Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Red Dwarf VII Episode 4: "Duct Soup"

This is going to fly in the face of the received wisdom of the most obnoxious parts of Red Dwarf "fandom", but I actually enjoyed this episode on most recent rewatch because it falls back on the show's strength: characters talking in a confined setting. I recently read someone describing this as a "poor man's 'Marooned'," and that's to an extent justified, but it's not without funny moments. I don't mind the absurd conversation about "Bent Bob" or Cat saying "If I was dead you could not swing me around in here." Lister's explanation of the cause for his sudden claustrophobia, despite how inexplicable it is given that he's been living on a spaceship for years, is quite entertaining. The "rusty gate" is a bit more forced, although Kryten's "Princess Leia" joke early in the episode is okay. The opening gag about the conflict between being thirsty, being sleepy and needing to take a piss is also a good piece of observational comedy even if "to pee or not to pee" is cheap. Kryten's statement that Lister "can't wait to get the wrapper off and taste the salty goodness" is memorable. A couple of other lines I like are Cat saying he wants to write a fan letter to the washing machine company (despite how wretched the concept of the characters watching Kochanski's underwear dry is) and Lister saying "Go and stick an egg up your nose." The bit in which the Cat falls into the cupboard rather than the shower is funny too. It's not a bad episode for Cat, as it happens.

The weakest part of the episode is probably the segment at the beginning in which Chloƫ Annett is forced to deliver reams of backstory for Kochanski in the shape of this sort of self-pitying monologue in which she rambles about being in "cyber school" and stuff. It also seems weirdly condescending when Lister gives her a sparkly dress he found and says "there's some makeup in there too." But what would I know? The extended version on the DVD has her talking about how she needs to look good in order to feel good, which I'm not sure is a characterisation likely to elicit much sympathy or humour. It feels, however, like they're forced to do too much in this episode because of the awkward and contrived way Kochanski is introduced in the previous episode. This material should have emerged more organically over the course of the series.

The extended version also includes some material in the ducts in which Lister and Kochanski talk about their pasts and Cat presents his bizarre reasons for thinking he's the centre of the universe. That bit's kind of funny but Lister and Kochanski's stories are more dramatic than comedic. I think Kochanski discussing her upbringing in the duct in the extended version emerges more organically from the situation than the heavy-handed way she's made to explain her personal history to Kryten without motivation at the table in the broadcast episode. The extended version has both sequences, which makes one feel redundant.

"Duct Soup" is hardly a great success but it has its moments. The upside-down map gag is a bit well-worn, however, and the idea that the whole thing was a waste of time is maybe a little too pointless. I feel like they try to endear Kochanski to us with the pipe-bashing scene but it doesn't quite work because it's just her being annoyed about something. The thing is, I feel like the writers don't have a clear enough idea of the character. The highlight might be Kryten's daydream of Lister and Kochanski getting together and kicking him out, perhaps mainly for how when he awakens from it he treats it as if it really happened. I also like the snooty way they laugh after saying "And you're not human are you? You're a robot." That being said, was it worth constructing a whole plot out of Kryten overreacting again? Furthermore, the bit at the end in which Kryten explains to Kochanski that she's been on an emotional journey is just the episode spelling itself out, and the point it makes is completely undermined by the fact that in the very next episode she's trying to get back to the other dimension and they're going on about Rimmer again.

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