Spoilers ahead: In the final episode of Red Dwarf’s twelfth series, Rimmer travels through alternative universes in search of one where he has a better life.
Following the ending of ‘M-Corp’, which contained a throwback to the show’s very first episode, ‘Skipper’ takes Red Dwarf fans on another trip down memory lane…
The episode opens with Lister and Rimmer reading their reports that the Captain once wrote about them. While Lister ignores the criticism in his report and focuses on the fact that it calls him “quite bright”, Rimmer is less pleased with his, which accuses him of always blaming other people for his misfortunes – he fittingly responds “I don’t blame people and even if I do, I got that off my mum”. As well as reiterating the fundamental differences between Lister and Rimmer, this opening also highlights Rimmer’s belief that his problems are the fault of others rather than himself, which comes into play later on.
It isn’t long before something weird starts happening, as the crew discover that whenever they make a choice, the choice they don’t make will be the result. Naturally, Cat struggles to get his head around this, leading to scenarios where he makes Lister breakfast, cleans his bunk and polishes his boots after refusing to do so. Other highlights of this enjoyable segment include Lister casually saying he isn’t going to eat his breakfast only to then end up wolfing it down against his will, Kryten’s surprised expression when he suddenly finds himself making a tannoy announcement, and Cat’s confused response to the suggestion that they don’t stay in the science room and don’t try to figure out what’s going on.
The root of the problem turns out to be a device that allows travel through dimensions, because Kryten has miscalculated some settings on it and accidentally ripped a hole in space-time. Rimmer decides to use the ‘skipper’ to search for another universe where he’s better off and unceremoniously bids goodbye to his crewmates, with a joke that’s similar to, but not as good as, one that featured back in series V’s ‘Holoship’. And while I’m on the subject of negatives, it feels odd that in all these conversations about dimension skipping and alternative Rimmers, Ace Rimmer is never mentioned.
Once Rimmer starts using the skipper, the episode reaches peak levels of fan service, as the first alternative Red Dwarf he encounters is one where the fatal radiation leak has not yet happened, so the ship’s entire crew are still alive. Norman Lovett’s guest appearance, reprising his role as Holly for the first time since series VIII in 1999, has been publicised a lot, but Mac McDonald showing up as Captain Hollister, again for the first time since series VIII, was a complete surprise to me. Holly gets some great lines here, including “nobody’s dead Arnold” serving as a callback to ‘The End’.
In another alternative universe, Rimmer meets a posh version of Lister (an enjoyable performance from Craig Charles) who informs him that they’re “space chums” and keeps a collection of vintage wires. It all seems ideal for Rimmer until ‘Mr Rat’ shows up yelling “Yo Krytie, where my dinner at?” and swinging his tail. Danny John-Jules is an expert scene-stealer and manages to do so even while hidden inside a giant rat costume, effectively selling a ridiculous joke that could have really gone either way.
The brief snippets of other dimensions that we see are a lot of fun, including one where there are multiple Listers and one where Rimmer is for some reason about to be sacrificed. We even get a glimpse of a Blue Dwarf. More nostalgia abounds in the final dimension that Rimmer visits, showing us the old bunkroom, which elicits an awww from the studio audience, and giving Kochanski a quick namecheck. In this world, everything seems perfect for Rimmer as he’s alive, a married father and the Navigation Officer of Red Dwarf… but it all falls apart when he discovers that Lister is his Captain. Unable to cope in a reality where Lister is more successful than he is, Rimmer returns to his own world where the crew are playing poker, giving the series a nice sense of symmetry (whether intentional or not) since ‘Cured’ began with a poker game.
Other good moments in ‘Skipper’ worth mentioning include different levels of weirdness being associated with different eras of Michael Jackson, Kryten’s rant about showing people that he’s more than a bogbot by mopping the floors, and Rimmer’s description of Lister as someone who “cleans his teeth and pees in the toilet simultaneously even though the basin and the toilet are in different rooms”.
Next year will mark 30 years since Red Dwarf first appeared on our screens, and unless Dave commissions some sort of anniversary special sharpish, ‘Skipper’ functions perfectly well as a celebration of the show. This series finale full of nods to the past is sure to please the long-term fans, but overall it’s more than simple fan service because there are plenty of new ideas in the mix too. After twelve series, Red Dwarf is still capable of entertaining and surprising me, and although the first half of series XII was a bit of a mixed bag, things certainly picked up in the second half. If I had to rank series XII’s six episodes, I would say M-Corp > Skipper > Mechocracy > Cured > Siliconia > dear god, anything else > Timewave.