It is the sixtieth episode overall.
Dave Lister has women trouble when he gets himself in a love triangle with two vending machines, Dispenser 23 and 34. To make matters worse, Lister gets a letter out of a mail pod from an old girlfriend telling him she’s pregnant and it might be his. Lister and Arnold Rimmer hunt through the mountain of letters from the mail pod to discover if Lister is finally a dad.
The episode opens with Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) walking into the sleeping quarters with a mop in hand, and cheerily commenting on the hum of the air con in the mornings. His good mood however is contrasted and rebuffed by Dave Lister (Craig Charles) who has settled onto the couch in a bout of depression, sadly looking over an old JMC Traveller magazine, reminding himself of the human race. Kryten assures Lister that he will one day meet another species that might make him just as happy as his own departed, and perhaps even treat him better, but Lister remains sceptical, particularly as everything on the ship reminds him of them - they invented beer, sofas, blankets, mops, buckets, floors and, well, everything. He leaves the sleeping quarters moodily singing a melancholy tune, now having forever upset Kryten's good mood.
Lister heads off to the chirpy Dispenser 34 for a cup of coffee and chocolate bar, and in self-reflection asks questions on the meaning of life and the point of his existence. The machine is intrigued, but admits that she has not thought about it much, being only a vending machine. She also comments that Lister seems off from his usual self, admitting that she watches Lister through the crack in his door and enjoys seeing what he does when he is alone. Unnerved, Lister proclaims that he has to go, but the vending machine insists that he may drop in to see her or ask her questions any time, proving herself to be quite smitten with him.
Meanwhile, Arnold Rimmer (Chris Barrie) is putting his fingers through their paces, in perpetration for this year's Subbuteo tournament. Kryten comes in and informs him of an e-post from the JMC On-Board Computer, concerning letters of recommendation from many high flying officers pertaining to Rimmer. Quite unfortunately, the computer has realized that it has no option but to demand that he stop writing them. The end result of Rimmer's epistles was to cause the computer to look into his actual service record and, finding that he has not shown up for work on Z Shift in over three million years, forces it to state that Rimmer risks being demoted back to Third Technician for dereliction of duty. Horrified at the prospect of being equal in rank to Lister, Rimmer demands that Kryten help him, with Kryten suggesting that he might be able to get a note from the Medi-Bot proclaiming that he has merely been on health leave due to the stress of the accident.
Rimmer finds Lister at a console in the Drive Room, still morose, much to Rimmer's immense distaste. Rimmer explains that he has grown tired of his "mope-athon" and has put an account of it into his report book, although Lister does not mind too much given he doubts anyone else will ever read it. Rimmer notes that any problem has a solution: in Lister's own case, since his species is dead, he simply needs to make some more, with Rimmer noting that Lister should ensure that, if the "perfect" woman comes along, he would be ready to go. Lister insists that he is ready, but Rimmer denounces his choice seductive moves as having "moved on". Lister insists that moves do not move, but Rimmer then demonstrates several classic but outmoded examples such as putting a cloak across a puddle or strumming a mandolin under a balcony. Lister questions on what basis Rimmer can comment at all, given his marginal knowledge of women, and instead goes off for another cup of coffee, slamming his chair out into the rear wall and giving Rimmer one more incident to log in his report.
Lister goes up to Dispenser 23 and comments on how good her soup and coffee is, and notes that she seems to have a new facade, almost as if to try out the moves of his that Rimmer had previously admonished. At first the machine is flattered and coyly responds in her French accent, until she eventually decides that Lister is trying to hit on her and seems aghast at the notion, noting to Rimmer and Kryten that he made a move on her by casually placing his hand on her logo. Rimmer comments that this is yet another item for his report book, and Lister walks off wearily.
Back in the sleeping quarters, Rimmer inquires to Kryten as to the status of his sabbatical notice, causing him to admit that the medi-computer has refused to give Rimmer a note. He does however say that it did suggest that a contribution to the medical fund "would not go amiss". In order to proffer up the amount of cash required, Kryten suggests returning the excess toilet paper from throughout the ship to supplies and channelling the savings into the medical fund, much to Lister's horror as an actual user of the paper. Cat (Danny John-Jules) comes in and asks what is the best way to inform others of bad news, but he evidently does not understand the gist of Kryten's advice as he comes back in and decides to begin informing them of the news through a game of charades. After many mis-guesses involving emotion sucking chameleonic monsters, rogue viruses, black holes, "death worms" and other calamities, they finally guess that a mail pod has arrived, but devastatingly for Cat has crashed into his clothesline.
