Red Dwarf XII S12E03 “Timewave” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Dave (26 October) and UKTV Play (from 19 October)
Writer: Doug Naylor
Director: Doug Naylor
Essential Plot Points:
- Shortly after Rimmer names a moon after himself, he’s distressed to learn that a ship is on a collision course with it.
- The apparently blissfully unaware ship has been washed here from the 24th century by a timewave – not that this plot point really matters for the rest of the episode, despite Kryten spending about half an hour expositioning about it.
- They board the ship to warn its crew of the collision. One problem: the ship, the SS Encomium, has outlawed all criticism. This is going to be the Dwarfers’ toughest mission yet!
- Especially when the first officer they meet, Ziggy, is expressing himself by dressing like the Good Ship Lollipop at a Pride parade.
- They’re soon arrested after Lister moans about some fast food and Cat insults a Crit Cop.
- They’re placed in jail with a guy who’s been given life for tutting.
- They escape using something scraped off the sole of Lister’s boot – which isn’t is grim as it sounds: Rimmer’s moon was rich in a highly volatile substance (so it’s a good job Lister doesn’t smoke anymore – stamping out a fag butt could have been lethal).
- They run into the Crit Cop but they reintroduce him to the pleasure of criticising, so he lets them go…
- …Then they’re immediately caught by Ziggy instead.
- He takes them to be drained off their criticism by a big machine.
- Rimmer’s inner critic overloads and blows up the machine before being manifested in human form to taunt Rimmer about his failings.
- But as Lister points out, if Rimmer’s inner critic’s function was to prevent Rimmer making a fool of himself, he’s clearly an abject failure. At which point he dissolves like the Wicked Witch Of The West.
- Ziggy realises that a community without criticism is doomed to failure and revokes the law. The ship’s crew sets about diverting the SS Encomium from its crash course.
- Ziggy gives the Dwarfers a thank you present – one of his paintings. But when Lister points out it’s actually rather crap, Ziggy reinstates the anti-criticism law. D’oh!
After the rather frenetic first two episodes of Series XII – bursting with ideas and gags but not always narrative cohesion – “Timewave” is a slower-paced affair. This is no bad thing, for two reasons. First, it allows for a more thorough, satisfying, focused exploration of the episode’s central concept, to mine every ounce of humour out of a society where criticism is illegal. Secondly, we get a return of Red Dwarf’s signature meandering dialogue scenes, with bittersweet reminiscences of times past. Rimmer so far this season has pretty much just been a snide-line-delivering machine, but here we get taste of the Rimmer of old, wincing at memories of his past, revealing the tragedy behind the bluster.
It’s exactly the kind of character-based comedy that fans of Series I and II get all misty-eyed about. It also brilliantly sets up the climax, with Rimmer’s inner critic (how scary is he?), not to mention the Tate Modern gag.
Once the plot proper does get underway, the episode gives the whole no-criticism concept an intensive work-out session, taking the idea to the daft extremes of Red Dwarf at its most unhinged. The episode also benefits from brilliant guest performances from Johnny Vegas, who hits just the right level of self-parody for this show, and Jamie Chapman, who takes over-the-top well over-the-top… and then some. Ziggy could have been an embarrassing nightmare of a character, but Chapman somehow manages to make him endearingly ludicrous.
And, as is happening more and more often on the show, there are some brilliantly designed special effects – the opening scene on Planet Rimmer is cinematically gorgeous to look at. The only problem is that the FX now show up the often rather threadbare, pokey sets.
- Lots of classic Red Dwarf-style long, meandering dialogue scenes with funny but sightly poignant anecdotes – we loved hearing about Rimmers schooldays at St Tremble’s.
- The idea of a society that outlaws criticism is wonderfully stupid and marvellously mined for satire.
- “To Rimmer, so full of gas.” Even though we saw this moment multiple times in the Series XII trailers, it was still funny in context.
- The first scene looked amazing. “Virtual sets” used to be a but of a joke on TV sci-fi, but on Red Dwarf the green screen sequences are putting the real sets to shame.
- “This mechanoid is reversing.”
- Cat: “So everything these guys do, no matter how garbage, gets to go on the wall?
Rimmer: “Just like at St Trembles.”
Lister: “And the Tate Modern.”
- Our favourite line of the episode, though, was Kryten’s, “Duct tape on standby, sirs,” when the Dwarfer get their first glance of Ziggy – he’s a masterpiece in overstatement, the line is a masterpiece in understatement.
- Chris Barrie is absolutely terrifying as Rimmer’s inner critic – suddenly we want to see him as a Doctor Who baddie.
- After James Buckley was so wasted last week, it’s great to see the production team making the most of Johnny Vegas this week. The moment he starts experiencing a near orgasmic thrill when he criticises something for the first time in ages is a gem.
- The final gag is pretty weak, with a desperate whiff of, “How do we finish the episode?”
- The Hannibal gag doesn’t go anywhere.
- The business necessary to get the soil sample on Lister’s boot feels a little clumsy (it’s not even clear that Kryten has noticed). It almost feels like in the original draft, Lister, Rimmer and Cat were going to be their usual clothes in the opening scene, which is why Lister had helium 7 on his boots. But then the production team decided that an airless moon and spacesuits would make a more visually interesting opening, thus necessitating a change of plan that doesn’t quite convince.
- Not exactly a “Bad” point – more of a “Huh?” point – but calling the episode “Timewave” seems to promise something that never materialises. This isn’t a time travel episode; the time displacement is a mere plot device that could have been similarly achieved by any number of other technobabble excuses.
And The Random:
- An encomium is a Latin word meaning a speech or piece of writing that praises someone or something highly.
- “The Om Song” – which was named-checked last week – gets another mention this week.
- Yvonne McGruder was the only woman Rimmer ever had sex with when he was alive – though she was concussed at the time, and thought he was someone called Norman (first mentioned in Red Dwarf I episode V, “Confidence And Paranoia”).
- Kryten says that Rimmer’s inner critic is, “Just wounded. It’ll be back one day. Trust me.” Is that a piece of foreshadowing we detect there?