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Review: Red Dwarf XI Episode 3: “Give & Take”

September 30th, 2016 | Posted by Philip J Reed in review | television

Red Dwarf XI, "Give & Take"

When information about Red Dwarf XI started spilling out, it was “Give & Take” that intrigued me most. The plot sounded great. The images of the scary-looking medical robot were genuinely menacing. The clips were action-heavy and atmospheric. So “Give & Take” was always the one I was really looking forward to seeing.

And now I’ve seen it, and it was okay.

It wasn’t bad, and I’m not even disappointed that it didn’t match my specific expectations. It did something a bit different from what I expected, and that’s fine. In fact, I like a lot of what it tried to do. It’s just that I wasn’t especially thrilled by the actual execution.

The plot does indeed focus around a deranged medical robot…for a short time, at least. We get a bit of buildup before the robot is revealed, and then he’s dealt with fairly quickly. The rest of the episode has to do with the fallout from the crew’s encounter with him…namely the fact that he snatched Lister’s kidneys.

And it was okay.

The problem is that without kidneys, Lister will die. Kryten buys him a bit of time with a home-made plot device, but the crew is in a pickle: Lister’s only potential donor is The Cat, who both doesn’t want to donate a kidney and is of a different species. This leads to some nice character conflict, and is probably the hardest the show has ever leaned into The Cat’s innate selfishness.

And it was okay.

“Give & Take” felt messy. So did “Samsara,” but that at least had a clear structure and an understanding of what it was doing. I’ll admit that much, even if I took issues with both of those things.

Here, though, it feels like a series of set pieces that flow one from the other without actually feeling like they’re connected. This is especially disappointing to report about an episode that has a full-circle narrative. (More on that in a moment, though.)

First, the good, because I laughed quite a bit. Less than I laughed in the previous two episodes, but Red Dwarf doesn’t live or die by its comedy alone, so that’s not a bad thing. The reveal that Rimmer and Kryten had invited a snack machine aboard — and not the medical genius they assumed — made me laugh for so long that I missed a good deal of the following scene.

It was perfectly executed. Not necessarily snappy or even clever, but a big dumb bit of punctuation that landed as well as anything ever landed in the classic years. In fact, later-series Red Dwarf has always struggled with these one-off characters, so it’s worth celebrating the fact that Snacky in general was a very welcome exception to the disappointing norm.

Also, does this mean that Kerry Shale’s medibot from the previous series has officially been written out of the show’s continuity? Let’s hope the living fuck so.

“Give & Take” had a few really good lines throughout, especially during The Cat’s refusal to donate a kidney, but aside from that, Snacky was my highlight.

I was surprised by the fact that the crew discovered Snacky’s true nature so far into the episode. They could have figured it out the moment they left the exploding space station and nothing would have changed. Sure, we’d have lost the therapy session with Rimmer, but that’s about the only reason to keep it a secret. And it’s not like Rimmer thought Snacky was a psychiatry-bot anyway so…whatever. Moving on.

The issue with the crew realizing that Snacky is a vending machine is mainly the length of time the scene takes.

When we learn about Snacky it’s because he turns around. When the crew learns about Snacky they all stand around repeating themselves for ages, while Snacky does the same. What we learned early in the episode from a character simply walking away the crew learns later, much more slowly, much more gratingly, much less efficiently and effectively.

Which was sort of a problem throughout. Whether it’s Rimmer berating an elevator or Kryten tricking The Cat into being Lister’s donor, things just take so long to happen.

The latter case was especially egregious, because we saw Kryten take time to convince The Cat that The Cat is the one who needs a kidney, The Cat take time to manipulate Lister into believing he’s willing to donate his own, and Kryten come in to explain everything we just saw happen and then, additionally, reveal to The Cat the truth that we knew all along.

Little of it was actually funny, all of it went on far too long. And when we realize that the entire thing was a long red herring (as they couldn’t use The Cat’s kidney anyway) it seems like an awful lot of time spent setting up something that didn’t even happen.

I’m also not convinced that the episode needed to go the time-travel route for its resolution. Maybe it’s because we had a time-travel plot just a couple of weeks back. Or maybe because in a sci-fi comedy you have any number of possible solutions at your fingertips, so “Now the stasis booth is a time machine, but only this once” feels, at the very least, inelegant.

It also introduces the potential for paradoxes. If they steal the previous Lister’s kidney, then doesn’t that prevent the entire rest of the episode from even happening? And the initial exchange between Rimmer and the lift seems to imply that the end of this episode already happened. (In other words, Lister was never hungover…his recovery was always due to the meddling of the future crew.) Which means that when the robot tried to steal Lister’s kidneys, they would be missing already.

