The classic era of the long-running comedy show Red Dwarf – Series III to VI – had Time Holes, White Holes, Psi Moons, Reality Bubbles, Rimmer transformed into a James Bond-style hero, and even a meeting with the crew’s future selves gone bad. The final episode of Series XII, Skipper takes some of these traditions of the series of the universe going wrong and the crew in the middle receiving the surreal consequences.
After a number of funny scenes where it’s best to say the reverse of what you want – something Cat fails to understand with hilarious effect – it’s revealed that Kryten has been tinkering in the science bay, and as usual in this show, something has gone wrong and reality has been fractured, causing different possibilities to be played out. Last time this was the plot, Rimmer was shown his heroic alter ego Ace Rimmer – much to his jealous annoyance – but this time, things might be different…
Lister and Cat and Kryten have finally settled on their fate of being trapped on a battered old spaceship, but not that for old Arnold J. Rimmer has never liked his life – before and after he died – and has always thought he never got the breaks (but let’s be fair, he never put the work in). So with a convenient piece of tech, Rimmer gets the chance to leap around the multiverse, intent on finding a better reality than the one he disappointedly finds himself with every morning.
This is not a new concept for science fiction comedy, in fact animated shows “Family Guy” and “Rick and Morty” went there first, with alternative decisions regularly explored in the latter. This episode of Red Dwarf however hints at more dark and reversed dimensions, with Rimmer being sacrificed by the crew as cult druids, or unseen goings on with elephant sound effects.
Things then settle down into more of a nostalgic multiverse trip, and this is where the fan in me was made very happy. There are little moments of joy, as we are given a tour around the early days of the series, with the return of several old favourites. This has happened before – specifically in Series VIII – but it’s done so much better here. Returning characters are given much better lines than their original comebacks in the late Nineties. This is the series treading old ground, but doing it really well.
Though very much a Rimmer-centric episode, Craig Charles gets to shine too as he appears in several different versions of Lister. Cat too has a makeover as the visually hilarious Mr Rat. Only Kryten is left out of the multiverse concept, and though we were treated to a mechanoid mash-up a few episodes back, I would have liked to seen what other realities had in store for him.
The call-backs and the return of the bunk room were very nicely played; only for me, it appeared to be the set from Series VIII, not Series I, so that was a missed opportunity. The only thing the episode particularly lacked was a great punchline. I kept waiting for a last minute twist – such as Rimmer accepting a new reality, but turning out to be amongst a ship full of polymorphs, or being with his own evil twin – but no. Thinking the real ending through, Rimmer’s acceptance that he doesn’t have it so bad is similar to his discovery of his true parentage in series 10; for a moment he is content, but knowing Arnold it won’t last.
If Series XII is the last we see of Red Dwarf, then this is going out on a high. Given that writer and co-creator Doug Naylor seems to have hit on a formula that very nearly reaches the comic heights of the show’s classic era, I hope there’s an alternative universe where the show ends, so in this universe we can look forward to Season XIII and more.