Ambivalence, a word I learned from Kryten many years ago (Series 8 during his pysch review, I believe), a good word to describe how one feels when we reach this point in a Red Dwarf series of late. That excitement for the finale is always mixed with a sense of sadness that we now have at least a year to wait for more. XII has been a treat from the off and trust me when I tell you, it’s going out in style.
Creator: Doug Naylor
Staring: Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn
Run Time: 28 Minutes
When a space anomaly hits Red Dwarf, cause and effect take a weird tumble as the crew starts experiencing the opposite results of the choices they’ve made. Luckily, upon discovering that an experiment Kryten has been running is responsible for the mess, the Dwarfers quickly resolve the problem but are left with an interesting proposition.
The experiment turns out to be a Quantum Skipper, a device that allows anyone to randomly jump from dimension to dimension across the multiverse, taking the place of the version of themselves from that reality. With Lister, Kryten and the Cat unwilling to leave, Rimmer alone heads off into the unknown, in search of a universe where he isn’t such a loser.
As you can imagine, with a premise like that there is a lot to pack into the half-hour runtime and despite the fast pace, there isn’t a misstep taken. After a brief reminder for the viewer of how much of a loser Rimmer really is, thanks to Lister stumbling upon the Captain’s crew appraisals, it isn’t long before the “1989 Michael Jackson” moderate level of weirdness quickly escalates to “1993 Jackson” (My poor namesake takes quite a beating early on – yep, Mike Jackson here).
As the anomaly hits, Lister and the Cat find themselves jumping from situation to situation, briefly skipping time as they learn that for every decision they make, the opposite will happen. Instantly, I was reminded of White Hole, at the point in the episode when they’re jumping back and forth through a conversation as time repeats, I was hearing Danny John-Jules in my head saying, “So what is it?” over and over. In a similar vein, watching the Cat try to understand the situation and making the same mistake repeatedly is hilarious and John-Jules steals the first half of the episode delightfully with his own brand of physical comedy and superbly acted stupidity.
But all this is just a set-up, a taster if you will for a second half that delivers funny and clever in equal measures. As Rimmer bids his crewmates a fond farewell, in his own classy way, you know there’s something special coming. His first skip transports Rimmer to a universe where the crew is still alive, including an old friend we’ve not seen for a very long time, Holly. Teased for some time now, Norman Lovett’s cameo is short but sensational as he instantly goes back into computer-senile mode, it’s like he hasn’t been away. If Holly’s return is the cream, then the cherry on the top is the twisted reenactment of “Everybody’s dead, Dave”, the scene from the pilot as Lister emerges from stasis. As Rimmer comes to terms with the crew being alive, we get an almost word for word homage replacing the original’s phrase with “Nobody’s dead, Arnold” – As a Red Dwarf lifer, I had tears of laughter at this point. It’s also at this point that Mac McDonald, Captain Hollister himself, makes an unannounced cameo.
Sadly Rimmer’s reunion is interrupted by a drive core explosion and Rimmer is forced to skip on to the next universe. Next on the multiverse road trip, Arnold finds himself in a universe where Lister is polite, well dressed, and has his own collection of antique wires, could Rimmer have found himself a new home? The otherwise perfect setting is sadly ruined when Lister reveals that he has a pet rat, not a cat – I will never be able to get the image of a six foot, gangster-talking rat out of my head, it’s so absurd and yet Red Dwarf pulls it off without a mark out of place.
Cue hilarious montage of other universes – including one where everyone is Lister – before Rimmer stumbles on the what could be the winner. The crew is alive, the ship is orbiting Earth, he’s an officer, he’s married, he’s got four sons and he’s well respected, it’s a dream come true….then he meets Captain Lister.
We learn just how truly pathetic Rimmer can be in this episode, given everything he could possibly want in life, he gives it all up to return home purely on the basis that he can’t live in a universe where Lister is more successful. This is something that anyone would find hard to believe from any other character, yet for Rimmer, it just feels natural, a testament to the choice of genius writing behind the character over the years.
Chris Barrie has had a number of opportunities to shine over the last couple of series’ and he excels at being in the spotlight here once more. Despite this very much being a Rimmer episode though, Craig Charles’ work playing the multiple versions of Lister is outstanding. There hasn’t been that many opportunities for Charles to stretch those acting muscles outside of the established Lister template for a long time, and now given the chance he delivers wonderfully, his likable Captain being a Lister we’d all like to see more of. As for the rest of the crew, they get off pretty easy this week, though Danny John-Jules somehow once again steals every scene he’s in during the first half of the episode.
The script is superb, littered with witty gags, throwbacks to classic Dwarf and the same level of physical comedy that the show has excelled at this series. The set designers also deserve a good deal of credit for how good this episode is, multiple universes, all very much the same and yet different, it’s quite an achievement, made even more impressive with the recreation of the original quarters that Lister and Rimmer shared in the early series’.
While we all know, given its current run of success, that Red Dwarf will be back for XIII, if Skipper turned out to be Red Dwarf’s swansong then it would be a fitting tribute. A brilliant premise, an even better script, a cast on top form and some brilliant cameos from legends of Dwarf’s past make Red Dwarf XII’s finale the best episode of the series (Yes, I remember what I said about Siliconia and yes I am in awe) and easily one of the best episodes of the show as a whole. Red Dwarf is as fresh and entertaining three decades on as it was when Rimmer and Lister first walked that corridor fixing chicken soup machines.
Red Dwarf XII episode six will be broadcast on Thursday, November 16 on Dave TV in the UK. You can, however, watch the show early via UKTV Play. You can also keep up to date on all things Read Dwarf on our Red Dwarf page.