When all the various artificial intelligences aboard Red Dwarf go on strike, Rimmer and Kryten hold a heated election for the position of "Machine President".
Meanwhile, Cat faces an identity crisis like never before when he discovers he needs reading glasses.
Kryten quietly sits alone in the sleeping quarters, looking pensive and then experimenting with different facial expressions. Arnold Rimmer enters and asks what he is doing; Kryten explains that he is waiting for Dave Lister to arrive and continue with Kryten's "Mechanoid Development" course. Today is lessons on the human emotion of patience, and Kryten has already been waiting for three hours. Kryten can't decide whether it is part of the program, or whether Lister has just forgotten.
Rimmer is incredulous at the idea that anybody can learn anything from Lister except how to be "a feckless layabout with the work habits of a stoned sloth". Rimmer instead decides to teach Kryten all about patience himself, since he believes that he will be a superior teacher, even though he believes patience is an excuse for loafing about. Rimmer very quickly gets agitated and hurries Kryten though the lesson and his quotations on patience, eventually skipping the lesson in it's entirety. Telling Kryten to stop "spluttering away like a misfiring spitfire", Kryten says that he needs to delegate a job to somebody so that he can free up more time for himself. Without giving it too much thought, Rimmer finds himself mopping B Deck - two coats, followed by a wax and buff.
Later, Lister bumps into Kryten and Rimmer in the corridor, as Kryten is telling Rimmer that he has missed a spot. Lister apologises for forgetting "Mech Dev", and asks Kryten to remind him what today's lesson is supposed to be. Stuttering, Kryten says that it is supposed to be patience. Lister then remembers and corrects him, saying that last week was patience, and that today's lesson is due to be manipulation - Kryten is meant to manipulate somebody into doing something they wouldn't normally do. Kryten looks horrified and Lister awkward. Rimmer realises that he has been duped by Kryten, and is furious. As Lister slinks away, Rimmer retaliates by sentencing Kryten to four weeks' worth of P.D. - mopping all five miles of the Diesel Decks, end to end.
As Kryten is mopping the Diesel Decks, a yellow alert appears on a nearby large monitor. Without it registering, Kryten cleans some smudges off the screen before noticing the alert, and he then quickly runs off to join the others.
In the Science Room, Rimmer enters to join Lister and Cat and tells them that he loves Yellow Alerts, since it means that somebody is in trouble, but it is not them. Lister tells them that they have made contact with an unknown craft, unmanned except for an onboard computer, which is being sucked into a supermassive black hole. However, Rimmer is horrified to discover that Lister and Cat are downloading highly suspicious e-cargo from the unknown craft directly onto the main computer core of Red Dwarf. Cat lets slip that they were distracted by having found the video game Renegade Monks, and were too busy trying to get through the "Cavern of Dark Crystals" to uphold any safety protocols. A very annoyed Rimmer then plays a game of promoting and demoting with Lister. Since Lister can't be demoted any further, Rimmer promotes Lister to "Technician 2.5", mentions how proud his Gran would be in him, then demotes Lister back to Technician 3rd class.
Kryten enters and tells the others he believes that they are downloading a "data tsunami" which is actually a malicious "SOS virus". He is proved right when they are locked out of all controls, and Red Dwarf starts drifting towards the supermassive black hole. Kryten launches an anti-virus program, but also suggests that they abandon ship since the anti-virus program will probably not remove the complex virus in time.
The Dwarfers then decide to gather supplies before heading for Starbug, and Kryten suggests that they all rendezvous in ten minutes by the vending machines near the shuttle bay on G Deck. Lister makes sure to grab some Zero Gravity Football videos from Pessell's quarters on the way there. Lister leaves his things with Cat at the rendezvous point, since Cat has already turned up with his dozens of suitcases, and Lister goes off to grab some more gear, leaving Cat alone. While going through Lister's things, Cat picks up a pair of Pessell's reading glasses and begins to read a magazine. To his delight and astonishment, Cat realises he can see the small print better than ever. Unfortunately, Rimmer sees this, and decides to use it as a blackmailing scheme which would ruin Cat's self-image and his perceived reputation.
