Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Red Dwarf III Episode 5: "Timeslides"

Kryten accidentally invents an extremely implausible time machine and Rimmer eats a banana and crisp sandwich. "Timeslides" has got to be one of the most peculiar representations of time travel in any show I've seen. Photographs move, playing back the time period they were taken in. If they're projected onto a screen you can walk into them to travel back in time somehow. If the past is changed, sometimes people are aware of it and sometimes they aren't. It's all fairly arbitrary and doesn't make a terrible amount of sense, again tying somewhat into the "gimmick" quotient of Series III along with "Backwards" and "Bodyswap" in which video effects seemed to have a fairly large impact on the plot. The thought occurred to me recently: do the photos just keep showing the time period forever? Do they repeat or does time within them just keep passing indefinitely? If we left Frank Rimmer's wedding photo, for instance, would the guests clear off and normal life resume in the picture? Who knows. How come Holly and Rimmer are aware of Lister changing time, but Lister himself isn't? If Lister never joined Red Dwarf, why would Rimmer's hologram have been activated? How can Rimmer become human but not realise? How can developing fluid "mutate" when it's not a living substance? It's really not worth giving too much thought to. It's also very odd that, despite the fact that physical objects can be removed from the photo, no one tries to bring a person through. Didn't Lister have an old photo of Kochanski somewhere? Didn't Rimmer have one of himself?
The most interesting part of the whole thing is probably Lister's sense of frustration, something that could have been set up more and developed further, especially since it doesn't come up much after this, perhaps not until "Back to Earth" in fact. It seems like a sensible character element that could have been given more attention. This also sets up Lister and Cat's amusing discussion about all of their "ingenious ways of wasting time", the highlight being Lister's description of "unicycle polo": "two grown men on unicycles, belting a beach ball up and down a corridor with French loaves." Cat's cued up applause for the miniature golf is great too, and it's a nice juxtaposition of the attitudes of Lister and Cat; Cat, as a cat, is a comparatively solitary being who seems to be just as capable of enjoying himself alone as he is in company. He doesn't care that he's trapped on a space ship with only four other people. Lister, by contrast, is starting to get worn down by the loneliness, something somewhat implied by what he says in "Marooned" about his guitar. It's a bit of a shame, then, that the episode plumps for the typical "if in doubt, make it be about Rimmer" method, as the episode becomes more or less about him and his efforts to set things right or take Lister's place, such that at the end of the story there's no payoff for Lister at all. Lister, Cat and Kryten just wander out of the photo lab without a backward glance, almost as if they don't know why they're there. Perhaps that's meant to be implied to be the result of all the time-travelling. The gag with Rimmer being human at the end (which causes all sorts of continuity problems of course, but I won't go into that) and then accidentally blowing himself up always seemed like a weirdly Blackadder-y ending to me for some reason. In any event, it gives us the episode's other rather strong scene, Rimmer dropping in on Lister at his mansion in the changed timeline. Robert Addie is particularly good as Gilbert. I get the impression some "fans" object to Ruby Wax as Blaize Falconburger, a part originally intended for Graham Chapman, but I think she actually suits the part well.
I'm not quite enamoured of the "young Lister" and "young Rimmer" scenes, as I think they're both a touch dry. The name "Smeg and the Heads" for Lister's band tends to strike me as a touch self-referential, although Craig Charles's brother Emile is good as the teenage Lister, and I like that in Rimmer's dorm room there's another instance of "Bonehead", the nickname first attested in Series II. Rimmer's reaction to his younger self telling him that he's got extra rugby practice is amusing as well, as it appears to stir up memories of childhood humiliation. The background song "Cash", performed by Craig Charles's band, fits in well. Chris Barrie's turn as elder Rimmer brother Frank in the wedding photograph seems to provide a bit of inspiration for Ace in the voice if nothing else. It's interesting seeing Robert Llewellyn's Kryten in photos that are clearly meant to be from the Nova 5, and the effects work on having the multiple moving photographs while the camera is panning across them is very effectively done. It's also amusing to note Kryten having to develop photographs in a darkroom and listening to music on a cassette tape. Perhaps he's just into vintage technology. One thing I do like is seeing Kryten dancing around a bit and playing air guitar as he develops the photos. It's a nice little bit of background characterisation that I wish we'd seen more of.
The all-time great line from this episode is of course "It's my duty; my duty as a complete and utter bastard", although Rimmer gets some other good ones, including comparing rich Lister's life to "me, with... what I've got" and referring to himself as "old iron balls." The way Gilbert the butler pronounces "fish 'n' chip" as "fish nuh chip" has always tickled me. A good early one is when, by comparison to Rimmer going to school with Thickie Holden, Lister says he went to school with the famous "Charles Keenan", who was famous because he "ate his wife." It's the kind of classic example of the difference between Rimmer and Lister's backgrounds that you don't see enough. It's a bit odd to think that young Lister doesn't know what the H on Rimmer's head stands for, although I suppose you could imagine that holograms hadn't been invented yet back then or he'd never seen one before. I feel like the absurd idea that Hitler had a "banana and crisps" sandwich deserves a bigger laugh. Other than that, I have to say that "Timeslides" might be one of the weaker instalments of Series III. It has some good moments, but at times it feels a bit directionless, the characters aren't really explored in great detail despite the opening, Cat and Kryten have scarcely more to do than they did in "Marooned", and the way the time travel works is all a bit wobbly. Then again, there's always the enjoyment of Cat telling Lister "You can carry your own damn flags!"

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