Twenty years ago today, Red Dwarf VII debuted on BBC Two. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.
Red Dwarf had been away for over three years, having previously managed to average out as an annual event for six series. The delay was mainly caused by three monumental behind-the-scenes events: Chris Barrie deciding to leave the show; Craig Charles being held on remand on a charge from which he was ultimately cleared; and Grant Naylor splitting as a gestalt writing entity, leaving Doug in sole command of the show. Big changes were also afoot on-screen, with the change to single-camera, audience-free shooting, the addition of a film effect, a move to a comedy-drama format, and Rimmer’s place on Starbug being taken by Chloe Annett as a version of Kochanski from an alternate universe.
In many ways, it was twenty years ago today that Red Dwarf changed from what it was then to what it is now. The reason those first six series still exist in a bubble is that they were all made in broadly the same circumstances. The cast and crew may have altered over the years, and the production may have moved from Manchester to Shepperton, but these changes took place slowly and naturally; to paraphrase another comedy that debuted in 1997, it was evolution, not revolution. With Series VII, that changed – a conscious effort was made to make things different from the previous series, and it was against a backdrop of production problems and uneasy compromises. Red Dwarf lost its momentum, and it’s been fighting to get it back ever since. It’s only now that it’s starting to feel more smooth and assured; Series XII will be the first time in years that there hasn’t been a raft of changes since the previous series, and that’s only because they were shot back-to-back.
Opinion remains mixed on the merits of Series VII. The G&T staff are pretty unanimous in our disapproval, but elsewhere there are plenty of fans who enjoy it for what it is, regardless of how different it is from what came before, and even some who hold it in the same regard as the first six series. Regardless of your position, what’s interesting is how it came together, and the developments that took place prior to the episodes reaching the screen. To help with the extra workload caused by Rob’s departure, and the series containing two more episodes than usual, Doug brought additional writers on board for six of the eight initially-planned episodes. How this process worked has always been a great source of speculation, and to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the show’s first big comeback, that’s what we’re investigating today.
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Fans of Gogglebox, the popular television programme in which cameras capture the reactions of ordinary people as they watch TV, may be interested in We Have Been Watching, which is the same. Except that instead of ordinary people, this UKTV Original features comedians and sitcom stars, and their viewing material consists of classic comedy clips, old and new. The show started with a Christmas special late last year, and has since embarked on a full series, which is currently airing on Wednesday nights. Among the regulars are two elderly gentlemen named Craig Charles and Robert Llewellyn – truly the Bill & Josef of the cast.
Anyway, each episode tends to feature at least one of the regulars watching the show that they’re best known for, and according to this tweet from Gold, tonight’s the night for Red Dwarf. No official word on which episode they’ll be watching, but if it’s from Series X or XI, this is probably the closest we’ll get to a cast commentary. So we’ll be tuning in tonight at 8pm on Gold, and if you’re doing so too, then this is the place for your comments.
“Now on Dave, it’s time to sit back and relax this Bank Holiday Monday, as we bring you an afternoon in the company of the finest smegheads out there – with the complete series of Red Dwarf XI.”
– Dave continuity announcement into Twentica, 2nd January 2017
Most people, when greeted with a continuity announcement like that, might think: “Oh, that’s good, I get to half-watch all of Red Dwarf XI this afternoon whilst pretending to get some work done.” Or perhaps: “I hate Red Dwarf, Red Dwarf is shit, I am going to turn over, I need to watch anything other than Red Dwarf because I don’t like Red Dwarf.”
Us? We clap our hands in delight, as we indulge in one of our favourite pastimes: pre-watershed Red Dwarf edit spotting. Although perhaps to our surprise, only two of the six episodes had any alterations whatsoever: Twentica, Officer Rimmer, Krysis and Can of Worms got away cut-free.
Let’s take a look at what was changed…
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We hope by now that you’ve hung up your stockings on the wall, your family has arrived, and that you’ve ascertained whether or not you have the room to spare inside. But before your granny proves herself to be a musical hypocrite, take a moment to look back on the past twelve months. It’s been a strange one by all accounts. Brexit. Trump. A cull of beloved celebrities. The rise of the far right. Terror. Fear. Division. Prejudice. Aston Villa being relegated. Frankly, I’m not convinced we’ll all survive the last seven days.
