It’s been well over a year since the official announcement, 10 months since filming began and four weeks since Dave (the U.K. TV channel) began its countdown reruns of all eight previous seasons, but at smeggin’ last, it’s here – the brand new series of sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf starts tonight at 9 p.m. in the U.K.
I was lucky enough to grab tickets for the filming of the first show back in December of last year and then last week, thanks to the wonders of Twitter, I also managed to snag tickets for a special screening of that same first episode in London’s Leicester Square last night. I’ve never heard of a TV show getting a red carpet premiere before and so it was rather strange to see three quarters of the cast and writer Doug Naylor walking down the carpet, greeting the hundred or so other fans and invited celebrities.
The show itself was as funny as I remember it being at the filming, and it was great to see it in proper chronological order with all of the effect shots in place. When I watch it again on TV tonight it will feel quite odd – going from the filming, to a cinema, to my living room, almost as though it was a play, that got made into a movie and then spawned a TV show! While we waited for the screening to start, we tucked into our complimentary red popcorn (I think it should have been poppadoms, but given that we were in a cinema, I’ll let them off) and chatted with fellow dwarfers of all ages and from all over the country.
Red Dwarf X is a real return to form after the Blade Runner homage that was ‘Back to Earth‘, with the four main characters back on Red Dwarf doing what they do best – goofing off and making jokes, usually at the expense of Rimmer. It was refreshing to see the small rouge one lovely built and filmed as a physical model in all its intricate detail – it was of course filmed in HD this time around – and it looked amazing, slowly drifting by on a huge cinema screen. The post-production effects looked great too.
After the screening we were treated to a short Q&A session with Craig Charles, Robert Llewelyn, Chris Barrie and Doug Naylor (Danny John-Jules couldn’t be there as he is currently filming in the West Indies) where they discussed various aspects of the show including favorite moments, what is was like getting back together after such a long break and what the future holds for Red Dwarf. Read on to hear what they had to say (I’ve left out spoilers) and don’t forget to tune in to Dave tonight at 9 p.m. BST if you have the means. Don’t despair if you can’t – although there’s still no word on U.S. transmission dates, the DVD and Blu-ray will be out before Christmas.
Wired: How do you get the ideas for the scripts?
Doug Naylor: They’re just things that happen to me in real life really, and I just write them down. You get ideas for the characters and you think of what kind of situations you can put them into.
Craig Charles: So what were trying to buy when they put you on hold? (laughter)
Naylor: Oh, I was trying to get the internet – oh yeah, that was a whole day.
Wired: In the whole time you’ve been doing Red Dwarf, what’s been the most fun episode to film?
Charles: There’s been a lot of fun episodes really, there’s been some unusual ones, I more favor scenes, really. It was really fun filming the scene with Robert where I have the shrinking boxer shorts. He had his groinal attachment out and he was riding me to oblivion. That was really fun, because of the audience reaction really, the laughter was so loud that we had to scream our lines and we still couldn’t hear each other.
Chris Barrie: I think I had to wait several hours to come into the sleeping quarters to say the immortal line, “You’d bonk anything.”
Charles: He loves playing Ace Rimmer, he loves him, he wants to be Ace Rimmer. He wants his own spinoff series. “Ace Rimmer Saving The Universe!”
Barrie: “What a guy,” “Thanks for that Spanners!” A lot of people say that should have been the character all the way through, but I say well no he shouldn’t because he would actually become a pain in the neck after a while because he’s too good. So good old Smeg Rimmer, as I call him, he’s petrol for comedy so that’s why he’s there. But yes, Ace is enjoyable to play.
Wired: Robert, you’ve done four cameos as different characters now without the gear on….
Robert Llewelyn: Oh yeah, I don’t like that though….
Charles: You did a cameo in that as well though…. “I’ll be in my quarters, covered in taramasalata” Bongo, it was Bongo wasn’t it?
Llewelyn “Well a guy like Ace can turn a guy’s head!” But I can’t watch the ones where I’m me, I don’t mind the ones with the bloke with the square head, he’s alright I can watch that, but not the real sad, tragic, uncooked pie man underneath.
Wired: Given the trials and tribulations you’ve had trying the get the film version made, have you considered crowdfunding solutions like Kickstarter and trying to revisit the plan for the film? I’m sure we’d all pay for it!
Naylor: Not really, no. We’ve haven’t seriously considered using Kickstarter.
Charles: (whispering) What’s Kickstarter?
Barrie Wasn’t that a TV program with Dave Lee Travis with those trials bikes?
Wired: Thank you for using proper models this time and not going down the CGI renders for Red Dwarf. What was the process you went through to do it?
