The second episode of the long-running sci-fi sitcom’s latest season doesn’t quite live up to its premise.
In ‘Samsara’ the crew find an escape pod, but discover that its two human passengers, Barker and Green, have been mysteriously vaporised just moments earlier. They explore a nearby crashed ship in search of answers, only for Lister and the Cat to get themselves trapped as the ship begins to sink.
The first ten or so minutes of this installment could be taken directly from a classic episode of Dwarf. We get Lister and Rimmer bickering over a board game and a bet, complete with jokes about the size of Rimmer’s nostrils, and Kryten remarking that “I love dust, after fluff it’s my all-time favourite dirt”.
Skeletons have weirdly been the subject of some memorable Red Dwarf moments during the show’s history – the reveal of the crew on the Nova 5 in ‘Kryten’ from Season II and the mass suicide (funnier than it sounds) caused by the despair squid in ‘Back To Reality’ from Season V – and this new episode cranks it up a notch, with an excellent sight gag involving skeletons aboard the crashed ship.
Despite this strong start though, things go a bit astray in the second half of ‘Samsara’. The plot features a karma drive, designed to reward good behaviour and punish the bad. A concept ripe for comedy, you might think, but it feels like more time is devoted to explaining what the drive is, how it works and what it’s got to do with Barker and Green than actually getting jokes out of it.
While the crew are exploring the crashed ship, trying to figure out what could have happened to Barker and Green, we are privy to some flashbacks which show us the pair’s past. This is a nice idea that’s certainly something new for Red Dwarf, as we rarely see scenes that don’t involve at least one of the four main characters.
However, rather than allowing us to draw our own conclusions from these flashbacks, Kryten is also in exposition mode for much of the episode, and all this adds up to a rather exposition-heavy second half.
I mentioned in my review of last week’s ‘Twentica’ that I was hoping for more Danny John-Jules in this season, and ‘Samsara’ certainly delivers in that area, as the Cat tells Lister his own confused version of world history. The Cat gets the lion’s share of the gags in this episode and, thankfully, there are some great ones. A pun on the word ‘knighthood’ is a particular highlight.
To sum up, ‘Samsara’ has a good set-up and some enjoyable moments throughout, but could have got more comedy mileage out of the karma drive and gets a bit bogged down in exposition during its second half.
Available now on UKTV Play and airs at 9pm on Thursday 29 September 2016 on Dave.
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