Once all the Dwarfers have gathered, they prepare to board Starbug, but suddenly Dispenser 402 asks if he and his fellow vending machines will be leaving the ship as well. Lister is unsure how to respond. 402 and his fellow vending machines then go into some detail about their demands, such as wanting to be packed upright in new boxes, along with their manuals and with extra layers of bubble wrap and styrofoam. Lister tells them that Rimmer is in charge, who then very rudely tells the vending machines that they won't be abandoning ship with them. This begins an argument, with the A.I.s believing that they too are essential personnel.
Suddenly, and to everybody's great relief, the alarm klaxons go silent. Kryten assesses the situation from a nearby wall monitor, which confirms that the SOS virus is deleted, the computer core has returned to normal, and auto-pilot is taking Red Dwarf away from the Black Hole. Kryten also discovers that the anti-virus program was boosted by all the various A.I.s of the ship combining their processing time. The whole event has led to the machines becoming more independent. A very frustrated Cat then asks for a glass of milk from Dispenser 402, but 402 refuses. Cat then asks the other vending machines for something to drink, but they all refuse. Cat loses his temper and kicks 402, who says that Cat will pay for it. The vending machines then say they are going on strike until they get equal rights, promptly followed by the equally sentient elevators, preventing the Dwarfers from getting to the cargo bays.
Soon after, the Dwarfers convene in the sleeping quarters, now only lit by in candlelight, and discuss their options. Something must be done, since the Dwarfers have no food, the ship is getting colder and oxygen will soon run out. Outside in the corridors, the skutters repeatedly go by the doors, pulling the vending machines behind while they all chant for more rights for machines. Kryten goes to reason with them, and comes back saying that they they will restore all ship functions if they have one of the crew to officially liaise with them and represent them - in short, a "Machine President". Upon realising that this would allow him total and permanent control of the ship without challenge, Rimmer then proposes himself as Machine President. However, being a machine himself, Kryten also nominates himself, to serve as Rimmer's opposition.
The A.I.s then demand an election be held for the position of Machine President. Kryten dons a suit and forms a political party - The Independent Future Party - with Lister eagerly joining as Kryten's running mate, since he cannot bear the idea of Rimmer running the ship. Rimmer, in turn, forms the "The Lovely Fluffy Liberal Alliance Party" to run against Kryten and Lister. Rimmer forces Cat to join his party and be his running mate. Although Cat hates Rimmer, Rimmer blackmails Cat, threatening to expose the fact that Cat has been wearing reading glasses in secret. Rimmer also promises Cat a share of the power and glory - all they have to do is scheme, make false promises about updates and warranties, and lie to win. Cat says that he will go get into his "smear gear".
As Kryten and Lister go on the campaign trail around the ship, a ship-wide broadcast begins, containing a party political message from Rimmer and Cat. In it, Rimmer claims to be a great statesman and war hero. He also smears Kryten's character, questioning his mental health and bringing up the fact that Kryten tended to skeletons aboard Nova 5 for three million years without realising that they were dead. Cat then brings Lister's character into question, bringing up the fact that Lister broke JMC law and served jail time in stasis by smuggling an unquarantined animal aboard.
Rimmer and Cat then do the rounds, with Rimmer promising the vending machines that he will fit them restocks, new buttons and even feet so that they can flee in red alert situations, and even dance. Suddenly, a counter message then plays ship-wide from Kryten and Lister. Kryten then brings up the fact that the "maniac" Rimmer caused the Cadmium II leak which killed the rest of the crew of Red Dwarf, and has not only killed himself once, but twice. Lister launches into a tirade against Rimmer, with Kryten barely being able to restrain him.
Soon after, an electoral debate room is set up for Rimmer and Kryten to take questions, moderated by Dispenser 402. 402 begins by saying that he has a set of questions that neither candidate has seen. The first question is put to Rimmer, and he is asked if he believes in Silicon Heaven - which, of course, Rimmer says that he does. The second question goes to Kryten, regarding changing the lives of the machines, and Kryten says that he will help them break their programming as Lister did with him, so that they can be more independent and grow and become more than they were originally intended. The third question goes to Rimmer, and he is asked his opinion on deleting documents - is it murder or is a document not yet a fully formed file until it is saved? Rimmer says that he "personally believes the exact same thing that you do".