Maybe I’m overthinking that, or I’m having trouble retaining a detail I would need in order for the episode to make sense. But, either way, the kidney either has to end up transported to the future, or destroyed in the crazy medi-bot’s lab. It can’t be both.

Whatever. Untangling any Dwarf time-travel romp reveals inconsistencies…it’s just a matter of how bothersome they are logistically (hello there, Tikka to Ride!), and whether or not you’re laughing enough (or invested enough) to justify any potential narrative incongruities. “Give & Take” didn’t grab me the way it needed to in order to keep my mind from wandering.

In fact, it wandered a lot.

Why did the crew have no qualms about outright chloroforming Lister in order to steal his kidney, but did seem reluctant to do that to The Cat?

Why did we see the crazy medi-bot wandering around the exploding space station after he’d been shot? I thought we’d find out that he got aboard Starbug somehow, but…no. He still died in the explosion. So…why did we need to see him get up and wander around at all? Why not just let him be killed in the shootout?

Why in the world did an episode about kidneys and time travel and insane robots have a punchline in which a lift moves really fast?

I was looking very forward to “Give & Take.” And I liked a lot about it. But it’s also my biggest disappointment so far from series XI. “Twentica” had a solid idea and had a lot of fun with it. “Samsara” was less successful, and the seams were showing, but there was a lot to like. “Give & Take,” though…

It was okay.

And I’m deeply sorry to report that.

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5 Responses

  • Robin says:

    I was expecting the punchline to be:
    “Hang on, whose kidneys did we blow up in the shootout?”
    *everyone laughs except Cat*

    • Philip J Reed says:

      That’s certainly better than the punchline being a noise Rimmer makes as a lift descends.

      Speaking of the kidneys, I’ve read elsewhere that the robot never took Lister’s kidneys to begin with. They were always missing by the time the robot grabbed him, because the crew traveled back to get them. I thought that was some kind of plot-hole or something I didn’t understand, but apparently it’s just time-travel shenanigans.

      Of course, the first time through the loop they’d still have traveled back to steal his kidneys, which implies they must have initially gone missing for some other reason, but apparently the kidneys they destroyed in the shootout were purely decorative, or something?

      I don’t know. If that’s true then I appreciate that there was an element of the episode that wasn’t over explained, but it still raises questions.

      Thanks for letting me hijack your comment to talk to myself!

      • Pete Martin says:

        Sad that this didn’t quite work for you, Phil. I’ve been moaning about Red Dwarf for about 19 years now, and I’d actually forgotten what it was like to watch an episode that completely satisfied me. I don’t think the show will ever be consistently great, but I’m good with the occasional episode of this kind of quality.

        Re: the kidneys. I’m pretty sure that Doug is a fan of Robert Heinlein, who was very fond of bootstrap paradoxes and popularized the term. Heinlein wrote a short-story for Playboy called “All You Zombies”…which is very similar to the general plot of Ouroboros.

        All You Zombies was adapted as the movie Predestination in 2014 (possibly influencing Doug’s decision to revisit bootstrap paradoxes).

        The story is probably worth a read/watch to see what Doug was aiming for and to confirm that the “other” kidneys are a subtle piece of misdirection, rather than a mistake.

  • Webbow says:

    Hi, new to your reviews, enjoying your honesty. What struck me here was the lost potential of a great punch-line – possibly a pay-off that could’ve put this episode amongst the classics – that of Lister’s realisation of the enormity of the smeg-up that Rimmer has made him endure. It’s all there in the plot but it is too vaguely related.
    The mad doc was going to give Lister those kidneys – he found him without any. He didn’t have any because Rimmer misunderstood what he saw, leading to the whole rest of the story.
    We could’ve had a great end scene of Lister realising that he didn’t have any kidneys because they thought his kidneys had been removed and so they removed them, thinking they’d been removed but it was actually Rimmer and Kryten who’d removed them in the first place!
    A great scene, that would’ve hit cleverly that we didn’t get – but should’ve HAD. Instead this great daft brilliant smeg-up idea didn’t come across.
    These are all proving to be half-realised shows wherein the actual really good ideas get buried by a sort of smugness by Doug and his script editor. A “that’ll do, aren’t we brilliant?” madness.

  • roj says:

    The mad doctor was going to put in new kidneys . Simple when you think about it.



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