Red Dwarf XI: Samsara Review

In the few days since Samsara was released online, the reaction seems to be mixed to say the least, with opinion split on whether or not it was better than Twentica. Some people are calling it a highlight of the Dave era, and some people are calling it an absolute stinker, although admittedly the majority lie somewhere in the middle of these extremes. Nevertheless, any review is naturally going to met with disagreement from one side or the other, so here’s the deal.

If you liked Samsara, then the bits that have you nodding with agreement mean that your goodwill will be punished with bits that will make you angry. And if you hated it, all the insults you fling at me for being wrong will be rewarded by the time you reach the end. For I believe that this episode is a perfectly balanced mixture of equal parts great Red Dwarf and terrible Red Dwarf. Let’s go back to the beginning to explore why…

First released: Friday 23rd September 2016, UKTV Play

Written by: Doug Naylor

Directed by: Doug Naylor

Main Cast:
Chris Barrie (Rimmer)
Craig Charles (Lister)
Danny John-Jules (Cat)
Robert Llewellyn (Kryten)

Guest Cast:
Dan Tetsell (Green)
Maggie Service (Barker)
Eddie Bagayawa (Captain Tom Kadri)

Synopsis:
When the Dwarfers investigate a crashed ship at the bottom of an ocean moon, Lister and Cat become trapped together and Lister’s nightmare begins. Meantime Rimmer and Kryten discover the ship is controlled by a dark force.

Set Report | Let’s Talk About | Talking Points

We start with a lovely little model sequence, showing the crash of the Samsara and the escape of its pod, three million years ago. There’s been no scrimping on the special effects so far in Series XI; both episodes have featured original models and specially-shot footage in addition to the reusable establishing shots, and both the scale and quality is a huge step-up from Series X. It’s not perfect – that escape pod doesn’t quite look real, and I can’t tell whether it’s CGI or just badly composited – but it does the job, and it combines with the music to set a mysterious tone for the episode.

Much like Twentica, it’s an opening gambit that wastes no time in setting up the plot; simply by placing this set-up before the first dialogue scene, Doug buys himself some time to wallow in the comedy, with the audience safely reassured that the story proper will be starting shortly. And it’s a comedy scene that’s worth wallowing in. Ask anyone with a vague recollection of Red Dwarf, and they’ll tell you that Rimmer/Lister bunk room scenes were always the heartbeat of the show. That was really only true for the first two or three series at most, and later attempts to replicate the formula often fell flat, possibly due to the misconception that it was the location that was the magical element in those classic scenes.

But the Mine-opoly scene is the finest example of the genre for some time, thanks to several key factors. Firstly, the characterisation is spot on. Lister and Rimmer have come a long way together, to the extent that they can almost get along as friends and equals. The 25-year-old Lister would never have chosen to sit down and play a board game with Rimmer, but both characters have mellowed in the intervening years, without losing their original character aspects. Lister’s now happy to share his leisure time with Rimmer, but only if he can subvert the rules, get the upper hand, wind Rimmer up and get something out of it. Rimmer pretends not to take the game as seriously as he once would, but still has this insatiable need to beat Lister, and he can’t help but react when it all goes wrong. Chris is on particularly good form here, with his increasing incredulity at each dice roll, and the eventual childish scamper to his bunk.

But crucially, the reason that both this and the subsequent ice-cream-eating scene work so well is that the jokes are relevant as well as funny. Following Series X, I seem to have developed an in-built aversion to any scenes towards the beginning of an episode that depict a slice of everyday life on board the ship. All too often, these ‘status quo’ moments have felt like filler – sometimes they’ve been tonally relevant to the overall story, but they usually only serve to set up secondary B-plots or unrelated running gags, which in themselves end up having a negative effect on the episode.

Samsara is one of those episodes that focuses solely on one clear story, and is all the better for it, right from these opening scenes. Not only is the chat about curses and charmed lives thematically linked to the main plot, but a second viewing reveals that the plot actually starts earlier than anticipated, with the knowledge that the Samsara’s karma drive was affecting Rimmer’s dice throws. Meanwhile, Cat and Kryten are busy doing the exposition side of things whilst keeping the laughs coming. I like the bing bong machine, even if it does remind me of Norman in Re-Mastered.

Of course, with Twentica taking place almost exclusively off the ship, these scenes also represent our first proper look at the main non-Starbug sets for the series. The bunk room has a similar aesthetic to Series X, but with a blue tint to the lighting, which seems to be Ed Moore’s leitmotif. But the science room is like nothing we’ve ever seen before – it’s huge, clinical and very slick. All the various bits of apparatus seem to belong together, regardless of which previous productions they’ve been cannibalised from. It looks far more high-tech than any other area of Red Dwarf we’ve explored in the past, and far more expensive than it probably was.

Before long, after some cracking Cat lines, an amusing comedy sneeze and a model sequence that’s far too dark to see anything properly, the crew are on their way to the Samsara, and the audience are temporarily taken back in time. Flashbacks aren’t unprecedented in Red Dwarf, but they are rare, and I don’t think we’ve ever seen any that don’t involve at least one of the main characters. I am well on board with Doug experimenting with the narrative form, and finding new ways to tell Red Dwarf stories is no mean feat when you’re eleven series in.

The flashbacks themselves weren’t particular highlights on a comedic level, but then I don’t think they were necessarily intended to be; they moved the story on in an interesting way, usually pretty damned quickly before handing back to the regular cast. Dan Tetsell and Maggie Service were both enjoyable and strangely likeable, when it would have been so easy to play those characters as one-dimensional sleazeballs; both the script and the performances provide just enough nuance to flesh them out and make them feel like real people.

Doug was also able to use the flashbacks for some directorial flourishes, with some nice smooth transitions between scenes. Overall, the episode was richer for having these sequences included. Aside from being an effective way of showing us what happened to the Samsara rather than just telling us, it was fun to see scenes from the wider Dwarf universe, which are a very rare occurrence indeed outside of the novels and Smegazine comics. It made the Samsara so much more than just another derelict for our crew to explore – it was a real place, where real people lived, and a real tragedy befell them.

