In the third episode of Red Dwarf’s twelfth series, the crew encounter a ship where criticism has been made illegal.
Ironically this episode about criticism is attracting a lot of the stuff. It’s for good reason though, because ‘Timewave’ is regrettably a confusing mess.
We open on the surface of a moon which Rimmer has dubbed Planet Rimmer. But before the crew have a chance to harvest the moon’s helium-7, the most valuable gas in the universe, they must return to Starbug due to an approaching timewave. Kryten explains what this means, but it doesn’t really matter – all we need to know is that the timewave has washed up a ship full of humans from the 24th century, putting it on a collision course with Planet Rimmer, so the crew go to warn them. These opening scenes are uncharacteristically repetitive, with Cat making multiple comments about wanting to be rid of Rimmer, plus Rimmer misunderstanding Kryten’s exposition a few too many times, none of which generate huge laughs. There’s also a Yewtree reference that feels a bit out of place.
The gang discover that the ship, the Encomium, has a law against criticism, in a scene which begins with one of the episode’s best gags – “this mechanoid is reversing”. As a result of the criticism ban, the ship is decorated with childish pictures drawn by fully grown adults, hanging in wonky frames, which leads to a nice gag about the Tate Modern. On a similar theme, it is later mentioned that hairdressers are trying to repair the ship’s communication system, the lifts are being serviced by the catering department and so on, suggesting that because people have been living without criticism for so long, they think that they’re capable of doing things they aren’t qualified for. This ‘lack of criticism resulting in incompetence’ angle could have been interesting, as could other potential side effects of a criticism-free world, if only the episode had chosen to explore them further instead of venturing down the rather baffling path it chooses…
A big problem in ‘Timewave’ is the character of Ziggy (Jamie Chapman). Ziggy wears a dress, which by the way is the same dress that was worn by Vulva in Spaced, and has incredibly camp mannerisms. This is presented as something bad – something which the crew mock and which we the viewers are therefore invited to mock. Kryten states that Ziggy is dressing and behaving in such a way because he lives in an environment where everyone is “encouraged to express themselves without fear of scorn or ridicule”. Sounds good, right? Apparently not, as Cat’s response is “bring back scorn and ridicule, that’s what I say” with a disgusted look on his face, and even Lister, who often acts as the moral centre of the group, looks repulsed when he’s told to copy Ziggy’s floaty, flappy-armed walk.
In fact the whole ship is rather flamboyant, with pink walls, pink police uniforms and people walking around in fancy dress costumes, and none of this makes much sense. If there had perhaps been more focus on the incompetence on board the Encomium, the strong reaction of the Red Dwarf crew would be more understandable. However the focus is more on appearances, so rather than the ship’s population seeming worthy of derision, the boys from the Dwarf just come across as needlessly and unendearingly judgemental.
Another recurring issue in this episode is people behaving out of character. At one point, Rimmer talks about his parents trying to improve his confidence by sending him to a school called Saint Trembles, where “games weren’t competitive” and everyone on sports day got a “you’re really special trophy”. This has never come up before and seems very out of character for Rimmer’s parents, whom we’ve heard a lot about in the past. At other points, Lister is unusually rude to a waitress, considering he is the nice guy of the group, and Cat has a foul-mouthed outburst including one particular insult that goes way over the line of acceptability.
On a more positive note, Johnny Vegas puts in an enjoyable guest performance as one of the aforementioned pink policemen. A self-professed fan of the show, he’s clearly having a great time and gets some amusing lines as he threatens to take the crew where all the worst criticisers go – “the backseat drivers, they’re all there” – and later tells Kryten that his head looks like “something from that TV show, When Circumcisions Go Wrong”. Joe Sims (Broadchurch) also makes a memorable appearance, playing a man who’s been sent to prison for life for the crime of tutting. The episode’s climax, in which Rimmer literally comes face to face with his ‘inner critic’, is a nice idea and contains a laugh-out-loud moment as Rimmer pre-emptively says “Kryten shut up” while citing a space corps directive. It’s a shame that this scene is marred by a joke involving the phrase “spit on her wrist”, which is one of the most mind-bogglingly awful jokes I’ve heard not just on Red Dwarf, but on any sitcom ever…
I’m a long-term fan of Red Dwarf so it brings me no joy to talk about it so harshly. But following the first two episodes, ‘Cured’ and ‘Siliconia’, series XII has taken a noticeable dip in quality with ‘Timewave’. Hopefully this proves to be a blip and episode 4 ‘Mechocracy’ will be less deserving of such criticism.