The fourth episode of Red Dwarf’s twelfth series pits Rimmer and Kryten against each other in an election to become ‘machine president’ of the ship.
Following the hugely disappointing ‘Timewave’, this week’s instalment of Red Dwarf is a welcome return to form. And not just a return to the form of series XII’s first two episodes, but perhaps even a return to the form of Red Dwarf in its late 1980s/early 90s heyday.
‘Mechocracy’ is an episode of two halves, with the main election plot not kicking in until the after the ad break. First we get an insight into Lister’s mechanoid development programme for Kryten, before the crew have to deal with a yellow alert – Rimmer’s favourite type of alert because “it means someone’s in danger but it’s not you”. Robert Llewellyn does great work as Kryten in these scenes, from managing to get laughs by doing nothing but pulling faces in the opening seconds, to looking hilariously sheepish when his manipulation of Rimmer is revealed. Chris Barrie is also on top form here, with uses of “lickety split” and “mi’lado” plus a petty exchange with Lister about promoting him in order to immediately demote him harking back to classic Red Dwarf.
After Lister unknowingly downloads corrupt data onto the ship’s drive, falling victim to a scam that targets “the deeply stupid” (Kryten remarks “oh sir, you didn’t stand a chance”), the crew prepare to abandon ship and the dispensing machines are distressed to learn that they are being left behind. Once the ship has returned to a safe state, a whole new problem arises when all of the machines on board go on strike until they get equal rights.
This is where the election plot begins, as it’s decided that the machines need someone to represent them. Kryten thinks he’s suited to the job, being a machine himself, while Rimmer throws his hat into the ring when he realises that whoever manages the machines can essentially control the ship. This scene features a perfect Rimmer moment as he asks “isn’t it time that machines were given a voice?” only to then interrupt Kryten’s “but sir” with “shut up, I’m talking!”
I went into this episode slightly concerned that a political satire written and filmed over a year ago (before big events in both the UK and the US) would be in danger of feeling dated. Fortunately, it avoids being too specific and is made up of pretty timeless material about politicians lying and making false promises to voters.
A highlight of the episode’s election segment sees the two ‘parties’ making films in an attempt to smear each other. The films contain images from past series of Red Dwarf, which actually feels relevant rather than fan-servicey, and one references Kryten’s origins on the Nova-5, asking voters “do you mind he can’t tell the difference between the living and the dead?” Something else that could have come across as empty fan service if it didn’t fit so well into the plot is the return of Talkie Toaster, voiced by David Ross, who we haven’t seen since series IV’s ‘White Hole’.
Rimmer easily falls into the role of smarmy politician, patronising the skutters and promising dispensing machines that they will all get new buttons and feet, plus the sight of Kryten wearing a suit is fun. More laughs come from parallels between machine issues and current political hot topics, with one machine worrying about “dispensers coming here from P deck and B deck because they know our serving programmes are free” and Rimmer getting asked if he believes that deleting documents is murder or “is a document not yet a fully formed file until it’s saved?” Political rhetoric also gets a mocking, as Kryten opens a story during a debate with “I met a dispensing machine the other day…” The line “I personally believe the exact same thing you believe” is a little on the nose, but Chris Barrie’s delivery manages to save it.
Other good moments worth mentioning include Talkie Toaster’s demand that Lister must eat eleven pieces of toast every morning, Lister reeling off types of bread in a way that reminded me of Monthy Python’s cheese shop sketch, and Cat defending an attack on Lister’s weight by saying that he’s “not getting fatter, he’s always been this fat!” It’s also novel to see Rimmer and Cat paired together, and the former’s blackmailing of the latter gives their scenes an interesting dynamic.
After spending the first three instalments of series XII on unfamiliar ships with additional characters, it’s nice to finally get half an hour on board good ol’ Red Dwarf with just Lister, Rimmer, Cat and Kryten. Feeling like it could have easily been plucked from a much earlier series, ‘Mechocracy’ is the best episode of Red Dwarf XII so far and one of the best of the show’s Dave era.