This article discusses Red Dwarf XI & XII whilst adhering to G&T’s spoiler policy. Please ensure your comments do likewise…
A full episode of Red Dwarf has been recorded in front of a studio audience for the third time in as many weeks. G&T weren’t there, and it’s a combination of those two facts that has lead us to do things a little differently this time. We’ve already covered virtually everything we’re allowed to talk about in terms of specific details, and we can assume that if things were set up in a certain way for the first two weeks, then they’ll be the same in the third week. So let’s turn our attentions to the realm of the subjective.
At this early stage in the lifespan of Series XI – a time when thousands of people are desperate to learn about things that only a handful of people have seen – it’s easy to fixate on the limited range of individual opinions available, so we’ve recruited a whopping four correspondents to tell us what they thought of this week’s recording. They are Dan Pendleton, Jed Shepherd, Jo Sharples and Niki Hutchinson. This will be a longer read than the last couple of reports, as we’ll be presenting the full gamut of their reactions and opinions, as well as a briefer summary of this particular episode’s idiosyncrasies. There’ll be some overlap, some contradictions and possibly some confusion – it’s up to you to take the four varying accounts on board and make your own mind up. So, without further ado…
What’s your opinion on the way the show looks on screen – sets, lighting, direction, etc?
DAN: The sets look fantastic and it’s immediately obvious they’ve had more money to splash on them. The bunkroom set remains mostly unchanged except for a few minor alterations here and there. The corridors look great and it’s interesting to see how a quick change of camera angle can make the same bit of corridor look like another part of the ship. Craig even made a quip about only being able to film half a scene because they only have half a corridor.
The main new set is the Science Room (or Medical Room?). It doesn’t look anything like the Science Room from previous series but it doesn’t really matter – it’s a beautiful set. It’s clearly distinctive from the rest of the ship in colour and style but it works well. It’s quite a large set, possibly bigger than the bunkroom, but they only used a part of it for this episode. It’s a huge improvement from Series X’s Drive Room (which was nowhere to be seen) and gives a more classic feel to the show.
From your previous set reports, I knew the Starbug set had changed considerably from past series and I’d prepared myself for this. I didn’t quite know what to expect but I’d formed an image in my mind based mostly on the Blue Midget set from Series X. Thankfully, it looks nothing like the Blue Midget set but, if I’m perfectly honest, I didn’t really like it very much. It seems very cramped compared to the previous Starbug sets and it looked a little too bright inside. My initial thoughts weren’t helped by the camera angles; Rimmer and Cat were shot from angles we wouldn’t normally see in the classic Starbug. Later on, when we got the traditional shot showing all four in their regular seating positions, I began to warm to the new Starbug slightly. I think it’ll just be a case of getting used to it and I’m sure we’ll all be fine with it by the time this episode is aired.
The direction was very precise and there was a lot of redoing scenes or lines to ensure that they were correct and coherent. There were two very long scenes near the start of this episode so it took a long time to get through them without fluffing a line. You could tell it was beginning to get a bit tedious for the cast, especially when they got to the end of the scene thinking it was correct, and were then asked to perform it again to correct a line or change a camera angle. But they remained very professional and continued to entertain the audience throughout.
I don’t really know enough about the lighting of a show to make an informed comment on that, but the lighting looked different to Series X and reminded me of Series IV or V. It looked good, anyway!
JED: The sets look incredible. In this particular episode we got to see approx 4 different parts of the ship. The sleeping quarters were similar to X but a little less cluttered. It seems everything has purpose rather than set dressing. I was confused whether one room was the Drive Room or the Medical Bay, but it seems as if its both. I asked around and nobody could give me a straight answer, but it seems like they consolidated sets in order to expedite narrative.
The Drive Room/Medical Bay is slightly bigger than the Drive room in Series I & II with a much cleaner palette of colours, bright and clinical. The corridors are a mix of red wood panel, chrome and a lattice pattern not unlike the film Cube. We of course also see Starbug’s cockpit, which has just the right amount of claustrophobia, nostalgia and invention to keep everyone happy. The lighting looked to take its cues from the Nostromo in Alien with long shadows cast by extractor fans and long neon strips.
JO: I got a better view of the bunk room this time, it still feels a bit empty without the sofa and I’m still not a fan of the backlit bunks. Science Room was used again, looks really nice on screen, lots of blinky lights. Corridors are still my favourite areas in terms of lighting.
NIKI: The overall look was more or less the same as series X, but the sets (not including Starbug) are bigger and more diverse, in both colour and design.
And what about the costumes?
DAN: Kryten’s mask is a huge improvement on the last one, the colour seems more Kryten-like and the awful hooked nose is gone. However, I can’t place what the problem was but I thought the rest of his costume looked a little cheaper than the last one. There were a few costume changes for most of the main characters and I absolutely loved Lister’s first costume. If it’s reproduced for merchandise I’ll definitely be buying one.
