Stasis leaks, virtual reality dreamscapes and a new ship's computer who makes the drill instructor from Full Metal Jacket look like Louie Spence. Things get very odd indeed in Red Dwarf II.
Everything changes in this series of Dwarf. Well, we say everything – the sets are still fifty shades of grey (bit of pop-cultural referencing there, we're clever that way), there's still only three full-time crew members and the theme tune is still the rather ominous instrumental thing rather than the guitary, turned-up-to-11 number that was brought in from series three onwards. So actually, if we may be allowed to retract our earlier statement with the sweaty swiftness of a disgraced politician, nothing fundamentally changes at all in series two. We just got a little carried away due to the introduction, in the opening episode, of a certain prissy mechanoid with a head resembling a chewed-on hunk of cheese. Yes, it's none other than Kryten – but not quite as most casual fans know him.
That's because he's played not by Robert Llewellyn but by a chap named David Ross, and in this incarnation he's a bit of a camp C3PO type thing. The Dwarfers are initially pretty excited when they receive a distress call from Kryten, who tells them he's stranded on a crashed spaceship with three damsels in distress. There's only one teeny, tiny drawback: the damsels happen to be a bit on the wrong side of dead. For once, Rimmer puts it best: "Our first contact with intelligent life in three million years, and it's the android version of Norman Bates."
Still, despite the lovely ladies having less meat on them than a Chicken McNugget, the lads take Kryten on board Red Dwarf, where Lister teaches him how to be less of an annoying dogsbody and sends him out to explore the cosmos while looking a bit like a 50s-era Marlon Brando. Or a gay leather-clad biker, depending on how you want to look at it.
After Kryten's departure, something amazing happens. Something quite literally better than life. We are of course talking about the total immersion video game actually called Better Than Life, which lets the fun-starved Dwarfers live out their every heart's desire in a kind of utopian matrix of their own making. Oddly, for Lister this involves playing golf, but each to their own. At least the Cat makes full use of it, dating both Marilyn Monroe and a mermaid more… erm… attuned to his needs (the top half's the fish). Once again, Rimmer is responsible for the ruination of everything, when his repressed self-hate sabotages the game and leaves them buried up to their necks in a sandy beach, smeared with jam. Yes. Smeg.
Later in the series they try to put their woes behind them by having a party for Rimmer's death-day, but things go pear-shaped when Lister decides to make Rimmer feel better about his massive lack of success with women by implanting him with memories of his (ie, Lister's) old girlfriend. It all gets a bit Total Recall after that, with Rimmer losing track of what's real and what isn't, and suffering a kind of almighty love-hangover when he realises she was never his girlfriend after all. Still, at least it makes us realise that beneath the layers of pure, unadulerated prat that make up Rimmer, there lies a loving soul. A loving, sexually frustrated soul.
After that debacle, things get even weirder and more sci-fi-ey aboard Red Dwarf, when a "stasis leak" lets the gang step back three million years, to just before the accident. It's a golden opportunity to change the future for the better, which they naturally make a complete hash of, with the hologram Rimmer giving the human Rimmer a bit of a nervous breakdown. Well, seeing your future, dead, hologrammatic head poking out of a table will do that to you.
A truly classic episode follows, in which Holly is replaced as ship's computer by a snarling drill sergeant-like computer who proceeds to bully and traumatise the whole crew until they're close to blubbing like babies. Of course, Queeg turns out to be Holly in disguise. As our favourite senile digital entity puts it, "The moral of the story is: appreciate what you've got, because basically I'm fantastic."
But slightly less fantastic is his Holly Hop Drive, which is meant to speed the ship to Earth in seconds but actually plonks them into a parallel universe where Cat's equivalent is the Dog, Rimmer's equivalent tries to carnally inflict herself on him, and Lister has a drunken and deeply, deeply misjudged one night stand with his female self. "Excellent news, Listy!" Rimmer announces, checking her pregnancy test afterwards. "I'm going to be an uncle!"