A full episode of Red Dwarf has been recorded in front of a studio audience for the first time since 2011. G&T were there, obvs.
This article discusses Red Dwarf X whilst adhering to G&T’s spoiler policy. Please ensure your comments do likewise…
This episode is the third to be filmed and also third I’ve seen recorded. Based on my knowledge of the first two, I went into the recording with a few assumptions about plot and quality: they were a tight plot, solid woofers and a few bits I probably wouldn’t like very much. Also, based on Robert’s comments about all the lines he had to learn, I expected it to be focused on Kryten in the same way that the last two episodes have been Rimmer and Lister centric respectively.
I was wrong on at least one of those assumptions.
As mentioned before the recording, this week fans were directed to the front entrance of Shepperton, rather than the back service entrance as that was being used for the audience of BBC One’s The Magicians, so we had the rare luxury of not being herded down an unlit path, up to our balls in mud. In your face audience for The Magicians.
What ended up happening was me, John, the excellent Pendo and a lovely chap called Simon, blundering our way through the grounds of Shepperton, unsupervised, trying to find where Stage K was. We recorded a slightly breathless AudioBoo during this mini adventure and in the end we of course found the holding area just outside the stage, because we’re not idiots.
As usual, the audience are directed to their seats in Stage K at 6pm on the dot, but this week we’re ushered in through the entrance at the far end. The reason for this became apparent as we took our seats and saw the unfinished episode specific set from the 23rd had now been finished, greatly expanded and was now blocking most of the normal entrance. This set is absolutely beautiful. It’s a very large and detailed outdoor area (featuring heavy lighting to create the outdoors feel) with a great amount of detail. Once filming moved over to this set (for what felt like most of the evening, but I’ll get on to that) around 30 extras were brought on, all fully costumed and looking great. For a sit-com that is to be broadcast on a digital channel, these are huge production values, and these scenes are a great showcase for how top class Red Dwarf X’s set and costume departments are, quite apart from everything else.
Other than that, there are the two normal main standing sets (Bunk Room and Drive Room) the former of which had one big piece of set dressing removed to make way for a large and impressive standing prop, which was covered with a big black sheet until it was revealed to the audience through a VT and then used later for live scenes. Apart from being integral to the plot, it was also used as extra foreground detail in some shots, to great effect. In fact, it’s worth pointing out again how assured Doug Naylor’s directing is. In one VT, there was a continuous shot of Kryten walking down a corridor and into the bunk room which was just lovely.
As with episode 2, all the scenes were shot in order (with the notable exception of one pickup done for a scene from the end of the episode, well before we know what the fuck it was about) with the scenes in the bunk and drive rooms mainly going very smoothly. As usual, takes are kept to an absolute minimum, despite the fact that the camera setup naturally requires some or all parts of the scene to be played twice, and pickups are dealt with efficiently, rather than with the sledgehammer approach of recording the entire scene again and again. In the first two scenes, Danny and Craig have some difficulties with their lines which, in Craig’s case, leads to a hilarious moment where he hid his script inside the book he was reading in the scene. The outtakes for this series are going to be gold.
Recording on the episode specific set ends up being a bit… problematic for the audience. The cast do well with the scenes they’re recording, with no more pickups than you’d expect, but the resetting of scenes takes an absolute age, and it ends up slightly damaging the flow of the recording. What’s more, there’s an action scene shot live that involves the cast running around the set in various directions, shot from different angles to create an illusion of distance traveled that should clearly have been done as a pre-record, and played in as a VT. It was a shame that the energy the audience had at the start of the recording had diminished a lot by the time the shooting moved back to the bunk room.
Having said that, this is clearly not a case of the production not knowing what they’re doing – all evidence points to quite the opposite – so my assumption is that there were perhaps time issues in the pre-record that meant they had to hold back more scenes for the audience record than they intended. Resetting a scene in a set with that much detail and that many extras is always going to be something that will take a while so, again, it’s understandable. In the end, this recording didn’t take that much longer than episode 1, which considering how much more complicated the scenes on this set were (and it really has to rank as one of the more impressive studio setups the show’s ever done) is quite impressive. The location footage, which was shot in a wooded area in the grounds of Shepperton, was for a very short scene which ends with a great graphics based gag, that may or may not have been just for the audience.