There’ve been a few comments about Cat’s hair looking “pube-like” in previous set reports. I don’t know if they’ve given him another wig for this episode but his hair looked fine to me. It looked like the same one from Series X.
JED: Cat, Rimmer, Lister is pretty much how we expect. As people have already stated, Craig has integrated his own style into the mix with touches of Jackson Pollock and the look of a guy who has fallen into a vat of pick n mix. Cat looks great in his classic pink suit. Rimmer wore a suit akin to his Series XI gear, though more matte. Kryten’s head looked much improved since X. It looks like the Kryten we know and love, but possibly a shade less angular. His body on the other hand seems to be out of proportion. Its massive and the bottom half is multi-layed to give him more movement, kind of like the body of an armadillo, where parts slide over each other to give freedom to twist and turn without breaking.
NIKI: Rimmer and Lister were in some different outfits at the beginning, before redressing into their X look. Cat had something new and pink, while Kryten looks fine.
What are the main cast’s performances life? Anyone on particularly good/bad form?
DAN: All four cast members were on form but this is, without a doubt, The Bobby Show! Robert Llewellyn had a lot of difficult dialogue and long lists to memorise and, although he seemed to struggle at times, his performance was always brilliant and Bobby did a fantastic job. Chris and Danny didn’t have much to do in this episode but, when they did, they nailed it!
JED: Craig Charles was on TOP form in every way during this episode. I’m not sure if it’s just great comedic acting, or the fact he has the kind of face to make you laugh without saying a word, but it was his energy that seemed to keep the other three on track. Danny John-Jules had some great one-liners in this episode, and he is involved in two of my favourite parts. He was able to utilise something he is very good at, which was great to see again. Chris Barrie seemed a little lethargic if I’m being honest, but this only showed in between scenes as when cameras rolled, he was possibly the cast member with the least mistakes.
This brings me nicely onto Robert Llewelyn, who probably had the most lines this time around, and by the end of the night, the whole audience could recite them word for word. To say he fluffed his lines a few times would be an understatement, but he did it with such charm (and frequency!) that we were all really rooting for him to get through them. He had very long monologues, which invariably meant he had to do them multiple times, but this only showed the crowd how versatile he is by changing the emphasis every time. When he got through one particularly troublesome sequence, he got a hearty high-five from Craig.
JO: Craig seemed a little less patient this week with people (Robert) messing up lines, I’m assuming that he needed to get off on time. Robert had a few long bits of dialogue and struggled a bit here and there, but when he got it he was on good form. Danny had a couple of good woofers, and Chris was good but Rimmer was not used an awful lot in this episode.
NIKI: Craig was on top form throughout the shoot, even saying they didn’t have to reset for some shots because it was good enough the first time. Chris decent as always, while Danny got most of the best punch lines. As for Bobby, boy did he have a lot to do, lines-wise. It took a few goes to get it right.
Were there any amusing bits of the cast/crew interacting with the audience?
DAN: There were so many Smeg Ups but it all adds to the enjoyment and experience. There were so many moments from the cast between takes, there’s definitely enough for a further Smeg Ups video. They were keeping the audience entertained throughout.
There is one part of this episode where a standard task performed by Kryten, whilst stood behind Lister, looked a little bit sexual. Obviously, Craig and Bobby took this to the next level and began simulating anal sex on set. They went for another take but, of course, when they got up to this moment the audience and cast burst out laughing, rendering that take useless as well.
I was sat on the front row right in front of the bunkroom set and, whilst the crew were setting up the Science Room, Craig Charles came over to share Lister’s breakfast cereal with everyone on my row. They were Weetos for anyone who is interested, and Craig, being the professional that he is, checked that none of us were wheat intolerant
JED: There were more Smeg Ups that I could ever mention, so I’ll highlight a couple of non-spoilery ones. One very amusing one was where Rimmer, Cat and Lister start the scene working through a doorway into a corridor. They all tried to go through at the same time, resulting in them falling through the doorway in a Three Stooges style. If you were sitting on the right side of the audience you got to see the crew come back through the doorway and blame the guy operating the doors manually.
We got to hear Chris Barrie do the obligatory Kenneth Williams “Oh Matron” which would have been disappointing with if it hadn’t happened. During one VT moment, Craig came and sat on the step in front of myself and Daniela to watch the video himself. He also came back later and offered the whole front row some chocolate cereal, he then asked if the second row wanted any, then stuck his fingers up at them and walked away. It was more amusing that it sounds!
JO: Robert had trouble with a line and the guys kept having to reshoot the scene from the beginning. When he messed up about the third time, someone in the audience shouted “We love you Robert” and Craig said “We don’t!”… and then laughed, it seemed to break him out of the irritated mood he was in.
