Don’t you just love Sunday afternoons? There always seem to be a couple of hours between me getting the things I needed to do with my days off done, and having to deal with the important business of dinner. They’re the few hours that you spend sitting around with your family, or your housemates, feeling like you should be doing something more exciting, but actually quite enjoying the prolonged nothing.
Dear Dave, the latest episode of Red Dwarf, felt a lot like a Sunday afternoon. Whilst I can usually name at least one major thing that happened in an episode (Rimmer meets his brother, the crew install a new computer, they travel back in time and meet Jesus etc), it’s hard to name any major plot points in this one. Lister thought he might be a dad (again) but then found out he wasn’t, Rimmer was almost in trouble with the JMC but then he (presumably) wasn’t, and Cat almost had an important role to play in the episode but then he didn’t.
And yet, this is no bad thing. After all, three million and twenty-odd years makes for a lot of Sunday afternoons, and so it’s almost refreshing to get an episode like this one. It’s made clear from the top of the episode that Lister’s in no mood to go adventuring, as Kryten uses his usual tact and empathy to try and raise him out of the doldrums.
Both actors come out of this one pretty well, with Llewellyn playing a far less grating version of the concerned mechanoid who got his groinal attachments in a twist over the arrival of Kochanski in Series 7, while Craig Charles manages to emote in a way that perhaps Lister didn’t always manage. Say what you like about Coronation Street, but judging by his performances across this run, it’s done wonders for Charles’ confidence and acting ability.
It’s not all doom and gloom for Lister in this episode; Charles also gets to play a romance (of sorts) with Snack Dispenser 34. Isla Ure does a great job bringing the role to life, alternating between sweet and likeable and faintly terrifying and likeable. And although the romance is never reciprocated by Lister, the fact that it’s all played so straight actually turns them into a strangely believable couple. The other corner of the ‘love triangle’, Dispenser 23, is a shorter and less memorable role, but it’s a very funny scene, with Robert Llewellyn in particular making the most of the comic potential of it. It’s the sort of thing that would have been overplayed in later series of ‘classic’ Dwarf, but here it’s pitched just right.
For much of the episode, which once again seems reluctant to allow too many of the main cast on screen together at any given time, Kryten is paired off with Rimmer, who is attempting to convince the JMC on-board computer that he hasn’t been neglecting his duties as an officer. The on-board computer has been used a few times across this run, and it’s at its most jarring here, playing the role of an unseen authority figure to whom Rimmer is suddenly accountable.
This, in addition to the returning of supplies in order to bribe the (also unseen, perhaps mercifully) Medi-Comp, seems to mark a fundamental shift in the premise of the series; no longer is it just four blokes(ish) bumming around the ship and trying to get home. It’s now four sort-of blokes bumming around a ship that can sometimes hold two of the crew accountable for their actions, depending on what sort of a mood it’s in. It’s not necessarily an unwelcome move, but it seems like an unnecessary one that would be best used sparingly in future stories.
It’s over 12 minutes into the episode before Cat shows up this week, although once again he very much steals the show when he does. The charades scene is one of several scenes in the episode that feels like it’s designed to pad it out, but it’s a good one (the areola scene and the other major Cat scene being two of the weaker examples), with a strong payoff. It’s another scene in the Sunday afternoon vein, with Cat outright admitting that he’s dragging out the news to provide himself with some much-needed entertainment.
Cat brings with him the idea that Lister may have a child (other than the three he already knows about, who are perhaps wisely glossed over here), and spends much of the rest of the episode rifling through piles of post to try and find out if he’s the father. The search for the answer could well have been expanded to take up more of the episode, but as it is it’s just a short subplot that allows for some choice exchanges with Rimmer and to a lesser extent the Cat, and has a decent pay-off.
The real climax of the episode, though, belongs to Snack Dispenser 34, and the scene in which Lister literally – but not figuratively – gets his leg over. It’s reminiscent of the famous boxer short scene from Polymorph, which is rightly a fan favourite; it’s early days, but I’d go so far as to say this scene easily rivals that one in terms of quality, simply for the context it has within the episode, with Rimmer, Kryten and 34’s reactions all being spot-on and adding something to the moment.
It’s a classic moment which makes for the high point of a quiet but mostly amusing episode. There’s a few scenes which are too long, and a few – such as the aforementioned Lister/Rimmer dating scene – which are too broad in their humour, but there’s some great jokes to be found in there, and the cast – Craig Charles in particular – are really hitting their stride.
Now let’s all have a nice cup of tea and watch Songs of Praise, Countryfile and Antiques Roadshow before bed.
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