Give & Take was the first episode of Red Dwarf XI to go in front of the cameras, and yet curiously it’s been shuffled into the episode 3 position in favour of an episode that, before broadcast, was being touted as a classic. Does this mean we’ve got a bit of a clunker on our hands? Is it really looking like this series decided to put its best foot forward and saved nothing for later? Were things a little bit rusty before production settled down into its mammoth multi-month and series schedule? Well, let’s see…
We’re far enough into this series to start spotting emerging patterns, and one of those is that Doug really has worked out how to start an episode well. In this case, it’s no mean feat, as he is contending with a talking JMC appliance and a Skutter, two things that have had, let’s say, a fairly rocky recent history. What I think works about the comedy lift, though, is that he’s just on the right of believable as a functional AI, while also providing some really funny dialogue. Conversely, Tony Slattery’s vending machine in Series VIII, or Taiwan Tony, didn’t manage either of these things. I like the dynamic of Rimmer being frustrated by AIs not respecting his authority, and the idea of a lift being scared of losing custom to the stairs is inherently amusing. The return of the Skutters (or in this case an Skutter) is very welcome, too, as Rimmer resorts to one of the few things that he can still exert some sort of authority over, and it’s surprising that their proper return in years and years was so fleeting, here, but I think that made the return work all the better and the episode clearly had bigger things to move onto.
We’ll of course see this scene, and the next one with an apparently blind drunk Lister, from a different perspective later but for now, as a standalone setup for the episode, they work decently well as standard ‘life aboard ship’ scenes, and it’s followed by another strong ensemble scene aboard Starbug. Bizarrely, we were already aware of “Captain Bollocks” as a thing because of the new online store, but its impact isn’t lessened here. It’s just an inherently amusing phrase, and the embarrassment that Kryten feels after inadvertently revealing his secret categorisation is well played.
The early scenes zip by nicely and it doesn’t take the episode long to get to the main plot, introducing the space station through another episode specific and lovely series of model shots. Fawley Power Station is a beautiful setting here, and not only do these sorts of locations work very well at injecting some variety and interest into scenes, by this point they feel so familiar and Red Dwarf-like that I couldn’t help but feel comforted as I drink in those much talked about early series vibes. These scenes aren’t all superficial, either, with the cast on the sort of form that is now becoming familiar in this series, which is especially impressive considering this was probably among the first scenes recorded in four years.
The first ten minutes or so of the episode feel so familiar that the idea of any sort of twist or turn in the story doesn’t really occur. This is probably also helped along by the fact that we’d thought we’d got a pretty good handle on this episode from the trailers, but what we’re seeing here is a very rich and packed setup for the real character based meat of the episode. As such things move at a great pace, with no room for Samsara style stagnation. By the time Rimmer and Kryten find Snacky / Notasclepius in a lovely introduction scene that, for the first time in a while, gives Kryten some really nice character work, Lister and the Cat are already encountering the real deal.
Much was made of the scary fish bastard robot during pre-broadcast publicity, and the only way that I would say that it maybe disappointed was with the relatively short amount of screen time it eventually received. The design is striking and genuinely scary, with the only downside of the costume perhaps being that it was clearly a clumsy affair for the actor to actually do much with the arms, which slightly undermines the concept that this is the height of medical technology. A side effect of this, however, is the unnerving jerky movements that old ‘sclepy has to resort to, especially when suddenly thrusting out its terrifying implement at random intervals. The voice, too, was perfectly judged with plenty of the actor’s original performance coming through clearly, with a subtle but effective echo effect applied, giving the whole package a nightmarish quality that rivals Dr. Lanstrom’s pant-wetting qualities. While we’re on Lanstrom, I’m pretty sure the music underscoring this initial encounter is lifted straight out of Quarantine, and if it isn’t then it’s drawing direct inspiration from it.
The technology levels of the space station are clearly way in advance of Red Dwarf era JMC since not only do we have a medi-bot that is fully articulated and not just Tony Hawks or Kerry Shale in a box, but even their snack dispensers can move around and have evolved beyond the concept of racial parody. It’s still slightly ridiculous that the crew would mistake this deliberately low-fi looking, Lost in Space knock-off (albeit a lovingly created one) to really be a high end, DNA altering medi-bot but that said the reveal of Snacky’s true nature brings with it one of the biggest laughs of the episode, alongside the real Ascelpius’ “no longer insane” all clear. I do like me a well done, on-the-nose joke.
The first act is wrapped up with a very exciting rescue sequence, with Kryten acting a tad out of character with his gung-ho shoot on sight approach, but with Rimmer behaving exactly in character by immediately shoving Kryten inbetween himself and danger, despite the fact he’s practically invulnerable. This sequence also came as quite a surprise, as only a few minutes after we first met him, Asclepius is no more and we’d still not even reached the commercial break. With the echoes of Quarantine evident throughout these scenes we probably shouldn’t be too surprised with this structure, and like the aforementioned classic episode a promising and terrifying villain is dispatched to make way for the real meat of the episode.
