Red Dwarf Review: Series VII, Episode 4: "Duct Soup"

Airdate: 7 February, 1997

“There! We’ve lost Doug and his boring scripts!”

Synopsis: Kochanski is having trouble adjusting to life onboard Starbug, being that she has to deal with the more laddish Lister and a robot that hates her. Not to mention, the accommodations are less than stellar; the pipes are loud, or, in Lister’s case, the shuttle is too hot. Kryten gets more and more jealous of the two… just in time for the ship’s functions to shut down completely. To fix the problem, they have to climb through the ducts.

Review: One of my personal favorite Red Dwarf episodes would have to be “Marooned”, from Series III. It’s a tad bit strange because you’d expect it to be your typical “bottle episode”, where two characters are stuck together. Personally, the “bottle episode” is one of my favorite (or at least my most forgivable) TV cliches, especially if done in a hilarious manner, and especially if one is interested in the characters. In “Marooned”, they took the heart and the soul of Red Dwarf, and allowed them to showcase the best and the worst aspects of their characters when they were together, yet also allowed for the characters to gain some more depth. It’s one of the few times I came close to crying at Red Dwarf.

So, why not try and repeat that with Lister, Kryten, and Kochanski? Try and show some depth with that. A few problems…

  • A) There is far less tension buildup between Kochanski and Lister. In fact, we’ve just met her!;
  • B) Lister’s character has been inconsistent for the past three episodes;
  • C) The development of character in this episode is poorer than in it’s predecessor;
  • D) This script is pathetic, especially as a bottle episode. Hell, it’s barely a bottle episode.
Want depth to my bulletpoints?
For (A), the development in “Marooned” came from Lister and Rimmer already being stuck together both in the 23rd century and three million years in deep space, as well as their antagonistic relationship due to their vastly different personalities. Here, we just smeggin met Kochanski. There’s no time to build up any tension. One episode she’s here: next, she’s trapped in the vents. Also, the adversarial relationship between Lister and Rimmer is not prevalent. Here, Lister does everything good for Kochanski.
Speaking of Lister, for the fourth episode in a row, his character is inconsistent. “Tikka” showed him as a selfish manchild with no respect for the crewmates he once had some modicum of respect for. “Clipper” showed him helping Rimmer achieve his great potential, although you could argue that he only did that to get Rimmer off the ship. “Ouroboros” shows him become a raging egoist who’s idiocy also clashes with a sudden realization about his backstory. And now, in “Duct”, he’s become a bland nice guy.

Character development isn’t just poorer… it borders on character derailment. The biggest problem with the character development here is that every single development is explained to us in bright, primary colors. “Marooned” was more subtle, yet also funny. Kochanski gets the best of it, as we finally see how hard it is to see a middle-class woman fit on a ship that contains a working class lad: even then, not only does she spell everything out for us, but her interactions with the other characters barely shed new light on any of their relationships.

This episode is tragic for Kryten. I can understand him taking more laddish actions after being trapped on a ship with Lister… but here’s the deal. Kryten work because he was both the sanest man on the ship, yet he also had his own personality quirks to deal with, such as his older software causing him to have a weak understanding of humans and less understanding of emotions. We see that in the beginning with Kryten giving Kochanski the Heimlich Manoeuvre to stop her from crying. However, his jealousy overtakes him… and it’s pathetic. The bot who would once protect humans from anything (or at least try to protect humans) is reduced to threatening their lives to satisfy his own selfish needs. Character derailment, ladies and gents.

Thus, in an episode that follows a trope that requires good character, the three characters focused on in this episode are, at best, given weak development, and at worst, derailed.
Again, this is all exaggerated by the fact that the episode barely has any laughs in it. Jokes were either too long, or sitcom-style plots. The only thing I laughed at was Kochanski beating Kryten with a wrench… if only because I felt that Kryten needed some form of punishment. Also, the pacing in this episode was off… again, the culprit was the jokes that went on too long only to be explained to us. Heimlich Manoeuvre, anybody?
Overall… my god. Three out of the first four episodes of Series VII are some of the worst that Red Dwarf has to offer… I give up. May as well try and bang the rest of the series out within the next week or two. I have lost all hope for the rest of the series… and I have a bad feeling about Series VIII.
Tidbits:
  • Worth noting that the three episodes in this series so far that were pathetic were written by Doug Naylor alone. “Stoke Me A Clipper” was written by Naylor and Alexander. Maybe I’ll just give Doug the “writing alone blues”. That, and a theory exists that Naylor, in his partnership with Grant, tended to focus more on the dramatic aspects of the show. Then again, if he was so good at drama in the first six series, why is the drama here so boring?
  • This episode was actually cut down by three minutes. They could’ve cut the length of some gags, such as the Heimlich, or the rushing water, or the wind, or some of the awkward discussion about the alternate Lister’s sexuality. They cut the opening credits.
  • This episode replaced “Identity Within”, an episode that would’ve developed the character of the Cat and would’ve elaborated on his species, because the series ran over budget. Methinks most of the budget went to the spectacular CGI prevalent through the series!
  • Oh, this is the first episode not to feature Rimmer in any way, shape or form. He isn’t even mentioned!
Favorite Scene: Uh, the credits? Maybe Kochanski beating Kryten with a wrench.
Least Favorite Scene: Uh, everything else? I’m going with the discussion about Lister’s sexuality, because it’s not only awkward, it’s not only pointless, it’s so boring.
Score: 2.5. Wow, we’ve sunk so deep. At least we’re officially halfway through the series.
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