It's by turns horrible and fascinating. Sometimes it's... well, not great, but at least I can applaud a few of the choices they're making and acknowledge that they've moved on from the banality of season 6
. They've clearly been doing some thinking during the intervening three years, which also happened to include Craig Charles's rape trial (acquitted) and Chris Barrie and Rob Grant deciding to quit. Best of all this season is their rediscovery of small, intimate stories. Only two of this year's eight episodes are built around some new big SF threat to the crew, whereas last year this was... oh yes, all of them. You've also got weird stuff happening with Kochanski, Ace Rimmer and the Red Dwarf ship itself, but those are all part of the show's core setup. It feels like years since we'd seen anything like Duct Soup and Blue and I really appreciated the show slowing down enough for this. How long had it been? Season 3
Furthermore, the year includes plot developments. I realise that Chris Barrie's departure was at the actor's request and is achieved in a stupid, annoying fashion, but it still happens and I like the way they follow up on it in later episodes. Rimmer's cameos in Ouroboros and Blue feel like a much better farewell to the character than simply keeping him around for two extra episodes and then never never mentioning him again as soon as he's gone. Similarly Kochanski isn't a great character, but I like the way we see her struggle as a woman. She brings freshness. As far as she's concerned this is season one and I like season ones. For the first time we have a season of Red Dwarf that you've got to watch more or less in order, which is laudable.
There's even character development for the crew. Unfortunately this isn't a good thing.
Admittedly of late the regulars had been turning into caricatures of themselves, but this goes beyond that. It feels as if Doug Naylor's got bored (or else can't do it without Rob Grant) and instead is writing completely different people with the same names. I don't hate the principle of characters changing over time, but I object to them becoming crap. Remember when the Cat used to be cool? These days he's just annoying. He's not really even narcissistic any more, which has left Danny John-Jules no personality traits to work with except "retarded". Rimmer's intelligent, efficient and a reluctant hero! Then you've got the traits that are being bolted out of the blue on to Lister, e.g. claustrophobia. The only one who could be said to come out of it well is Kryten, whose hatred of Kochanski at least gives him something new to play even if Llewellyn's come up with an annoying falsetto voice for those times when Kryten's under greatest emotional stress.
Then there are the production values, which look just plain wrong. Sorry, guys. You've spent all that money to make it look crap. Holy Moses, it looks filmic... but it also looks as if they don't know what they're doing and are just throwing money at the screen. There's one episode (Epideme) where the production values create something effective and worth watching, but otherwise it just looks like an expensive fan film. I don't get a sense of reality from what's on screen. Compare with 21st century Doctor Who, for instance, which has been really rather good at that. To me, it doesn't feel like Red Dwarf. Furthermore on occasion (i.e. Stoke Me a Clipper) they'll get so carried away with making something look good that a throwaway joke gets bloated beyond its natural length and deforms the episode.
You have no idea how disappointed I am in Ed Bye. I'd been hoping that his return as director would bring the show back on keel. To get an idea of how fundamentally these guys have misunderstood their own show, check out the "Xtended and Remastered" version of Tikka to Ride. Note the new ending. Gyaaah.
37. TIKKA TO RIDE
It's not bad, although obviously I mean the broadcast version. I also made the mistake of watching the extended version on the DVD and you should learn from my pain. They've put another eight minutes of footage back into the story, about 1000000 subjective hours of which are pissing around with stuff that doesn't matter after the much better ending of the broadcast version. It also doesn't have a laugh track, which gave me a bunged-up feeling as if I'd been watching with a head cold. Some comedies (e.g. Sledge Hammer
) are strong enough not to need a laugh track, but this is not one of those.
At least it's trying to be funny, though, which you can't always say this year. We have a story driven by Lister's need for curry in which the Cat says "Yaaaaaaaaow!" These are good things. On the downside, why is Kryten breaking news to Lister? In fact, why are they giving Kryten dialogue at all?
Unfortunately the episode's stupid. This kind of thing would be bad anywhere, but it's doubly unfortunate in a series that's traditionally laughed at SF cliches. I had to snigger at the revelation that it's only this new super-expanded Starbug that has dimensional anomalies. Yeah, and the version we saw in season 6
was exactly the same size inside and out, wasn't it? If they'd wanted Starbug to be a duplicate of Red Dwarf, why didn't they just have the crew steal someone else's ship? (In Duct Soup, we'll learn that it takes six hours to crawl through Starbug's ducting.) Furthermore the plot's built around a temporal paradox nearly identical to the one which unravelled and unhappened itself in the season 6
cliffhanger, as explained at the beginning of this episode. What's different this time, eh? That could have been cool if they'd acknowledged it and done something with it, but they don't.