Of course, those real people managed to fit in some real debauchery before their demise, and the most enduring image of the episode is that of a series of skeletal orgies. These shots took me aback somewhat – not because I’m remotely prudish, but because I was surprised that the show went there. It’s a very rude joke for Red Dwarf; previous sexual references have been entirely verbal, and I can’t help but wonder what I’d have made of it as a seven-year-old. Naturally, I’m all in favour of this rudeness – the initial laughter of shock was backed up by the brilliant Cat riff on Twister, and his innocence is what really sells it.

The sequences of the crew exploring the ship, aided by the frequent flashbacks, really are terrific – the sense of mystery is strong, with the audience piecing the clues together at the same pace as the crew. By the time the effects of the karma drive really kick in, we hit a rich vein of slapstick. It’s a style of humour that can miss just as often as it hits, but again, it’s backed up and enhanced with some great dialogue, notably the Cat thinking he’s gone blind, and somehow thinking it’s connected to being stabbed in the foot.

Just as things really ramp up, we hit a rather clumsily-placed ad break. I can totally see why it’s been put there – the doors closing on Lister and Cat create a little cliffhanger, and it’s convenient to separate the story into pre- and post- the pair being trapped together. But it seems to come in the middle of a scene, which is jarring; you can see the same action of the door closing twice, either side of the break. And sadly, but admittedly conveniently for this review, it’s at this point that an extremely promising and exciting episode begins to fall apart.

Because the thing is, I don’t think the plot is as clever as it thinks it is. I mean, it’s far from dumb – the karma drive is a fun and interesting premise, there’s a lot of comedic potential to explore, and it’s the kind of silly idea that no other current comedy could do nearly as well as Dwarf. I don’t mind that it’s similar to Justice, and I’m glad that the dialogue referenced the similarity. For one thing, it saves us the job of doing so, but also it’s not a big deal. While the likes of man-made viruses, unreliable time travel devices and shape-shifters have been thoroughly mined over the years, Justice was until this point a bit of a one-off, and there was clearly more mileage in the idea. I’ve no problem with the show having a second crack at it after seven series and a quarter of a century have passed.

But there’s the crux – it’s a relatively simple concept, especially for regular viewers of the show, but it doesn’t get explored as much as it should, because too much time is spent explaining what’s happening. Most viewers will have figured it out as soon as Cat is rewarded for stealing from charity. By the time Kryten finds the karma drive and explains what it does – and certainly by the time Rimmer poses the question of why he was being punished in the Mine-opoly game – the audience have surely clocked that the drive is faulty, but it takes Rimmer and Kryten the rest of the episode to get there.

The enjoyable, mysterious drip-feeding of information outstays its welcome, and suddenly there’s much less point to the flashbacks. Every time Kryten figures out another piece of vital information, we cut to a flashback that simply reiterates what we’ve already been told. We don’t need both of these narrative devices at this stage of the episode, and the doubling up means that the momentum is lost and everything grinds to a halt.

Meanwhile, Cat and Lister are holed up in a dark canteen, and it’s at this stage that my doubts about Series XI’s aesthetic start to rear their heads. There’s no doubt that it looks stunningly beautiful. Each and every scene is composed and lit to perfection, and it’s a lot more impressive than a sitcom on a digital channel has any right to be. But is it the right look for the show? It looks like a movie, but the actors are performing to a live audience, and that sometimes feels odd. In this episode, specifically the scene where Lister goes looking for the first aid kit, there’s good dialogue to be heard, but it might be funnier still if you could see the accompanying facial expressions. And doing slapstick in pitch blackness is a bold decision.

With two characters trapped together, Doug naturally takes the opportunity to do the kind of lengthy dialogue scenes that we come to expect from whichever episode of each particular series is selected for budgetary sacrifice. And man, these scenes feel long, even though there were Rimmer and Lister scenes of a similar length at the start of the episode that didn’t drag at all. But drag these Lister and Cat conversations did, and it’s because they didn’t feel remotely natural.

The jokes were largely fine, and they were well delivered by Danny and Craig. It was a perfectly serviceable comedy sketch, but it didn’t feel like the dialogue matched the characters. I’m not talking about the roles they played in the situation; I don’t particularly like it when the Cat is portrayed as thick, but it’s hardly an unprecedented approach, and I’m on board with Lister getting just as frustrated with Cat as he does Rimmer. It’s the dialogue that’s the problem – it doesn’t feel like it’s Lister and Cat talking, just any two generic humanoids. There’s nothing about the inventors chat that tells us anything about the situation, the plot or the characters. It’s tacked on.

Someone knowing the name of the man who invented Magic Markers, or coming out with a perfect Wikipedia-style definition of Formica, is funny if it’s a one-off sketch character. But to hear those lines coming out of Dave Lister’s mouth is just a bit weird, not to mention jarring. It’s not bad comedy, but it’s not brilliant comedy either, and its presence in this episode, when all it serves to accomplish is to hit pause on the plot, makes it bad Red Dwarf.

The combined effect of this long distraction and the aforementioned doubling up of information leads to an extremely abrupt ending. The way the first half of the episode is paced and structured makes you feel like there’s more to come in the second half. When the crew reunite, the episode just ends there and then; it feels like it’s missing an extra scene or two where they use what they’ve learned to escape the ship and head home. It’s funny, Twentica feels like it had a coda that was tacked on, and Samsara feels like it could do with one.

The problem is the amount of time that’s wasted in the second half, and that continues right up to the final scene. Kryten explains everything to Lister and Cat, but that’s the third time the audience have heard the same thing. They keep telling us about the effects of the karma drive without showing them, and there was surely a much more satisfactory ending to be had whereby we got to see crew rewarded/punished once or twice more. As it stands, the episode feels unfinished; we seemed to get the set-up for a final escape from the ship, but not the pay-off.

It’s a strange one, for sure. At times it felt like a hybrid of different types of episode. The initial bunkroom scene recalled the very early days, while the scenes on board the Samsara tried to do both an action-adventure episode and a bottle show at the same time. On the one hand it makes for a disjointed experience, but on the other you do have to admire the ability to provide the cheapest episode of the series with at least some scenes with the same scope as a more traditional episode. It’s just a shame the cheap-and-cheerful bits aren’t funny enough to compensate; Marooned is obviously untouchable, but these were barely on a par with Duct Soup.

