Red Dwarf XII: 3 “Timewave” Review
Reviewed by Ryan Monty.
(This review continues spoilers. Read on if that doesn’t bother you!)
Following on from possibly the most ambitious episode in Red Dwarf history is no easy task- however your feelings about the second episode of Series XII, Siliconia, it can’t be denied that we were presented with some of the most accomplished visuals and production design the show has ever had. So, it’s nice to see the following instalment, Timewave, give us a more contained, and even more ridiculous, slice of Dwarf as we hit the series mid-point.
Timewave begins with a scene from the series trailer, as Rimmer names a gas moon the Dwarfers have discovered, honouring its discovery by monologuing about the accomplishments and legacies of the past- only to give it the name of Rimmer. Thankfully, Lister’s subsequent “so full of gas” line is just as funny in context as without! Returning to the Dwarf after a storm threatens them, it’s revealed that it is in fact a “time wave” (or a “wibbly wobbly tidal wave thing” as the Cat and the scanner name it as), an event like an ordinary wave. The time wave itself isn’t really an important plot point, however- other than allowing Robert Llewellyn a chance to deliver once of his special White Hole- esque exposition moments- and a neat, charmingly dodgy special effect as they pass the wave.
A spaceship from twenty-fourth century Earth has been “washed up” by the wave, going by the name of the Encomium, which on a collision course with Rimmer’s beloved new planet. The Dwarfers set off to save the ship and those onboard- even if Rimmer’s more worried about the planet itself (Chris Barrie’s snooty expression here is top notch). The nature of the Encomium is a peculiar one- inhabited by a society in which criticism has been entirely outlawed, with Kryten stressing that they must avoid criticising at all costs- not an ideal situation for the Boys from the Dwarf, then. Before arriving on the Encomium however, we’re in for a discussion on the nature of criticism.
One of the joys of slower paced episodes of the show is that it allows for these trademark Dwarf meandering conversations, which lends itself well to Timewave given the lunacy we encounter from the get-go aboard the Encomium, with the ways each of our leads will inevitably come into conflict with this anti-critic society laid out instantly- Rimmer gleeful over the possibility after divulging another of his stories from his childhood (that are often tinged with great poignancy despite being hilarious, this time no different) at St. Trembles, while Lister is more than happy to take criticism on the chin, or in the immortal words of Chumbawumba, “get knocked down, but I get back up again”. This is a complete lie, given that Kryten rightly points out to him that he simply won’t take any feedback on his guitar skills, telling him that he “utterly sucks”- perhaps the most truthful thing ever said. Between this and the usual Rimmer jabs (Cat especially so this week!), this was never going to end well.
Respecting other cultures may be something Kryten thinks the Dwarfers have learned over the years, but as seen many a time before (memorably in Series VI’s Legion) there are just some people you can’t take from their comfort zones and expect proceedings to not immediately go south, and our main men are certainly among them. Their initial arrival and instant conflict with the rules of the society- they’re criticising paintings moments after stepping aboard (with Lister comparing it to the Tate Modern art gallery!)- is typical of them, but it’s no surprise to see why this time at least, as we’re introduced to Ziggy, (guest star Jamie Chapman) dressed gloriously flamboyant in what seems to be a mystery box of items from a school drama performance. As a way of embodying the situation on the ship, Ziggy is a sprinkling of stardust in this episode, his wide-eyed bravado dumfounding the Red Dwarf crew. His reaction to Lister talking is simply to say how he loves his accent, to which Craig Charles gives one of the funniest looks I’ve seen him give (Timewave gets full marks for physical comedy, that’s for sure- we’re getting some all-time best screensaver expressions here folks.)
It doesn’t get any less surreal from here on out, and it’s wonderful to see our unlikely group of four find themselves involved in a society even more ridiculous than their own set-up. The brief time they spend in the diner brings home the absurdity of it all, with strange costumes everywhere and a waitress roller-skating about the place. Cat even thinks the “Om” song would play well here (the 2nd reference to the song this series!) It takes the Dwarfers no time at all to criticise the waitress before falling afoul- or rather, being pulled over as if they’re drunk drivers by two pink uniform clad “Crit Cops”, including guest star Johnny Vegas.
James Buckley was sadly not given a whole load to do last time out, so it’s nice (and comedically rewarding!) to see Johnny Vegas at his best, asking Lister to blow into a criticism measurer. I could never be tired of the Cat sticking his foot in at the infinitely worst times, and the reactions of the rest of the group as he messes it all up with his usual bluntness insulting the cop are hilarious. This sees them thrown in critic jail, where they bump into fellow guest star, Broadchurch’s Joe Sims, who’s been tied up like Hannibal Lector for just tutting. Allowing a slower pace allows Timewave to mine the concept for all worth, with Vegas’ cop allowed a little character arc of his own, as he eventually rediscovers the joy of criticism and experiences an almost, ahem, sexual thrill at it (poor Kryten and his head- taken more of a beating than ever this series!) before being disappointed for doing so (“I’ve brought shame to this uniform!” he says, completely straight faced.)
The Dwarfers attempt to escape critic prison sees them brought to the “draining” chamber, the last resort for offenders, where their “inner critic” is- quite literally- drained from them and stored in a little glass tube. Despite Rimmer’s best attempts to weasel his way out of it- with a return of the Space Core Directives no less (and he finally seems wise to Kryten’s corrections now, at least!) Rimmer finds himself the first to be drained, bringing to life his very disturbing looking inner critic who’s the same size as him (and with a nasty looking “R” scar).
The inner critic business is very reminiscent of Series VI’s Rimmerworld, especially with Chris Barrie using the same voice for his Blofeld-esque Rimmer villain as he did for “The Beast” in that episode. As previously stated, Rimmer’s brief sojourns into his past, while funny, are often laced with sadness, and are the deepest considers his damaged inner psyche we get. It’s a nice inverse here to Siliconia last week as mech-Rimmer accepted simpler, hate-free mechanoid life, with his normal self here battling desperately to keep hold of his bitterness, self-doubt and other vices. As Blofeld-Rimmer is defeated by, essentially, semantics as the Dwarfers lay into him, he disappears defeated, and leaves us wondering where we stand now with the character of Arnold J. Rimmer. Has that voice in his head been truly defeated? Will he ever change?
After two busy episodes to kick off Series XII, the more leisurely Timewave is a welcome way to branch us to the final three episodes. Whether it works for you as a satire on criticism and learning to have a balance, being able to take words constructively instead of allowing yourself to be hurt by them, it’s still completely, totally mad, and while the title Timewave is *absolutely* not what the story revolves around, the world we’re dropped into with the Red Dwarf posse is loony enough to forgive that, with a cracking final third- and Johnny Vegas with a performance you really couldn’t criticise much about, whether it was illegal or not!