38. STOKE ME A CLIPPER
They're writing out Rimmer and this is the best they can do? We begin with ten (count 'em) minutes of unreal bollocks, first with Ace Rimmer in a 007 pre-credits sequence and then Lister's VR game. What's oddly one of the worst things about these is that they've obviously put so much time and effort into shooting them. What idiot gave them the money to do this? These scenes would have been improved by being made for tuppence ha'penny, if only since then they have been cut back by 80% to their correct length.
Oh, and what's happening with Sarah Alexander's French accent? Chris Barrie's put on weight, too.
After that, Rimmer gets recruited for the role of New Ace. (Readers of Virgin's Doctor Who NAs might want to ignore that mental image.) On the upside, it's original. I'm boggled by the idea of an infinite inheritance of Ace Rimmers, while also I liked Ace dropping in as if they see him every weekend for tea. However for me, the story fails because it doesn't feel honest. Why isn't the Cat brutally delighted to be shot of Rimmer, as he always used to be whenever that happened? Why is Rimmer so passive? Even overlooking the fact that it doesn't feel as if they're trying to be funny, they've lost the acerbic sharpness they used to have when they were taking the piss out of all this. The best I can say is that it's watchable if you can forget everything you've ever seen with Rimmer and Cat and instead assume that these are their doppelgangers from a parallel universe.
The worst episode of Red Dwarf. I realise I've made foolish predictions like that before, but this one's safe. A back-to-back watching of these first three episodes of series 7 left me bewildered, faintly depressed and in need of watching anything that wasn't Red Dwarf. Warriors of the Deep, a shitty zombie film, anything. It had messed with my head.
It's not even attempting to be funny! Bad comedies are usually at least recognisably aiming for the comedy genre. This wants to be Star Trek. Lister meets the woman about whom for six years he's been yearning and dreaming... but this is thanks to a random swirly thing in space that shows up when the plot needs it. Why is there a corridor? Because there is. Why is a spaceship shooting at them? It's a continuity reference! There's no attempt at tying these together, because the show's introducing a new regular and has put aside all considerations like elegance or originality. You can see that they're trying to write a character-based episode, but they're making the "Russell T. Davies season finale" mistake of assuming that plot and character are an "either-or" choice.
On top of all that, guess where Kochanski comes from? Wow, I hate alternate universes. The Red Dwarf novels fell into that trap and now the TV series has toppled into the pit as well. (Note that Lister's line about Kryten killing the crew of the Nova 5 is referring to the novels, not the TV series.) It's become a multiverse of an uncountable infinity of alternates, in which you can pull anything from anywhere and there are no consequences to anything. It's the ultimate lazy writer's get-out. Note that this particular parallel isn't even an interesting one, with the main difference being that Kochanski's Lister is the hologram and is kind and caring. Imagine my yawns. Oh, and this is the show's fourth consecutive episode with parallel universes or unhappened timelines, including the season 6
The characters are poor. Cat, Kryten and Lister are a boring line-up! I'd have never believed that a few seasons ago. Meanwhile Kochanski is a super-intelligent, flawless superwoman... or in other words, crap. There's actually a scene where she can't bring herself to microwave a kitten. (Not a cat, a kitten. This despite the fact that it's Lister's cat Frankenstein and thus supposedly pregnant.) It also grates to see the show canonising its "Kochanski used to be Lister's girlfriend" retcon in that flashback scene, which in no way resembles the established past of previous seasons.
Then there's the episode's revelation, which makes no sense. How did Lister deduce that, then? How does his genetic inheritance work? Presumably 100% of his DNA must have come from himself rather than the usual 50-50 split from both parents, which one has to presume happened in some kind of incestuous temporal regression. In other words, it's literally retarded. This is the kind of meaningless SF gibberish that in a righteous world would see the writers being beaten with sticks.
However I did laugh at "it's an obscene phone call. I think it's for you."
40. DUCT SOUP
Either it's Stockholm Syndrome or the fact that after "Ouroboros" the show could no longer get any worse, but from here on I found myself thinking better of season 7. This in particular is something we'd been crying out for: a "bottle episode". The regulars get trapped in the ducts in Starbug and talk. That's it. I've decided I really like the variety of the stories this year, even if I truly despise some of the episodes themselves.
What's interesting about Duct Soup is that you could slot its script into season 1 or 2 and never notice, yet there's something awkward about the finished episode. I think it's the shooting style. They want Red Dwarf to look like a movie, but this script is more like a stage play. It would have made a better episode in the old multi-camera days of grey sets and no money. What we have here is like someone using the London Symphony Orchestra for a rendition of "It Was On The Good Ship Venus." It doesn't work. One might suggest that the cast aren't good enough to support a movie either.