After enjoying Twentica last week, but not quite as much as I had on the night of the recording, Samsara was a bit of a disappointment this week. It improved on second viewing, when I knew to expect a slower second half and an abrupt ending, but it still dragged towards the end. But hey, if an episode’s biggest and only significant crime is to be a bit dull, then while that’s not something we expect from Red Dwarf, at least being bored is preferable to being angry or offended. It’s not going to be troubling the top half of the chart come the next survey, or even the top two thirds, but it’s nowhere near the bottom of the pile.

Two weeks in, it’s hard to get a grip of Series XI as a whole, because both of the opening two episodes feel as if they’re atypical. You don’t know what type of thing you’ll be seeing week by week, and that’s exciting. If it turns out that Twentica is the best episode of the six, I’ll be a bit disappointed. But if it turns out Samsara is the worst, I’ll be doing cartwheels. It doesn’t hit any great heights, but it covers the basics: good jokes, driven by an intriguing plot, with high production values and strong performances. It fails to make all of these elements count, but if the remainder of the episodes can take these standards as a minimum and then see them through to the end, we’re in for a great series.

TINY TEASER: Glow Sticks – there are several glow sticks hidden within this episode. See if you can spot them.
ACTUAL SCENE COUNT: 26 (Series total: 40)
ACTUAL SMEG COUNT: 4 (Series total: 5)

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80 Responses to Red Dwarf XI: Samsara Review

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  1. Great review. I agree with all the comments about the structure of the episode, both what works and what doesn’t.

    Cutting a bit of the expository stuff (especially when it’s explaining stuff we’ve already seen) and trimming the Cat/Lister conversation would have maybe allowed for a slightly more developed ending – it really felt like it needed something extra, even just a line or two, to bring things to a close. As it is, it feels like it just

  2. Good review. My minor criticisms are”the special effects are kinda ropey” and “the guest cast aren’t very good”. My major criticism are that the karma drive doesn’t really give us anything particularly funny or dramatic; it’s simply there to solve a fairly dull and uninvolving mystery. Compare it (as one must) with Justice with its funny, yet dramatic, fight with the Simulant and the Cat hitting “himself” with a shove, and it looks even worse.

    But I guess my major criticism is that it simply didn’t make me laugh. I”m occasionally willing to overlook this when Red Dwar tells an interesting story, but I found Samsara wanting in this department. Lister and The Cat walk into one room. Kryten and Rimmer walk into another. Flashbacks play. It all seems very static and dull if the dialogue is not working for you.

    I haven’t tried watching it again yet and will probably wait until the Thursday airing. Very few things, it seems, leave me angrier than watching a Red Dwarf episode that I really don’t like (maybe rubbish Bond movies, I guess). My opinions on Red Dwarf seldom change from my initial viewings, so it’s a feeling of great disappointment when *another* episode arrives to stack up the “No” pile.

  3. >Aside from being an effective way of showing us what happened to the Samsara…

    ASIDE! YOU SAID ASIDE!

    I didn’t immediately get the Justice Field thing when Cat hurt his paw, so the longer explanation was welcome. But it did go on too long. And yes Lister knew a lot about Formica (which I mentioned really grated on me in the other thread). But this was better than Twentica for me because the jokes were mostly solid, and the performances were on point.
    I think having a live audience helps.

  4. Good review as it made me question my opinion. However. I thought it would be divisive (and trust me this is nothing compared to the future), but I’ve logged back onto a completely unexpected full on debate. After reading Symes’ review I am wondering, as per usual, what I’ve missed to make the second half so terrible. It was a little broad in its conclusion, a bit like an episode of Full House (or any early 90s US sitcom with kids) with the learnings at the end. But I laughed enough that I forget the plot half the time. To this day I’m still learning about older Dwarf because I haven’t paid enough attention to detail. Basically I am the lowest common denominator and I claim nothing.

  5. I mostly agree with your analysis, they could have cut some much out to give us a proper ending. It was a huge setup to nothing. Still, I’m enjoying this season immensely, I hope it holds up to time.

  6. I feel this is an episode that would have lived or died through the guest cast, because they are the ones who were at the very heart of the story…..and that’s where it failed because the guest preformances were weak, so much so they gave those scenes very little conviction. It be fair, I really don’t hate this episode or something because I think some of the humour worked really well…..but it also failed to leave much of impression, more the episode just sort of exists.

  7. Nice review, but not as glowing as this, eh?

  8. I didn’t find the flashbacks all that jarring myself as they reminded me of the flashbacks in Stasis Leak but Lister’s intimate knowledge of history was possibly the most stand out error in the episode had for me. (maybe in the lost years Lister really got into watching documentaries about history or something)

    In spite of this and the rest of the issue mentioned in the review I really enjoyed it, possibly more that last weeks episode.

  9. I have to agree with this review, pretty much 100%. Good stuff G&T!

  10. “Flashbacks aren’t unprecedented in Red Dwarf, but they are rare, and I don’t think we’ve ever seen any that don’t involve at least one of the main characters.”

    How about the beginning of The Inquisitor?

  11. Quick judgement: I really liked it. As everyone’s said, it’s quite different in tone to Twentica, but I quite enjoyed the unusual format. Some nice character stuff between Rimmer and Lister and the Cat/Lister scene, though overlong, was saved by a couple of real zingers. I agree the ending was quite abrupt, it would have made sense to at least see the crew get off the ship. But generally a good episode.

    One other thing, the Karma Drive prop itself is pretty awesome – I’d be hugely surprised if it wasn’t a pilfered piece of set dressing from Star Wars or something similar.

  12. G&T Admin

    How about the beginning of The Inquisitor?

    Except for the beginning of The Inquisitor.

  13. And Ouroboros to a degree :)

  14. > a model sequence that’s far too dark to see anything properly,

    That’s probably for the best… you can tell they darkened it cause of how dodgy particularly the beginning of the shot looked. Ah well….