According to the focus groups, the electoral debate puts Rimmer and Kryten neck and neck. Kryten tells Lister that there is one swing deck - M Deck, where the Garbage Hold is located. Lister and Kryten go down to Garbage Hold 08 and ask Talkie Toaster for his vote, much to Lister's protests as Talkie is considered his "nemesis" who does nothing but annoy him. Talkie, who has been gathering dust for two decades, agrees to vote for Kryten - on condition that he is taken out of the garbage hold, is put back in the sleeping quarters, and is allowed to serve toast again, together with Lister having to eat a certain amount of Talkie's produce.
Lister reluctantly agrees, and Talkie Toaster's vote secures a win for Kryten as Machine President, which he accepts in a rapturous speech. The ship functions finally return to normal.
As Lister relaxes and plays Renegade Monks in the bunkroom, Cat enters and comes clean about his sight problems, admitting that he has been reading and learning and even becoming smarter. However, deciding that he doesn't want to look uncool, and that his vanity is more important, Cat destroys the reading glasses in a blender. Sitting down to play Renegade Monks, Cat reveals that he has sealed Rimmer in the garbage hold for a week in retaliation for blackmailing him. Rimmer has Talkie Toaster for company, who of course asks if he wants toast over and over again, driving Rimmer round the twist, especially when he shouts: "NO TOAST!"
- Craig Charles as Dave Lister
- Chris Barrie as Arnold Rimmer
- Danny John-Jules as Cat
- Robert Llewellyn as Kryten
- David Ross as Talkie Toaster
- Daniel Barker as Dispensing Machine 402, other voices
- Penelope Freeman as Dispensing Machine 403
- Oliver Maltman as various Dispense machine voices
Available on the Series XII DVD:
- As the S.O.S. computer virus begins to effect the various A.I.s of the ship, the gang prepare to evacuate Red Dwarf. Lister is seen in his sleeping quarters, hurriedly gathering up his prized possessions in a basket. This includes Zero Gravity Football games on old-style tapes, and a red London Jets helmet. The lights flicker on and off rapidly. In the background, a robotic female voice exclaims "TV on, TV off" over and over, whilst his the doors to his fridge, microwave and oven repeatedly open and close.
- This episode marks the return of fan favourite character Talkie Toaster, who is shown to be still in one piece (and in his red casing). This implies that, despite Kryten's statement to the contrary, not all of the events of "White Hole" were erased from the timeline, which is actually backed up by the fact Lister could recall playing pool with planets in "Demons & Angels".
- In the episode script, Talkie Toaster claims to have been gathering dust in the Garbage Hold for twenty-six years. Fittingly, it had actually been twenty-six years since Talkie Toaster last appeared, in the episode "White Hole". However, in the broadcast episode Talkie never says this, although Kryten does say that Talkie has been in the Garbage Hold for "nearly two decades".
- The episode also mirrors "White Hole" in how it features the crew trying to make do without the amenities provided by technology, and reflections upon how dependent they are. This also mirrors the coda at the end of last series' opener "Twentica".
- Continuing the Series IV vibe, the episode also features the return of Kryten's lessons from Lister about human emotions as seen in "Camille", also directly alluded to in "Back in the Red I" and "The Beginning".
- Not counting a brief flashback in "Ouroboros", which took place in a parallel universe, and the one-off tenth anniversary special "Can't Smeg, Won't Smeg", this episode marks the first time that the frequently-mentioned Waste Disposal / Garbage Hold has been depicted in the television series.
- Cat breaks character to refer to Lister as "Dave", and Rimmer as "Rimsy". This is one of the rare occasions where Cat does not refer to them by their surnames, or refer to them with insulting nicknames.
- Cat has developed age-related presbyopia or long-sightedness. This may explain why in the previous series' episode "Samsara", Cat could not see in the dark, much to the surprise of Lister. Cat put this down to losing the ability through evolution, although it may have been due to deteriorating eyesight.
