So here we are already, the penultimate episode of Red Dwarf XI and nobody can deny that it’s been an impressive revival for the show, one which has exceeded all expectations and delivered the best episodes fans have seen in two decades. We’ve had a bit of time-travel, the perfect double-act, beautifully written science fiction and some of the funniest moments the show has ever seen. So how can episode five stand out amongst such quality?
Creator: Doug Naylor
Staring: Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn
Run Time: 28 Minutes
After last week’s Rimmer romp, Kryten takes the spotlight in an episode which sees the mechanoid dealing with a mid-life crisis. Now, I’ve said previously that across the show’s lengthy history Robert Llewellyn has been the most consistent within the quartet in terms of quality, delivering each and every line with skill and a natural comic timing which cannot be taught. Sadly, the same cannot be said about his mechanical alter-ego’s time in the spotlight, Kryten-centric episodes have been a little hit and miss over the years. While DNA is considered a classic, a double polaroid moment that can be enjoyed again and again, Krytie TV is not. As a life-long fan of the show, enjoying each and every second of XI’s awesome revival tour, I was a little weary going into this episode.
Early on and it’s business as usual, by XI’s now bar-setting quality standard that is, opening with a good old fashioned hygiene-related gag from Lister. It’s fair to say that a big part of what makes up a mid-life crisis is nostalgia and it’s a theme played out throughout the episode from the off with a number of nods to episodes past thrown into the dialog. Realising that Kryten’s behaviour is out of the ordinary, the rest of the crew come to the conclusion that middle-age has come calling for the poor bog-bot.
With just a few minutes of screen time, this opening scene shows Dwarf at its very best; great writing, superb acting, and that fine line between comedy and serious emotion. The tirade which Kryten directs at the universe itself hints at a being’s loss of personal worth and the struggle which comes from not reaching one’s potential, and then he delivers a line about how Blackberrys go to silicon hell. When Dwarf hits that perfect balance, it’s television perfection, the last time I remember that feeling was at the conclusion of series VII’s Ouroborus when Lister finally learns who his parents are.
As the crew head after Kryten, hoping to help him through this tough time, that great double-act of Lister and the Cat returns for yet another superb back and forth, turns out that cats don’t have life regrets. Craig Charles and Danny John-Jules have been hilarious together throughout the series, looking back, in fact, every episode of XI has at least one stand-out moment which features the two deep in conversation.
Unfortunately, Kysis does suffer a brief blip in quality as Kryten’s unorthodox behaviour skyrockets into the most cringeworthy gag since Red Dwarf tried to emulate Blade Runner. Under the guise of the mech equivalent to getting a sports car, Kryten reappears dressed like one of Tony Stark’s rejects and while the Ferrari red isn’t that bad a look for the character, it’s the boy-racer gags which don’t deliver. Thankfully, Kryten’s descent into series nine territory is short-lived and before long Lister, in a brief and unexpected moment of genius, comes up with a plan to show Kryten how much he has achieved in his life by locating another mech, an inferior model, on a distant world.
As this is Red Dwarf, unsurprisingly things don’t go to plan. When they arrive on the mechs vessel it turns out he’s quite the catch. Known as Butler (one can only guess what his job was before his crew died), this series 3000 mechanoid has dedicated his solitude to improving himself through the arts and science, much to the dismay of both Kryten and Lister. Taking a step back for the majority of this episode, Chris Barrie’s Rimmer sees another opportunity to get a decent new crew member – you’d think after the recent incident with Snacky and the past mistakes of Legion, that this guy would learn.
Trollied star Dominic Coleman is superb as Butler, his innate innocent and likeable charm shining through the three inches of make-up and a pseudo-American accent with ease. Retrospectively thinking about it, he would definitely have been high on my list for a guest part in Dwarf, so to actually see that is a treat. What’s great about his appearance is that he’s probably the first guest star since Timothy Spall’s Back to Reality cameo to get so many of the laughs, trying to teach Kryten the local GELF dialect being high up there for laugh out loud moments.
As the crew takes their leave of Butler, and with Kryten lower than ever, the story takes a very different direction, bordering on the “too silly, even by Red Dwarf standards”, as the crew come across a space station created by a group of scientists who believed the Universe to be a sentient being. I’ve said many times throughout this series’ run that the science fiction element has been both intelligent and interesting, this, on the other hand, is just mental Futurama-style sci-fi.
Though, if I’m honest, I would expect the universe to sound like Morgan Freeman if it was alive.
As the story reaches its conclusion with Kryten realising that there are things worth living for, it’s difficult to look back over the 30 minutes and not feel that the episode has let down Kryten a little bit. I’m not talking about the story quality, the laughs or the acting, just purely the fact that this sanitation droid has gotten the crew about of more scrapes than Scotty has beamed up Kirk, he deserves a little more credit. That said, however, this is a story about his own self-worth and how a mid-life crisis has taken that away from him, so maybe that disservice was intentional, whatever the case, the episode does leave you feeling for the mech.
Despite a few missteps, Krysis still delivers another great episode of Red Dwarf and ensures the continued success of what is set to go down as the best series in twenty years. This story touches on a number of different areas, pushing the boundaries like the Dwarf of old and forcing the viewer into a far more engaging story than just a mechanoid who’s gone a bit silly with age, this episode could have gone so wrong, but it didn’t.
While there’s plenty of laughter throughout, Krysis falls a little short of the mark compared to Officer Rimmer, which to be fair is far from a criticism given just how funny that episode was. It also doesn’t quite match up against Give and Take for excellent science fiction, but again I think it’ll be some time before Red Dwarf hits those heights again. So where does this episode fit in?
It doesn’t, and that’s its greatest strength, it’s something completely different from the rest of the series so far, delivering that rare combination of emotion and sci-fi comedy that Red Dwarf does so well. I’d be surprised if this episode tops anyone’s list for best of the series, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great episode in its own right.