Remember me? I’m Hayley, your plot device. I know you’ve never mentioned me before, despite Red Dwarf being on its tenth series, but I still expect you to care that I might be pregnant by you, despite the fact that both I and the baby died 3 million years ago, and that your oddly casual reaction concludes in you just as casually calling me a slag once you realise that you’re not the father after all.
I’ll quit this letter whilst I’m ahead, I think. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed ‘Dear Dave’, but that was because I like my comedy to have jokes in, and this episode had plenty. Perhaps the best set piece in the episode was the vending machine love triangle; a lovely bit of writing, fitting in perfectly within the series universe. If you’re stuck in deep space, with machines that talk to you, it’s only natural that you’ll talk back to them, and even have a bit of a flirt, seeing as there’s no-one else to do that with. In fact, it’s a real shame that this hasn’t been explored a bit more, with there being a build up to this love triangle in previous episodes, as it certainly would have made a better alternative to the problematic Taiwan Tony plotline. As mentioned in the G&T Dwarfcast, there’s a real difference between a French stereotype and a Taiwanese one, and the very fact that I had to think about whether to put ‘Taiwanese’ or ‘Chinese’ there highlights some of the awkwardness, especially from a show written and produced in a former imperial power. When the Chinese are our mighty imperialist overlords, perhaps we’ll be forgiven for doing the odd ‘ho-chi-hi-chee’ comedy voice, but until then, we should probably avoid it, if possible.
So, the episode had plenty of jokes, which, unfortunately, was also part of the problem. I know, I’m never happy. Even when I was laughing at Lister seemingly having sex with a vending machine, the thought did cross my mind that if he really wanted to make the vending machine upright again, lying on top of it was probably the wrong position to be in. Getting his jacket caught would have been simple enough to write in, so maybe Doug isn’t as pedantic as his fans. Sorry Doug; ‘Nit-picky’ is the middle name that my parents would have given me if they’d had any indication of my personality whilst I lay in my cot.
Let’s take the plot to which the title refers. I just don’t buy the pregnancy love triangle story as there’s not nearly enough concentration on it. We’ve met Lister’s past girlfriends before, but we’ve had a bit more background and a bit more reason to see them, with Lise Yates in ‘Thanks for the Memory’ being the most famous example. Importantly, we also saw Lise Yates, which also gave us some idea of why Lister was so fond of her memory. It also helped that ‘Thanks for the Memory’ is all about that memory, and that you have some cracking performances from both Craig Charles & Chris Barrie. In ‘Dear Dave’, I didn’t get from either of them that they really gave a shit. Perhaps that reaction’s understandable from Rimmer, but it’s very odd from Lister. It also makes the last joke of the episode very strange, which probably resulted in it offending friend of the site Jo Sharples. Whilst it didn’t offend me, I’m not really minded to defend it, either. Without this plot having the treatment it needs and with a shallow performance from Craig, it just looks like quite a callous dismissal from Lister of someone he was meant to care deeply for, which isn’t the Lister we know and love. Surely Lister could have done the final reveal without using a word that hasn’t actually been used in Red Dwarf before, and is a judgemental slur that you need to justify pretty well? Especially as the finger-wetting joke is far funnier, and has a good scene with Cat into the bargain. Lister could have made more of a reference to that, I (for one) would have laughed dirtily, and we would have avoided the unpleasantness.
Actually, the use of this word is just one of many universe problems that Doug has with series X. ‘Dear Dave’ is cursed with a budget storyline that makes no real sense, and hasn’t been part of the universe up until now. Isn’t the whole point of being 3 million years in deep space that JMC is no longer something the remaining crew have to deal with, because they’re pretty much on their own? Expression of personal bugbears aren’t bad in principle; but the context is essential. For example, the well-established concept of Red Dwarf mean that the Outland Revenue finding Rimmer in Better Than Life is very funny, as most viewers sympathise that paying taxes is inevitable for most ordinary people, even if they’re in deep space. However, it’s a bit more difficult when your expression of personal annoyance revolves around budget problems. Most viewers aren’t making television series, and, although this is no doubt annoying for production teams, viewers are the same as any other customers that you’re delivering a product to; they don’t care about production problems, it’s the end product that counts. If the plotline made sense in the Red Dwarf episode, it would be better, but instead, you have Rimmer trying to write a report that, in theory, actually goes somewhere, undermining the character joke, which is Rimmer clinging onto defunct procedures because that’s all he’s got, and Kryten running around with a pile of toilet rolls, whilst the Cat’s either trying to keep the turtle’s head from the door, or is mincing around with a shitty bum (that really wasn’t clear, much like the Cat’s pants). There’s not even a resolution (no, I don’t count Cat using Rimmer’s report to wipe his arse a resolution), so the crappy telephone helpline plot from Trojan actually beats this one, which I didn’t think was possible.
Production problems are no doubt real obstacles to getting your ideas to screen, but Doug’s kind of jettisoned this excuse by writing classic episodes of Red Dwarf, such as Out of Time, whilst it was actually being recorded, so I don’t think it’s the problem that it’s been made out to be by some people. What DOES cause real issues, however, is the lack of discipline which causes the main plot to be underwritten, leaving it with nowhere near the impact that it should have, and gives us two sub-plots which, although they have some amusing jokes, either don’t make sense or could have helped to give far more of an ‘in-universe’ feel to the episode. One of the problems Doug has is that he has such a solid universe, which has been explored fairly deeply already. It’s difficult to watch Lister and Kryten’s exchange about him missing the human race without thinking of the opener to Timeslides; and concluding that Timeslides is far better written. Also, and I hate to bang on about it, far better performed by Craig. There’s a weird lightness of touch about Craig’s performance in this episode, which doesn’t help sell the script when it’s a bit weak. Part of me wonders whether he would have benefited from a more Talkie Toaster-like character to interact with, or, indeed, an extended scene with Sympathetic Vending Machine, as that could have brought a bit more depth to their encounter later. As I’ve said in comments on this site, Doug keeps dangling great moments from past series in front of our eyes; and then doing something that in no way matches up to them. Kryten saying ‘I’m being replaced again, aren’t I?’ during the game of charades/charades/let’s call the whole thing off is also a reminder that The Last Day is a brilliant episode, and that this isn’t. Rimmer’s obsession with a death worm in the same scene reminds me of Quagaars in Waiting For God; but like Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas any more.
As I said, I liked the jokes. Well, most of them. It’s interesting that this episode is entitled ‘Dear Dave’, because the plot to which it refers doesn’t have that much of an impact on the episode. Here, I suspect, lies the real nub of the problem with this episode, and Red Dwarf X in general; it’s difficult to make a good sitcom based on what seems to be a writers’ room brainstorm. It’s frustrating, too, because Red Dwarf X doesn’t HAVE a writers’ room; all these ideas come from one man, Doug Naylor, without whom we wouldn’t have Red Dwarf to begin with. For someone as experienced and creative as Doug, Red Dwarf X isn’t the showreel it should be, and that makes me sad.
TINY TEASER: Death Worm – Rimmer’s repeated guess for everything that Cat mimed
ACTUAL SCENE COUNT: 23 (Total so far: 121)
ACTUAL SMEG COUNT: 1 (Total so far: 13)