    This review pretty much sums up my feelings on Samsara. Though, like Slainmonkey, I wasn’t particularly fussed about the guest stars… Granted, they didn’t have much to work with. What else could they have done with it? Something I’m still a little unsure of…why did they get so harsh a punishment as to be turned into little piles of powder?? Maybe I need to watch it again… It could have been better if the crew had met them. But then, you get the eternal problem of how to get rid of them. You can’t have more people randomly flying out of an airlock…

    So…. have we now seen the two good ones?? Looking back at the XI set reports (both here and elsewhere :p ) it seems Twentica and Samsara were the best-received out of the 6 episodes, followed by Can of Worms, then Give and Take, Officer Rimmer and then Krysis being the least-liked. Of course, all these opinions are based off audience recordings and could change dramatically on broadcast (for better or worse…..).

  15. Great review, touched on all the issues I had with the episode.

    I think my main issue with the Lister / Cat conversation is that it just doesn’t feel real in any way.

    I’ve been thinking of a similar moment of wrong-end-of-the-stickness in Blackadder where Baldrick thinks that the first world war started because “Some bloke called Archie Duke shot an ostrich because he was hungry” (“No, Baldrick..it was when the Archduke of Austro-Hungary was shot”) – it’s funny, well constructed and believable that Baldrick could’ve misheard / misunderstood the details.

    It just doesn’t ring true that Cat took Eureka for Formica (or is even familiar with Formica) or confusing gravity with gravy…. it just feels like a torturously written joke, which draws all the more attention to it not being very funny. You don’t hear Cat’s voice, you hear Doug’s.

    I think that’s a problem with a lot of post VI Dwarf – it feels like a facsimile, the writing and acting are very “visible”. If you see what I mean.

    I know I’m over analysing it. But, hey… that’s what we’re here for!

  16. I think that’s a problem with a lot of post VI Dwarf – it feels like a facsimile, the writing and acting are very “visible”. If you see what I mean.

    This is the word I’ve always used to describe VII onwards. It’s copy-machine Dwarf. It IS getting better, but it could be better still.

  17. > it feels like a facsimile, the writing and acting are very “visible”

    There’s plenty of that in VI too….:p

  18. There’s plenty of that in VI too….:p

    I suppose it was creeping in. It was still funny, though!

  19. >So…. have we now seen the two good ones??

    Bloody hell, I hope not. I preferred Office Rimmer to both of these so far, but I had a few problems with that…so I’m hopeful that I haven’t seen the best of XI as it’s not even comparing to the best of X for me, so far. I’d forgotten that Samsara was so warmly received at the recording, and I guess the general reaction so far tallies with that.

    Did you consider adding a link to each episode’s Set Report to the ribbon on the homepage, G+T-ers?

  20. I pretty much agree with almost everything in the review, and yet still absolutely loved the episode – largely, I think, because it made me laugh from start to finish. As I may have said in another thread, it’s almost the opposite of Twentica, which had an excellent plot to make up for the occasionally sub-part humour; here we have a glut of jokes to make up for a less rounded plot.

    It’s sad that neither episode so far has managed to unite the fanbase, or at least the majority of it, in being excellent, but it looks like most of us have really enjoyed at least one episode so far.

  21. Great review, chimed pretty much exactly with my own opinion.

    Glad you mentioned XI’s disorientating aesthetic. I feel like if they made it look like that with no audience, or shot it more conventionally with an audience… both of those would work. This is having its cake and eating it and it’s just not easy to take into the senses, there’s almost a queasy disconnect to it. X worked because underneath the gloss it was very bold and bright and big. XI is just layers and layers and layers of distraction piling on top of each other.

    It’d feel a bit warmer if the audience didn’t sound five miles away and completely silent half the time, but it looks like a sitcom shot by people who’d rather be making a US cable series or a film, or at worst who are actually slightly embarrassed to be making a studio sitcom even. It’s a sitcom in drag.

  22. It feels like VII – there’s so much gloss that there’s definitely a disconnect from the audience, even though they’re actually there…it doesn’t feel like it.

    It doesn’t really bother me, though.

  23. Great review, touched on all the issues I had with the episode.

    I think my main issue with the Lister / Cat conversation is that it just doesn’t feel real in any way.
    I’ve been thinking of a similar moment of wrong-end-of-the-stickness in Blackadder where Baldrick thinks that the first world war started because “Some bloke called Archie Duke shot an ostrich because he was hungry” (“No, Baldrick..it was when the Archduke of Austro-Hungary was shot”) – it’s funny, well constructed and believable that Baldrick could’ve misheard / misunderstood the details.
    It just doesn’t ring true that Cat took Eureka for Formica (or is even familiar with Formica) or confusing gravity with gravy…. it just feels like a torturously written joke, which draws all the more attention to it not being very funny. You don’t hear Cat’s voice, you hear Doug’s.
    I think that’s a problem with a lot of post VI Dwarf – it feels like a facsimile, the writing and acting are very “visible”. If you see what I mean.
    I know I’m over analysing it. But, hey… that’s what we’re here for!

    The Cat “mishearing” stems all the way back to cat society. Cloister and Fucshal etc. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think either all Catkind completely misunderstood lots of the human history they came across, with nothing to reference it to, or just that Cat is pretty dump and the bits he picked up in kitty school he has just got mixed up because he wasn’t paying any attention.

  24. “Cloister” and “Fuchal” are supposed to be lost in translation over three million years which is a different idea.

    And while we’re on the subject, “gravy” and “gravity” are words that look similar rather than sound similar. You couldn’t mishear one as the other, and the Cat can’t read.

  25. I’m loving how this series looks. Throughout the whole of X I felt like I was watching a very stagey sitcom and I knew that none of the rooms had a fourth wall. I rarely felt that with other Dwarf and the sci fi settings have to be sold to me as much as the jokes.

    Also, the sound of people falling over has probably been used in comedy for as long as sound in film has existed.

  26. If there’s one thing no-one’s ever said while watching Red Dwarf, it’s ‘this would be funnier with half the lights turned off and a stupid bloody Apocalypse Now ceiling fan shadow fluttering over Lister’s face’.

  27. If there’s one thing no-one’s ever said while watching Red Dwarf, it’s ‘this would be funnier with half the lights turned off and a stupid bloody Apocalypse Now ceiling fan shadow fluttering over Lister’s face’.

    I really love what they’ve done with the lighting! It’s worth noting that it will all look a LOT more effective in proper 1080p resolution. They made the right choice here IMO, especially in terms of differentiating it from X.