Before we move on to the big questions about the episode as a whole, let’s pause the Q&A to address a few specific differences between this week and the previous two. Firstly, we’d seen on Twitter that green-screen would be featuring, but to what extent?
DAN: Bobby and Danny had hinted at a sequence involving green screen over Twitter and indeed that was also one of the pre-recorded sequences, which was roughly hobbled together with a temporary background to give the audience an idea of what it’ll look like. I’m not entirely sure why they decided to use green screen for this sequence, perhaps it was more cost effective than building a full set or they wanted to add a sense of scale to this part of the episode? Either way, I’m sure it’ll become clear once the episode is aired.
JED: One of these scenes employed heavy green-screen, and is possibly one of the most epic (and I don’t use that word lightly) things Red Dwarf has ever tried to do. There was also blue-screen used for a particular location that I can’t talk about without spoiling, but it should look good.
So there’s green-screen, but was there to be a third consecutive episode with location footage?
JO: I’d say a good 50% of the episode was pre-record VT, but it was all studio.
DAN: There was no location-based filming for this episode but there were a few pre-recorded sequences, including one long scene on a guest set that wasn’t used for the live recording, so I assume it had already been dismantled. There was nothing particularly technical about this scene so I think it was pre-recorded purely for use of the set more than anything.
Another difference this week was that regular warm-up man Ray Peacock had another gig on, so comedian and writer James Farmer stepped up to the plate. Judging from our correspondents’ responses, he certainly made some kind of impact…
DAN: If I’m honest, I didn’t think very highly of James, the warm up guy. What happened to Ray Peacock? I was lucky enough to be in the audience for Lemons in Series X, and Ray was fantastic then and great at getting the audience’s energies up. To be fair, James had a tough job. The audience were very quiet and weren’t particularly responding to him, they were so uncharismatic. But he seemed to focus on the quieter audience members rather than making things easy for himself by interacting with the louder, more outgoing ones. He seemed too determined to focus on the quiz, which had become very boring very quickly, rather than make humorous observations about what was happening around him. I think he was a little out of his depth, he didn’t really understand Red Dwarf; he had no idea what Gazpacho Soup or Smeeeee referred to – if you’re going to perform stand-up for geeks, you’ve got to know your shit!
JED: The warm up guy was called James and he did his best to rouse us from our miserable 21st century lives by giving us the opportunity to win a JMC/Red Dwarf Crew t-shirt. He did this in the form of a quiz that ran the whole 4 hours and will most likely be in my nightmares for years to come. He also made two audience members come to the front and do an awkward dance off. Daniela and I did everything we could to not make eye contact, and I was ready to gouge mine out with my keys in case I was chosen. He also asked us all what our favourite soup was. A lady nearby shouted ‘Gazpacho Soup’ and he said she was weird. She explained it was a Red Dwarf reference and he mumbled something like “yeah… I knew that…” He was a likeable guy, doing a difficult job, but I’m not sure how much longer I could have dealt with him asking audience members how far they travelled. Felt like I was at an open mic night at a Student Union.
Audience warm-up is a tough and often thankless job, and I think we’ve been slightly spoiled by Ray Peacock being such a perfect fit for the programme – he’s a fan himself, and he can bring the relevant knowledge and enthusiasm to his performance seemingly effortlessly. But that’s far from the norm. It’s a shame that James didn’t get a couple of glaring Red Dwarf references, as that naturally lost him a bit of authority with the hardcore amongst the audience – in an ideal world, there’d be a second Ray Peacock to call upon in an emergency, but with Dwarf fans being such a particular bunch, it’s understandably tough for someone to click with the crowd if they’re not “one of us”.
Anyway, any other notes before we move on to the meaty stuff?
DAN: There were three guest cast members, all were great but one in particular stood out. His confidence and charm created a really interesting character and I’m glad they went down the route of casting him rather than another route they could have easily taken.
JED: Walking into the studio there was a mini fork-lift truck with Jupiter Mining Corporation stuck on the front of it. I think it was more for the audience members, rather than an integral part of a future episode. On the way out I also noticed the skeleton/innards of a skutter laying on a crate. Looks like it had been destroyed, possibly in a previous episode?
DAN: There was one particularly hilarious scene aboard Starbug where I noticed Chris Barrie corpsing in the background. The crew didn’t seem to notice but it’ll be interesting to see if this take makes it in the final show, it wasn’t glaringly obvious unless you knew it was there. They did this scene several times but the first take was definitely the best.
JED: The VT monitors had a spinning 3D Red Dwarf XI logo which I wasn’t that keen on, but could be swayed to like if pushed.
