Red Dwarf XI Episode II “Samsara” REVIEW
Essential Plot Points:
- Rimmer is losing badly at Mine-opoly because Lister is cheating by secretly swapping the “Chance” cards.
- Rimmer is even more pissed when he repeatedly throws the precise dice roll that will lose him the game.
- Kryten detects an escape pod. As he brings it onto Red Dwarf, the two occupants – Green and Barker – try to issue a friendly warning but are killed before they can finish.
- The Dwarfers track down the wreck of ship that Green and Barker escaped from. It’s called the Samara and it’s at the bottom of an ocean on a nearby moon.
- They board the ship looking for clues for what killed Green and Barker.
- Pretty soon – after a series of mishaps –Lister is trapped in a room with Cat, forced to listen to Cat’s brain-meltingly distorted view of Earth history.
- Kryten and Rimmer, meanwhile, discover the ship is powered by a Karma drive; it should reward the crew for moral behaviour and punish them for immoral behaviour, but something has clearly gone screwy.
- Turns out Green and Barker were having an extramarital affair. Fed up with being punished for their moral deviancy, they reversed the Karma drive with tragic results – they crew had to act immorally to survive which lead to them crashing the ship during a mass orgy. Green and Barker used the escape pod and went into stasis. They woke up three million years later when the escape pod neared Red Dwarf, but the Karma field was still operating and killed Green and Barker for trying to warn the Dwarfers.
- The Dwarfers escape the wrecked ship by doing what they do best – being horrible to each other.
Good grief Robert Llewellyn earned his wages this week. Not by being funny (he only has about three decently funny lines all episodes). Instead Kryten was in “exposition mode”, delivering reams and reams and reams of the stuff. You have to wonder if the flashbacks were a late addition purely to give Llewellyn a chance to catch his breath rather than having to explain even more. Or maybe some of the flashbacks were cut for budget reasons (damn, there goes the orgy) meaning poor Rob had to take up the slack.
Somewhere at the heart of “Samsara” there’s a really good episode of Red Dwarf. The idea of the Karma Drive is a great conceit and a solid basis for some comedy mishaps, which only seem half-mined here. Sure, there are some cracking gags (especially the Cat’s incredulity that the ship crashed because the crew were playing Twister) but you can’t help feeling that the rather convoluted backplot got in the way of having even more fun with the idea.
The scenes with Lister and Cat recall such classic early episodes as “Marooned” with their massively long duologues. We’re undeniably treated to some utterly brilliant, laugh-out-loud lines as Cat nearly drives Lister insane, but Cat, unlike Rimmer, doesn’t have any pathos to him. Whereas lengthy scenes between Lister and Rimmer can always be tinged with a sadness or melancholy, Cat is so supremely un-self-aware that he’s just a gag generator. So the Rimmer/Cat scenes here are undeniably funny, but they’re a little one-pitch.
One of those episodes that’s slightly less than the sum of its parts, but some of the parts are pretty good.
- The Cat’s increasingly surreal take on history is wonderfully bonkers, but the highlight has to be, “One day Archimedes is sitting under a tree, when all of a sudden out of nowhere, a big bath hits him in the head. POW! And he gets up, shouts, ‘Formica!’ and invents gravy.”
- Although Cat’s earlier point about evolution is also hilarious, and – you have to admit – valid: “And you can swing from trees with your super swingy monkey arms, right?”
- Lister’s exasperation that Rimmer thinks he’s a lucky git when, “I’m alone in deep space with you. How charmed is that?”
- Some of the transitions between the present and the flashbacks are well achieved.
- “I love dust. After fluff it’s my all-time favourite dirt.”
- “My gameplay was so legendary they called me My-notaur.”
“Is that ’cos you were half a man who was full of bull.”
- Way, way, way too much exposition.
- The food disposal machine is clearly a photocopier or paper shredder.
- There seem to be a few occasions that are leading to gags that never come. Just more exposition.
- For instance, we were utterly convinced that when Rimmer was telling Kryten about how he kept throwing a two and a one during Mine-Opoly and assuming it had something to do with the Karma Drive, that Kryten was going to turn round and say something like, “Oh no that’s because Mr Lister got me to fix the dice.” Instead the moment ends hanging, punchlineless.
- It’s never clearly explained why the Dwarfers want to get to the bottom of Green’s and Barker’s deaths. Usually they’d be too apathetic unless they thought there was something for them in it other than possible death.
- Mine-Opoly looks like a really crap game.
And The Random:
- The odds of throwing a two and one on dice seven time in a row are apparently the same as getting killed by a tangerine. Which is probably no comfort to the Sycorax leader in Doctor Who who was killed by a satsuma.
- Kryten mentions that the Karma drive is based in the old Justice World tech; that’s a reference to the Red Dwarf IV episode “Justice” in which the justice field punishes any crime by taking out that crime back against the perpetrator.
- Saṃsara is a Sanskrit word that means “wandering” or “world”, with the connotation of cyclic, circuitous change. It also refers to the theory of rebirth and “cyclicality of all life, matter, existence”, a fundamental assumption of all Indian religions. Saṃsāra is sometimes referred to with terms or phrases such as transmigration, karmic cycle, reincarnation, and “cycle of aimless drifting, wandering or mundane existence”. All of which we just cut and pasted off Wikipedia which is probably highly immoral and our shower will be stuck on cold for the next week.
- Amazingly, Maggie Service – who plays Barker – has another UK sci-fi comedy on her resume: she was “computer voice” in both seasons of the Nick Frost/Miranda Hart comedy Hyperdrive.
Review by Dave Golder