Red Dwarf XI: Give And Take

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The lateness of these Red Dwarf XI reviews will soon be legendary, but I’m saving myself the trouble of recounting the plot in even the briefest detail because anyone interested will have seen it or got hold of a better review by now.

Curiously, some of those better reviews are hailing this as a classic episode, one to rival Doctor Who, even; but it didn’t immediately grab me as such.

I have, however, figured out why that is. I sat down in front of the episode last week expecting half an hour of LOLfunnies like some of my favourite Dwarf eps; it had its moments, certainly, but as a sitcom Give and Take was a little lighter on the com than some of my personal favourite episodes.

It was, however, a properly decent bit of science fiction, and had probably the scariest villain in Red Dwarf history in Asclepius – too bad he only got one scene, although his legacy lived on and needed all kinds of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff in the second half to put right. And as is often the way with wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stories, all does not always become clear on first viewing (especially if you’ve just tuned in for the laughs).

Spoiler alert

OK, so timey-wimey sci-fi with a touch of humour… I guess comparisons with Doctor Who are not completely unreasonable at this point. But we’re here to look at the philosophy, the morality and the spirituality of the story.

Obviously with all the karma from the previous episode we’re unlikely to get too spiritually minded here if the series is going to remain more balanced than poor old Asclepius, but there are a couple of points that came up.

First: lying. Kryten’s lie mode is about as inconsistent as… well, add your own Donald punchline here. But, like a presidential candidate (allegedly) Kryten is lying for a good cause. He’s lying to save Lister’s life, and maybe even the most honest among us would tell a little white lie to save a friend. In the same exchange, Cat is being as selfish as only Cat can be, but (there’s probably room for another Trump joke here somewhere) he seems to be struggling with it, at least a little. It’s almost as if he has a tiny inner philanthropist struggling to be heard over his vain and selfish facade. (Honestly, this was supposed to about morality and stuff; if you’re getting any hint of a running mate gag from that sentence it’s on you.)

But aside from the trivial matter of whether you would give up a kidney for the man who is, essentially, your God, there are the recurring themes of identity and purpose, here embodied in a retro-styled robot which Kryten has, without hesitation, identified as a superior medi-bot which must be taken back to Red Dwarf.

Back on the Dwarf, having dispensed a lengthy and productive session of therapy for Rimmer, it eventually transpires that Notasclepius should in fact have been dispensing Dr Pepper – who probably would have been more useful to Lister, who now has less kidney than a chip shop pie.

But the boys from the Dwarf persuade Snacky that he’s not just a snack dispenser, that he has learnt more than he realises, and as a result has more potential than he realises – potential which, in a roundabout sort of way, helps them to save Lister. Follow the causal loops and there’s something else going on there somewhere, but the point of this paragraph is that we don’t always see the best of ourselves. We don’t always see beyond our perceived identity as a snack vendor, or an estate agent, that we fail to see we actually have the potential to save lives, or run a… never mind.

Snacky was made in the image of Robby the Robot, but when he realised he was more than just a snack dispenser, he made a difference to the Red Dwarf Posse. Each of us is made in the image of God… imagine what we can achieve when we accept this fact.

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