Red Dwarf Review: “Skipper” (Series XII, Episode 6)

Red Dwarf Skipper Rat

As you know, I’m not one for long farewell speeches, but I have written this…

see ya! – Rimmer, sending himself off to other hells.

Airdate: 16 November 2017
Written By: Doug Naylor
Plot: The Red Dwarf encounters an anomaly that plays with the dimensional theory of reality. For every decision the crew make, the alternative plays out in front of them. Of course, this turns out to be tied to Kryten’s attempts to repair a Quantum Skipper, allowing for somebody to hop dimensions. Rimmer takes ahold of this, in one attempt to find a universe where he’s not a failure.

Review:

Well, here we are. The end – not just of the series, but possibly of Red Dwarf. Sure, there have been murmurs about a Series XIII, but nothing’s guaranteed at this point. There is a very real chance that this review could be the very last review of a Red Dwarf episode on this blog (barring any future rewatches).

Five years, I’ve been doing this blog – the first review (a dreadful one, in hindsight) was that of “The End”. (What a way to start off, eh?) To give you some perspective, back then, I didn’t know who Steve Bannon was. (I still barely know who he is.) The only year without a Red Dwarf review was 2015, and that was because there was no more Red Dwarf TV to review. The possibility of 2019 being the second year without Red Dwarf… it’s actually a little moving, the more I think about it.

What’s probably stirring these feelings up is that, when you get down to it, “Skipper” does feel like Red Dwarf‘s parting salvo, just in case Dave decide to call it quits.

Not that this is anything new, though. I mean, let’s do a roundup of Red Dwarf series finales…

  1. Got to the root of Rimmer’s character, his self-loathing and just how pathetic he was.
  2. Lister ended the series pregnant with twins – a reconnection to “Future Echoes”.
  3. Kryten started to implant himself as a member of the crew, but otherwise, nothing too “final”.
  4. Nothing too finale-esque, as well, but the fact that Rimmer’s incompetence killed an entire population of a planet certainly crosses a line of sanity.
  5. The ultimate deconstruction of every character in reality… enough said.
  6. Rimmer puts his life on the line to take out their future selves, seeing just how odious they’ve become.
  7. The return of the Red Dwarf… and Holly, as well.
  8. “Only the Good Die Young”. “That’s never happened before!”
  9. End of a “reunion movie”.
  10. Rimmer uncovers the truth about his father, an albatross is thus lifted from his neck.
  11. N/A, although the Cat does get some focus, a rarity for Red Dwarf.

And here we are – an episode that yet again is tasked with being a potential send-off to the fans.

What the hell is it about? Well, Rimmer… at least, in the second half. The first half is an “ensemble” piece – Rimmer and Kryten encounter an anomaly, Lister and the Cat experience its effects. Sort of like “Meltdown”, in a way. This time, instead of a matter paddle that can shift the crew’s location, they are at the mercy of the anomaly, one that takes their intent and flips their effects. Example: Cat refuses to make coffee for him and Lister, one second later, he’s serving coffee to Lister.

This, naturally, leads to hilarity, particularly when Lister and the Cat try and get to the science room… and wind up everywhere but. Yes, it’s all hilarious, if a bit repetitive… but still consistently hilarious. If this was Cat’s send-off, then what a send-off it is – screwing everything up in silly ways. “You are so not a moron!”

Of course, top gear really sets in when Rimmer becomes the focus of the episode. And of course, it’s through the power of Kryten introducing him to the theory of alternate realities.

Remember Ace’s conversation with Bongo in “Dimension Jump”? “Ever heard of a thing called the dimension theory of reality?” “Doesn’t that run along the lines of ‘there are an infinite number of parallel universe where every possibility exists?'” There, the conversation was a mark of Ace’s success – even though his departure was ultimately permanent. Here, Kryten carries a similar conversation with Rimmer, but the resolution is one of desperation on Rimmer’s part – a belief that other decisions were made that hampered his life. Not, specifically, any decisions that he may or may not have made.

Indeed, most parallel universes that we focus on in this episode are changed because of decisions that others made. One universe? Lister decided to straighten up and fly right… only to put himself in stasis to protect a rat, whose descendant becomes the exact opposite of Cat, who isn’t the last of his species, and who is quite close to Lister. (“He’s so warm and snuggly!”) Ergo, Rimmer is miserable there – same exact location, same exact status in life.

The previous universe? Well, Rimmer is still the second technician, but it’s the year 2285 (I think), and he’s dead – safe to assume that he kicked off instead of McIntyre (or the ship was able to revive two holograms because part of the ship wasn’t being used at the time). How do we put this together? Simple…

all-right-dudes-large

Yes, this is the episode that brought us Norman Lovett’s anticipated return as Holly, where of course he informs Rimmer that nobody’s dead, Arnold. Not Todhunter, not Lister, not Selby, nobody, nobody’s dead, Arnold… just in time for a drive plate to fail, causing Cadium II to leak into the ship and incinerate everybody. It’s safe to assume in this example, somebody with brains realized that getting Rimmer to repair the drive plate would be akin to giving a security guard keys to the CEO’s office… only to hire somebody that screwed up on the job.

Screen Shot 2018-01-11 at 5.03.01 PM

That somebody is Captain Hollister – a man who the writers finally decided to dip completely into cowardice and catch the first escape pod out, similar to his Series VIII persona.

