Samsara – A derelict survival pod with the remains of two survivors leads the Dwarfers to a crashed space ship, The Samsara, on a nearby moon. They soon discover that the crew suffered a very grizzly end under rather unusual circumstances placing them all in danger.
Bing bong. Now, last week’s returning episode really impressed with its story and script, and that trend continues here into Samsara. Once the boys arrive on the crashed ship, it immediately feels reminiscent of the Firefly episode Out of Gas (in my opinion, its best episode). The narrative is excellent as the flashbacks are cut into present day story of Barker and Green as it moves from one room to the next with teases over just what happened to the ship. The story also sees Red Dwarf take a familiar dip into its greatest hits. This hasn’t always been a success story (like season VIII miraculously finding the positive viruses again after Cloister knows how long) but this episode reworking a twist on the season IV classic Justice goes down like lager after a vindaloo. For one thing, this the first time its subject matter has been revisited and the arguments made about subjective morality give things a much smarter edge than some fans would expect (how one man’s wrong is another man’s right). Again, this is echoed well by the flashbacks via Barker and Green as the pair (both separately married) is having an affair with each other. By black and white rules, the pair are both committing adultery but argue that they are in love and should not be judged for acting upon it. It all plays out well, and even manages an effective twist in the final minutes.
The comedy form also stays strong. After last week’s Starbug adventure being back on the big “Could eat Copenhagen and have Helsinki for afters” Red Dwarf itself brings with it some classic Rimmer & Lister bunkmate laughs. The opening board game impresses by unexpected nature of its big payoff laughs. Little things like Lister cheating are more expected, but just how far Arnie takes his refusal to lose induces hysterics and all while sneakily bringing in a key later theme via the dice odds and unlikely repeated rolls: luck. That brings us on to the aforementioned Justice mk2. The Justice field scenes were comedy gold 25 years ago, and their encore is no exception, but here, they also have the advantage of being unexpected. With this approach of balancing the scales rather than straight forward “eye for an eye” (receiving exactly what you inflict) antics, the laugh moments can be much more random. Then on top of that, we have characters that typically spent their days taking the smeg out of each other being forced to be polite and kind instead which is always a recipe for success. A notable mention must go out to Danny John Jules as the episode’s MVP. He’s actually the least featured of all the four this week but by far the most gag efficient. In particular, his Cat history sit down chat with Lister packs some of the episode’s best laughs and one or two genius peices of wordplay (Doug Naylor, you deserve a special after dark hat for those).
The only down point here is the ending and how abruptly it arrives. It really seems like time constraints came into effect because it feels like we’ve been denied a great final few minutes of the boys making their way out of the field again. Yet at the same time you could argue its leaving sooner rather than risking over using the material. Also while the episode is great it doesn’t quite feel like it matches Twentica last week.
Samsara is Hindu for the cycle of death and rebirth, which is oddly fitting a show that’s experienced both and this rebirth is showing no signs of repenting. We don’t want every episode to be like this --by drawing so heavily from older episodes, but it is more than welcome as a nostalgic minor feature. These first two episodes have also been very broad with the characters. I’d like to see some remaining episodes focus more on an individual because that’s another tried and tested Red Dwarf comedy jackpot (the episode 4 and 5 titles imply this is happening). For now though, reveal in Red Dwarf’s success of today after years of uncertainty: justice after all. Bing bong.