“I am now fluent in all the deceptive arts. I could work for FIFA!” – Kryten. Hey, that’s base level, Krytie. Manage a presidential campaign.
Airdate: October 2nd, 2016
Written By: Doug Naylor.
Plot: While scouting for a medical droid aboard an abandoned spaceship, Rimmer and Kryten come across what they suspect is the target droid. Lister and the Cat actually do come across said droid, who proceeds to perform malpractice in a fit of insanity. Rimmer and Kryten come to their defense and rescue them – although they destroy a pair of kidneys that were to go into Lister. With Lister’s kidneys removed, he needs to get the Cat to donate and for the rescued droid to rewrite the DNA. Unfortunately, that proves a tall order.
Hey, the Cat gets an episode! Sort of. Last time Lister and the Cat interacted, Lister learned about how Archimedes invented gravy after a bath fell on his head. What we saw there is their dynamic starting to take shape after largely being held off over the prior several series. This episode continues that trend – with Lister’s life in Cat’s hands. (Here’s hoping he had a will.) In fact, it’s probably my favorite of the season so far.
The Cat is probably the most enigmatic figure in Red Dwarf. He starts out as close to a real-life cat as humanly possible – selfish, vain, cruel, callous, and with the attention span of a goldfish. For the most part, his character serves as the comic relief. That’s not to say that his dynamics and character haven’t evolved – far from it. He’s become more interactive amongst the crew, has flexed his ability to fly Starbug, and maybe become very slightly less selfish (although his vanity still shines through, albeit in a more flamboyant way.)
Still, his role in the show is more focused on Comic Relief – being the character to crack the one-liners, the one to ease any tensions that might build up. Yes, we remember his comparison of ship malfunctions and the crew’s situation to outdated fashion. (“We’re platform shoes, man!”) But do we remember his ability to maneuver Starbug after the engines blew, landing it with no casualties (except for Lister’s guitar, at his own hands)? Not so much.
The trend really isn’t shifted too much here. The main difference is that Cat’s selfishness is put in a somewhat more urgent light – with Lister being close to death as per his kidneys being removed and destroyed. Asked to lay his life on the line, he’ll only do so if put into the perspective of a role reversal – Kryten having to lie to get the Cat to sign the consent forms. Even then, compared to what might have happened during Series I – when the Cat barely acknowledged the crew and did his own thing – his interactions with the crew are definitely signs of tiny improvement.
Since the Cat has relatively little definition to his character, this episode ultimately turns into an episode revolving around Lister, Rimmer, and a robot they pick up on a derelict. No, not Kryten – Snacky. Convinced that he’s a medical genius, they take him aboard, Rimmer uses him as a therapist, and Kryten tries and to get him to rewrite the DNA in one of Cat’s kidneys. Here’s the thing – the actual doctor they were referring to tried to slice up Lister and the Cat in the first place before being shot dead by Rimmer and Kryten. Yeah, the duo picked up a snack machine. A lot of dramatic irony ensues.
It’s all pretty funny. (Hey, vending machines and this show don’t have a good track record – one declared war in the wretched “Only the Good”, Lister was involved in a love triangle with vending machines in the hopelessly mediocre “Dear Dave”, and Taiwan Tony was about as racially sensitive as TNG’s “Code of Honor”*. Anything would be an improvement.)
The real clincher is that Snacky does prove himself useful – overhearing conversations by those who wish to reverse the effects of the stasis field (going back to Series I, eh), he actually does prove more of an asset to the team than Cat, ironically enough. By paying attention to his former customers, he is able to harness the power to reverse the stasis field and get Lister’s kidney’s back – overcoming his own low self-esteem (“I’m just a snack dispenser!”) It’s strange that a Snack Dispenser winds up getting more development compared to Cat in this episode. Then again, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Cat works as comic relief, and here, he does his job well.
Let’s see – a brilliant twist, some hilarious jokes, pretty great atmosphere, what’s left to talk about?
Oh, yeah, that Simpsons episode.
Yes, this episode does bare a passing resemblance to “Homer Simpson in: Kidney Trouble”, where Homer chickens out of giving his own father a kidney. I loathed that episode, and many other fans consider it to be symbolic of the show’s collapsing quality. So why do I like this episode while loathing “Kidney Trouble”?
For one, the actions taken in that particular episode were a direct violation of Homer’s character – making him come off as way too selfish and callous to his dying father. The Cat’s selfishness is perfectly in character, and it’s normal for him to ignore the agony of the rest of the Dwarfers because of his short and egocentric attention span. That, and this episode – despite having a dark atmosphere in the first act – never feels overtly uncomfortable the way that “Kidney Trouble” did. (Maybe it being a sci-fi show helped a little bit.)
It’s strange, but I like different shows for different reasons. The Simpsons, beneath the cynicism and satire, is a show with a heart of gold at its best. Red Dwarf is a snippy and goofy comedy, but also has some rather profound themes, brilliant character moments, and innovative sci-fi at its best. “Kidney Trouble” ditched the heart of gold. “Give and Take” kept the innovative sci-fi and brilliant character moments. (And if you want to talk about somebody refusing to sacrifice for what is effectively their deity, the ideas of religion might be mixed in.)
In short, I quite like this episode.
- God, Rimmer’s venting at Snacky is one of the most pathetic (in a good way) moments in the character’s history. We had hints that the relationship he had with his mother was strained, but if his venting was about Mrs. Rimmer… god. What a difference from the near-lionization we saw in “Polymorph”. Prim? Proper? Austere? Yeah… I don’t think so. (If any of that was about a girlfriend, his love life just got a bit more tragic.)
- Worth noting, Rimmer describing himself as “acting superior officer” or using similar titles is the running gag this season. I personally preferred the Series VI gags to this one, but still, it ain’t bad. Need a reminder of Rimmer’s overinflated ego.
- Kinda strange that this is the second time the Dwarfers helped an android obtain his true potential. Last time, Rimmer abused an android and became the target of said droid’s revenge. This time, he helped the droid.
Favorite Scene: Rimmer’s breakdown to Snacky during therapy.
Least Favorite Scene: Lister beating around the bush when talking to Cat about the transplant. Understandable? Yes. Great part of the scene? Not too much.
* How racially tone-deaf was “Code of Honor”? Well, it revolves around a tribal-esque planet, with an entirely black cast, constantly referring to the concept of “honor” and involving the kidnapping of the ship’s female officer. Awkward. And before you ask – this aired in 1987. The director wound up fired midway through, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the reason.