With Red Dwarf now back in full swing after an impressive series opener, it’s up to episode two, Samsara, to carry on the momentum and ensure that XI is the best series the smegheads have had in years.
Creator: Doug Naylor
Staring: Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn
Run Time: 28 Minutes
It’s fair to say that Twentica showed fans that this series of the popular comedy science fiction has a lot of potential. A classic time-travel story that not only took a poke at the standard sci-fi cliches, but also took a swing at American gangster movies, and it succeeded in bringing Dwarf back to heights it hasn’t seen in years – even if we did have to wait until the final 20 seconds for a look at the crimson beast in space. The airing of the episode set social media alight with some of the best moments in the show’s history captured perfectly in memes and GIFs as the unbelievably sized Red Dwarf fan base declared in one voice, “Our SMEGGING show is back and it’s glorious”.
Episode two takes a very different path and yet still follows a staple of the series as the basis for the interesting story, an abandoned Space corps ship on an uncharted planet. Much like so many of the best of Dwarf, the episode takes a simple concept, throws in an interesting side twist and then molds the whole thing around a secondary story. Watching the episode was like watching classic Red Dwarf, with many of the themes and gags throwing me back to the earlier episodes; Back To Reality, Justice World, Marooned, they all seemed to have had some influence on this story and yet it’s narrative isn’t rehashing old ideas, in contrast, it’s a fresh story that, despite its familiar setting, tears away from the Red Dwarf convention.
With XI already showing us that it can bring the good old days of Dwarf back to our screens, it’s Samsara that shows us that the writers are also ready to embrace the new. While the outline of the story follows a Red Dwarf template used many times – escape pod leads the crew to an abandoned ship where they hit upon a snag – it’s the way that the story plays out which feels new.
Unlike most episodes, the narrative isn’t driven by the lead cast, it’s actually a doomed love story 3 million years in the making and as the Dwarfers investigate the mysterious ship, their mishaps link back to the side-story playing out for the viewer. It’s not the first time that this type of storytelling has been used by Naylor and co, in the early days of the show there were a number of episodes which featured flashbacks to Lister and Rimmer’s life on-ship before the disaster, Stasis Leak opened with a similar premise before twisting the whole thing into a brilliant time-travel adventure. That all said, this is probably the first time that the focus has turned away from the main cast in order to provide the drive for an episode.
That’s not to say that the crew isn’t given center stage for the majority of the episode. Due to an odd mishap on board the titular ship – which I won’t go into detail about as I’m trying desperately to make this a spoiler-free review – the guys are separated with Lister and the Kat trapped together in a small, unlit room, while Rimmer and Kryten attempt to free them from the other parts of the ship. Looking through the history of the show, it’s the one-on-one’s that have always produced some of the greatest moments in comedy, the early bunk scenes with Lister and Rimmer, the heart to hearts in Marooned, the time that Lister is trying to teach Kryten how to insult Rimmer, all classic moments now echoed in this episode.
Both Craig Charles and Danny John-Jules are in their element here, bouncing quip after quip back and forth with ease, it’s genuinely hilarious and they should be commended for their performances as it was like I watching the series one episode where Lister turns out to be the Kat’s God. The conversations following a similar path and delivered with the same class and comic timing.
Elsewhere Chris Barrie and Robert Llewellyn are enjoying a similar if slightly less engaging one to one. Continuing his return to Ace Rimmer levels of form, Barrie delivers each and every line with that unique mixture of upper-class, cowardice and venom that only Rimmer is capable of and while the two artificial members of the crew get far less of the laughs this time around it’s Kryten that steals the show just as the episode is reaching its conclusion with some fantastically delivered slapstick.
While writing this review I’ve been desperately trying to think of something bad to balance the opinions, but in all honesty, I can’t. Samsara is a great example of modern Dwarf drawing on the history of the show and some of its best elements while trying something new and exciting. The actors continue the form standard they set in the first episode and each of the cast gets their moment in the laughter spotlight.
- A fun and interesting story that turns a Red Dwarf convention into something new
- Great one-on-one scenes with the cast split in two
- The actors are on top form once more
- The side story did feel a little rushed in places, but that’s really looking for an issue is an otherwise perfect episode