I don’t have a whole lot to say about “Dear Dave”. It is the most inconsequential episode of Red Dwarf X so far (and with only more episode to go, probably of the whole series). I don’t say this as a bad thing. Not every episode can be deep and meaningful, and an inconsequential episode here and there can actually be fun. However, it does leave very little to discuss. It is a Lister-focused episode, with a minor subplot focused on Rimmer, but neither of the plots really explore anything new about the characters or develop them in any meaningful way. We get to see Lister trying to deal with the loss of the human race, but this is something he has always had to deal with, so it treads no new ground. “Dear Dave” is also the least-funny episode of Red Dwarf X so far (although there are a couple of hysterical moments), but conversely, it has the best performances from the cast so far this series. So, on the whole, I’d say it was a decent episode, but it’s not an episode that is likely to stand out as particularly memorable. This is perhaps deliberate so as not to overshadow the finale next week, but at the same time, it’s a little surprising. I would have expected a little more to help create hype for the finale. Whatever the case, I think “Dear Dave” ends up, as a result, the weakest episode of Series X.
The cast definitely seems to have settled fully back into their roles in this episode. It’s not that their performances in previous episodes were bad, but there is something about this episode which just suggests everyone is much more comfortable with things again. Interactions with, and reactions to, each other all seem smooth and genuine. There are no forced jokes and no over-extended jokes from Rimmer (see my review of “Entangled” for a discussion of what I mean here). Everything is delivered in a perfectly natural manner, and this allows the humour to grow organically from the performances, even if the jokes themselves are not always fall-over funny. With no guest stars (other than Isla Ure as the voices of both vending machines), the main cast also gets a greater-than-usual opportunity to interact with each other, sometimes in pairs, and sometimes all four together, allowing them to really show their stuff. While Cat, as usual, has the least to do, he also has some of the funniest moments, and Danny John-Jules is probably the highlight of the whole episode. The charades scene is one of the few really hilarious moments, and his “advice”-giving scene to Lister is brilliant. “You haven’t listened to a word I’ve said!” is definitely the best single line of the episode.
While Cat is overall the highlight of the episode, the single funniest scene is the one where Lister attempts to “pick up” the vending machine after it’s fallen. Rimmer’s lecture about “moves” and all the flirtatious scenes with the vending machines rather predictably lead to this moment, but that doesn’t impact the hilarity of the pay-off. Craig Charles aptly proves that he can still manage physical comedy, making the scene somewhat reminiscent of the underwear scene from Series III’s “Polymorph” (although not quite as funny).
There are a number of other little things I like in “Dear Dave”. Particularly clever is the comparison between the loss of the human race and a failed romance. “We were so happy back then, Kryten. I had a species. I thought the two of us would be together forever.” Both Craig Charles and Robert Llewellyn play the scene wonderfully. I also liked Rimmer and Kryten’s attempts to outmanoeuvre the Medibot (who is never actually seen in this episode), only to be outsmarted by said Medibot.
The whole subplot with Rimmer being charged with dereliction of duty moves along in an expected manner. However, it rather strangely lacks a definitive conclusion. It seems to be building up to one. Lister’s actions with the vending machine provide Rimmer with a means to claim he should be excused from duty in order to “care for” Lister. However, the report he writes for the tribunal gets stolen by Cat to use as toilet paper, and the episode ends very shortly after with no resolution to this plotline. Rimmer neither gets demoted to Third Technician (the penalty he was facing) nor does he successfully defend himself. It’s possible this plotline will be picked up again in the next episode, but I highly doubt it. I wonder if maybe a final scene dealing with it got edited out for time reasons or if it was just intended to end unfinished.
On the whole, despite the excellent performances from the main cast, I would have to say “Dear Dave” is the weakest episode of Series X so far. It’s not particularly bad, but neither is it particularly memorable. It has a couple of very funny moments and it flows organically, but there’s not a whole lot about it that really stands out, and that leaves me feeling just a little bit unfulfilled.