Friday, August 26, 2016

Red Dwarf X Episode 5: "Dear Dave"

Lister looks for a letter and Rimmer does two very similar things that are actually different. This was one of the episodes written late in the day after the location budget was scrapped and it shows in how low-key it all is and due to the fact that, if you look carefully, you can see that some of the scenes are being performed in front of green screen with the sets added in post. Furthermore, aspects of the plot are highly reminiscent of aspects of "Better Than Life" from Series II, particularly with the mail pod arriving and the impact of long-overdue correspondence from Earth on the characters' emotional states. It's odd to note that this episode, beginning as it does with Lister moping about the extinction of the human race, doesn't seem to follow on from previous stuff about his robotics course and so on. I notice a lot of people say that this is because that plot sort of fell by the wayside due to the rewrites, but contrary to common belief Lister does actually mention Kochanski in this episode, when the Cat's doing charades.

Another odd thing to note is that Rimmer's "special report" that he says he's writing about Lister in this episode has really nothing to do with his efforts to document Lister's behaviour for the purpose of getting a medical exemption for his "gross dereliction of duty"; it seems that at the end of the episode, when the Cat grabs Rimmer's "special report" to use as toilet paper, it doesn't matter because it appears that he's already managed to retain his position. He talks about the special report before the whole demotion problem comes up, and seems to be more or less writing it for fun. Thus when he uses the term "special report" at the end of the episode to refer to the paper the Cat grabs, it would seem the Cat's just nicking the thing he was writing for fun, not the document that he needed to get his medical exemption. Thus Rimmer's interest in writing a "special report" seems to have nothing to do with anything, and appears to only coincide with his need to catch Lister doing something insane by coincidence.

Nonetheless, while "Dear Dave" is often criticised among the self-appointed arbiters of Red Dwarf "fandom", I actually think it's fine, and I enjoy how low-key it is. The whole charades section is good, especially Lister's exasperation at Rimmer's constant talk about a "giant death worm", Kryten worrying that people don't like the shape of his head and, ultimately, the Cat saying that the reason it was a "two words" situation is because when the mail pod crashed into his clothes he said "Oh man!" The Cat's conversation about Hayley Summers and "Roy" later in the episode is amusing too, especially his line about her being "covered in money, while his finger-wetting machine was working overtime."

Lister and Rimmer's conversation about "moves" is a bit weird. Why does Rimmer care about Lister's situation? Furthermore, his "Jacobean move" is a bit daft, although I do like his little "strumming a mandolin under a balcony" action. That being said, none of it seems much like something Rimmer would say. It's more fitting when he tells Lister to "man up", the funniest bit being the way he says Lister should "listen to some brass band music." The idea of dipping biscuits in the fish tank is kind of funny too. All the stuff about toilet paper and the medical fund is a bit pointless and doesn't seem to have much real payoff; as I've already established, it doesn't seem to matter at the end that Cat nicks Rimmer's special report to use as paper. It's also confusing because the idea of the "JMC Onboard Computer" and so forth is never really explained; no one ever seems to observe the computer doesn't understand that the bureaucracy it was seemingly programmed to serve hasn't existed for millions of years.

Another standout joke in the episode is the way Rimmer says "Oh yes I've got one!" shortly after trying to persuade Lister that it doesn't matter who finds a letter addressed to them first. It's also worth noting for the nerds out there that this parking fine shows Rimmer to be wrong about his spotless record in "Justice". The "bet she was a man" stuff is a little peculiar. I'm also not sure what I think about the vending machine material. I guess the way it ties in to Rimmer's story is kind of pleasing, although Lister's line about spicy Mexican crisps just makes me want some. The final line, "What an absolute slag", is a decent closing gag even if it does come across as mean-spirited. In general I think "Dear Dave" is fine; not the strongest episode of Series X by any stretch, but a pretty decently entertaining piece which makes the best of the extremely difficult circumstances foisted upon it by the budget.

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