    The fan in the bunk room…. I keep thinking it’s a boom shadow coming in above them (I know I’m probably the only one who thinks that, but whatever…). Btw there WAS a boom shadow in this episode, and I find it weird they wouldn’t blur it out or something, when it’s a piece of piss to do in Final Cut Pro. XD

  28. Was the boom during the one armed bandit scene?

  29. > Was the boom during the one armed bandit scene?

    Yep! It’s there as blatant as anything… Surely they’ve gotta get rid of it for the DVD/Blu-ray XD

  30. I keep thinking it’s a boom shadow coming in above them (I know I’m probably the only one who thinks that, but whatever…).

    Nope, me too.

  31. This is an absolutely brilliant review, its really helped me understand why I didn’t like this so much on first viewing.

    If you are second guessing the plot and you get it right, after the 18 minute mark when the reveal of the Karma drive on board is made. (You can guess something is up with luck or karma before this point, but you cant know their is such thing as a karma drive.) You are then going “Yeah I know” a lot during the rest of the episode rather bored and expecting more from the episode. Doing that made me convinced that the flashback weren’t giving us anymore of the story, and so were badly placed in the story structure, or a bad idea in general maybe, because I thought Kryten had explained the whole situation by this point, though he hadnt. Not in full.

    Now I’ve read this articulate and brilliant review that really nails it, and I have re-watched for the second time.

    I now realize that the fact the drive was reversed or re-programmed is actually revealed pretty much in the right order between crew members and flash backs in the last 10 minutes, IF, you haven’t second guessed it by then, it’s really quite logical in it’s structure of reveal following the establishment of the karma drive, and even the endings pace becomes more satisfying when you are following when the plot twist beats as they are actually given rather than confirming your own suspicions early on. The tag is there to show that Lister isnt more moral than rimmer or the cat, and this has kept them all alive that they are such a bunch of unmoral and selfish petty crew they’ve escaped where the other crew programmed to be nice for so long have failed. And we only know this because a short minute or so ago we found our the karma drive was reversed. For all the clever second guesser it was 9 minutes or more ago and so we are waiting for the next layer of depth that never comes and then going “blimey is that the end?”

    In summary no wonder this episode has a mixed reaction. It’s like the dr who impossible astronaut situation in reverse. This episode is dumbed down Red Dwarf. It’s a perfectly good solid episode if you watch and wait for it to tell your everything. A large percentage of TV viewing comedy fans should really enjoy it. Sci Fi, and more regular dwarf fans are going to be a third of an episode ahead and frustrated. And I really dont mean any slight at anyone by that. If you watched and enjoyed this episode through out, you are of course better off from the experience after all.

    ….

    On a completely different note from second viewing. There are things I did enjoy on a second watch. more so than first comments on this episode listed. The flashback scene in the captain’s office was nicely like stasis leak and the funniest of the flashback scenes and best establisher of their characters. Loved the skeleton reveal still the second time seeing it, this time reminded me of back to reality when they find skeletons, done as an xxx rated version.

    I dont totally agree with this reviews point about sex always being verbal before in Red Dwarf. Kissing like in blue/psirens/rimmerworld/epideme/even VR in gunmen have been twisted versions of visual sex gags and even if you diss allow those as “kissing” not “sex”, then we’ve seen a vending machine humped a groinal socket looking dodgy during boxer shorts removal, and even when dismissing those as innuendo, we’ve had a post coital hologramme bed scene, a VR rocking shagging wagon, removal of a chastity belt, and oiled arnie nipples. I find the skeleton’s in the tradition of things like that myself not something new ground in on screen visual sex references. I would still find the series VIII luck virus door porthole the most graphic referncing of sexual activity in a visual sense over 3 million year old stiffs!

    Really dont like the flashback woman’s pantomime makeover very series VIII like comedy even if the point is she is supposed to look bad etc.

    And has no one mentioned yet how fucking terrible the escape pod communication graphic is. She is clearly standing in a set, the shot looks like it’s a voice over done differently onto a shot from another scene in the flashbacks set. Almost like they forgot to get that actress to film something inside an escape pod set up. which wouldn’t have taken much to do, just her head against a wall panel not a doorway arch, would have done. It’s dreadful.

    And The whole science names jokes thing, feels like a speech cut from twentica’s ideas pad, what with all the science last week, feels so out of place in Samsara, really poor, the lead in and urgh just so stupid.

  32. That last scene with the 4 of them is….bloody rubbish really! There’s no ‘slag’ line, at least, but still…there’s no excuse for ending on a minute of telling us what we’ve just seen. The Dwarfers should have just accepted they didn’t know what happened to Green and Barker, but we see it in another flashback. So that could have been a fairly sad, but satisfying ending, if done right… Or you’d go the other route of what I suggested in the other thread, where it cuts back to Rimmer and Lister playing Mine-opoly again.

  33. > Really dont like the flashback woman’s pantomime makeover very series VIII like comedy even if the point is she is supposed to look bad etc.

    Well what they did with his teeth as well….fairly crigeworthy. But yeah, it makes you think….can we get through a series without a female guest star being made to look stupid?? Or maybe that’s a sexist thing to say in itself, cause we never have a problem with that happening to the male cast…. It’s a difficult one, and perhaps I’ll just leave it there…:p at least Twentica didn’t have that issue!

  34. A Mine-opoly rematch really does seem like it’d have been the logical way to go. Personally, I’d have liked Rimmer to win that only to reveal that he’s stayed undefeated all those years because he was acting unethically (cheating somehow) and tie that in with what went on before.

  35. My wife couldn’t get past that the skeletons were all secondhand classroom anatomy skeletons with visible metal rods through them and crude masking tape repairs. “Could they not have at least sprayed some shit on them or something?”

  36. Is it me or was the camerawork unnecessarily shaky in the bunkroom scene?

  37. Lister’s intimate knowledge of history was possibly the most stand out error in the episode had for me. (maybe in the lost years Lister really got into watching documentaries about history or something)

    Well, “Lemons” established that Lister had to read a book on the most influential humans in history as part of the robotics course he’d signed up for. We know at least Jesus and Shakespeare were featured – I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine that Isaac Newton and Archimedes could also have featured in it. Probably a little more tenuous to assume the inventor of the Magic Marker was in there, but it’d explain things… hell, maybe the inventor of Formica was in there too, accounting for Lister’s comprehensive knowledge of what that was. = P

    …Oh, the hoops we jump through to try and justify things in-universe… ; )

    “Gravy” and “gravity” are words that look similar rather than sound similar. You couldn’t mishear one as the other, and the Cat can’t read.