Which is why we’ve chosen Christmas Day as the perfect time to focus on the positive, and look back on what has been a much better year in the world of Red Dwarf than it has been for anyone in the actual world. Six brand new episodes recorded. Another six brand new episodes aired. A mobile game. New merchandise. Live DwarfCasts. The dramatic increase in usage of the word “cloche”. It’s definitely been a busy one, so settle down for a comprehensive look back on everything that happened and how we covered it.
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A few days ago the ever reliable GameDigits delivered to us a fine Christmas present in the shape of their Give & Take update for Red Dwarf XI: The Game. It has ended up being an incredibly pleasant way to close out a year that’s been stuffed full of Red Dwarf activity and so I have once again recorded my first playthrough of the entire episode, along with my own brand of unfocused and unprofessional commentary.
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2016 may have been a shithouse by most metrics, but I can’t remember the last time there was just so much new Red Dwarf stuff released in a calendar year. GameDigits have just managed to sneak in one more thing before the year is out, the key details of which are summarised in this tweet:
We’re hoping that our video review will be along before Santa empties his sack into your astonished stocking. In the meantime, use this thread for general discussion, and the long-standing forum thread for anything spoilery. And when you play through this episode of the game, see if you can spot the impact of our feedback on Kryten’s files…
Well, Ian GameDigits promised us that Give & Take, the next playable episode of Red Dwarf XI: The Game, would be released this month and that does indeed seem to be the case. After some initial concerns about the slow roll out of content I’m actually enjoying the pleasant surprise that each new update brings, and we now get to enjoy playing through many people’s favourite episode of the series while drinking eggnog and wearing our hilarious Christmas jumpers.
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Having thoroughly gorged ourselves on the meaty morsels provided by six brand new episodes of our favourite show, G&T has been having a bit of a post-series nap for the last couple of weeks. But we’re awake now, refreshed, and with plans in place for a whole host of features throughout the coming months, while we wait patiently for the Series XII publicity machine to roar into action at some point in 2017. And as a new month dawns, there are enough tiny pieces of news to warrant this brief festive-flavoured roundup, so read on…
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Regardless of your opinions on the episodes themselves, the consensus concerning the way Red Dwarf XI has been handled by its various stakeholders seems to be that certain areas have been disappointing. The decision to premiere each episode on UKTV Play was… controversial, shall we say, leaks have been taking place left, right and centre (including the accidental releases of an episode and the DVD extras), the online store has been a heavily-delayed farce, and the rancid cherry on the top came last weekend when we realised what was printed on the back of the very Steelbook I’m about to review.
It seems that Howard Goodall and Ian GameDigits are currently the only ones successfully carrying the torch, at least without getting bits of lighter fluid all down themselves and accidentally causing a series of small fires. It’s getting harder to ignore the cloud that’s gathering over this series, but there’s one area where Red Dwarf has always excelled: DVD/Bluray releases. The original releases of the BBC era remain unmatched by any other comparable show. The Back To Earth and Series X releases had a very different job to do, coming as they did so soon after broadcast, and XI is very much in the same boat. But despite the monumental cock-up affecting one of the three variants, is the content of these shiny discs good enough to distract from the recent shortcomings, and end this chapter of Red Dwarf‘s ongoing story in style?
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We all understandably got a little over-excited on Wednesday when it emerged that Red Dwarf would be making an appearance in Lego Dimensions. My limited knowledge of the game lead me to assume that the presence of the bunkroom set meant that we’d be getting a fully playable Dwarf-based expansion pack, but it soon became clear that there’s a precedent for some franchises making smaller, cameo appearances within other levels. Today’s TOS update confirms that this is the case with Dwarf; scenery from the show forms part of the Fantastic Beasts expansion pack, released today. There won’t be playable minifigs of the crew, but the areas will be explorable using the main game characters of your choice.
It would be churlish to feel too disappointed by this, because if we hadn’t have initially leapt to a dream conclusion, today’s announcement would still be totally mind-bogglingly brilliant. The TOS update features a new set of screengrabs that showcase the beautiful science room area, complete with bio-printer, along with corridors strewn liberally with JMC logos and what looks to my untrained eye like the raw materials required to build a little Lego skutter. It looks fantastic, and I remain incredibly impressed that our little show has been chosen for such treatment. The social media reaction to the initial teaser on Wednesday showed just how much enthusiasm there is for a full Red Dwarf console game, be it as part of Lego Dimensions or otherwise, so let’s keep our fingers crossed that this is just the start.
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