The third episode of Red Dwarf’s latest season might be the best so far of the show’s Dave era.
In ‘Give and Take’ an encounter with an unhinged, high-tech medi-bot leaves Lister without any kidneys. As Kryten is a mechanoid and Rimmer a hologram, the Cat is the only one capable of donating a kidney and saving Lister’s life, but will the vainest creature alive ever agree to it?
My main gripe with last week’s episode ‘Samsara’ was that it got rather bogged down in exposition, causing the plot to stagnate and the idea of the karma drive to be over before it had really begun to be mined for laughs. ‘Give and Take’ might seem on the page to be even more densely plotted (its story can be split into four parts, the last of which involves time travel!) yet it manages to move at a much better pace and avoids getting stuck in exposition mode.
The first chunk of the episode treats us to more Rimmer than we’ve had so far this series, as he has an amusing argument with a talking lift who’s afraid of losing custom to the stairs, plus a cockpit scene that ranks up there with the best.
Starbug’s cockpit has been the setting of some classic Red Dwarf moments in the past, so fans should be pleased that ‘Give and Take’ has an exchange between Rimmer and Kryten that rivals “Are you absolutely sure, sir? It does mean changing the bulb” from Season VI.
Once the crew are exploring the space station, it really becomes clear how much effort, and likely money, has been put into filming this new series. Everything looks a lot more polished than it used to, and the encounter with Asclepius the medi-bot is perhaps the closest that Dwarf has every got to full-on horror. And while we’re on the subject of technical wizardry, credit should also be given for a pretty flawless split screen (to my relatively untrained eye, anyway) involving Lister towards the end of the episode.
AI characters have rarely been crowd-pleasers in Red Dwarf, with Taiwan Tony the vending machine and the creepy American doctor from Season X being particular comedic low points in the show’s history, and this episode features two of them in prominent roles – the talking lift and Snacky the vending machine. However, they’re surprisingly a lot more tolerable than their predecessors and actually have a purpose when it comes to the main plot.
Many of the episode’s laughs come from Snacky getting caught in a case of mistaken identity, with the crew believing he is super-smart medi-bot Asclepius and Rimmer even requesting some psychiatric help from him. We also get some more great work from Danny John-Jules as the Cat, who appears to have been given more to do in just three episodes of Season XI than in the entirety of Season X.
In contrast to ‘Twentica’ and ‘Samsara’, which both seemed to end rather abruptly, ‘Give and Take’ manages to wrap things up very nicely despite the timey-wimey nature of its final act. You don’t really expect a show that’s now in its eleventh season to surprise you, but this ending manages to do just that, with clever callbacks to earlier moments that it’s unlikely you’ll see coming.
We’re now halfway through Red Dwarf XI and, judging from reviews and comments online, it seems that nobody can agree on which episode has been the best so far.
‘Give and Take’ is at the top of my list, but it’s clear that ‘Twentica’ and ‘Samsara’ have plenty of admirers too. This is testament to the high standard of these first three episodes, so I’m eager to see what the next three will bring.
Available now on UKTV Play and airs at 9pm on Thursday 7 October 2016 on Dave.
What did you think of the episode? Let us know below…