Every so often, a TV show will do something extraordinary, it will nail everything in an episode without fault, surprise its viewers and ultimately create what will go on to become one of its most iconic moments. Red Dwarf has a few of them from its lengthy history. Among them, series 6’s Gunmen of the Apocalypse, an episode beloved by many, but now a new contender may be joining that prestigious list, Siliconia.
Creator: Doug Naylor
Staring: Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn
Run Time: 28 Minutes
While recovering Lister’s guitar following an airlock ‘accident’ a few years back, the crew and Starbug are abducted by a ship populated entirely by series 4000 mechanoids. Furious with the way humanity has treated their kind, they have banded together and created the “Mechanoids Intergalactic Liberation Front”, MILF for short.
As the MILF attempt to convince Kryten that the crew has had him enslaved (somewhat convincingly, for the most part), they also have a unique punishment in store for biological members of the crew; transferring their minds into mech bodies to work off the debt owed to Kryten in chores.
Red Dwarf is already enjoying its best stint in two decades, Siliconia is something special. From the moment the opening credits end until “It’s cold outside…”, every one of the 28 minutes runtime is used brilliantly. In fact, if there was a fault to be found here, it is solely on the fact that fans will be left wanting more from this one-off premise. The episode leaves you with the impression that even if Naylor had made this a feature-length episode, the full scope of his vision still wouldn’t have been realised.
Yet again, it’s those fan-pleasing throwbacks to Dwarf of old which accentuate the story as not only does the fabled Ohm song get a notable mention, but the unique premise also gives us the perfect reversal of the “double-polaroid” as Lister, Rimmer, and Cat find themselves as well endowed as a Ken doll. The titular Siliconia also has roots in Dwarf lore, with a number of parallels to the often mentioned Silicon Heaven, the former being something on an Eden to the mechs. The most notable reference to the past ties in brilliantly with the overall theme, Lister helping Kryten break his programming, expect a “smeeeee heeeedddd” to have you in stitches.
Siliconia screams quality in every aspect, being the first episode to really show off what a larger budget can do for the series in the post-BBC era. Since series 3/4, the show has always done a fantastic job of creating wonderful-looking sets, but the MILF ship designers and lighting team deserve extra praise for what they’ve achieved here. Add to that the same high-quality CGI work we’ve seen in recent years and even before you get to the writing, they’re onto a winner.
Speaking of which, funny would be an understatement, it’s Red Dwarf at its comedic peak. Every joke nailed perfectly, every insult delivered with impeccable timing. Aside from the obvious recurring MILF joke and many, many head-shape related quips, it’s Kryten’s shipmates that provide the best laughs. Chris Barrie gets the opportunity to bring one of his best talents to the screen once more with his near-perfect impression of Kryten as the newly mech’ed guys start to lose their humanity. Much like many of the episodes from the last year, though, there is still room to get a few real-world truths in, this week it’s the mobile phone industry which takes the hit, as we discover that only mechs with the latest OS updates are welcome in the MILF.
Similarly, the visual aspect of the comedy is just as well thought out and delivered. Starbug having always been a little low-tech by sci-fi standards doesn’t come equipped with a tractor beam. Instead, we get a claw, not unlike those arcade machines that see frantic parents attempting to grab the toy their child has spotted through the glass to no avail. Another highlight is how Cat’s intelligence is questioned once more, with the brain transfer sequence providing one of the many clever gags of the episode.
The supporting cast is out in force during this episode, you’ve got to feel sorry for the make-up department given the numbers, but while many of them are simply pottering around in the background, those who interact with the main cast do so brilliantly. The highlight of the guest actors is James Buckley (Zapped, The Inbetweeners) as one of the outdated models working below decks. Despite not getting much screentime, his appearance should be well received by Dwarf fans, his ability to deliver his own brand of “life’s a bit rubbish, but I’ll get on with it” attitude is perfect for the role.
This is also one of the few episodes of recent times where all of the main cast get an equal share of the jokes and screentime, it says a lot about the quality of the story in general given the entire premise really centers around Kryten. Yet each member of the Dwarf crew has room to shine.
Overall, Sicilonia is the best episode of modern Red Dwarf by a long shot and I’d be surprised (and in awe) if any of the upcoming episodes of XII surpass it for sheer quality. That’s no criticism of Dwarf as a whole, quite the opposite, XII’s episode two is simply the best of what Red Dwarf’s team set out to achieve. You may disagree, but in this writer’s opinion, it will be hard to top.
Red Dwarf XII episode two will be broadcast on Thursday, October 19 on Dave TV in the UK. You can, however, watch the show early via UKTV Play. You can also keep up to date on all things Read Dwarf on our Red Dwarf page.
- Quality in everything, from the performances and writing to the sets and lighting
- All four cast members get their share of the screentime and jokes
- Great story, brought to life brilliantly with the help of a huge supporting cast. Who doesn’t want a ship of series 4000’s? Spin-off maybe?
- I WANT MORE!