When we arrive back on the ship we see that the Science Room set from last week can also double as a medi-bay, but in a much more convincing way than the drive room from X ever managed. It’s here where Give & Take‘s origins as a series opener become clear with the clever reestablishing of the characters and the situation. Lister points out his status as last human in the context of just how much that is fucking him over now that he needs a major medical procedure and the origins of The Cat are also restated as they’re discussing the fact he’s the only donor available. The proceeding scenes between Lister and the Cat are beautifully played, with the Cat in particular generating the sort of laughs the character managed in episodes like Better Than Life, but I think there’s even more going on here than “the Cat is selfish lol”. The Cat is obviously incredibly upset at the suggestion that he would donate one of his own organs, but I don’t think all of that upset comes from a selfish place. In these scenes references are made to their age and how long they’ve known each other and I think Danny’s performance shows through some genuine upset at Lister’s situation and also some self loathing that his natural instinct is to refuse help. It’s a surprisingly touching and multi-layered set of scenes, played brilliantly by Danny John-Jules in particular.
All through the middle portion of the episode, the crew are all still under the mistaken assumption that Snacky is Asclepius, so there’s time for one more scene to wring the comedy out of that situation as Rimmer takes a therapy session with him. Specific reference is made to the revelations of The Beginning, among other things, giving Rimmer his moment to re-state his character, and while the scene of inter-cut and out of context gags didn’t really work on a comedic level for me, Rimmer’s casual mention of the egg flipper on Snacky’s head saves the scene, and is a great example of a character pointing out the ridiculousness of the situation to the audience. This scene also nicely sets up Snacky’s ability to prove useful in ways that do not involve dispensing chocolate, which of course is all important to the conclusion of the episode.
While Kryten had already had his character as proud sanitation droid reestablished during the first meeting with Snacky, we also see the return of his ongoing struggle with lying as he spins a yarn to The Cat to convince him to donate a kidney. As character traits go it’s never been the most consistent, and that’s born out in back-to-back scenes here as Kryten exhibits a stutter reminiscent of his fruit based struggles in Camille (which, incidentally, he was supposed to have completely overcome by the end of the episode) only for them to completely disappear in the next medi-bay scene despite the fact he’s still lying. His deception here is actually quite dark considering it involves obtaining the false consent of someone in order to harvest their organs, but considering the Cat’s fairly chill attitude later on, I think it’s safe to say he was slightly relieved he’d had the option taken away from him if deep down he really did want to help despite his nature.
At a glance the comparisons to Quarantine could only really stretch as far as some reused music and a villain that roughly reminds you of Lanstrom, but as we get into the episode’s conclusion we can see that more parallels can be drawn when it comes to story structure. We’ve had an initial trip onto an unknown craft, an encounter with an apparently insane but quickly dispatched villain, and a middle portion back on the ship with great character work dealing with the aftermath. So now surely it’s time for a slightly rushed ending using elements originally set up in the first third? Why, yes, yes it is! Except Give & Take does it better.
The ending to Give & Take is what makes this episode for me. It doesn’t matter that it’s crammed into a relatively short space of time, and it doesn’t matter that Snacky’s ascension into an engineering genius is a bit of a stretch (hey, if it works for Einstein Bob then why can’t it work for this potato?) because what it does do is lift the entire episode to another level. I mean, it’s not the most original story beat in the world but it’s incredibly satisfying when you realise the lift in the opening scene was directly telling us the floors the crew are visiting during the finale, and it’s important that the original scene was so enjoyable in the first place to make this return work as it should. Also seeing that the Lister you thought was blind drunk after downing litres of whiskey was actually only enjoying a few modest cans of beer before being set upon. Special mention should also go to the very well executed split screen, as it was pretty much flawlessly executed and is the stand out example of ambition within the production, something I will probably continue to bollock on about every week.
The creation of the timeloop of organ harvesting works well here, I think. As Ganymede & Titan’s Ian Symes pointed out in his Talking Points article it almost certainly creates some sort of complicated paradox that can be proved impossible by some fucker, but it’s not the first time we’ve seen Lister locked in some self perpetuating paradoxical loops considering the circumstances surrounding his birth. Paradoxes are fine so long as they fit comfortably into the story that’s being told and I think that’s achieved here, especially when you consider another implication of the final five minutes of the episode. The whole situation with Lister’s missing kidneys stem from Rimmer and Kryten believing they were the ones that were destroyed during the firefight and rescue. Ascelpius himself even mentions a “donor” before kidnapping, but the ending forces us to look at this situation again. I don’t think we’re dealing with a plot hole, here, and I’ve taken this in a similar to many other people I’ve seen discuss the issue online. The kidneys destroyed in the firefight were not Lister’s or the Cat’s, and so aside from their purpose and nature now being unknown we’re now also completely unaware of what Asclepius’ intentions really were. At this point Lister would already have no kidneys, so was the droid intending to perform a life saving operation on him? Was his “no longer insane” all-clear actually correct? It would be very easy for a time travel conclusion to an episode to fuck up previous story beats, but here it’s done nothing but enrich earlier scenes and give an episode that on the surface was a bit of a mish-mash of settings and ideas, a lovely complete feeling.
Give & Take is an episode full of surprises, both on a story level but also in the context of the series as a whole. Being very close to set reports and general pre-broadcast opinion, I was under the impression that Twentica would be the high water mark of this series, especially given how much I love that episode. “Best episode since 1993” is almost a cliche in fandom at this point and I think things are more complicated than direct comparisons to what has come before, but when a new episode can borrow so much structure from an episode as revered as Quarantine and end up delivering a better conclusion, then that’s certainly worth a great deal.
It also has the same initials as this website.
TINY TEASER: No Longer Insane – a reference to the very funny ‘all clear’ given to Asclepius
ACTUAL SCENE COUNT: 23 (Series total: 63)
ACTUAL SMEG COUNT: 2 (Series total: 7)