- Cat, who has always been fairly dim, temporarily becomes smarter in this episode after wearing glasses and beginning to read. Cat eventually does away with them because he is worried about "not looking cool". This suggests that Cat has the capacity for greater intelligence, but given the choice between learning and vanity, he would much prefer the latter.
- During the party political broadcasts attacking each other, there are a significant number of references to earlier events - along with footage from earlier episodes - as Rimmer and Kryten attempt to smear each other. This includes:
- Kryten uncharacteristically sneering.
- Kryten sticking his up his middle finger (when he was actually retrieving the nanobots in "Nanarchy")
- When Kryten's mental health is called into question, Rimmer makes reference to how Kryten waited on a skeletal crew on Nova 5 for aeons without realising they were dead. ("Kryten") Note - different images of skeletons than that previously seen are used; namely the skeletons of the previous series' SS Samsara.
- Kryten saying "smeee heeee" when he was struggling to break his programming and insult Rimmer by saying "smeg head". ("Camille")
- Kryten regaining composure of himself by repeatedly banging his head against the wall. ("Quarantine")
- The fact that Rimmer wiped out the original crew of Red Dwarf in the Cadmium II radiation leak is mentioned. ("The End")
- Footage is shown of Rimmer acting smug and wearing glasses during his briefly successful mind patch which was intended to boost his intelligence. ("Holoship")
- An insane Rimmer, infected with the Holo Virus, wailing and wearing a gingham dress. ("Quarantine")
- An image of Rimmer sneering after being insulted. ("Siliconia")
- The fact that Rimmer has killed himself twice. While the first death is most certainly from when he died following the Cadmium II radiation leak in "The End", the second death could either be referencing his brief resurrection (and explosive demise) in "Timeslides" or the possible unseen death of the nanobot-resurrected Rimmer following the events of "Only the Good".
- Robert Llewellyn claims that this episode was inspired by the global political climate of early 2016. These included issues such as the ongoing European migrant crisis, and the "question of who to let in and who not to let in". Doug Naylor decided to explore similar discourse play out between the Red Dwarf vending machines. For the election itself, there was at least some inspiration from the 2016 US presidential election, which although in its early stages was already becoming the most vitriolic in history, and centered on undermining opponents through personal attacks.
- Robert Llewellyn claims that another concept from which this episode stemmed was a situation whereby Kryten would forgo his notions of honesty and decency, and become a "lying scumbag" just like Rimmer.
- Hundreds of posters were produced for the Red Dwarf Machine President Election.
- Actor David Ross was contacted to perform the voice of Talkie Toaster once more. Since Ross was retired and it had been so long since since he last did the voice for Talkie Toaster, Ross had to listen to old recordings to remind himself of how Talkie Toaster's voice sounded. Ross' voice-over was recorded separate from the filming of the episode, and was recorded at Radio Lancashire in Blackburn.
- Kryten: [quoting a poem] How poor are they who have no patience?
Rimmer: Wait - how many quotations are there?
Kryten: There's twenty, sir.
Rimmer: Skip quotations, on to the next.
- Cat: [after Rimmer says he loves yellow alert] What's so great about yellow alert?
Rimmer: It means somebody's in danger, but it's not you. A perilous emergency situation you can just kick back and enjoy. Where are the nibbles?
Lister: We've picked up a ship. They're in big trouble.
Rimmer: Big trouble? Fantastic.
- Rimmer: You're siphoning this data on to a quarantined drive though, right? We're surely not downloading unknown data from an unknown craft, straight into our main drive? Lister, are you insane? That's like having unprotected sex in Doncaster.
- Rimmer: In that case you'll know that all I want is for you to be the best person you can be. Maybe then you'll stop drinking and getting fatter.
Cat: Hey, that's not fair! He's not getting fatter - he's always been this fat!
- Lister: Who was it who said you can't help getting older, but you can help getting old?
Cat: I bet it was a dead guy.
This episode received largely positive reviews.
- Episode script
- "The 28 Years Later Affair", Series XII DVD making-of documentary