    He can certainly read by the time of Series VIII, as he manages to read “E-11-T” on the control panel during their AR-simulated escape from in “Back in the Red”. And, in fact, he can certainly read letters if not words as far back as Series III, as in “Bodyswap” he’s able to accurately read out the Scrabble letters he has – “J, O, Z, X, Y, Q, K”. He seems perfectly aware that Rimmer’s name is written on the badge on his uniform in Series V’s “The Inquisitor”, and I doubt that’s something anyone would have bothered to draw his attention to. And even without those examples, he seems perfectly capable of reading a Mine-opoly card at the end of this episode, so at the very least he can definitely read by the time of Series XI.

    But yes, in spite of that, I agree the whole “eureka/Formica” and “gravity/gravy” thing doesn’t work as it should – I agree it needed to be words that sound similar rather than look similar for the comedy to work well there. To be honest, the idea of Cat knowing anything much of human culture and history strikes me as a bit odd whenever it comes up – even if he’s not retained it enough to get it right, can anyone actually see him taking enough interest to gain even his mangled knowledge of things in the first place? = S

  38. Couldn’t cat also read the Marilyn Munroe Robot in Last Day? My memory is hazy

  39. Couldn’t cat also read the Marilyn Munroe Robot in Last Day? My memory is hazy

    Yep – and thinking about it, there are various moments in Series III which confirm he can read aside from those two. “Embryo Refrigeration Unit…?!” (during the meal/autopsy sequence in “Polymorph”) is another one that springs to mind.

    Not sure if anything pre-Series III implies he can read written words, though – I’ve watched all of Series II bar “Parallel Universe” fairly recently and can’t recall anything off the top of my head that suggests he can. But yes, if nothing else, he’s definitely learned to do so during the gap between Series II and III.

  40. So, a small addendum re: Cat’s reading ability:

    The first suggestion he’s familiar in any way with the human English alphabet comes way back in Series I’s “Confidence and Paranoia” – he repeatedly spells “S-E-X” out loud during his chanting dance once he’s decided that tomorrow he’ll try and have sex with something. (As far as I can tell, this is the only suggestion that Cat might have any concept of how written English works in the whole of Series I – the only other written text he discusses has all been written in the Cat language of scents on the page.)

    During Series II, in “Stasis Leak”, he clearly recognises the “H” on Rimmer’s forehead as an alphabetical letter, leading him to coin the nickname “Alphabet-head”. In “Queeg” he describes work as “the ‘W’ word”, and in Parallel Universe is able to spell out “B-A-T-H” in order to avoid mentioning the word “bath” around the Dog.

    These examples all show that, while we never actually see him read or write anything during the first two series, he does at least have some grasp of the English alphabet and the spellings of certain words. True, in “Stasis Leak” he has Lister read out the best bits of Rimmer’s diary to him rather than reading it himself, but that’s not necessarily to say that it’s beyond his ability at the time – it could well just be his more catty nature of the early series shining through, letting Lister do all the hard work while reaping the entertainment it provides. Plus, frankly, it’d be really awkward for two people to try and read the same book at the same time anyway!

    What does this prove? …Probably nothing more than that I’ve spent far too much time looking into this, haha. I doubt Rob and Doug really thought about it this much…! = P

  41. Well, “Lemons” established that Lister had to read a book on the most influential humans in history as part of the robotics course he’d signed up for. We know at least Jesus and Shakespeare were featured – I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine that Isaac Newton and Archimedes could also have featured in it. Probably a little more tenuous to assume the inventor of the Magic Marker was in there, but it’d explain things… hell, maybe the inventor of Formica was in there too, accounting for Lister’s comprehensive knowledge of what that was. = P

    I agree, I felt that was very much in line with Lister’s character development during series X. I mean I personally am fine with seeing that has learned a lot about this stuff since we’ve seen him actively trying to expand his knowledge for that Robotics Course that nothing ever came of. It for me give some pay off to the continuity that series X started to set up, but dropped half way through.

  42. Cat can also read the in-flight magazine fluently in Dimension Jump.

  43. It for me give some pay off to the continuity that series X started to set up, but dropped half way through.

    Yes, it definitely seems like that was intended to be a Series I style through-line between the episodes, which then gets hastily abandoned once we reach the two replacement scripts at the end of the series. Would be interesting to see if and how that’d have paid off, as we know the other dropped through-line (the Kochanski references) would have paid off at the end of the series had all gone as originally planned.

    As-is, it feels a bit like if Series I had done all the set-up that Rimmer’s hidden the Hologram Personality Discs and then never paid that off with anything, rather than giving us the bait-and-switch cliffhanger to “Confidence and Paranoia”, and the excellent “Me²”. Hell, even the original plan prior to dropping of “Bodysnatcher” would still have paid this off well, by having him actually bring back Kochanski after successfully finding the discs – and, indeed, would have built it up even more, as “Bodysnatcher” would have also shown that the impending threat of Lister turning him off is what drives Rimmer to hide the discs in the first place.

    (On the subject of “Bodysnatcher” – how exactly has the phrase “smegwit”, used multiple times in that script, not made its way into the series proper by this point?)

  44. I may be misremembering, but isn’t it implied that Lister is (a bit) better read/educated by even third series? Specifically “Marooned,” where he’s at least aware of Patton and Caesar and he seems to recognise several famous authors.

    Could be wrong as it’s been a while, but nonetheless 30-odd years of flicking through books while bored out of his mind in deep space.would definitely see him absorb a fair bit of “new” knowledge.

  45. Cat can also read the in-flight magazine fluently in Dimension Jump.

    “When most people think of scenes showing Cat reading, they are unlikely to consider the crash scene from ‘Dimension Jump’ – yet the ‘Dimension Jump’ scene is among the longest and most verbose.”

