Doug Naylor speaks exclusively to G&T about Bodysnatcher, the movie, the BBC, and lots more besides. READ THIS NOW.
As moments in this site’s life go, this is a biggie. The man himself, Red Dwarf‘s head honcho Doug Naylor, speaks exclusively to Ganymede & Titan about The Bodysnatcher Collection, mobisodes, the movie, the BBC… and a lot more besides. Commence pants-wetting – you simply have to read this.
It took long enough to set up – multiple back-and-forths, emails, phone calls, illnesses, cancellations, days off work… but finally, the dynamic duo of Ian Symes and Seb Patrick sat down around a telephone to spend half an hour chatting to the great man. And boy, does he chat. Get Doug going on the subject of Dwarf, and it’s an absolute delight to behold – so much so, that we can’t even bring ourselves to edit the interview down in any meaningful way. So what you’re getting is almost the entire conversation – and despite the fact that the whole thing was ostensibly to plug Bodysnatcher, Doug was willing to hold court on all manner of Dwarf-related subjects, being remarkably candid about the future (and about the BBC). As far as the current state of Dwarf goes, this is it – the full story. So what are you waiting for? Read on…
So, Bodysnatcher is obviously what we’re really here to talk about. And first of all, what prompted the release of it, and of the Remastered series, at this moment in time?
Well, it was really because the BBC wanted to release Remastered, and we knew it was really going to be the last throw of the dice, so we were looking around to see if there was anything that we hadn’t released that would be fun – and we came across this script. It was really bizarre how we’d both kind of forgotten it. I think it was because it had to be show two [in the running order] – and if it wasn’t show two, it couldn’t be anywhere. And we wanted, I think, the option of being able to put out a strong show two, whatever it was, and because this script didn’t really have an end, and it was the early days – you know, not really knowing what was going to work and what wasn’t going to work – we wrote probably three-quarters of the thing and put it to one side, and didn’t go back to it. Probably one of the strongest sequences in it was the skutter fight, and of course that was an absolute logistic nightmare – with two animatronic skutters that hardly worked at the best of the times trying to have a fight… I mean, we’d probably have done it with puppet arms, or something… but no, I think that’s another reason why it didn’t get made. I think even if it had been in season three, we would have been able to do it without any trouble – but just those early days, it wasn’t possible.
So yeah, we really just forgot about it – and what was really bizarre is that in the past, if we’ve written a show and it hasn’t gone forward, we’ve generally gone back and tried to take the good bits from it, and pop it in the show. But for some reason we didn’t do that with Bodysnatcher, and so much of it was never used. And we both read it, and enjoyed it, and thought with a few tweaks, and a new end, this could be good.
So how did Rob’s involvement come about? How was the initial contact made, and so on?
Before we do any DVD we always ask Rob if he wants to be involved. Always have done, from the first season, right through to the present. And he’s always gone “Maybe”, or, “if time permits”, and then for whatever reason he hasn’t been available. And no-one was more surprised than us when we asked this time and he said “Yeah, fine, okay, I’m happy to come and do documentary stuff, and I’m happy to do this and that”. So that was great. And then we told him about the script, and he seemed keen to have a look at it, and have a tinker with it – so he had the first pass at it, and I had the one after that. And it just kind of went from there – and then he was happy to come in and do the documentary, and all the bits and pieces. You know, I haven’t actually asked “Why the change of mind?” as it didn’t really seem appropriate to ask – but we’re all very pleased that he was happy to come back on board.
You mentioned that it was the BBC who wanted to release Remastered – I just wonder if you know anything about their reasons for that?
Well, their point of view is to make money. That’s why they’re there, and so they’ll release anything that they think will sell.
So they came to you with the suggestion?
Oh, yeah. And we knew Remastered hadn’t worked out maybe in the way we were hoping for, and we knew that there were fan reservations about it. Which was one of the motivation points, thinking “Well, there’s loads of stuff we can get onto the DVD that will make it a good buy for the fan who doesn’t necessarily want the Remastered”. And we knew we hadn’t been able to do the two full documentaries for seasons one and two in the way that we’d been able to on the other seasons – so that was something that Andrew was particularly keen to do. And there were other bits and pieces we were able to do. So that’s really how it came about.
