Af­ter the tri­umphant re­turn to form of Red Dwarf X, the sci-fi sit­com is back for not just one but two new se­ries. Richard Ed­wards heads on set to find out more...

SFX - - Contents -

As the team re­turn once more, we’ve been sneak­ing around be­hind the scenes.

SFX’s 13-year-old self could be

here now, he’d be so ex­cited his head would ex­plode with the gooey, pus-filled force of Dave Lis­ter’s space mumps. We’re sit­ting in the pi­lot’s seat of Star­bug, and we’re not ashamed to ad­mit that, in our mind, we’re ac­tu­ally fly­ing the ship. We are stop­ping just short of mak­ing the sound ef­fects, though – let’s show a mod­icum of pro­fes­sion­al­ism here...

A short walk around the corner we’re in Lis­ter and Rim­mer’s quar­ters on Red Dwarf. Along­side the ubiq­ui­tous gui­tar, closer in­spec­tion of Lis­ter’s bunk re­veals a pic­ture of Kochan­ski (the Chloë An­nett vin­tage) and a poster for his favourite zero-grav­ity foot­ball team, the Lon­don Jets. Rim­mer’s bed be­low, mean­while, boasts framed bronze and sil­ver swim­ming awards.

We wan­der into the next room and, we have to ad­mit, it’s start­ing to feel odd that so many key parts of a ves­sel nearly 10 kilo­me­tres in length sit so close to­gether. This is the Dwarf’s science and med­i­cal centre, where an er­rant Skut­ter – one of the ship’s dogs­body droids – sits along­side a med­pod that’s been re­pur­posed from Ri­d­ley Scott’s Prometheus (yes, re­ally), and won­der­fully ana­logue con­trol pan­els pop­u­lated with knobs, di­als and switches. They’re so real and tac­tile it’s a mis­sion to re­sist the urge to fid­dle with them.

Just be­hind is the sort of shad­owy space­ship cor­ri­dor usu­ally fre­quented by Xenomorphs and – pro­ducer Kerry Wad­dell tells us – dec­o­rated with spare parts from Guardians Of

The Gal­axy. We knew all about the “used uni­verse” aes­thetic beloved of Star Wars, Alien and Blade Run­ner, but this ap­proach to re­cy­cling is tak­ing the idea to a whole new level.

“Yeah, it’s that retro feel­ing – and our logo has gone retro and ana­logue-y as well!” says

Red Dwarf’s multi-hy­phen­ate writer, direc­tor, pro­ducer and co-cre­ator Doug Naylor when we catch up with him in the edit suite a few months later. “It’s the ‘change the light bulb’ gag, re­ally. I do like that. It speaks vol­umes about what Red Dwarf is, and where they are.”

liv­ing leg­end

Make no mis­take, at 28 years old, Red Dwarf is em­brac­ing its his­tory. Se­ries X, broad­cast in 2012, took things back to ba­sics – just an or­di­nary guy, a holo­gram, a mechanoid and the dis­tant de­scen­dant of a pet cat liv­ing on a space­ship three mil­lion years from home. And – cru­cially – the re­turn of the live stu­dio au­di­ence that had been a key com­po­nent of the show’s first six (and eighth) se­ries.

De­spite a tricky jour­ney to the screen that in­volved major rewrites, shift­ing pro­duc­tion

The se­ries took some time to evolve be­cause we had a cou­ple of false starts

sched­ules and en­tire episodes be­ing dropped – “Any­one who’s watched ‘We’re Smegged’ on the DVD of se­ries X will know the dif­fi­cul­ties we had,” admits Naylor – it was widely hailed as Red Dwarf’s best out­ing in years, ar­guably the best since the show’s early ’90s hey­day.

So like Red Dwarf it­self, Star­bug, Naylor, and stars Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules and Robert Llewellyn, the au­di­ence are, un­sur­pris­ingly, back for the new shows.

The big­gest change this year, how­ever, is ar­guably the de­ci­sion to film two se­ries back-to-back – six episodes shoot­ing be­fore Christ­mas, half a dozen af­ter – with Red Dwarf XI launch­ing this month, and se­ries XII air­ing in 2017.

“Just in terms of the work­load, ob­vi­ously it’s been twice as much, and we’ve been re­ally keen to keep the stan­dard up,” Naylor ex­plains. “It’s been great fun. It’s like the old days, re­ally. And all the cast have said that – what a great time they had – which re­ally is in­ter­est­ing, be­cause we made 12 shows pretty much on the run. Apart from Christ­mas, there was no real break.”

Al­though more Red Dwarf al­ways seemed a no-brainer for the show’s cur­rent home on UKTV’s Dave, 12 wasn’t al­ways the magic num­ber – not least be­cause, when dis­cus­sions be­gan, Charles was still part of the Coronation Street cast.

“The se­ries took some time to evolve, be­cause we had a cou­ple of false starts where we thought we could get Craig out of Cor­rie,” re­calls Naylor. “I’d started writ­ing even be­fore the se­ries was fully com­mis­sioned. And then it turned out we couldn’t get Craig out of Cor­rie. And then it looked like we could. Then I’m A Celebrity… came along, so we were foiled again – and then Cor­rie didn’t want to let him out at all.

“Through­out that pe­riod, I was ex­pect­ing to write six. Then it be­came ap­par­ent that Craig would have to make

the de­ci­sion whether he was go­ing to leave or not leave – and I was al­ways very con­fi­dent that he would leave if it came down to hav­ing to make that de­ci­sion, though I don’t think he wanted to make that de­ci­sion at the time. I think he would have loved to have taken an­other sab­bat­i­cal from Cor­rie, come and done this and then gone back. But that was not to be. So Craig said, ‘Look, if I’m go­ing to leave, I don’t think we should do six. I think we should do 12.’

“It’s easy to say on the phone, ‘Yeah, that makes to­tal sense!’” Naylor laughs.

“Craig was go­ing, ‘Surely it’s go­ing to be cheaper? You’ve got the set-up, and we just do the whole 12.’

“I was say­ing, ‘Yeah, you’re right! I’m sure it must be cheaper. And UKTV will prob­a­bly buy that be­cause it means they’ve got two se­ries…’

“Then I thought, ‘Hang on a minute – now I’ve got to write 12!’”

old but new

While Naylor’s stay­ing tight-lipped on plot specifics and guest stars in se­ries XI, we do know that the six episodes will fea­ture an al­ter­na­tive Amer­ica where tech­nol­ogy is for­bid­den, Lis­ter get­ting his kid­neys stolen, Rim­mer fi­nally be­com­ing an of­fi­cer, a midlife cri­sis for Kry­ten, and Cat meet­ing a fe­male mem­ber of his species. In the clas­sic Red Dwarf tra­di­tion, it’s more about stand­alone episodes than se­ri­alised sto­ry­telling – though Naylor hints that we’re likely to see new sides of the show’s lead quar­tet.

“It’s al­ways a great ad­van­tage if you can put the episodes out in any or­der,” he says. “We’ve al­ways kind of avoided se­ries arcs – though it’s not that there aren’t things that are a lit­tle bit arc-y. They’re more in­ter­nal things – seem­ingly, giv­ing the char­ac­ters what ap­pears to be good news at the be­gin­ning of the episode and ful­fill­ing their dreams, and then con­found­ing that. So you think, for ex­am­ple, ‘God, I can’t be­lieve we haven’t done this with the Cat.’ And

The boys’ dress sense is about the same as be­fore.

Life is much eas­ier with a bazookoid in your hand.

The Cat’s get­ting a fe­male friend.

Is Rim­mer get­ting delu­sions of grandeur?

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