Thirty II

Celebrating the second series' thirtieth anniversary!

7 September, 2018

It's a funny quirk of Red Dwarf that whenever the first series of a show gets to celebrate a big anniversary, the second one gets to celebrate that same year, too. And so we say a very happy thirtieth birthday to Red Dwarf II, which hit the landmark as 6th September saw the anniversary of the first transmission of Kryten.

Thirty II

There had already been, of sorts, a "Red Dwarf 1.5" in the shape of Me2, the episode that was written as a late replacement for the cancelled Bodysnatcher, and which afforded Rob and Doug the opportunity to develop the characters and setting based on the work they had already been doing in the initial rehearsal run. As such, that episode very much serves as a template for Series II, with a greater depth of character and nuance, particularly in relation to the audience's sympathy for Rimmer.

"Series II," said Danny John-Jules on the 2004 DVD commentary, "is where it really got good." And while the first series of the show still holds up remarkably well, this is a point that it's hard to disagree with. With the main bunkroom and corridor sets already in place (albeit with a bit of colourful set dressing added to make things less completely grey), the still-meagre budget was able to stretch to some new interior locations (the lively Science Room was, although smaller, a vast improvement on the previous Drive Room in terms of life and colour), and the creation of a new shuttle craft, Blue Midget, saw the crew able to explore away from the ship for the first time.

Going out into the universe, however, meant that the show's "no aliens, no robots" rule had to be relaxed slightly - after all, if Lister was the last human, some new characters had to be found from somewhere. And so the show's first episode made one of the most pivotal decisions in Red Dwarf's history: the introduction of Kryten, initially intended only as a one-off character, but immediately an irresistible choice to return permanently when the show was retooled for Series III the following year.

Series II jumps around genres with breathless abandon, from the pure farce of Stasis Leak - which gave us our best view yet of what life was like on Red Dwarf before the accident - to the thoughtful and wonderfully constructed Thanks For The Memory, whose fill-in-the-blanks-mystery premise wouldn't be out of place in a modern Doctor Who episode, and which coaxed some of the best performances yet out of the show's actors.

Thirty II

Meanwhile, Better Than Life established a long-standing Red Dwarf tradition of existing in a fictional reality (setting the stage for such future classics as Back to Reality and Gunmen of the Apocalypse) and Queeg showed that even a disembodied computer could have an entire episode based around them, with brilliantly hilarious results (and maybe the greatest episode ending ever).

And then there's Parallel Universe. Closing out the series, the episode introduced us to the idea of alternate-universe versions of our beloved characters for the first - but certainly far from last - time. More than that, however, its take on gender politics has seen it become a modern internet fan favourite episode - plus, of course, it's the one that gave the show a top twenty hit single.

Thirty II

At the outset of Series II, Red Dwarf was still very much an underdog show - made by people who were generally not considered part of the British comedy establishment, scraping by on a shoestring budget, and arguably even existing only on a technicality. But viewers kept coming back week on week for the blend of clever sci-fi concepts and brilliant character comedy - and there was a confidence in the episodes that belied their humble origins.

It meant that by the time the series ended, a third series was a formality - and while that series, which would see the show's popularity expand into the stratosphere, involved a heavy revamping of the look, feel and concept, the core DNA of what would make Red Dwarf brilliant was firmly established by Series II. And it would never truly go away.

Happy 30th Anniversary, Red Dwarf II!

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