What are the expectations for the release, then, in terms of its appeal beyond the hardcore fans who want the documentaries, and Bodysnatcher, and so on?
Well… as you know, the Remastered came about because we couldn’t sell the originals to certain territories. So, they’re the only versions that have been seen in Japan, for example – they’re the versions that they get in the boxsets over there. So there are different expectations about it – I know there are certain fan expectations, from people who didn’t want us messing with the originals. So they may not want it, I don’t know. Completists will be interested… casual fans, people who like the show – I mean, you get three seasons worth of shows on it, as well as a lot of extras. So if you haven’t got any Red Dwarf on DVD at all, it’s really not a bad buy!
What about Just the Smegs? There have been a few question marks among fans over releasing that, given that all the outtakes are already available on the original DVDs, so only the completists, or the people who bought Just the Shows, are going to want it…
Well, again, that’s the BBC. If the BBC want to release these things, I’m not going to say no, if they feel there’s a market there. So that very much came from them – I wasn’t really expecting it to happen, and was really quite surprised that they suggested it. So we’ll see. I don’t know whether it’s because they haven’t got a huge amount to sell this Christmas. But having said that – again, if you haven’t got the material, it’s a good DVD.
With Bodysnatcher, it pretty much feels like we’ve had everything it’s possible to dig out from the eight series. Can you see there being any further releases in the foreseeable future?
No! [laughs] I really can’t. Well, I say that… obviously if we do new shows, then yes. As you know, there are about thirty-six drafts of the movie screenplay which have not been made, so we could make that. And we are in talks with an animation company to possibly do a TV series and maybe also a film. So that would be new Red Dwarf projects rather than old ones repackaged… but I think in terms of old Red Dwarf, that’s it. We’ve done it.
I know that not everyone’s interested in this, but what about other GNP projects? In particular, I’d be quite interested to see a release of The 10%ers…
Well, at one point, BBC said yes to The 10%ers, and then actually… I don’t know what happened! Because they did say yes, they wanted to do it, and then it didn’t happen! But we do get requests for that from time to time, and it’s never been repeated, so…
What about a situation as happened with the recent Joking Apart DVD release, with someone getting the rights themselves and releasing it?
Well, hey, that’s actually quite an interesting thought… it hasn’t been suggested, but rather than it do absolutely nothing, yeah… Though I think we’ll find that this year, and probably next year, DVD sales will be at an all-time low, especially TV stuff. You know, even the top BBC shows aren’t selling nearly as well as expected – quite why that is, I’m not sure. Everyone’s buying iPhones and things, I think!
Coming back to Red Dwarf, the issue that’s really had everyone talking is the situation with the BBC, and their attitude to the series. What’s your take on the whole thing?
The thing that you have to understand is – often people who work at the BBC are in these roles only for a couple of years, and then they get promoted up or go sideways. So it’s very important that they don’t make mistakes. And so commissioning risky programmes is not something that they love doing. No-one really looks ahead and goes “If we plan now, we’ll have brilliant television in five years’ time”. It’s very much a lot of individuals looking after themselves, as opposed to a business where you’re looking after the whole product. And so, for example, BBC Television aren’t remotely interested if a series sells well on DVD, because they don’t get the money – that goes to BBC Worldwide and 2entertain. Who are very interested in commercial projects – but first you have to get them on television. And so the television agenda is different from the DVD agenda – you have all these little tribes working with different agendas, and all clashing with one-another because of it. And so, although from a “Hey, let’s sell more DVDs!” point of view, making more Red Dwarf would make sense – and it would probably make sense in terms of the viewing figures as well – that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s best for the agenda of the people who currently work in those positions to commission them. Because it’s like “Oh, everyone knows Red Dwarf is a hit” – so if it isn’t a hit, it reflects badly on that person; and if it is a hit, you won’t get any of the credit, because it was already a hit.
With regards specifically to the Points of View story, there seemed to be a fair bit of mudslinging going on – the quote from Dimension Jump, which they then denied on POV…
Well, they didn’t deny it… what she said was – and this was the head of comedy – “No-one has ever come to me and asked”. And the head of comedy is entirely different from other people who work in television – such as controllers. And the head of comedy doesn’t actually decide what goes on television – the head of comedy recommends things. But if you’ve already been to other people who maybe are above the head of comedy, then there would be no point going to the head of comedy asking, because you already know the answer. So that wasn’t mud-slinging, that was kind of factual – she was absolutely truthful when she said no-one had come to her, and we were truthful in what we said.