Once again, Ray Peacock provides the warmup and once again he’s top class, but with the notable difference that this week he, let’s say, flies a little close to the sun. During the first two scenes, he’s being fairly merciless with Danny and Craig while they’re having problems with their lines, the latter of whom looks distinctly unimpressed on the monitors. Whether that’s down to Ray or not is unclear, but he doesn’t make any more comments about cast fuck ups for the rest of the recording. Another incident involves him very clearly, and literally, stepping over the line as he takes a sock from a member of the audience, sneaks onto the bunk room set while the crew are on the other side of the studio, and throws it on Lister’s bunk. It’s obviously hilarious for the audience, but… I do wonder if he got into a bit of trouble. I do hope not.
Unlike the first two, this episode doesn’t focus specifically on one of the main characters, but around a male guest star who, with all the best will in the world, I don’t think is particularly good. The character he has to play is a difficult job, especially as the highly unusual plot will live or die by how his performance comes across on screen. He certainly isn’t bad, but probably not good enough, either, especially when the guest cast for episodes 1 and 2 were excellent.
The plot is… well, it’s weird. Not necessarily bad, but it’s definitely a surprising issue for Red Dwarf to be tackling and it makes for an incredibly atypical episode, despite the fact that, structurally, it’s very similar to a certain past episode. There’s a scene around 10 minutes from the end, in which something happens that you would never have guessed would be done by any sit-com, let alone Red Dwarf. It’s so utterly bizarre and actually fairly tangential to the main plot, that it’s hard to see why it’s even there. Then I realise how much I’m laughing, and it stops being an issue. There’s been some talk about this episode containing an offensive element, and this scene contributes a lot to that feeling. It *will* offend some people (and based on Twitter comments has already offended someone in the audience) but, and let’s be perfectly clear about this, those people are idiots.
That’s not to say that there aren’t legitimate concerns that it could be an area that it doesn’t feel very natural for Red Dwarf to get into, and that was a feeling I had for most of the recording. Then I checked, and once again found that I was laughing. It’s complex, but I still think the laughs don’t naturally come from the situation, but more from isolated gags which gives the episode an odd feel.
The main cast continue to be on great form and I think special mention has to go to Robert Llewellyn, whose Kryten is probably the character with the most consistently funny performances in this series. Considering this, it’s no surprise that his performance reminds me of the character as he was in series VI, before everything went a bit skew-whiff from series VII onwards. There’s one scene in particular that, had it been in VII or VIII would leave me intensely irritated, but here is played perfectly by Robert and ends up being a lovely piece of physical and character comedy.
Due to the complex setting of the main plot, a B plot seems to be considered surplus to requirements, which is a shame as the weaving of sub plots into the main action was something that went very well in the previous two episodes (especially the first, which wrung tonnes and tonnes of comedy out of its B plot). There’s also a instance of a running joke that is set up in the second scene of the episode and then, after one or two call backs, just stops before its payoff. It’s disappointing, but luckily the final reveal of the episode is very strong, and the gag that follows got a big laugh. The plot for this episode may well be the weakest of the series so far, but Doug is still doing a great job of setting up gags and then delivering the woofs. What’s more, an ongoing connection from episode to episode is becoming very apparent and it seems to be a perfect way to give the series a through line while still keeping each episode (so far) standalone. This, combined with other small references to what’s happened previously, gives the strong impression that the recording order does indeed = broadcast order.
All in all, this is without a doubt the most remarkable series X episode recorded so far, for good or for ill. I’m having trouble working out exactly what I think of it as a whole, and I don’t think my mind will be made up until broadcast. Doug Naylor certainly can’t be accused of playing it safe with his writing, and the comedy levels are still very good, it’s just… well, it’s fucking weird. It’s going to be very interesting to see how this episodes goes down in the Autumn.
TINY TEASER: Kidney Stone
APPROXIMATE SCENE COUNT: 17 (Total so far: 49)
SMEG COUNT: 1* (Total so far: 5)
* I thought it was one, but everyone else I was with swore there were three. But: MY REPORT, MY RULE, BITCHES.