As Red Dwarf XII’s episode two, Siliconia, set a new standard for the show, this week’s adventure has a lot to live up to. With a story that focuses on the impact of criticism on a society, there’s certainly a wealth of material to draw on, but is Timewave a masterpiece of satire, or an episode set for a critical backlash of its own?
Creator: Doug Naylor
Staring: Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn
Run Time: 28 Minutes
On their return to Red Dwarf following a flag-planting ceremony which sends Rimmer’s ego into overdrive, Starbug and the crew are hit by a timewave which puts them and the newly-christened planet Rimmer in peril. Washed up as a result the temporal phenomenon, the Encomium, a twenty-fourth-century ship, finds itself on a collision course with the moon. If that wasn’t enough of a danger, planet Rimmer is rich in a highly flammable gas which could wipe out the whole solar system.
Unable to establish communications with the faltering ship, and assuming the ship abandoned, the crew head on board to discover a society in chaos where criticism has been made illegal.
After a solid start and an interesting time-based premise and title, many of us would expect a treat on the way given Red Dwarf’s history with time-travel. With Tikka to Ride, Timeslides, even as far back as Future Echoes, Red Dwarf has always had a love affair with time which has produced some of the best stories. Sadly here, though, it is used as a throwaway mechanism to get around Lister’s status as the last human alive and once that is established, the temporal mechanics go the way of the Ohm song.
That said, there is still the fascinating idea of a world without criticism, again mirroring some of the real world fears there are. In the age of social media, anyone with access to the internet now has the ability to share their opinions with the world, hey I’m here doing just that now, but in many cases, criticism turns to hate, or an undeniable need for many to be noticed. So, imagine a world with a blanket ban on such things, sounds great, right? But is all criticism a bad thing? Don’t we thrive on improving ourselves based on feedback from others? That is the question asked here.
Timewave puts a sci-fi twist on a great premise, but unfortunately, never hits the mark. That’s not to say that the episode isn’t an enjoyable half hour of TV, but its far from the high quality we’ve seen in recent years, especially when up against what has come from XII already.
The episode has so much to say, but never says it, with quips aimed at both those that get a high out of criticising others, and those that overreact to negative feedback never really hitting home the message. Instead, we get the absurd suggestion that taking away the ability to share our true feelings, we’d all end up dressing like extras from a poorly funded panto – possibly referring to the fashion critique in a favourable way, I guess.
The comedy is a mish-mash of hit and miss throughout with many jokes falling flat. From the overly sensitive waitress to the theatre critic turned pipe-playing hippy, much of the extended cast fail to impress with their over-the-top portrayal of political correctness gone wrong. One particular one-liner couldn’t be more poorly timed, as the BBC’s culture in the 1970’s gets a mention right in the middle of a massive real-life Hollywood sexual harassment scandal.
While the episode doesn’t fully perform, it’s far from dull and unfunny. One of the earliest golden moments being what could be a punt at Doctor Who as Kryten grabs the dot-matrix printout on Starbug and confidently describes the timewave as a “wibbly wobbly tidal wave thing”. It’s guest star Johnny Vegas who brings some of the best laughs to the episode, his inept copper trying to enforce power in a bright pink uniform is delivered superbly. The funniest delivery from the entire runtime comes from his back and forth with Lister and the Cat after “pulling them over” for breaking the criticism law. This is followed up fairly swiftly by another quest starring moment of hilarity as Broadchurch’s Joe Sims enters in his best Hannibal Lector cosplay, imprisoned for tutting at a dinner lady.
Despite the best moments coming from a couple of the supporting cast, it’s difficult to criticise the main cast throughout even if they don’t have a great deal to work with. As the story reaches it’s climax and Rimmer’s inner critic is personified thanks to a procedure to remove it going wrong, Chris Barrie delivers a wonderfully sinister version of Rimmer, easily out-doing similar performances of the past. There’s also a return of one of Red Dwarf’s longest running gags, but with a twist, as Rimmer quotes a Space Corp. Directive before quickly telling Kryten to keep his mouth shut.
The fun climax does a good job of saving the episode as a whole, but comes a little late in the game with very little time to play with, sadly.
Overall, Timewave is a mixture of good ideas, funny moments, and great guest casting, but sadly many of the jokes really don’t deliver and those aforementioned good ideas never fully surface. It’s not the worst that Red Dwarf has ever delivered, but it’s far from the best.