DAN: There were a few passing references to previous episodes but nothing particularly important to the story. It was more character references than anything. There was a continuity mistake in this episode, a contradiction to something previously mentioned in a Series VI episode, but it wasn’t anything particularly important and since when has Red Dwarf ever cared about continuity? I’m normally quite OCD when it comes to continuity but I’ve learnt to let it go for Red Dwarf.
Right then. The episode itself. Was there a focus on any particular character, or was it an ensemble piece? What kind of story was being told?
DAN: All the characters are given their moments but this is a Kryten episode, without a doubt. This is the first Kryten-based episode since Krytie TV – but don’t worry, this episode is much, much better than that pile of shite!
This isn’t a monster-of-the-week episode and, although there is some scientific theory in there, it’s not a very sciencey-based episode either. It’s a very character-driven episode where Kryten’s dilemma is at the forefront of the story and everything the characters do. The concept of the episode is very amusing and very relatable to a lot of people.
JED: This is a very Kryten-centric episode and it is really hard to say more than that without giving the game away.
JO: Kryten was the focus for this episode.
NIKI: The focus was mainly on Kryten, story wise, with the rest of the crew helping out. It was mostly about dealing with a particular emotional problem.
Did it remind you of a particular series or episode from the past?
DAN: It’s hard to pinpoint a particular series that this episode evoked; it was individual moments that reminded of them more than the episode as a whole. One moment would remind me of Series V, another of Series II, whereas another reminded me of Series VII. But don’t worry, nothing reminded me of Series VIII or BTE, so relax! I would say it felt most like a Series X episode than an episode from any other series but that’s no bad thing, but Series XI has it’s very own feel and the writing is much tighter and funnier.
If I had to choose a particular episode that I was reminded of, for me, the episode reminded me a lot of Legion but I can’t discuss why without stepping into spoiler territory.
JED: Everything about this episode reminded me heavily of Series V. The writing, the pacing and the general feeling of it all. One particular episode springs to mind, but to mention it would potentially spoil. Due to this being about Kryten, I obviously have to point toward The Last Day from Series III too.
NIKI: It very much feels like a Series X episode, and would fit in as a replacement ep for one of the weaker ones like Dear Dave.
To sum up then, what are your overall non-spoilery opinions on the episode?
DAN: This is a very strong character episode with a tight script and plenty of laughs throughout. You can clearly see the huge increase in confidence from the Series X scripts, and the story was more focused instead of relying on weak sub-plots for extra laughs.
There’s a clear three-part storyline, typical of most Red Dwarf episodes, and each act took the story where you didn’t expect it. There was one very Sci-Fi element in the final act that I was unsure whether it worked in the context of the rest of the episode, but the laughs and performances that come from this moment are great so it doesn’t really matter – the laughs always come first for me! Everyone else seemed to really like this moment too, so perhaps it’s just me? It’s hard to give my reasoning in a non-spoiler environment but it’s something I’ll reflect on again once the episode has aired.
Overall, this was a very enjoyable episode. It is above, or at least on par with, the very best Series X had to offer and as a fan of Series X (mostly) this pleases me.
JED: My favourite Red Dwarf episodes are the subtle ones which develop the relationship between Lister and Rimmer, like Marooned or Thanks for the Memory and it seemed this was going to be the case for the episode in question. I was wrong, and I love being wrong.
JO: Having also seen episode 1, I don’t think this one will be my favourite episode of the series, but that’s not to say that it’s bad. I did enjoy it, I laughed a few proper belly laughs and I thought it was a solid episode. The plot is good and Kryten is excellent. If this were to be the worst ep of RDXI then we’re in for a very good series overall.
NIKI: Good in parts, but I have a feeling it won’t be the strongest ep of this series.
There you go. Pick the bones out of that. But before we go, we couldn’t resist sharing the details of one more particular incident…
DAN: I forgot to add about Seb walking into a big fuck-off TV. That was a pretty funny start to the evening.
JED: Think Seb would kill me for saying this, but as he entered the studio, someone shouted his name and he looked up, resulting in him walking straight into the side of a VT monitor. I think Doug took note to put that in the next episode as it almost got the biggest laugh of the night!
TINY TEASER: Subwoofer
APPROXIMATE SCENE COUNT: 10-17 (Total so far: 43-58)
APPROXIMATE SMEG COUNT: 0 (Total so far: 3)
A huge thanks to all our correspondents – Dan, Jed, Jo and Niki. Jed is the co-host of the new-ish Smegheads podcast, which we hear is performing well on iTunes. He also runs a record label, POST/POP, and has written a film called Absence, starring the actual Paul McGann. Meanwhile, Niki contributes to the Youtube-based podcasts Blue Blur Item Box and We Ramble. Jo concentrates her efforts on the fan club, and Dan is just lazy. Whatever happened to The Red Dwarf Zone?