In the second episode of Red Dwarf’s twelfth series, the crew encounter a group of rogue mechanoids who put the minds of Lister, Rimmer and Cat into mech bodies as punishment for ‘enslaving’ Kryten.
From the outset of ‘Siliconia’, it’s clear that Kryten’s problematic relationship with his crewmates is going to be the focus of the episode. Although he broke his programming long ago and is therefore more than a simple service droid, he is still responsible for doing what he later calls “all of the smeggy jobs”, and Lister continues to order Kryten around, despite being the one who has always encouraged him to be more independent. Aside from highlighting the crew’s lack of respect for Kryten, the opening scenes on Red Dwarf introduce the use of “Rimmering” as a verb and contain callbacks to both The Om Song from series III’s ‘Timeslides’ and Lister’s lying masterclass from series IV’s ‘Camille’ as Kryten proudly refers to a pen as “a pair of golfing slacks.”
The plot kicks in with the arrival of the Mechanoid Intergalactic Liberation Front, or MILF for short – which may be mildly amusing the first time we hear it, but not so much as it gets repeated over and over again throughout the episode. The rebel droids ‘liberate’ Kryten, separate him from his crewmates and plant the seed that Stockholm syndrome has led him to regard them as friends. In a standout scene, Kryten sits in on a therapy session for “robot slave survivors” who share their bad experiences of working for humans and chant phrases like “we don’t have funny shaped heads.”
Meanwhile, Lister, Rimmer and Cat are forced into being ‘recalibrated’ by having their minds removed and uploaded into mechanoid bodies. They also have to perform the sort of tasks that they’ve always assigned to Kryten – ironing clothes for Cat, mopping floors for Rimmer and making sugar puff sandwiches for Lister. As they spend more time in their new mech bodies, they become increasingly Kryten-like, with Rimmer mimicking his voice (Chris Barrie, of course, is a talented impressionist) and all three of them adopting his speech patterns. In an interesting turn of events, which does make complete sense for his character, Rimmer begins to enjoy following orders, losing his human neuroses and not needing to think for himself.
Of the three performances, I found Craig Charles as Lister-bot not quite as convincing as the other two, but this is most likely due to the fact that he is less recognisable in mechanoid form than Rimmer and Cat are – perhaps because he has smaller facial features. At times he also seems to be having some difficulties enunciating and making expressions through his mask. However, the moment when Lister is reunited with Kryten and describes him as “my mum, my friend” is genuinely touching, as is his small effort to treat Kryten as more of an equal once he has returned to being human.
The novelty of seeing Lister, Rimmer and Cat as mechanoids is certainly fun and ‘Siliconia’ is an undoubtedly ambitious episode, with impressive production values the likes of which we have rarely seen before in Red Dwarf. Its downfall is trying to fit so much into half-an-hour. The aforementioned subplot about Rimmer enjoying being a droid never really gets tied up, which is a shame as it’s one of the episode’s most interesting ideas. Likewise, we find out that a hierarchy exists on the mechanoid ship, with Series 4000 Mark 2 models confined to manual work powering the ship while Series 4000 Mark 3s are living the high life upstairs, and only a single scene is devoted to this concept. Guest star James Buckley (The Inbetweeners) appears in this scene, and since he has featured in a lot of Red Dwarf XII’s marketing, I was surprised that he didn’t have a bigger role. After cramming so much into the runtime, the ending of ‘Siliconia’ also feels a bit rushed and unexpected.