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 has been recorded in front of a studio audience that included a G&T writer, for the first time since 2012. Despite G&T being there, it was only on a standby ticket, so we’d already asked our excellent long-time friend Kris Carter to do the honours. Ian’s brief thoughts are presented in a boxout, as are those of correspondent John Miller, but for now, over to you, Kris…
Well. That was pretty smegging brilliant.
The marquee tent at Pinewood Studios was holding its own against the wind as the studio audience for Red Dwarf XI episode 4 huddled inside. It was a much easier set-up for the audience than at Shepperton, where previously we’d had to troop through shrubland to get to the studio from the car park.
At 6:30 we were moved en masse through the studio streets, over Jimmy Carr’s parking space, and into the giant shed housing the good ship Red Dwarf. I noticed on the way in several large set walls stacked outside, all sci-fi panelling and very ‘futuristicky’. There was also (I think!) the big secured door that Rimmer walked through in
Entangled. As we entered the studio, a table to our right showed some filming clutter, and what looked like a damaged Skutter prop – it wasn’t a Skutter, but I could see where the confusion would arise.
After getting seated, the always-welcome Ray Peacock stepped up to the mic to get us warmed up, try and make a wet-fart noise, and drill the health and safety into us. Ray’s a great warm-up guy and he kept the audience entertained (and the crew slightly annoyed from time to time) over the whole night. He introduced Doug, who gave the customary ‘please don’t spoil the episode for everyone online’ schtick, and then hoped we’d enjoy an episode that was a little different. The cast were duly introduced to rapturous applause.
This gave me my first look at the XI costumes. Rimmer and Lister are unchanged from X – why mess with perfection? Lister’s undershirt’s are a bit more eclectic, and he has the neckerchief going on, as seen on Danny’s Twitter account, but otherwise it’s the same as X. The styling of Chris Barrie’s hairpiece is a little different than before – it reveals less forehead than in X, and looks much better for it.
The Cat’s look for this episode was exceptionally smart. Danny looked spot-on. The wig is obviously different, less silky, but no cause for alarm, he still looks like Cat. Kryten’s new mask looks much better than X, but with less angular definition on the neck. The cheeks are slightly higher, and in certain lighting almost evoked the old David Ross mask, in terms of shape. The costume torso and shoulders are re-done from X. The shoulders are much better, but the torso feels like a big step backward (at least to me). But that aside, the costume works.
We started the filming by viewing a super brief VT shot of Rimmer, and then it was onto the sets themselves. The curtain had been dropped… but the lights weren’t on, so we had to wait until the VT was done before we could get a good look at the sets! The X Drive Room is gone, replaced by a very impressive Science/Med room. Imagine the Series II Drive Room, but sideways facing the audience, and decorated/styled like the BTE sleeping quarters. It looks great. There was a large green circular portal on the one wall, with a scanner bed next to it, but this wasn’t used for this episode.
The corridors look the same, but with additional LED lighting on the supports, which can be changed for red alert situations (without changing the bulbs). The sleeping quarters – virtually the same as X, but with less clutter, and less monitors. To the right of the quarters was an unused corridor that frankly looked very ropey, so I’m hoping that’s something unfinished to be used later on in the series.
Finally. we had the Starbug cockpit, complete with removable fourth wall, to allow for some great Series VII style filming angles. Recent set reports had me worried about this set – having seen it in person, I can’t understand what the fuss is about. It looks absolutely fine. The layout is the same, the crew seating is the same, it looks really good. The deco is very Series X.
The lighting is fantastic. Much better than X, and really evocative of series IV and V in particular. Lots of blue and red. Lots of off-screen rotating fans as well, like in series VII, to add further visual flair. The direction and cinematography is so much more assured here too. Shots that pull focus, more visually interesting camera angles, great use of shadows…. If nothing else XI will look gorgeous.
Two guest stars this week, although one was a small voice over part. The main guest star had a particularly thankless task as far as the make up was concerned, but he knocked it out of the park with a very distinctive role, and some excellent but groan worthy verbal and visual gags.
The filming itself went fairly smoothly, with one early sleeping quarters scene and a Starbug scene only really giving much grief to the cast and crew. The Starbug scene in particular seemed to bring out a little tension between Craig and Danny, but it was back to banter as usual after that scene. The spark between the cast was great throughout, with the guys coming and sitting in the audience for a few VT’s, Danny wheeling a wheelchair-bound audience member around the set, and generally larking about with Ray in-between scenes. Ray stole popcorn from the set for fans to sell on eBay, and tried to get a fan to lick Craig (alas, twas not to be…). All the cast were on the ball, Chris Barrie having to carry a HUGE amount of work this episode but coping wonderfully and funnily. “It’s ok, I’m on it. I’m almost on it.” he said, pausing after a line flub, “Well. I’m near it..”
Filming finished at just before 10pm, and then it was time to head back to reality.
As for the story itself? It’s very, very good. It’s most definitely a Rimmer story. In fact, it’s a VERY Rimmer heavy story, but delivered enough for each cast-member to feel nicely ensemble. It felt to me like a fantastic mash-up of Series V and VI. You have a solid, funny, sci-fi concept providing the core of the episode, and then the characters react to that concept in their own particular ways, very much like V. The pacing of the story is very VI, with three distinct sections like Gunmen and Emohawk – the sci-fi concept beginning, characters using and abusing that concept in the middle, and the dangers of abusing that concept at the end.
The return of several iconic props was good to see, and the homages to Alien throughout were very welcome – in fact, this episode takes Red Dwarf into the realms of genuinely disturbing body-horror in a comedic way that only Red Dwarf could do. Seriously, there are really unsettling make-up effects in this one, but played for comedy so it’s not too scary! Couple that with a new Howard Goodall composition, ridiculous comedy props and some of the most daringly extensive special effects ever seen in Dwarf… Well. It’s an absolute corker, and I can’t wait to see it again in it’s finished form.
Crits? Well, it ended a bit quickly for my liking, and there’s some slightly forced jabs taken at multinational corporations that seem out of place, but otherwise… this was a very, very good episode.
TINY TEASER: Dirty Dave
APPROXIMATE SCENE COUNT: 21-24 (Total so far: 64-82)
APPROXIMATE SMEG COUNT: 1 or 2, depending on your definition, and which take is used of a certain line. (Total so far: 4 or 5)
Massive thanks to John Miller for his mini-review, and an even massiver thanks to Kris Carter for providing the full report. His portfolio is here, his blog is here, and Lou Scannon, the Eagle Award finalist sci-fi comic that Kris co-writes and colours is here.