Evolution of... Kryten's Costumes

The latest article in our design retrospective series

In the lead-up to Red Dwarf X, we're taking a nostalgic trip through the design elements of the show from Series I through to Back to Earth. This month, our thoughts turn to everyone's favourite service mechanoid...

We've done the easy ones. We've looked at the various outfits worn by Lister and Rimmer over the last two decades of Red Dwarf. You probably thought, however, that we wouldn't be able to get a detailed feature out of Kryten - a character who has, essentially, retained the same basic design over the years with just subtle tweaks in detail each time? Well, you've underestimated us, sirs and ma'ams.

In fact, there's plenty to dicuss when it comes to Kryten's look - yes, he's always been a humanoid robot, with an angular flesh-coloured head and a predominantly metallic black body. But the subtle changes in approach to suiting up Robert Llewellyn (and David Ross) over the years reflect both the changing production styles and techniques of the behind-the-scenes crew, and the shifts in the character's own role on the programme.

Originally intended, of course, as only a one-off character, the outfit worn by David Ross served a very specific purpose: as a service droid, Kryten naturally wore the outfit of a butler. The black tuxedo, however, was rendered in a deliberately artificial-looking manner - whether intentionally or not, this gave the character an endearingly "cheap" feel.

More crucial to Kryten's look, however, was the head - the work of the late Peter Wragg, and the makeup department's Bethan Jones. It would have been very easy for Red Dwarf to go down the "Data from Star Trek" route - Brent Spiner's famous android having first appeared on screens a year earlier - and put the actor in simple face paint to suggest a robotic form. Instead, however, the unique angular nature of Kryten's head was both instantly "mechanical" and yet showed identifiably human traits. The part-latex, part-foam mask didn't fit perfectly first time - but the basic design was excellent, with potential for improvement should Rob and Doug ever decide to bring the character back…

Click image to enlarge. Photograph courtesy Paul Grant

The casting of Robert Llewellyn to replace the unavailable Ross in the now-permanent role as of Series III presented an obvious opportunity for a redesign - yet at the same time, even if the same actor had been retained, keeping Kryten in a butler's outfit would have felt inappropriate given his new role as an equal crew member rather than a servant. Explained away in the series-opening scrolling text as the result of being rebuilt by Lister after a space-bike accident, Kryten's new body had a more conventionally android feel - with a chunky torso piece and assorted limb segments over a metallic-fabric base. A circular "chest monitor" (actually closer to his stomach!), meanwhile, served plot purposes in Backwards and became a defining part of the overall look.

Click image to enlarge. Photograph courtesy Paul Grant

The new head mask was a drastic improvement over the Series II version. The hours spent by Robert in make-up on each day of filming paid off as Kryten was given a face that was truly expressive - yet on a head with a much more tangibly solid feel, emphasising his mechanical nature. It's rare that such a striking design classic should be hit upon so instantly - but the fact that the basic mask design would remain the same while so much of Red Dwarf's visual identity changed is testament to just how classic and iconic it was.

Click image to enlarge

Kryten's costume remained largely the same between Series III, IV and V, with only the odd tweak here and there - often simply for the sake of Robert's comfort as much as anything. It was with the general overhaul at the beginning of Series VI, however, that we saw the first major changes to the costume since his full-time introduction. Having found himself wearing a significantly more comfortable mask - although the costume itself looked disappointingly cheap and simple - during the production of Red Dwarf USA, Robert was pleased that the Series VI mask followed suit.

Click images to enlarge

But more significantly than that, the main costume was designed to allow him a lot more comfort as well. There was more flexibility and articulation, despite the fact that the more realistic-looking limbs now consisted of fully-enclosing individual segments. The torso and chest monitor were smaller, fitting in much better proportion. The hoops that divided each arm and leg joint suggested flashy hydraulics, while the paint job became shinier and more metallic. Topped off with natty multicoloured LEDs on each shoulder, here was a droid with style.

Click images to enlarge

It's unsurprising that this excellent revamped design was carried over, in the main, to Series VII - albeit with a few further tweaks. The chest monitor (actually used as such again, for the first time in years) changed from a flat disc to something with a bit more definition, while an unusual alteration to the mask saw the angular lines clearly marked in a slightly lighter colour. The biggest change, however, was in the paint job - although it still retained a metallic black hue in ship-based light, in location and outdoor footage it looked almost entirely silver. Indeed, Series VII saw the outfit go through multiple colour schemes for the first time - with a gold alternate-universe version popping up in Ouroboros, before the same outfit was painted green for use as Kryten's twin brother Abel in Beyond a Joke.

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Perhaps realising that the silvery design had looked a little too drastically different on camera, the production team dialled things back for Series VIII, and although retaining the same basic shape, Kryten was seen in a much more familiar black - with the pronounced head lines dropped, too. This was about the only concession to convention, however - as this series saw Robert wearing a greater variety of outfits than ever before. Back in the Red and Krytie TV each saw the long-awaited notion of a "nude" Kryten finally reach the screen, while the latter episode also had the long-suffering droid upgrade to a spangly gold number.

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Unusually, Series VIII also had Kryten wearing clothing on a regular basis for the first time. We'd seen this occasionally in the past, in Demons & Angels and on his future counterpart in Out of Time. But the ship's prison uniform regulations meant that he was also required to wear the same lilac prison boiler suit and Canaries outfits as his crewmates - although where they found uniforms in his size, we wouldn't care to speculate…

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Following a ten-year break, it was inevitable that Back to Earth would see changes to the Kryten outfit, as it had for the other characters. The new costume, however, remained faithful to the original design while taking inspiration from more recent developments - in particular, the upper leg pieces, segmented lower torso and - ahem - frontispiece seemed to owe a small debt to Doctor Who's redesigned Cybermen from 2006. This was perhaps made more noticeable thanks to the return of the more silvery colour scheme.

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Elsewhere, the chest monitor got a further redesign - with the "display" area smaller than ever before - while a new detail tweak saw small ridged units fill the empty space between the chest unit and shoulders. The new mask was especially impressive - although sharing the wider shape of the later-series heads, it called back to the original Series III model in that it seemed to much more closely reflect Robert's face and expressions.

Click image to enlarge

It might have been expected that the same costume would be used for Series X - but as the first publicity picture has shown, the design team are never ones to rest on their laurels. Instead, Kryten has been given a darker paint scheme once more, and a new, flexible mask designed to give his eyes and mouth more freedom of expression. Perhaps the most notable changes visible thus far are around the shoulders - where the "tubes" have been made thicker and moved to a more prominent outer-position, while the long-standing LEDs have been dropped in favour of widening the neck opening.

Kryten's is unique among the Red Dwarf characters in that his costume needs to serve the twin purposes of allowing Robert Llewellyn to comfortably and expressively play his role, as well as still looking as much like an otherworldly, mechanical humanoid as possible. Although the methods and designs chosen to achieve this have varied over the years, they've always succeeded admirably - and Red Dwarf X looks set to continue that sterling work…

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