Naylor: We always wanted to film the models, as everyone probably knows the original Red Dwarf miniature met a tragic death when it fell off a shelf, and it didn’t exist for a long time. When we did the remasters a new one was built, the ‘pencil,’ so it it existed. So for this series we knew we had that, and it’s had a “reddwarf-ectomy” and has been shortened, so we wanted to go back to the miniatures. I think the miniatures, certainly with the budgets we have, they look better that (CGI) model shots, and we able to shoot them as the first unit, rather than it being the B unit.
Wired: In the last series we saw you do a crossover with Coronation Street, moving forward, what program would you like to see a crossover with?
Charles: Match of the Day, where Lister scores the winner, for Liverpool against Man U. Oh Yes! You can imagine Doug writing than one can’t you?
Llewelyn: I’d like to see a crossover between Red Dwarf and a really interesting art documentary, presented by someone really clever.
Barrie: I’d like to see Red Dwarf crossed with The Brittas Empire…
Charles: Where Starbug lands in a swimming pool and various consequences commence.
Barrie: “Look, we’re back on Earth.” “No you’re not, get back in that thing and go back wherever you came from.”
Wired: If you could spend a day on the real Red Dwarf, what would you do?
Charles: Get drunk and eat curry! There’s not much else to do.
Llewelyn: I’d find an enormous pile of towels to fold, that would be fantastic, I mean really big, like 10 million towels. And maybe a bit of ironing….
Barrie: And I’d start revising for my Astro-Navs!
Wired: You’ve been playing these characters for such a long time now, do you ever break into them in normal life?
Barrie: (in character) ABSOLUTELY NEVER DO I BREAK INTO MY CHARACTER IN NORMAL LIFE! (performs Rimmer’s Space Corp salute)
Charles: I sometimes think I am my character. They become very familiar to play, it’s very easy to fall back into them. As soon as you put the boots on and get the hair in and put on the leather jacket, you’re almost there. Give him a ‘H’ and he turns into an a***hole!
Barrie: (in Kryten’s voice) Or sometimes you can turn into the other characters….
(in Lister’s voice) Well sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t….
(in the Cat’s voice) and sometimes you just can’t help it man!
Wired: With social networks like Twitter and Facebook, how has that changed your perceptions of the community and interactions with the fans?
Llewelyn: Certainly, when we did the last live recording in front of an audience in 1998 there wasn’t Twitter, Facebook or any of that. I think the fear we had was that everyone would post story lines, spoilers and things like that, but no one did and that was really fantastic. I mean Doug threatened them with death obviously, but the fact that no one did means the ones who did see it and really enjoyed it, then they didn’t want to spoil it for anyone else, as opposed to being told not to. I mean anyone could have posted spoilers but they didn’t, which is really encouraging.
The good thing about it is that we get feedback straight away. The morning after we’d done a live recording, I’d get loads of tweets from people who’d seen the show, raving about it but not posting spoilers, saying things like ‘it’s classic Red Dwarf‘ or ‘it’s really funny,’ etc. It’s really good because we didn’t get that before, we didn’t have a clue really.
Naylor: I remember, roundabout series three, at a book signing, someone saying, “Did you know the science-fiction community absolutely hated the first two series?” And of course, we said no, ’cause we had no idea! He then said, “It’s OK they’ve changed their minds now”.
Wired: As fan of (Chris’) Massive Engines and (Robert’s) Scrapheap Challenge, do you prefer to make those kind of programmes about real life that you’re interested in or this complete fantasy thing like Red Dwarf?
Llewelyn: They are so different that you can’t really compare them. I definitely laugh more on Red Dwarf. There was a great moment I remember that wasn’t actually on set, but was in Shepperton when Craig and I had been for a curry and suddenly realized that I was on my hands and knees in the rain, ’cause I couldn’t walk anymore ’cause I was laughing so much. (To Craig) I don’t want you to repeat the joke you told me though ’cause it was really bad. Disgraceful, but very funny! We get on so well, we have such a great time together, reminds me of being in school, sitting with the bad boys at the back of the class.
Barrie: The documentaries are fantastic to make, but as Robert said, they’re so incredibly different. On a documentary you go with a very small to back of beyond somewhere and you’ve got to learn up about this big machine. You speak to the expert there and suddenly you’ve got a camera straight in you face. From dawn to dusk it’s just work, work, work you don’t have time to think about it and it exhausts you. But Red Dwarf is a different kind of stress; we just want to make sure that we’re funny and we’re on the money in terms of doing justice to the scripts, so it’s completely different challenges really.
