Red Dwarf XII: Siliconia review (Spoilers)

On the 2nd of May 2015 Doug Naylor announced two new series of Red Dwarf to a room of fervent fans. Not content with this news, Doug also let slip the plot to one of the 12 upcoming episodes…

Now two and half years later we finally see this episode come to life. We have had two and a half years to write our own episodes in our head and imagine how this will turn out. Does the episode satisfy after so much anticipation?

The early signs from the instant reactions online are that this couldn’t be more of a marmite episode of Red Dwarf if you filled it with yeast and slapped on a yellow label. In short people are either loving or hating Siliconia. I myself am in the former camp. After finding Cured a middle of the road episode of Red Dwarf I am very pleased to say that Siliconia ticked nearly every box for me and left me in tears of laughter.

The episode opens with the gang hamming up their over-reliance on Kryten. It is obvious from the get-go that the nature of the episode is going to be about Kryten’s treatment from the rest of the crew. Whilst it could be considered obvious from a writing standpoint, it is in contrast to last week’s Cured in which the opening scene felt superfluous all the way up until the end when it became relevant to the plot. The opening scene feels like it going to be relevant even before we launch into the main plot and feeds into the audiences perceptions of this week’s threat as it means for at least part of the episode we have some level of empathy for the Mechanoid Intergalactic Liberation Front (MILF).

It doesn’t take us long to swing into our first reference to a previous episode as we find the guitar from Fathers and Suns makes a return. For fans of references to previous episodes they will be in paradise this week with the amount included. These references include “leg it mode” from the ever popular Pete Part 2 and a specific reference to the famous lie mode scene from Camille. For people who dislike a reliance on past references, perhaps this week isn’t for you.

The guitar is introduced to us floating in space in a parody of the opening shot of Star Wars. Doug Naylor has tried to parody other films and TV shows with the model shots and CGI in the past. Most memorably Tikka to Ride opened with a Star Trek Voyager parody that didn’t quite work. This shot however works supremely well. It is instantly recognisable as a parody of the specific shot from Star Wars but is also funny without having to resort to a flushing toilet.

The guitar is just the tip of the ice berg for how the scale of the show is now seeming to match Doug’s ambition. The model work this week is as good as it has ever been. The CGI is producing the most dazzling creations ranging from Lister’s guitar to a Diva Droid Update Station. The location work is as filmic as the show has been. The main guest sets feel a world apart to the sets they are redressed from. The episode was described as it was filmed as the most expensive episode of Red Dwarf ever made and it is easy to see why. However none of this matches the amount of work needed to create the myriad of guest cast all in full android make-up.

It was a rare and beautiful thing last season when we got to see another person in the full Kryten make-up when Kryten’s nemesis Butler turned up in Krysis. Now this week we have more guest cast in full Kryten make-up than you can count on your hands. The big name this week was James Buckley who the credits refer to as Rusty. Unfortunately as with Kevin Eldon’s Third of Five last series, we do not get anywhere near enough time with James Buckley. His character introduces a lot of interesting ideas of class division between the mechanoids but these ideas are quickly overlooked. A few great lines aside he is mostly side-lined by this week’s various other guest cast members.

Excalibur, played by Marcus Garvey, steals the “triangle of trust” scene with his wonderful impression of sympathetic counsellors. Nick Read as Incense also has some great lines as the sewage munching android. This scene might provoke some ire for those who might take the intentions the wrong way. The scene isn’t mocking those who go to group therapy. The scene is merely using the group therapy to laugh at the mundane gripes of android servitude such as the gunk not being cleaned off the plates before being put in the dish washer.

Other guest cast such as Richard Glover as Wind who introduces Kryten to the MILF and Laura Checkley as Areto who turns the crew into mechanoids both put in a great mechanoid performance. One thing to note on these guests and many others in background roles is that they are wearing sunglasses. It might initially seem like a design choice but this is almost certainly a cheat from the make-up team to mean they don’t need to connect the mask to the eyes which can be one of the more time consuming sections of fitting Kryten masks.

But the guest cast aren’t the main focus this week. We all came here for the promise of “the one where they all become Kryten”. First we have Chris Barrie who has been waiting since 1989 to go full on Kryten. 26 years he had been practising for the moment in which he could spend an entire episode doing an impression of Kryten and his enjoyment in the role clearly shows. Danny John-Jules on the other hand we have never really heard do a Kryten impression. Once Cat’s personality is lost Danny does a rather good impression which makes it a shame we haven’t heard him do an audiobook in the past.

Lister is at the heart of the episode with his relationship with Kryten being the point that convinces Kryten to shake off the influence of MILF. Craig Charles’ performance is sometimes a little too David Ross which carries over from his audiobook reading of Last Human for those who still have cassettes. That being said he is served with some great lines including the best “smee hee” since the original back in 1991.

The climactic clean-off between Kryten and Lister is a great spectacle and is an example of much Doug Naylor has improved as a director. It is another example of the scale and ambition that Doug has for the show. He really wants to make mini-movies on a cable TV sitcom budget. Lister wins the clean-off but his victory has to be cut short as we are reaching within two minutes of the end credits so they need to find an ending as quickly as possible.

The ending can perhaps be considered a deux ex machina. I don’t necessarily think that instantly makes it a bad thing. The structure of the story is such that the search for Siliconia is set up so it makes sense that the ending would see Siliconia found. Much like The Universe in Krysis the intention is set up from the beginning and then pays off when they find the main goal. The concept of Siliconia is not quite explained in enough detail but on the other hand we might not really need an extra minute talking about an android promised land.

The ending does feel like it wraps things up in too much of a nice happy bow. There is very little in the way of ramifications of the events and everybody is friends. Even Lister, Rimmer and Cat don’t seem to have any lasting effects of their mechanisation. It does however end on a solid woofer with Lister seeming to play the opening lines of his upcoming hit single Baby Don’t Be Ovulating Tonight and Kryten leaving to the sound proof airlock on B deck.

Overall I personally believe this to be one of the best episodes of Red Dwarf since the return on Dave. It provided drama, interesting sci-fi ideas, body horror and most importantly it left me in tears of laughter. Also no episode of Red Dwarf has looked this good. This is Red Dwarf firing on all cylinders.