Here, Rimmer’s not responsible for the accident… at least, it seems at this glance.

The third universe we saw is a complete stylistic throwback to 1988- same ocean grey sets, old school corridors, the only difference is the less smokey captain’s room (at least it looked smokey on the iTunes copy.) Even less cosmetic, Rimmer’s an officer, married, and a father of four boys. He goes to meet the Captain…

Red Dwarf Captain Lister

…David Lister, who earned his promotion by noticing a leak in a drive plate, and got promoted – albeit more because the JMC didn’t want to get sued. He’s married to a nightclub dancer, as well – intriguing, given his love of Kochanski, but maybe, just maybe, it’s Rimmer that’s married to Kochanski instead of McGruder. And the kicker? Lister got rich off of Helium 7 – the element found on Planet Rimmer in that episode I want to wipe from my memory.

Rimmer can’t stand it. Despite having what he wants – a position of command, a wife, children… he’s still below Lister, a man he once remarked would lose a battle of wits against a stuffed iguana. All because he spotted a drive plate and the JMC were afraid of a PR disaster.

So, it’s safe to assume in this universe, Lister never picked up Frankenstein? That’s my theory, at least.

Anyway, when it comes to this universe, my mind goes back to the aforementioned Ace Rimmer. After all, it was his parents who helped swing his fate – they decided not to intervene in his education and had him held back a year. The ensuing humiliation forced him to take responsibility and overcome his shortcomings. Ergo, Ace became the admired test pilot in the space corps.

Rimmer got the break, but it was imprinted in his mind that he could never fail, that someone out there would rescue him. Thus, when it came to love, exams, friendships, all of his failings conveniently had somebody else to blame – his father (partially true), his mother (again, partially true), the classes for not teaching him that Gazpacho Soup is best served cold, Lister, Hollister, his brothers (who did torture him), Holly… everybody and the kitchen sink and the world around him, he outwardly blames. This tactic did save him once – but in the most backhanded way possible.

In this universe, Rimmer did make some of the right decisions. But it was Lister who detected the faulty drive. He got the break. Or, rather, he applied his profound intelligence to better the ship because he didn’t have the sideline in stasis. To think that Red Dwarf was one cat away from destruction is profound…

…but more importantly, it shows the great schism between Lister and Rimmer. Lister has an aptitude for leadership, he’s just largely content with a working-class life, mocking Rimmer for being a fastidious smeghead. Rimmer plans for everything yet doesn’t tackle his core issues, using them as excuses, and to overcome his failures, constantly mocks Lister for being a lazy bum. It’s the dynamic that drove the show’s earliest years.

Now that’s been reversed. Lister is content with his life… and Rimmer can’t be. The idea that a man like Lister can receive a position of command over him has shattered him. He thinks he’s playing his cards right, and this is a massive smack of reality to him. Befitting his character, he chooses to slink back into his second technician status, because at least there, he has some authority over Lister. Fundamentally, tragic as Rimmer is in where his life has gone, he’s ultimately a miserable man – one with a few moments of altruism (“Holoship”) and brilliance (“The Beginning”), one that knows that he is shocking to be around… but one that refuses to actually answer “why”.

None of this is particularly new, but to see it conveyed so effectively, in the last episode of the most recent series, pretty much summarizes the whole of Red Dwarf‘s character dynamics.

If this is the end of Red Dwarf, then it is a rather fitting end. It’s certainly different compared to “The Beginning”, “Out of Time”, and (possibly) “Only the Good”, which focused on what could make Rimmer virtuous. Instead, we get a reminder that no matter what is virtues, he is a smeghead. I have no problem with this particular resolution, simply because it showcases the great tragedy of Rimmer – he self-criticizes but doesn’t self-analyze. Get what I’m saying here.

And that, my friends, is “Skipper” – a pretty good end to Series XII. While some concepts could’ve been even more improved with some more time, overall, this episode does a great job at character reflection, delivering on the comedy, and a pretty quirky take on the multiverse sci-fi plot.

I don’t know if this is the end, but if so, it proves to be quite the wrap-up from Naylor and Company. And it’s fitting that the last scene of the episode has Rimmer playing Poker with the Posse – besides being a possible send-up to “All Good Things”, it is the finest summation of the show’s message.

Look out, Red Dwarf.

The slime’s come home.

Tidbits:

  • One of the most interesting aspects of the Rat dimension is the implication that Lister is romantically involved with a descendant of his pet. Given that Cat’s only forays out of heterosexuality (as far as we see) are the definition of narcissism, this is the most intriguing twist to the Cat’s character.
  • Kind of strange that they couldn’t bring back either Chloe Annett or Claire Grogan to play Kochanski, but given my less than enthusiastic opinions towards Annett’s portrayal of the character, maybe this was for the best.
  • Rimmer’s farewell, quoted above, isn’t quite as funny as his “people I’ve met” speech in “Holoship”, but let’s be real here, not much is topping that!
  • Likewise, this series starts and ends with the gang playing poker. What a way to go, I guess…

Wrap-Up:

Favorite Scene: Two words – Captain Lister.

Least Favorite SceneJust wish they gave Norman Lovett a couple more lines, though…

Score: 8.25.

Well, up next is the wrap-up for Series XII… is this the end?

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