Red Dwarf XI – Episode 6 – Set Report

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This article discusses Red Dwarf XI & XII whilst adhering to G&T’s spoiler policy. Please ensure your comments do likewise…

The final episode of Red Dwarf XI has been recorded in front of a studio audience, for the first time ever. G&T were there. Wary of the fact that not being able to give too much away could make these reports a bit repetitive, we were planning on using this week’s as an opportunity to wrap up any little details that had not yet been covered, only touching briefly on the specifics of this episode. But having seen it, I think we’d be doing a disservice to the efforts of the cast and crew if we didn’t give it our full attention. This then is more of a spoiler-free review of undoubtedly the finest episode of Red Dwarf that I’ve ever had the honour of witnessing first hand.

A large chunk of the action takes place on Starbug, and given that UKTV CEO Darren Childs doesn’t share the studio audience’s willingness to comply with Doug’s wishes, this gives us our first opportunity to talk about it in any great depth. That photo really doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s most definitely a small set, but it never feels that cramped on camera, thanks to the angles and lenses used. And while the lighting certainly has a blue tint, it’s absolutely nowhere near that extreme whenever they go for a take. The photo quite literally fails to show Starbug in its best light, but at least it gives us a good look at the panels and instruments that combine with classic-style monitor animations to give the set a reassuringly familiar vibe that feels more and more like home each time you see it.

More on impressive sets later, but first a quick note on lighting. The cinematography of this series, in and of itself, is simply beautiful; comfortably the most striking and creative since the show’s return. Bold choices are being made, which can unfortunately seem a little jarring at first glance. While Starbug’s blue is a lot more subtle on camera than it is in the picture, it does take some getting used to, and the palette for Red Dwarf itself uses much colder hues than ever before. But even without the usual caveat that unprocessed rushes can bare little resemblance to an online edit, why shouldn’t a new series of Red Dwarf look different to previous series of Red Dwarf? Innovation is the difference between a nostalgia trip and ongoing creative endeavour. It’s up to the individual viewer as to whether they like the new way of doing things; for me, I was a little taken aback at first, but the more I see, the more I’m on board.

And speaking of changes between series, we have a correction to make. We previously reported that the production was using the same RED cameras as the rest of the Dave era, but thanks to this Instagram post from Ed Moore, and a quick glance last night, we now realise that they are in fact from the similar-looking Arri Alexa range. Whilst still offering a larger resolution than your standard 1080p HD requires, the Alexa gives you a much smaller pixel count than the RED, but this in turn gives you a much more conventional and manageable workflow. In my semi-informed opinion, it seems a much more suitable choice for a big multi-camera set-up such as this.

The resolution and picture quality still give Doug plenty of wriggle room to tweak his shots in the edit (and to crop out some of the many obvious boom mic infractions), but perhaps not as dramatically as in his previous directorial efforts. We’ve mentioned previously that Doug seems to be more decisive in his shot choices this time round, and while the change in cameras might provide a partial explanation for this, there was plenty of other evidence of Doug’s ever-increasing confidence and ability as a director. Focus pulls seem to be the flavour of the series, creating a dynamism that would otherwise be difficult on a set that size. From what we could see on the monitors, the cameras seem to track and move less often than in Back To Earth and X, but the sense of movement within the frame is not lost.

In this particular episode, the most notable example of this movement was provided by a huge swathe of background artists, who were directed and rehearsed to perfection. Each time action was called, they instantly snapped into their routines to produce dynamic and complex crowd scenes, similar to the kind of thing we’ve seen in Lemons and Back To Earth (Part Three), but much more polished. These scenes played out on a (relatively) big guest set, which completely replaced the science room on the left hand side of the stage. A hugely impressive effort from all departments, even without taking the ridiculously small turnaround time into account.

But even that set-up paled in comparison to the even more impressive effort we saw on pre-recorded VT. It’s the one that Doug was tweeting about earlier in the week, and it more than lived up to the hype. Without giving too much away, it’s one of those sets where it’s hard to comprehend that it was built from scratch in a studio. So detailed, so captivating, and so immersive. Red Dwarf has always been capable of achieving incredible results on a sitcom budget, but this takes it to another level. I’ve seen high-profile dramas from the likes of the BBC and HBO that employ a similar aesthetic, and Red Dwarf‘s effort is genuinely on a par with those.

