Dave – 6th October 2016 – 9pm
Created by: Rob Grant and Doug Naylor
Written and directed by: Doug Naylor
LIFE IS BUT A SCREAM
Lister (Craig Charles) will claim it’s curry, while based on this week’s evidence, Cat (Danny John-Jules) will argue strongly in favour of sea salt, but ultimately it seems like variety is the spice of life aboard the Dwarf this series. We are now three episodes in to XI – half way – and we’ve already been treated to a romp to an alternative Earth in the style of series VI (“Twentica”) and a more sombre investigative mystery which harkened back to III’s classic two-hander, “Marooned” (“Samsara”).
Available now to preview on UKTV Play a week ahead of its Dave premiere, episode XI.3, “Give and Take”, once again broadens the range of this most impressive run by successfully running the gauntlet between honouring what has come before while delivering something fresh and new.
Awakening Lister from a two-day long hangover, the crew board a space station perilously near to being decimated by an asteroid storm. While Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) and “Captain Bollocks” (Rimmer) encounter what they believe to be the medi-bot in the Asclepius Suite (translation: the Greek god of medicine, Krytes helpfully points out), Lister and Cat happen upon the actual sanity-eroded droid, who attacks them and organ naps Lister’s kidneys.
“Prepare yourself for a bit of a shock…”
When Listie’s jar-preserved vitals are caught up in the resultant crossfire, the last human being alive is reliant upon the only other humanoid mammal he knows donating one of his. With Kryten and Rimmer’s new-found companion in tow, they believe they have the means to make the swap. Hurrah! The only problem is: Cat’s don’t like to share…
Firstly, this episode looks stunning. Ed Moore’s dankly-atmospheric lighting work continues to bring out the best in the on-ship sets, while returning to one of Red Dwarf’s most favourable of locations – an abandoned gasworks – for the space station scenes both aids in expanding the universe, while tonally driving home the vast loneliness of the stranded foursome.
The two guest stars may both me droids, but they could not be more diverse. Recalling the chase scenes with Dr. Lanstrom in series V.4 “Quarantine”, the deranged Asclepius (Oliver Mason) is a really creepy and horrific monster, almost piscine with his robo-mask and array of deadly surgeon’s tools, while Snacky (Mark Quartley) – who Kryten commends “the cutting edge of technology” – is absurdly old fashioned, like something out of Forbidden Planet or Lost in Space, replete with his four buttons and “egg-flipping thing” atop his dome.
While Asclepius is not afforded as much screen time as the pre-broadcast promotion would have you believe, Snacky shines as the real star of the show, bringing the best out of Rimmer in the episode’s standout scene – a psychiatric session montage which expertly recalls the character development begun in X.6 “The Beginning” – and even being afforded some growth of his own, tying the surprisingly timey-wimey plot together masterfully. You won’t know it on first viewing, but even the opening lift banter is narratively relevant – and there was the pessimist in me thinking it was just an excuse to reintroduce the skutters!
“Give and Take” is not the funniest episode of the XI so far. In terms of gag-rate I would say it was at the bottom of the trio. It consistently generates a fair few smirks, don’t get me wrong, but no laugh-out-loud moments to rival the best rib-ticklers in “Twentica” or “Samsara”. But where XI.3 excels is in characterisation.
“If it wasn’t for you, his species wouldn’t exist!”
Doug really seems to have re-found a groove when it comes to Cat’s self-serving nature, while for the second week running Lister’s less positive traits are brought to the fore when he is willing to deceive in order to gain. Kryten’s resultant nervous tick while in “lie mode” is a chucklesome delight dating back to IV.1 “Camille”, while in an episode when he could easily have faded into the background, Rimmer feels integral thanks to his newfound post-‘counselling’ confidence feeding into the theme.
An awkward dig at Milton Keynes aside, I am confident that now I am attuned to the farcical time travel element of the plot, “Give and Take”’s humour may grow on me with future viewings. But for this episode to still feel so strong in spite of this concession is testament to how accomplished it is: expansive, smart and with sublime FX (I’m agog as to how they “cloned” Craig Charles), Red Dwarf XI amazes just as much as it amuses by defying the traditional sitcom rules week-on-week. Keep pushing those boundaries, Doug!
CR@B’s Claw Score: