Lister is feeling depressed and missing the human race, while Rimmer is threatened with demotion due to missing three million years’ worth of work. Not wanting to hold the same rank as Lister, Rimmer attempts to convince the medical computer to give him a doctor’s note. Lister receives a letter from his potentially-pregnant girlfriend, millions of years too late.
“Dear Dave” is an unexpectedly serious episode in many places. While the laugh track just keeps on guffawing away, this episode tackles some pretty sad stuff. Lister’s depression about being the last human alive is handled deftly, and it’s not marginalized for the sake of a joke. It’s not often Red Dwarf addresses just how alone Lister really is with any degree of seriousness. His friends amount to a feline life form, a robot designed for menial labor and a hologram of a man long dead. I suppose praising a comedy series for a lack of jokes is a little counter-intuitive, but sometimes you need a “Jurassic Bark” once in a while.
That’s not to say “Dear Dave” is a complete downer. On the contrary, despite not being a chuckle-a-minute hoodly doodly giggletron, I might very well have laughed the hardest I have all season this week.
Kryten and Lister have a discussion near the beginning of the episode where they refer to the human race as some errant love interest who’s broken up with him, complete with the standard break-up comfort dialogue: There are plenty of other species out there, I never thought the human race was good enough for you, and so on. Good stuff, and I’m glad to see Red Dwarf‘s clever dialogue make a return after last week’s abysmal shenanigans.
Lister also seems to have gotten himself tangled up in a love triangle with two vending machines, one a nice young machine who dispenses chocolate bars, the other, a French harlot of a coffee machine. It’s a completely absurd concept, but Red Dwarf can make it work well, and it leads down some pretty hilarious avenues.
The letter from the ex-girlfriend, Hayley, doesn’t actually make an appearance until over halfway through the episode, and it only serves to exacerbate his problems and he spends much of the remainder of the episode fretting over whether the baby was his or not. Reminiscing about the way Hayley used to scrinch up her nose while telling a story and how awesome they were together is, for Red Dwarf anyway, surprisingly sweet.
Normally, I find Rimmer’s plotlines to be much weaker than Lister’s, but in “Dear Dave” he’s got a lot of good, solid stuff to do. His attempts to gather enough money to bribe a doctor’s note out of the medical computer are the kind of wacky hijinks that make a great counterpoint to Lister’s melancholic attitude. The eventual decision to return much of the ship’s toilet paper, since only Lister and Cat need it, and get the supply budget back, is met with appropriate horror with our two pooping crew members. The image of Kryten wandering to and fro pushing a trolley piled high with ever-increasing amounts of toilet paper is not one I’ll soon forget.
Neither is the moment at the end of the episode where Rimmer, hoping to catch Lister doing something nutty so he can get medical leave to “take care” of the man, stumbles upon Lister struggling atop a fallen vending machine, apparently locked in the throes of passion. Love it.
Speaking of Cat, Danny John-Jules has been criminally underutilized this season. The man has charisma pouring out of every orifice, and there are jokes you can give to Cat that just wouldn’t work coming from any other character. It’s a shame, then that Cat hasn’t had a single storyline to himself this year. He’s either been a (brief) part of someone else’s story, or he just wanders in, Krameresque, to deliver a joke or two and then leave just as quickly.
“Dear Dave”‘s unusually emotional storyline might turn some viewers off, but it’s a nice way of making you care for the characters beyond just laughing at them. Being reminded just how dire Lister’s predicament really is is a smart idea heading into the end of the season. This episode is a huge improvement over the last one, and it’s a fine blend of emotion and comedy.