After a somewhat bumpy ride onto television, Red Dwarf had made a huge impact in its first series. The second series had already been commissioned before the first series had finished its run, it had gained considerable viewing figures of around 5 million (probably roughly the equivalent of around 2.5 million these days).
However, Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, Red Dwarf’s creators and sole writers, were ever the perfectionists… despite all the iconic moments and the overall success of the first series, they made the decision to ask the BBC not to repeat the first series. Reflecting on this years later Doug remarked, this had been the right thing to do, whilst Rob said “there’s an old saying, never judge a series until its tenth episode”. Series II, broadcast in 1988, consisting of six episodes:
‘Better Than Life’
‘Thanks for The Memory’
Rob and Doug’s quest to make Red Dwarf the best it could be was helped by a new, slightly bigger budget, which allowed for more guest stars. There were two characters in particular that lit up the second series, namely Queeg and Kryten.
The introduction of Kryten was something of a bone of contention between the two writers. Rob Grant was reluctant to introduce a robot, feeling that it was all a bit “predictable” for a sci-fi sitcom, a bit too retro 50s, but Doug managed to convince him that for one episode having a robot would be a good move for the show, especially as they’d written themselves into a bit of a corner with their initial ‘no monsters or aliens rule’. Rob and Doug had previously worked with David Ross on another project and they cast him as the very first Kryten.
A lot of the Red Dwarf cast and crew have remarked that the episode ‘Kryten’ became a massive turning point for the show, Chris Barrie in particular recalled the ‘skeleton reveal’ as a moment when he realised that they were onto something pretty special – undoubtedly, it was a classic scene. At the recording of the episode, the cast and crew tried their utmost to keep the big reveal a secret right until the last second in order to record the audience’s initial surprised reaction.
Unfortunately, and to the despair of Red Dwarf producer Paul Jackson, a technical glitch meant that the curtain came up on the set too early, so the true initial reaction of the audience wasn’t captured on the laughter track. Nonetheless, the reveal, coupled with the immortal line "I’ve only been away two minutes" became another iconic moment and an important landmark in Red Dwarf history.
The buzz of excitement around David Ross’s guest appearance was felt throughout the entire production, the only thing that stopped him becoming the permanent Kryten was a show in the West End he was starring in that coincided with the filming of Red Dwarf III. Ross later remarked that although he loved the experience, he struggled enormously with the claustrophobia of Kryten’s suit. It’s funny to think that somewhere there’s a parallel universe where Robert Llewellyn never became the man in the rubber mask! And speaking of parallel universes…
The mission to survey Red Dwarf fans and find the best and worst episodes - Ganymede and Titan’s Pearl Poll found that ‘Parallel Universe’ was the lowest ranked episode of series II. This was an episode that the cast and crew reflected on years later as being quite dated, despite some excellent scenes between Cat and ‘Dog’ “I could smell you if you were on mars!” and the classic Tongue Tied routine.
Tongue Tied itself has an interesting journey all of its own. Rob and Doug wrote the song as an offhand gag with the chorus being incomprehensible, because the singer was literally tongue tied.
However, when Red Dwarf’s composer, Howard Goodall, put some music to the lyrics, Danny John Jules felt inspired to turn the whole thing into a funky, all-singing, all-dancing, show tune. The routine was choreographed by Charles Augins who played Queeg. Danny later released Tongue Tied as a single and it actually reached 17 on the official UK chart.
Talking of Queeg and going back to Ganymede and Titan’s Pearl Poll, Queeg was not just considered the best episode of series II, but also the fifth greatest Red Dwarf episode of all time! I would personally say, although it’s tough to beat ‘Back To Reality’ that as far as classic comedy goes Queeg is the greatest episode of Red Dwarf.
The Queeg episode came together by chance, Norman Lovett had repeatedly requested a Holly episode and after the first series ended, Danny John Jules had brought his mentor and friend Charles Augins, to the Red Dwarf wrap party dinner, Rob and Doug got on well with him, and set about writing a part for Charles. Surprisingly, the episode’s big reveal ("We are talking May, June, July and August fool") wasn’t planned. Rob and Doug wrote the plot up until Holly lost the chess match and had no clue how to finish the episode. The now classic conclusion was relatively last minute, but weirdly, Queeg might actually be one of the finest plotted sitcom episodes of all-time, albeit accidentally.
But what of the two characters at the heart of series II, Rimmer and Lister? ‘Thanks For The Memory’ and ‘Better Than Life’ explored their unique ‘double act’ in more dramatic detail, not something that is done that often in sitcoms, yet works well here, especially during the scene inside the observation deck in ‘Better Than Life’ – the music score is excellent in that scene too. Rimmer’s confused grief as he talks about his father is interesting yet not overplayed. But nothing really ever gets too heartfelt, Rimmer and Lister still wish they could be trapped in deep space with almost anybody else, and maintain a mutual understanding that they could never truly enjoy each other’s company because Lister’s a bum and Rimmer’s such a smeg head.
As far as change goes, there wasn’t much between series I and II. The sets did get a bit less grey and the boys actually left the ship a few times, especially in the episode ‘Better Than Life’ – where paradise was in fact a freezing cold beach in Rhyl.
The plots were even more challenging than in series I, both technically and in terms of bold storytelling. ‘Stasis Leak’ was so complicated to film that most of the cast were apparently left scratching their heads. The thing that series II did brilliantly was fine tune what had been established in the first series, push ideas further and cement Red Dwarf as a classic sitcom, producing in my view, two truly iconic sitcom episodes, Kryten and Queeg.
Next time it’s all change, as Hattie takes over as Holly and Robert Llewellyn finally joins the posse, until then smeg heads!
Information collected from the Body Snatcher documentaries and Ganymede and Titan.
Originally posted on The Comedy Blog
Written by Rhianna Evans