Wow, I can’t believe that next week will be the last episode of Red Dwarf X. I spoke last week of its ups and downs, but I’m happy to say that this week’s review will be staying firmly in the “ups” department.
Dear Dave is probably my favourite episode of Red Dwarf X so far. I liked its plot, I liked its jokes and I liked it for being true to both the series as a whole and the style of Series X. Dear Dave finds Lister feeling a little bit down because he’s the last human being alive. Things are made worse when he receives some very old mail from an ex-girlfriend who tells him he might have had children. What follows is a clever and warm story that focuses on Lister as a character in much the same way as the also excellent Fathers and Suns.
What makes Dear Dave work so well is in its strong anchoring to the core values of a single character. Lister’s defining feature is that he’s the ultimate reflection humanity at its most mundane, and its most normal. The show rarely explores the tragedy of his isolation as the last man alive, and Dear Dave doesn’t really dwell on it either, but it does finally explore how that defines him as a person.
Another great strength about this episode, and something that has been working well for the whole series, is consideration of what life on board Red Dwarf is like. In previous episodes this year we’ve seen the installing new AI, getting mail from the on-board computer and been introduced to the rest of the ship’s mechanical inhabitants. This time around the vending machines from Fathers and Suns play more of a part in the story, and it really works. I really liked these vending machines the first time around, and it fits in well with the show. We’ve had talking vending machines before, but giving them personalities a bit more in line with the very popular Talkie Toaster is a winning combination.
I get the feeling that, though the scripts haven’t always been great, the writers have been very good at finding a balance in the setting this year. They understand that the claustrophobic episodes work best, but they still try to show you more of the ship. In fact, I think this is one of the first seasons in which the size of the ship really feels apparent from internal shots. But they’ve also found the balance in the amount of characters and the feeling of an isolated universe. In Series 7 we saw the re-introduction of Kochanski, Series 8 saw the resurrection of the crew, both moves that fundamentally changed the nature of the show. In Series X we finally find a middle ground that works. We have the main cast, and a supporting cast of computers, vending machines, garbage trucks roaming the hallways. We’re also seeing encounters with other races that are more indicative of a giant, empty universe than the Star Trek-esque common encounters of Series 6.
Best of all, the cast seem on top form this week. Dear Dave was a pleasure to watch. We’re certainly back to the high standards of the first two episodes, but it’s also probably the first really standout episode of the series. I liked Fathers and Suns a lot, but I think Dear Dave will be the episode that I remember (like Backwards or Gunmen of the Apocalypse) as an icon of its series.