It seems a bit like one hand not knowing what the other’s doing…
Oh, sure, and that’s how the BBC’s always operated. As I say, lots of different people, all working with lots of different agendas. You know, if they were making ball-bearings or something, it would work in a different way. But they ain’t.
So if Red Dwarf came back, could it only be with the BBC?
No… it could move. We could take it somewhere else. Absolutely.
Because a lot of fan discussion seems to centre around what the BBC want to do, rather than what GNP want to do – people often tend to see the BBC as the be-all and end-all…
Well, in the end, we can only do it with the BBC if the BBC want to do it. And actually, the irony is, on Dave – which is an offshoot of the BBC – it’s doing well. And I understand series one is being repeated on BBC2 over Christmas… in the middle of the night, but hey. That’s progress, maybe.
But that all depends on the controller of the time, because they decide what they want on their channel. And if they go, and a new person comes in, then that can change.
So with all the discussion of Dwarf on TV, the focus seems to have shifted away from the movie. Is there anything else you can tell us on that score?
The movie, basically, hit a wall. I was close on so, so many occasions, where it really did look like the money was going to be there – and it always fell out. And the last time it fell out was because the BBC wouldn’t give us a TV deal – so in other words, they wouldn’t agree to buy the movie. And so everyone then goes “Well, why? This series has been really successful, there must be something wrong with it if they don’t want to buy it”. And their stance on it is that they won’t buy individual movies, and they aren’t prepared to make an exception with something like Red Dwarf. And some people at the BBC, really high up people, thought that was scandalous – but that’s the rule.
Something that was quite cryptically mentioned at Dimension Jump was a stage show… and I don’t know if there’s anything else that you can tell us about that beyond the vague detail we’ve had?
Well, there are a variety of projects under discussion. Basically, what I don’t want to happen is for Red Dwarf : The Movie never to be seen. Because that’s just bloody stupid. [laughs] Because we have done a lot of work on it, and it would have been a great movie. So it’s, “Okay, what are the options?” One option is the stage show, one option is an animated movie… and in some ways, maybe that would be more attractive to financiers because you could even, if they wanted, dangle the carrot of being able to re-voice it into Bulgarian or Romanian or whatever… if that was a way they wanted to go. But we haven’t actually decided which way we’re going to go. So as yet, we’re still looking at all those options.
On the subject of new animated material, we’ve been reading on the official site about the mobisodes…
Well, obviously, the animation has to be simple on those because you download them on your phone, but the later ones are really coming out well – so I’m quite buoyed by the look of those, which does make you think “Hmm… maybe…” And it gives you an idea of whether the jokes work in that environment or not. And I think if they’re funny, they do work. And obviously, the film was intended to be a lot more dramatic, but… it’s something we’re looking at.
There’s also the Christmas special, with the new cast recording – how did that come about?
Well, I think they wanted to test the idea out first by using old stuff… which seemed more sensible, because you’ve got material that’s proven to work. But I think it was Andrew’s idea, he said “Look, it’s Christmas, wouldn’t it be an idea to write something new?” They said it had to be 40 seconds, so I spent two days trying to write a 40 second episode, and thought I’d done really well. And then… rewrote it a bit… and it got a bit longer… and it came in at a minute and a half! So we’ve turned it into a two-parter!
So from the way you’re talking, it seems new material could be the way forward for the mobisodes…
Oh, yeah, I think so. We’ll see how this one works. But yeah, you can do anything with a cartoon, without having to worry about budget, so it’s quite an interesting area to look at.
Just as one last quick point, then, and on the subject of new material – do you see Grant Naylor Productions as only existing to further the Red Dwarf franchise? Or do you think we might see other, non-Dwarf projects from you in the future?
I think because Rob’s not really related to Grant Naylor in any kind of creative way, and hasn’t been for some time, new projects – for example, that are coming from me – will be done with my new production company. And hopefully we’ll have some good news on that front within the first three months of next year. Everything crossed, really. It’s been a long road, but hopefully we’ll have some news.
Doug Naylor – thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us.
And we’d also like to thank the good folk at GNP – Helen and Andrew specifically – for taking the time and effort to make the interview happen.