    (…Good catch. ; P)

  46. “When most people think of scenes showing Cat reading, they are unlikely to consider the crash scene from ‘Dimension Jump’ – yet the ‘Dimension Jump’ scene is among the longest and most verbose.”
    (…Good catch. ; P)

    Ha! :)

  47. >One other thing, the Karma Drive prop itself is pretty awesome – I’d be hugely surprised if it wasn’t a pilfered piece of set dressing from Star Wars or something similar.

    I think I know where it’s from, but I need to confirm that it’s the one I’m thinking of. If it is, it’s from something pretty awesome.

  48. G&T Admin

    I’m on board with Lister knowing what he knows about Newton, Archimedes and Caesar. The inventor of the magic marker and the specifics of Formica, not so much.

  49. >One other thing, the Karma Drive prop itself is pretty awesome – I’d be hugely surprised if it wasn’t a pilfered piece of set dressing from Star Wars or something similar.

    I think I know where it’s from, but I need to confirm that it’s the one I’m thinking of. If it is, it’s from something pretty awesome.

    I swear Doug just creeps around Pinewood in the dead of night, rummaging through skips.

  50. I swear Doug just creeps around Pinewood in the dead of night, rummaging through skips.

    To be fair, I’d be doing the same thing – even if I didn’t have a TV show to produce.

  51. Ok I just realised I can get UKTV play on my Amazon Fire stick lol. I was cursing that my ps4 didn’t have it I never clicked to check on the stick. I only use it for Netflix anyway . At least it saves me watching RD on my phone killing my battery

  52. FWIW, Cat is also able to read the titles of the Lows’ video collection. (Or maybe he just recognised the cover art?)

  53. G&T Admin

    This thread has a lot of speculation about the plot and character jokes, which I think underlines why I’ve got a big problem with this episode. I’ve not struggled to follow or been annoyed by an episode of Dwarf to this extent for quite some time, and I feel it’s badly written in both plot and character terms. I don’t feel that I should have to watch an episode twice to understand it, and I’m even more annoyed that I still found it confusing on second viewing. It appears that if you’re happy to make up your own theory on what Doug could have meant, the episode’s a lot more satisfying, but I don’t think that’s the point of Red Dwarf, which is meant to be a sitcom, not an esoteric murder mystery. Also, yet again, we have guest characters who are killed off with no chance to really get to know them, so there’s no emotional beat, making it all rather pointless.

    As for the rather pointless routine about Formica; if it sounds odd, that’s because it is. The viewer shouldn’t have to sit around speculating on how many encyclopedias Lister might have read during his time in space in order to try and appreciate the jokes. It seems to be a long-winded way of acknowledging that the jokes make very little sense on the context of the show, and therefore don’t land. Which, of course, is the central issue; if this were a funny episode, you might forgive some jokes that didn’t land or bits of the plot that weren’t really linked very well. As it is, I’ve just ended up feeling rather annoyed that I’ve sat through what feels like a reconstructed clip show without the laughs at times.

  54. Upon rewatching the episode again last night, I did enjoy the show up until the crew board the SS Samsara. From then on and particularly at the first flashback I start to lose interest. The ropey acting from the extras. The long unfunny conversation between Lister & Cat. Lister’s knowledge of things like the inventor of magic markers and what formica is. I also knew the second we had two piles of dust on the table that something was going to happen to them, either from Lister or Cat and it would likely be a sneeze. Far too obvious a joke. The abrupt ending is very jarring also. Felt like part of the episode was missing or my recording messed up and skipped a bit. I do find it strange that Danny has went from not getting many lines to now talking a lot more and a lot of what he says are either unfunny lines or just waffle – seemingly for the sole purpose of giving Danny something to do in a scene.

    Both episodes so far have issues but one positive thing they do have in common is that they look absolutely gorgeous as I am sure all of XI and indeed XII does. The show really does pop on screen and it’s so nice to look at.

  55. G&T Admin

    Do you mean the guest actors, pad_ehh? They’re likely to be pissed off at being described as extras, unless you mean the people in the background. I didn’t like their performances much, but I also don’t think they were given that much to work with. Obvious jokes aren’t always a problem if they’re well set up, and tbh, the sneeze was one of the better ones imo. But you’re not the only one who has remarked on the odd structure of the episode, and it does feel like there’s at least one scene missing.

    The new series DO work quite well in terms of design, but given what can be achieved nowadays, that should be expected. However, I feel some details are overlooked, and it really takes me out of the action. Those glow sticks haven’t been altered from when they were taken out of the packet, and it irritated me. At least put some tape on them, or a ship logo, or SOMETHING that tells us that they’re emergency lighting, not a glow stick that I’ve still got in my bedroom from the last hen night I attended. Even in a good episode, it would annoy me, but in a bad episode, it allows me to sit there obsessing over how silly it is, and how easily it could be fixed.

  56. You mentioned the unaltered glowsticks and [adambuxtonvoice]MY WIFE[/adambuxtonvoice] spotted the unaltered educational skeletons, anyone else spot the Windows mouse cursor on the captain’s computer screen?

    There are Star Trek fan films that wouldn’t have let all that slip through.

  57. I’ve watched it three times and I thought it was alright. I think the best things about this series so far are getting to spend time with the cast (I’ve been a fan since Wham and each new series triggers some excitement within me) and the design of the sets, costumes and models. There are bits of dialogue I like (freshers week at art school/monkey arms) and bits I wish had been lost (I’m a computer programmer goddammit). I’m slightly concerned I’m not laughing enough. I even lolled more at Back To Earth. To be fair I am mostly watching this new series on a tiny phone which doesn’t help.

  58. I watched it a second time last week and while i liked it abit more in second viewing i still wish i liked samsara more then i do as i think at times the characters feel abit caricaturish so the jokes become abit predictable aswell as some of the jokes outstaying their welcome or just not being all that great like Fryten strangling lister just to make a point of explaining how the captain was killed, it felt abit slapstick.

    Being spoilt with early dwarf is the issue as it just makes some things in the new series feel flat in comparison.

  59. I completely agree with your review; overall, while the karma drive is a great concept and there are several very funny pieces of dialogue, the episode has too many frustrating issues for it to be anything other than disappointing.

