained on the ship. Things are now opened up massively – four episodes feature the characters leaving Red Dwarf, another sees them travel through time – and there’s even some location filming. Holly also gets more to do and his solo spots (a riff on decimalising music, for example) are always really funny. These changes are a huge help. The whole run has more zip, more bite to it, than series one. Lister and Rimmer are still the leads, and Craig Charles and Chris Barrie are again superb – even though behind the scenes the actors weren’t getting on. (As well as a personality clash, Charles was unhappy with the fact Barrie was on more money.) There are no ‘difficult second album’ issues here: this set of episodes is more ambitious, more polished and generally funnier.
Nine triple-fried-egg butties with chili sauce and chutney out of 10