With the presence of that ampersand in the title card, it’s a wonder that there’s anything left to discuss, other than the fact that there is now officially an episode of Red Dwarf with the same initials as this website. While that may cause some confusion later down the line, the issue remains of what kind of episode we’ve lent our name to. Based on just the one viewing (and a bit of a skim through to clarify some of the finer details of the plot), here are the big six (count ’em) talking points from the episode.
One thing to note, if you’ve somehow managed to miss all the spoiler warnings: this episode benefits from the element of surprise, and deserves to be viewed without preconceptions. If you’ve stumbled across this article without having watched the episode yet, read no further.
The Big Fuck Off Medical Robot Fish Thing
Finally, the wait is over. The most striking and intriguing image from the prelaunch publicity has now been made flesh. Not only that, it has a name – Asclepius. Based on its prominence in the trailers, we were all expecting it to play a major role in the episode. Not so. And what’s more, there are bits from the trailer that we assumed were from this episode, but aren’t. We’ve been sold a dummy, but how happy are you with the price negotiated? Did you want to see more from this undoubtedly impressive character, or were you happy with the role that he performed in kick-starting the plot, which (as we’ll get on to later) was also expectation-confounding?
You wait all week for a new robot to turn up, and then two come along at once. This one was a total surprise to me; there was a photo of the crew with Snacky in the SFX feature, but I’d a) mistaken it for a computer, rather than a robot; and b) forgotten all about it. But no, it’s a walking, talking, fully sentient snack dispenser, with a personality and a little-robot-that-could mentality. He’s also presumably the fifth regular member of the crew now, as he’s one of the rare guest stars who survived his stay on the ship. We were also introduced to the latest member of Red Dwarf’s on-board AI-enabled machinery – a talking lift, the likes of which also featured in Stasis Leak, funnily enough…
It’s notable that this was the first episode from Series XI to go in front of the cameras. For a start, it explains why Cat’s hair is notably worse in episode three than it is in one and two. Most tellingly, this was the first episode to be recorded following the revelations about Rimmer’s father in The Beginning, and it tackles those issues head on in a scene that lays the current state of Rimmer’s character bare. Elsewhere, the episode also provides a further exploration of Cat and Lister’s relationship status, with a handful of interactions that tell us a lot more about the characters than Samsara managed, with what feels like a lot less screen time.
A leak, right, in stasis.
So yeah, a nice straightforward plot with nice robots and bad robots is trundling along nicely, when boom – timey-wimey stuff happens, and we’re seeing a completely different story than the one we were expecting. For the second episode in a row, a twist is revealed via the reuse of technology from the classic series; although Stasis Leak is not cited here, using stasis booths to create a magic door to the past is strikingly familiar. And for the second episode in a row, the opening scene takes on a whole new context on a second viewing, with the knowledge of the revelations to come. With Rimmer’s kidnap in Twentica‘s opening scenes in a similar vein, all three episodes thus far reward repeated viewing.
Whose Kidney Is It Anyway?
It’s the type of time travel twist that always lends itself well to theorising and plot hole picking. Your mileage may vary as to whether that’s a good or bad thing, but I’m always delighted to come away from a new episode with something to really get my talking teeth into. So here’s the thing with this plot twist: whose kidneys did Rimmer destroy? We now know that “our” crew removed both of “past” Lister’s kidneys and fitted him with a special chip to keep him alive. So Asclepius couldn’t have stolen Lister’s kidneys, as there were no kidneys to steal. When Kryten rescued him, he discovered that his kidneys were missing, unaware that he would later be the one to steal them. I think this a bootstrap paradox, but cleverer people than me should probably clarify that.
But anyway, several further issues here, many of which are being thrashed about in the initial discussion thread. Whose kidneys did Rimmer destroy? Did Asclepius even do anything to Lister and Cat, other than knock them out? Was he in fact trying to help, having detected that Lister was kidney-less, and was actually about to implement Kryten’s later plan of taking a kidney from the Cat and messing with the DNA so it would match? When Kryten put the special chip in Lister, shouldn’t he have already had one in? Oh, and also, what was that thing with Snacky mentioning Rimmer’s former colleague all about?
Is it shit or is it good?
And so we come full circle to the original question – what kind of episode is this? We’ve long since given up looking for any kind of consensus when it comes to new episodes of Red Dwarf, but Series XI seems to be proving especially divisive. This is certainly a jam-packed episode; in addition to the above, we’ve not mentioned Captain Bollocks, the exploding space station effects, Kryten’s topical reference to FIFA, the first re-appearance of the Skutters, or the plummeting lift finale. Add it all together, and what do you make of the episode?
Let us know your thoughts on the above points, and your comment may be used in our Live DwarfCast for Give & Take, at 10pm on Thursday 6th October. And look out for our in-depth written review in the coming days.