Red Dwarf XII: 2 “Siliconia” Review
Reviewed by Ryan Monty.
(This review continues spoilers. Read on if that doesn’t bother you!)
One of the most exciting teases for Red Dwarf Series XII was a released photo of the cast in the same painstakingly created Kryten costumes that Robert Llewellyn has worn/suffered over his time in the show since his Series III arrival taking over from first Kryten actor David Ross. And only two episodes into Series XII we’re finally treated to the fruits of their (surely incredibly time-consuming, especially for the make-up department!) labour, with Siliconia, as the Boys from the Dwarf get a taste of what life is like on the other side.
Siliconia has been touted as the most expensive Red Dwarf episode ever made, and it’s easy to see why. Last year’s Series XI (and Series X before that) had some superb sets and production work for sure, but the level of visuals on display here in everything from the CG to the models to the Kryten costumes themselves are exceptional. With a beautiful shot of the vastness of space with Lister’s guitar floating through space (which initially looks like a spaceship, in a moment evoking Star Wars tendency to have scale shots like this within their opening moments, brilliantly flipped on its head here) leading into Starbug being abducted aboard a gigantic Close Encounters-esque mothership to kickstart the plot, the ambition alone of Siliconia is to be applauded.
Despite all the (expertly realised) bells and whistles surrounding this episode, the story itself is a simple one- what if Lister, Rimmer and the Cat found themselves suddenly on the other side of the fence and living out the existence and the tasks that they take Kryten for advantage of? After another typical Dwarf scene of the others taking advantage of Kryten’s supposed servitude, including perhaps Lister’s laziest ever moment- an inability to turn around on a sofa to get himself a beer in fear he might pull something- gives you a good sense of why Krytie might just find himself at last finished with their antics and taking him for granted, especially when they are immediately arrested aboard the mothership (home to the Mechanoid Intergalactic Liberation Front- you know what it spells for short), Kryten finds himself immediately coveted and the other Dwarfers find themselves mind-swapped into mechanoid bodies of their own.
This fiendishly clever premise allows for some very funny subversions of the character formulas of the show, appropriate in an episode that has more than a few call-backs for better or worse (mostly for better). The main story call back that Siliconia indulges in is one involving Kryten’s first major character arc, of breaking his programming. The scene of Lister telling Kryten to lie way back in Series IV’s Camille is the stuff of legend, and while it’s referenced directly in terms of dialogue (“It’s a pair of golf slacks!” proudly proclaims Kryten, pointing at a pen) it’s more suitably referenced in the story itself, as breaking programming becomes the pressing matter as the Dwarfers begin to lose their individuality to their subservient mechanoid programming. Siliconia manages to present narrative decisions that surprise and are genuinely emotional also, with Rimmer undergoing his most interesting change since the climactic episode of Series X as he realises that maybe his life would be more contented as a mechanoid with a simpler purpose, unafflicted by the neuroses, or his “Rimmering”. As he compares his new self to a fish, it’s moving to watch him finally at peace as he admits that “thinking causes all the pain”.
Aboard the ship of the MILF, the set design is sublime, a true mechanoid paradise with plenty for Kryten to be tempted by. Away from the production design, the sheer amount of mech costumes created for Siliconia truly sell the pitch of a ship filled with liberated mechanoids in search of the promised land, with countless residents on board. The masks of the main Dwarfers are incredibly expressive, allowing each character to still express themselves perfectly (and hilariously) through their new costumes, making it even more funny and shocking as they begin to adopt Kryten’s mannerisms, with a standout Chris Barrie Kryten impression that’s almost as good as Llewellyn’s own performance finally making a return. The ship feels extremely lived-in, helped by the standout scene of the episode, as Kryten attends a” slave robot survivors” group therapy meeting, where a group of ridiculously named mechanoids led by Marcus Garvey’s mech “Excalibur” discuss their menial and often disgusting tasks. It’s gratifying and highly entertaining to see Kryten initially deny all the truths of his servitude throughout the episode’s runtime and slowly realising his own value (although a version that has been twisted by those in charge on the mothership). Watching Llewellyn’s anger bubble over is always a Dwarf highlight no matter the context!
Although not as rare as Cat-focused episodes, Kryten episodes are still sparse and often hit (Krysis) or miss (Krytie TV), but Siliconia is not only consistently funny, it’s also the strongest character focus Kryten has had since maybe even Series III’s The Last Day, as he is presented with the perfect opportunity to call out his Dwarf crew, especially in the support group scene as he comes to terms truly with their laziness and his own plight. The story’s eventual crescendo, as mech-Lister and Kryten fight it out in a gladiatorial style combat arena (to clean each other) as Lister pleads with Kryten before succumbing himself to his mech programming, is as charged and energetic as Dwarf has been in a while, with the wonderful direction from Doug Naylor providing a cinematic feel that contributes to the emotions on display with terrific performances from both Craig Charles and Llewellyn.
It’s never less than fascinating to see the social hierarchy of the Red Dwarf posse flipped on its head in whatever form, and Lister’s journey especially is fantastic, from typical lazy bum to desperate friend. He even gets his own “smee hee” to cap off his journey of discovery of how the other half lives. Of course, this being Red Dwarf, Kryten was never going to stay aboard the MILF mission, and it’s revealed that their “perfect” mission is another but, with their own social class system and superior hierarchy established with some grunts who do menial tasks down below deck (including James Buckley, who is sadly underused).
As Lister pleads to Kryten near episode close and finally changes his mind, they both begin to understand their own friendship and place in the crew. It’s ironic that despite becoming a “free” mech aboard the new ship, he’s lost the true individuality that made him Kryten, despite doing the “smeggy jobs”. The climax of the episode promises another potential dynamic change in the crew, with Lister and Kryten now greater aware of the others feelings, and a hopefully fairer relationship between the two that allows Kryten to be regarded as even more than just science officer, cook, and Lister’s mum- but as an equal friend of all the Dwarfers.
Siliconia is proof that Red Dwarf cannot just stay highly comedic in its new era, but also that it can continue to provide character development and new story ideas that keep the show feeling fresh and buoyant. Not every episode will have a budget this large for sure, but I’m very happy that an episode on this scale decides to add new twists and plot dynamics to the story, zeroing in on one of the most interesting relationships on the show, of Kryten and Lister, rather than focusing purely on grandeur and showing off. That said, any episode that has a “clean off” at its climax is always going to rank as rather classic Dwarf.