SPOILERS for the finale, folks!
Red Dwarf XII's kisses to the past reach their height - or depth - here, in an episode which has the feel of an end-of-term party, or even a thirtieth anniversary celebration, albeit a few months too early. There are a lot of fan-pleasing moments, to the extent that this must have been fairly indecipherable to a casual viewer. It's very much a game of two halves this one, more so than any of the episodes this year, which have all used the advert break to structure the story. The first half concerns the Dwarfers dealing with a space-time "lesion," or a "weird thing," and the second half centres on Rimmer skipping from universe to universe.
Red Dwarf has never really been too bothered with adhering to continuity, but it's odd that an episode that's wrapped up in back references ignores so much in previous episodes. The episodes starts with a look at Captain Hollister's reports on the crew, which is pretty funny but was done before back in Series I. Later, when the space-time weirdness gets going, Kryten goes to lengths to explain the many-worlds theorem despite the fact that the series has visited parallel universes and alternative timelines on ten occasions in the past.
The first half then runs on with a single joke that lasts for about ten minutes. It's a pretty good joke - any time one of the guys makes a decision, they instantly find themselves having made the opposite choice - and leads to some fun visual slapstick. It's not a good enough joke to maintain that long a stretch though, in spite of some great work from Craig Charles and Danny John-Jules. This is all apparently due to Kryten's attempt to create a quantum skipper, which is taken by Rimmer as he decides to explore the multiverse for a reality where he's less of a massive loser.
Following this, Rimmer skips from world to world, visiting some of them very briefly. One of the ones we see for longer features his dream Lister, who collects vintage wires and provides scintillating conversation (for Rimmer, anyway). Then it veers into a bizarre scene where in place of the Cat, DJJ plays Mr. Rat, kitted out in a huge furry rat costume. It's ludicrous and over-the-top, and although DJJ is brilliant in his costume (assuming it is him in there - it certainly moves like him), it's not that funny. Which is the problem with the episode as a whole: some lovely moments, some great gifts for fans, but none of it is really all that funny.
What's perhaps surprising is the characters who don't get a cameo. This isn't a complaint, because the episode is busting at the seams with references anyway, but there are noteworthy absences. No Hattie Hayridge as Holly, who seems to have been long forgotten now in favour of Lovett as the original. No Kochanski, played by either Clare Grogan or Chloe Annett. No Deb Lister or Arlene Rimmer (Arnie skipping to find himself in a woman's body would have been priceless). And I'd have bet my bottom dollarpound that Ace Rimmer would have made an appearance. I'm so glad they finally did this; this was such an obvious joke that they somehow failed to do in Series VIII, and it genuinely funny, although again, less so for non-fans.
The final reality is a belter, though. Rimmer is alive, successful and an officer on a Red Dwarf currently parked happily in orbit of Earth. It's absolutely perfect for him, except for one thing: Lister is the captain. More than that, he's absolutely loaded, having been promoted and paid off by the company for not reporting the faulty drive plate he spotted. Rimmer gives up his perfect life because he cannot accept a reality in which Lister is more successful than he is. It's absolutely in character and a perfect examination of the relationship between the two men.
As with any episode that comes at the end of a production run, this could very well be the last episode of Red Dwarf ever. However, plans are reportedly afoot for Series XIII (I'm sure they'll keep making them as long as Dave keeps paying for them), and even a live arena show (I'm certain Red Dwarf would work perfectly on stage but an arena show isn't the best format in my opinion). In any case, if it does end here, "Skipper" rounds off a strong run quite nicely.
Speed of Reality: Alternative universes we see in this episode include:
- A reality in which the crew are still alive, and everything is just like it was before the radiation leak, except for everyone being thirty years older... and then there's a radiation leak.
- A reality in which Lister is cultured and sophisticated, but he was put into stasis for smuggling in his pet rat, which evolved into a race of rats which now overrun the ship.
- A reality with multiple clones of Lister.
- A reality where Rimmer is a Holly-style computer.
- A reality where Rimmer is being sacrificed by the Dwarfers for some reason.
- Finally, a reality in which the crew are still alive, Lister is the captain and Rimmer is a successful navigation officer with a wife and four sons.
Title-tattle: As well as referring to the quantum skipper, the title could also refer to Lister's position as captain.
Continuity Bollocks: There's no mention of Lister's mind reset last week, or of any of the previous times the Dwarfers have dealt with parallel universe. The solution? Maybe this episode takes place in a different reality to all the ones that came before.
Best line: "I hate people who use the word anomaly. They think they're so cool... it's just a fancy schmancy word for weird."
Good Psycho Guide: Three chainsaws
Good Psycho Guide: Three chainsaws
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