Excited by the prospect of letters from home, Rimmer and Lister rush to take a look. They both begin sifting through the letters as Kryten brings them in to the sleeping quarters one sack at a time, hoping to find one addressed to themselves. They have a 50 DollarPounds bet on whoever gets the first letter. Rimmer is the first with any luck, but sadly this proves to only be a parking fine. Lister proves more fortunate, and is surprised to get a letter from Hayley Summers, his old ex-girlfriend and one of the few women he went out with who never dumped him, who left for a dream job on Callisto. Lister can not bring himself to read it, but Rimmer glances over it and learns that she is writing to confess that she is pregnant. She is not sure whether or not it is Lister's or Roy's child however, with the latter being her co-employee at the bank she used to work at. Lister is shocked, both at the prospect of being a father and at the revelation that she had been with another man, particularly with Roy, best known for his obsession with the bank's finger wetting machine. The only way to know the who was the child's real father is to continue digging through the mail, with Lister hoping to find another letter containing the results of the DNA test.
Taking a break from his search, Lister comes up to Dispenser 34 and asks for a cup of coffee, but is harangued by the machine for his flirtations with Dispenser 23, upset at him going with such a "trashy" machine. She refuses to offer him any confectionery, causing Lister to be angered and to inform her that all his past compliments of her stock were a lie. He then departs the machine in a huff. Kryten, meanwhile, has been gathering up the excess toilet paper and subsequently gives an appropriate donation to the medi-computer, only for it to reveal that it had all been a ruse to proffer up more donations from potential bribers. Kryten and Rimmer come up with a secondary plan which involves stating that Rimmer has been busy caring for the fragile Lister. Kryten does however stress that he needs to report an indisputable case of mental instability, something that can not be written off merely as eccentricity. Rimmer vows to find the perfect incident and save his status.
Cat interrupts Lister's continued endeavours to find the second letter, and asks Lister about who this Roy guy was. Sympathetically, Cat suggests that Lister try his best to simply not think about Hayley being with Roy, telling him not to start thinking about her doing her trademark nose squidge for him, or the true nature of her numerous late night shifts at the bank, or particularly, of the thought of her covered in money as Roy furiously used the finger wetting machine. He must simply not think about that at all, as if he does think about it he will never be able to get the images out of his head and they will drive him crazy. Cat is aghast to find out that Lister is quite clearly thinking about it, and denounces him for not listening to a word he said.
Lister later meets Kryten in a corridor, and informs him of his ill-luck. Kryten once again reiterates his view that Lister needs to look to the present and treasure his existing friends, no matter how bizarre or insane they may be. Taking this to heart, Lister heads off to make amends with Dispenser 34, offering her anything as an act of reparation. Excited, she requests whether or not she could perhaps see around the next corner, something she has dreamed about for a very long time. Lister obligingly brings her around the corner, and she exclaims in absolute glee and amazement at the sight, proclaiming this corridor to be their new home. Lister brings her around to a nearby wall as she had requested, but accidentally knocks her over and falls on top of her, and begins to desperately attempt to bring her back upright in what is interpreted by the machine and by passing onlookers as being done in an evocative fashion. This delights both Rimmer, who attempts to use it in regards to getting his sabbatical note signed, and Kryten, who views it as Lister finally having decided to move on and accept another species.
As this incident continues to unfold, Cat finds that he has a more desperate problem: he has walked three miles in search of toilet paper and is by now very close to utter despair at the prospect of having nothing to clean himself with. He finally comes across some stray letters Lister left behind, and crosses through the sleeping quarters intent on his mission, only for Lister to grab the letters off him, knowing that they are his last chance of knowing the truth. Desperate, the Cat makes off with Rimmer's special report book, noting that it will not be special in a minute. All regrouping in the sleeping quarters for the grand revelation, Lister reflects on how hopeful he is that he is the father, noting the potential of having a line of descendants, and declaring that he finally feels like he has contributed something to history. He also notes how great his child would have been raised by a fine woman like Hayley, but quickly changes his mind on her character after finding out who really was the father of her child. He wets his finger as a means of explanation.
Available on the Series X DVD:
- Cat sits on the Captain's old photocopier, making copies of his butt to make wallpaper and matching drapes for his room with (this would seem to contradict the events of "Me²" where Cat claimed he would live wherever he wanted, and so didn't need sleeping quarters, or this may imply that he has at least settled down somewhere). Cat asks what he's been up to and Rimmer discusses the fact that the JMC On-Board Computer has noticed that Lister and himself haven't clocked in for for three million years, and Rimmer will be demoted unless Rimmer can somehow prove it's all Lister's fault. As Rimmer leaves the scene, he also says that he's going to put Cat on report for misuse of the photocopier.
- A significantly extended scene of Rimmer undertaking finger Subbuteo practice, which is training for the games he plays with the Skutters. Kryten interrupts, saying that there is an "E-Post" from the JMC On-Board Computer, asking Rimmer to stop writing letters of recommendation for himself to it. Rimmer orders Kryten to help him stop the computer demoting him, and Kryten suggests claiming post-traumatic stress disorder with the Medi-Bot.