I like the conversations, though. Being gay is a fun issue to raise with Lister, although I'm not wild about his claustrophobia. ("Help, we've abandoned all his existing characterisation and we need something else to replace it!") However Cat and Lister's scene in the laundry room is their most satisfyingly scuzzy of the year, while Cat's rampant insensitivity is also refreshingly old school. Kryten's psychoses are getting more entertaining and Kochanski works better this week too. She gets to be deranged and obsessive about her noisy bedroom piping and is understandably suffering from the experience of being a girl on Starbug. It's not perfect but it's one of the two good episodes of the year, along with "Blue".
I'm baffled by the references to passing Space Corps ships, though. Are they still in the year 3 million or not? Has the Space Corps survived the probable extinction of mankind? Or maybe, just maybe, is Red Dwarf's worldbuilding shot to hell?
There's an extended version on the DVD, but obviously I didn't watch it. I don't touch the hot stove twice.
Admittedly it's not a high bar, but I find this the best episode of season 7. Rimmer's flashback scenes make his departure real to me in a way that I didn't get from "Stoke me a Clipper", while I find the Lister-Rimmer kiss scene of all things oddly touching and human. Well, until its laugh-out-loud ending. I was amused by the locker bingo and Rimmer song sequences too.
Of all the stories this year, this is the only one which for me compares well with real Red Dwarf episodes. What it's doing with the characters speaks to me and it's specific to the Rimmer-Lister relationship. All the others you could cut-and-paste into Star Trek, but this story couldn't exist anywhere else. On reflection, I think I like it a lot, actually.
42. BEYOND A JOKE
This is the one that everyone was calling the worst Red Dwarf episode, but I thought it was merely poor. It's trying to cram too much into one episode, but that's normal for Red Dwarf and the only unusual thing about it is the degree to which they've made a hash of it.
Kryten's green brother doesn't work at all, which is a shame because they've given him a redemptive character arc. Don Henderson is similarly ineffective because we can't hear a word he says, although that's not his fault since he was in the last stages of terminal throat cancer and died soon after the episode was broadcast. The simpering idiots in the Jane Austen pastiche are irritating, but that's clearly deliberate and I rather enjoyed the sadism towards them in Robert Llewellyn's script. I adore Austen, but you've got to admire someone who's putting this much enthusiasm and energy into a hatchet job on her without ever stepping outside the bounds of fair comment. Similarly the revelation about Kryten's origins are unnecessary, but they make more sense than the equivalent ones about Lister in "Ouroboros".
The story's clearly a mess, but I don't mind its ingredients. They're just clumsily assembled and don't feel as if they belong together, that's all. The incidental music probably needed to change when the tank appears to blow up the gazebo, though.
This is the one where the production values work. I like the pseudo Antarctica base, while their zombie is impressively gross.
I also like the basic idea of the story, in which Lister catches a virus that talks to him. That feels like a very Red Dwarf idea, but unfortunately they've ruined it by making the virus talk like a poor man's Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors. You can't hear what it's saying half the time. This is a damn shame, I think. You don't get many talking viruses and I'd have loved them to do it as a proper character that we could get to know. However as it is, they've created something less memorable than The Invisible Enemy's giant prawn.
However even with that, this is still a perfectly okay episode. It does its job.
The second-weakest season finale to date, after Meltdown
. However that said it's again okay, although I had a minor spasm at the sight of Lister and Cat playing some kind of stylish SF chess. That's another Star Trek moment. Couldn't it have been something slobbier and scummier? This is another of those episodes this season that seems to have either forgotten about trying to be funny or just can't be bothered, although they do have the occasional good line. "The only thing I've seen pick up slower is Rimmer in a disco." Norman Lovett (all hail!) gets a few of them and raises the episode single-handedly while he's on screen, although that's not for very long.
Unless Kryten's being frivolous, we also learn that the crew have been flying around in Starbug for millennia, most of which was presumably in stasis while the ship crossed interstellar space. I don't particularly rate this episode, but it's not painful or anything and I appreciated learning the plot stuff about what happened to Red Dwarf (the ship). I wish they hadn't explained it away with nanites, though. Nanites are almost as crap as parallel universes.
It doesn't feel like Red Dwarf to me. The production values make it look all wrong, while the characters are at best different and at worst a travesty. However that said, it's a big improvement in the plot and story department even if the regulars' characterisation is now officially out to lunch. I really like the variety of the stories, their smaller scale and the way we're getting story-on-story development for once.
As for the quality, it's never been more uneven. I'd have to think about whether the average level is higher than season 6
's, but the distance between its peaks and troughs is terrifying. I like it about half the time, but I have serious objections to "Stoke Me a Clipper" while "Ouroboros" gives cancer to baby seals. I wouldn't mind so much if they hadn't been moving away from even trying to make me laugh.