    I’ve been trying to put my finger on one of the subtler reasons (in addition to those identified above) why the episode doesn’t quite work… I’m wondering whether it’s the laugh track.

    Before you stop reading… I usually deride those who bring up ‘canned laughter’, but in Samsara’s case, I can understand why people believe it’s not a live audience, and that it’s actually distracting.

    Ultimately, I just didn’t feel that the crew were in any real danger, which – for me – rendered the story pretty pointless.

    Laughter jarred with several ‘darker’ or more ‘mysterious’ moments throughout. If we compare the below examples with those in series 5 (e.g. Cat, Lister and Kryten during the opening scenes in Back to Reality or when the crew discover Dr Lanstrom in Quarantine) there’s a distinct difference in tone. Laughter in Samsara distanced me from the perilous atmosphere that the story should have generated.

    While I appreciate that people find different things funny, I assume it’s up to the director to determine which elements of laughter he/she thinks best compliment the episode. It’s been pointed out many times that Red Dwarf audiences are extremely excited to be there (I certainly was for XII) but if some portions of the laughter are ultimately misplaced, post-production should correct this, no?

    Examples:-
    – Reveal of Barker and Green as piles of ashes. Yes, laugh at Rimmer’s reaction, but not the close up of the ashes themselves; we’ve just realised that two characters have died. I should feel an element of danger, no?
    – Lister getting his dreads caught. Yes, Lister’s subsequent reaction (“Like I’m gonna move!”) is funny, but until his reaction, should this not have been played more seriously to develop the sense of peril?
    – Lister falling over in the dark. Maybe it’s just me, but again this should be have been used to enhance the “what the heck is going on” feel rather than being funny in itself.
    – Rimmer suggesting to Kryten that he lost at Mine-opoly due to the Karma Drive. Again, this should surely have been a simple moment of exposition; should we laugh at Rimmer’s (correct) realisation?
    – There are more, but you get the picture…

    Ultimately, it feels as though this episode could have been improved by upping the sense of danger (and thus giving a reason for us wanting to follow the story). The light (or dark) tone that the laugh track’s presence provides is surely part of that – particularly given Howard Goodall’s great work on the beautifully mysterious soundtrack.

    P.s. While the laugh track is certainly much less of an issue than others identified by the review, I thought it worth throwing into the mix to see whether anyone else thought it might contribute to the episode’s weakness.

  60. The laughter is odd, other than being generally overenthusiastic… It’s like it lacks texture.
    Hard to explain.
    In the classic series, there’d be a whole landscape of laughs…from brief bursts amidst quick fire gags, milder titters for the lesser ones and massive woofs where appropriate.
    A lot of the laughs now seem to be of a similar intensity and duration regardless of the gag. It ends up feeling flat and disconnected / false.
    No idea if it’s due to the actual audience reaction or the sound mix…or if I’m just imagining it and talking bollocks.

  61. I agree with the review for the most part, not Red Dwarf at its best but by no means unenjoyable. Also, I think “I’ve been rolling in smeg my entire life” might be my favourite use of the word “smeg” in the entire of Red Dwarf.

  62. …I think “I’ve been rolling in smeg my entire life” might be my favourite use of the word “smeg” in the entire of Red Dwarf.

    Agree with this. Cracking line.

  63. There are Star Trek fan films that wouldn’t have let all that slip through.

  64. There are Star Trek fan films that wouldn’t have let all that slip through.

    Voyager was at it too

  65. In a world that contains Uroboros, no-one could place this episode among the worst ever made without an agenda.

  66. G&T Admin

    I am hugely amused that anyone could be bothered to have an anti-Samsara agenda.

  67. Remember my ongoing bemused scorekeeping regarding Daniel Barker’s canonicity as a cast member? I’ve had the XI disc on Play All in the background while doing some tidying up, and I’m fairly sure he, uncredited, loops a line of dialogue in Samsara as a crew member at the start of the very first flashback scene. It’s his timbre anyway. I now have a nonsensical compulsion to confirm or deny this, as it has nerdy number crunching ramifications. Specifically, if I’m right that means he’s officially been in more consecutive episodes of Dwarf than Mac McDonald, and has already matched Tony Hawks for caps, making him joint ninth most capped Dwarf actor. If it’s true and he’s then in five out of six XII shows he’s beaten Mac to eighth place. THIS IS IMPORTANT.

    Also, bigger point – Samsara in audio only, without all the cheapo visuals and fan-film aesthetic, is significantly better.

  68. Nice point. Which line? And you mean 5 shows during XI, as XII is yet to air, i point out only also point out he may soon increase his appearances if they kept him on production .

  69. >In a world that contains Uroboros, no-one could place this episode among the worst ever made without an agenda.

    Sounds like you have an agenda against Uroborus. Whatever the hell that means.

  70. Nice point. Which line? And you mean 5 shows during XI, as XII is yet to air, i point out only also point out he may soon increase his appearances if they kept him on production .

    There’s a dubbed-over extra sat down chatting in the very first seconds of that first flashback. (I’d check the line right now, or at least timecode it, but I’ve a sleeping baby in front of me that I’ve just lost several years life expectancy and most of my remaining hair getting down and I’m sat here frozen in fear that she will wake up if I so much as twitch.)

    According to Chris Barrie on the XI doc he was there for the whole production block, so I’m watching the progress of this one with Statto-like glee. My unpopular opinion is that he is technically a main cast member despite only having played two consequential characters so far. And now I’ve started with that, I have to see this through to completion!

    I’d attempt to ask him directly but I nuked my Twitter account 18 months ago as it was bringing me out in hives. I just lurk a few feeds as a voyeur these days.

  71. Well I would consider that having played “The universe” and being all matter, he’s played all the main cast, and the locations, he’s been in every episode of Red Dwarf & probably thanks to Tommy Westphall a bloody huge amount of other things into the bargain.

  72. Daniel Barker IS Jimmy Nail.

  73. #dwarffacts #cloche

  74. In Krysis, the boys happen upon the SIUWC – the Search for an Intelligent Use of the Word Cloche.
    It ultimately failed in its mission, and as such crews were dispatched to paint over the ‘WC’ on the outside and change the name to the Search for an Intelligent Universe – a much easier name to live up to.

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