Everyone remembers Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Shipboard computers with human personalities–both kind like Max from Flight of the Navigator and calculating like Hal or the modern equivalent in WALL-E–are a common element of science fiction. The TV show Red Dwarf has its own take on the shipboard computer motif by having Holly, a computer who–having existed on its own for millions of years while Lister was in stasis–has a personality (and intelligence) that is literally senile.
Although Holly is not currently a character in the show by series X, the latest episode, Fathers and Suns (series 10, episode 2), riffs on one of the most popular episodes of all time, Queeg (series 2, episode 5). Here, we’ll look at shipboard computers–in both Red Dwarf and elsewhere–in British TV and cinema.
Red Dwarf: When comically senile computer Holly screws up one too many times by putting the crew in danger, Red Dwarf is upgraded to the ship’s backup computer personality named Queeg 500 (played by Charles Augins). Although Queeg is less likely to crash the ship into a meteorite, he doesn’t let the crew get away with breaking any of even the silliest rules on board the ship. Realizing their mistake, the crew tries to reinstate Holly, but the only way to do that seems to be having Queeg and Holly partake in a chess match to the death. After Holly predictably loses the match, and the crew is mourning his erasure and their captivity by their new drill sergeantesque computer, Holly pops in to say the whole thing was just a hilarious April Fool’s gag.
Red Dwarf: In Fathers and Suns, Kryten installs a new shipboard computer named Pree, which is programmed to use the security cameras on board to study the actions of the crew members, predict their behaviors, and (re)act to their behaviors before they happen. Unfortunately, this new version is also aligned to take on the commands of the most senior officer on the ship, which happens to be Rimmer, the least competent person on board. Therefore, even before Rimmer has a chance to suggest any actions to her, she is already acting out the orders she predicts he will make and is making a huge mess of the ship, which includes jettisoning Lister into space and plotting a course for the center of the sun.
3. Holly – Norman Lovett
Red Dwarf: There have been two actors playing Holly. First came Norman Lovett, the daft old computer whose time in space has lowered his IQ from 6,000 to about that of a glass of water. One of his catch phrases is “What’s happenin’, dudes?”
4. Holly – Hattie Hayridge
Red Dwarf: The second incarnation of Holly is played by Hattie Hayridge, the harebrained computer who has a similar IQ, but comes across more of a stereotypical blonde. One of her best moments is in White Hole when her IQ gets accidentally increased to make her a genius and she’s forced to have a chat with the ship’s talking toaster about crumpets.
Red Dwarf: Pree isn’t the first computer that predicts the future that the crew of the Red Dwarf finds. Cassandra, the computer of a different ship, not only predicts the future based on behavior patterns, but sees the future and tells it to the crew. The crew banish her to the bottom of the ocean until the Red Dwarf canaries find her. But now, she’s using her ability to change the future. She knows Kryten is destined to kill her, so she tries to change it by lying to them about what the future holds.
Moon: Directed by Duncan Jones, who won a BAFTA for this debut film, Moon is about a man named Sam (Sam Rockwell) working on the moon with only the shipboard computer, GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey) to keep him company. As the audience, we’re quick to suspect that GERTY is keeping secrets from Sam, but is it because he’s evil like Hal or does he keep secrets for Sam’s own good?
7. Why Tea?
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Arthur Dent, like most humans, takes his frustrations out on computers when they don’t act like they’re expected to or react like a human despite having people personalities. When the ship fails to make a decent cup of tea, Arthur throws the tea back at the machine and tells it to take it back. He gets into a discussion with the computer that results in jamming all the circuits as the computer futilely tries to calculate why Arthur Dent likes dried tea leaves in water. Later, his rebellion against the ship’s tea inspires a whole culture to make a statue of him throwing a cup (which is held hovering in the air by art). Check out the radio series for this portion of the story.
8. Please call me Eddie if it will help you relax
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: To off-set the depressed Marvin (who is a roaming android, not a shipboard computer), there is Eddie (David Tate in the TV show), the Heart of Gold’s shipboard computer. Eddie has several personalities to choose from, the first a chirpy sing-song personality that gets so annoying that Zaphod switches it to the elementary school teacher personality, which proves to be even worse.
9. Only The Good…
Red Dwarf: This may be a bit of a stretch since this computer in question does not control the whole Red Dwarf but only the vending machine. However, it’s an excellent of a computer going rogue. In the episode Only the Good… (season 8, episode 8), the dispensing machine (voiced by Tony Slattery) takes revenge on Rimmer for stealing food.
10. Hal Spacejock
Hal Spacejock: If you’re a fan of the other series in this post, Red Dwarf and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and if you haven’t read Simon Hayne’s Hal Spacejock book series, you’re seriously missing out. In fact, the whole series begins with the main character Hal Spacejock playing chess and bantering with the shipboard computer. The first book is free on SpaceJock.com.