- A significantly extended scene as Lister and Rimmer sort through a mountain the mail from the newest post pod to arrive. They discuss ex-girlfriends, and Lister reminds Rimmer of the time he left the air-pump inside Rachael, exploding the inflatable doll. Rimmer asks Lister what his first "pregnancy scare" was, and Lister says that it was Mrs Arkwright, his old geography teacher. Finally, Rimmer reminds Lister that he has a duty as the last human alive to restart the human race, but his sperm are old.
- It has already been established that Dave Lister is his own father, as was explored earlier in the series, and he does already have twin sons Jim and Bexley Lister by his parallel self. However, based on the rules of that dimension, Lister is in fact the mother of those children, and not the father, as he gave birth to them off-screen between Series II and Series III (or as chronicled in the lost episode "Dad"). Similarly, in the novel Last Human, Rimmer becomes a father without his knowledge by Yvonne McGruder and only learns this when he later encounters his grown son Michael.
- Rimmer defines the perfect woman by which Lister could re-populate the human race as "any female with working ovaries", which would mean that they had presumably just that during the events of the previous episode in the form of Professor Irene Edgington; although Rimmer would probably have been aghast at that suggestion.
- Rimmer gets a parking fine in among the mail from the postal pod. Ironically, when in the space station Justice World in the Series IV episode "Justice", Rimmer claims that he never had so much as a parking ticket.
- Due to last minute script re-writes, much of the episode had to be shot later than the original shooting period, including portions after the sets had been brought down. Thus several sequences were filmed in front of a green screen and the set backgrounds were added in digitally as a matte painting.
- Writer and Director Doug Naylor considered changing Lister's final line of the episode from "slag" to “trollop” as he feared that it would be judged as being too harsh. He changed his mind upon seeing the live audiences reaction to the line however.
- Kryren: They say, due to the number of these letters of recommendation, they have absolutely no option but to request you stop writing them.
- Rimmer: Women have moved on from that move.
Lister: Moves don’t move on.
Rimmer: Moves move on!
Lister: What, moves move?
- Rimmer (after Lister wheels away his chair into the rear wall): Right, abusing the furniture. It's all going down [into his report book].
- The subjects of letters from home and of parentage are evocative of the Series II episode "Better Than Life", and the plot of Rimmer's potential demotion is similar in substance to the Series I episode "Balance of Power"; the episode has commonly been referred to as similar to both mentioned early series.
- Rimmer mentions that Lister has been so depressed, he has been dunking his biscuits in the fish tank. This is a reference to Lister's electronic goldfish from previous series, Lennon and McCartney, although they are not seen.
- The sequence where Lister attempts to lift up Dispenser 23 is similar to the infamous shrinking underpants scene from "Polymorph", and the Cat's "don't think about it" skit is strongly reminiscent of the "pit bull terrier" dialogue from "Nanarchy".
- Interestingly, the characters from 3 million years ago are called Hayley and Roy, just like the Coronation Street characters Hayley Cropper and Roy Cropper. This also ties into Rimmer's claims that Hayley was actually a man, as Hayley Cropper is a declared transsexual.
- The charades sequence calls-back several Red Dwarf moments, such as chameleonic mutants ("Polymoprh", "Emohawk", "Only the Good..."), brain-eating mutants ("Psirens"), replacement androids ("The Last Day"), rogue viruses ("Gunmen of the Apocalypse", "Epideme") and black holes (as in the novel Better Than Life, the Series IV episode has a White Hole instead).
- During the charades sequence, Lister mentions his missing ex-girlfriend and former Dwarfer, Kristine Kochanski, wondering if Cat knows what has happened to her.
- The way that Lister first describes how he thinks Hayley Summers would have raised his child is similar to the way that Rimmer states his admiration for how Yvonne McGruder fought adversity and so finely raised his son Michael in Last Human.
Critical reception for the episode was mixed, with some praising the return to a more low-key Series I/Series II vibe, while others complained of bad plotting and out of character jokes. The controversial line "slag" predictably also cropped up in discussion of the episode. The low budget nature of the episode was both praised as a chance to scale back to more character directed moments and condemned as being unnecessarily cheap.
The prominent community website Ganymede & Titan summed it up with "As I said, I liked the jokes. Well, most of them. It’s interesting that this episode is entitled ‘Dear Dave’, because the plot to which it refers doesn’t have that much of an impact on the episode. Here, I suspect, lies the real nub of the problem with this episode, and Red Dwarf X in general; it’s difficult to make a good sitcom based on what seems to be a writers’ room brainstorm. It’s frustrating, too, because Red Dwarf X doesn’t HAVE a writers’ room; all these ideas come from one man, Doug Naylor, without whom we wouldn’t have Red Dwarf to begin with. For someone as experienced and creative as Doug, Red Dwarf X isn’t the showreel it should be, and that makes me sad."