Wired: How does it work in front of the live audience? Do you work stuff up and try it again and again or do you do it almost as if it were a stage play?
Charles: We try and do it like a stage play, we try and get it right first time. Unfortunately, we very rarely do!
Some of the scenes in that first episode where one takes, but most of it we work on it and work on it. The audience do seem to like it when we get it wrong and break down and clown about, it’s all part of the night really and it gives us a chance to say hello to the audience. So the audience got to know us very well during this series!
Llewelyn: It gives me a chance to just pop ’round the back and have a look at the script!
Barrie: If we did it seamlessly, it’s be over in half an hour. It’s be so boring, so we have to do that to stretch it out to like four hours!
Wired: I’ve heard that part of one of the episodes is based on part of the movie script. Do you intend to adapt other parts of it at some point?
Naylor: There are no plans right now for that, but there were just some really good scenes that I thought we could take and use in show six.
Charles: There are a couple of other scenes from that movie script that have popped up as well, there’s one in show three….
Naylor: and show five….
Charles: Yep, he’s plagiarized the whole thing!
Naylor: But there were 35 drafts so there are a few scenes going spare!
Wired: After Back To Earth received some (unfair) criticism, was it a conscious decision to go back to the formula on Red Dwarf?
Naylor: The thing is, when you start up a new series, and no one really knew whether this would work, whether we still had the same fanbase, or if the interest was there, so it was a little bit of an experiment. Back To Earth started off with ‘let’s do something to celebrate the 20th anniversary,’ and one point that was going to be the guys in costume introducing clips, and then it grew into one show, then two, and then three shows. But we had no sets, no miniatures at the time, and you can’t just throw millions of pounds at something when you don’t know if it’s going to work. So we decided to make a show with things that were there at the time, contemporary things, like we knew we’d be able to get Coronation Street, we knew could set the story on contemporary Earth and we could afford to build a couple of sets. So it was based on bits and pieces that we had around and then we tried to tell the story. One of the things we thought we could achieve was the audience, but then that didn’t work out because to the budget, so that had to go.
It then became a much more filmic, green screen piece because we got Mike Seymour (the VFX supervisor) who said this story could be bigger if you trust me to go down the CGI route, which we felt at the time was the best thing to do to give it a big look. It was not Red Dwarf in some senses, but it did the job and as soon as it had done the job and proved it, we where then able to say ‘OK, let’s go back now and do what we really want to do’, which is Red Dwarf, 30 minutes, four boys on Red Dwarf, which is where we are with the series now.
Charles: We always wanted to have the audience, because we’re natural show-offs, and it’s really good for your comedy timing and it heightens your performance and it’s a completely different thing to doing it single camera. You get that adrenaline buzz and it changes the energy of the show.
Wired: Have you written series 11 yet? Is there going to be another one? Has it been commissioned yet?
Naylor: No, I haven’t yet. I … think … it … will … happen (whoops and cheers).
It hasn’t been commissioned yet, but I think it will.
Wired: Will we see a return of Holly (or Hilly)?
Naylor: In Red Dwarf 11? Because I haven’t written any shows, I can’t tell you (said with a knowing wink).
So you never know!
Wired: Who would play if you weren’t playing your own character?
Charles: I’d love to be Kryten ’cause it’s such cool part to play isn’t it? I’d love to wear the mask. He hates it so we should swap!
Barrie: Obviously, I’m a natural to play the Cat, but I wouldn’t want to be him. Oddly enough, I also want to play Kryten, but I want to renegotiate the terms of the mask!
Charles: I’m trying to get Doug to write an episode where all of us have this mad dream that we’re all Kryten and he’s the only one that’s human!
Llewelyn: There was a moment when we’d finished filming and I was outside waiting for a car and Craig and Danny came out with masks on. They’d got the spare ones and just pulled them on over their heads. That was one of the most disturbing experiences of my life.
Naylor: And Danny had blacked his up! It looked very odd
Llewelyn And he was doing a very strong West Indian accent!
Wired: We’ve just seen one great guest star performance, have you got any favorite guest stars?
Charles: He was great wasn’t he?
Naylor: They are so many, I promise you, coming up in this series.
Llewelyn: Well, Jenny Agutter!
Charles: You still haven’t gotten over her legs! I remember him going into my dressing saying, “Have you seen her legs?”
Who was the film star we had who played the King?
Llewelyn: Oh, Brian Cox, he was brilliant
Barrie: Tim Spall was brilliant too.
Red Dwarf X starts tonight at 9 p.m. in the U.K. on Dave
Photos: Nathan Barry