In the past, I’ve worried that Doug was overstretching himself by taking on sole responsibility for both writing and directing, particularly in light of the, ahem, “difficulties” detailed in We’re Smegged, and with the mammoth task of turning around two full series back-to-back. I figured that (with the obvious exception) nobody in the world can write Red Dwarf like Doug, but there are plenty of brilliant sitcom directors around, so if push came to shove, I’d rather Doug concentrated on the scripts. But with Baby Cow on board to share the burden of production, I take that back – on the evidence of this episode, neither the writing or the direction have been compromised by Doug’s workload, and he’s mastering both trades.

For you see this episode, as well as being incredibly well produced, is also incredibly funny. It’s very gag-heavy, sometimes in the form of Series VI style pacey quips, sometimes with the character humour that’s been the show’s bread and butter whenever it’s on form, but also with styles of humour that are rarely seen on Red Dwarf. There are puns, nerdy science jokes, a little bit of absurdism, and even a meta-textual running gag that casually leans on the fourth wall. Not all of these styles will be for everyone, but the quality is consistently good throughout.

It’s another ensemble piece, both in terms of the plotting and the distribution of woofers, with each regular character getting at least one moment in the spotlight to get a huge laugh. The cast were on good form, albeit after a somewhat shaky start. Robert has alluded to some last-minute changes, and there seemed to be some confusion over the order of events in some of the opening sequences. This led to a lot of mistakes, and a slightly tense atmosphere, until Chris requested a short break in order for him to nail his dialogue.

This seemed to do the trick, and as soon as that scene was out of the way, they all seemed a lot more relaxed and confident. They seemed to be really enjoying themselves and having fun – entertaining the audience after a fluff, the occasional bit of corpsing, and reveling in the opportunity to interact with a wide range of guest actors. Oh yes, the guest actors. I’m struggling to think of an individual episode that contains such a diverse, sizable and consistently brilliant supporting cast as this – The Beginning comes closest in recent years, but again, this is something else.

Two names in particular will stand out when the cast list is announced. One of them has joined a select band of actors that includes David Ross, Tony Slattery, Tony Hawks, Rupert Bates and Richard O’Callaghan. The other is simply a phenomenal bit of casting. I am so, so happy that this person is in Red Dwarf. It’s not necessarily a household name, but if you consider yourself a fan of British comedy, your first reaction will be one of amazement that they managed to get him or her on board, before realising that actually, it’s ridiculous that they’ve never been in it before.

[INTERJECTION. I can’t emphasise this enough. Anyone who wasn’t at the recording is free to speculate as to the identities of these actors, but if you were there, please please please do not confirm or deny ANY guesses. Don’t narrow it down. Just don’t get involved in that bit of the discussion. How awesome would it be if these two actors in particular were kept as a surprise?]

And their performance does not disappoint. It’s rare that you see a guest star who’s as comfortable in front of a studio audience as the regulars, but this person is a real pro. When doing pick ups at the end of a scene, they knew that a particular line of theirs was already in the can, so they changed it every time, simply for the amusement of the audience, the rest of the cast and hopefully viewers of the DVD. And with the actual script, every line oozes with carefully considered inflection and rhythm. An all time classic guest performance.

There were a couple of other guest stars that also stood out, and in any other episode would probably have been the best thing about it. Neither of them were names or faces that I recognised, but there’ll be no forgetting them once this is broadcast. One of them didn’t have a great number of lines, but delivered each of them to perfection, and also got a brilliant laugh for completely breaking a prop during a take. The other gave a tour de force of a performance, with a huge amount of complicated and intricate dialogue, all of which was very funny indeed.

Look, I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I’m still buzzing from the excitement of being there. Yes, I’m desperately willing this series to be good, because I’m so emotionally invested in Red Dwarf. Yes, I’m vaguely aware that people who work on the show might be reading this. Take this all with a pinch of salt if you want to – it might be wise to put this report to the back of your mind, try not to build this episode up too much, and just wait and see how you react on broadcast. But I’m telling you, this is a bloody good one.

It’s not perfect. There are (in its unedited form at least) some Series X style issues with the pacing of the plot. It seems to take its sweet time in setting the situation up – not to the extent of Trojan, but there is a slight sense of imbalance. More worryingly, the ending seemed extremely rushed, to the extent that both the audience and (the utterly outstanding) warm-up man Ray Peacock assumed that there was more to come, until the theme tune starting playing and the crew started de-rigging. There were some gaps for model shots, so presumably the finished episode will make a lot more sense from a plot resolution point of view, but comedically it could have done with a little more punch. UPDATE: Really? That explains everything.

But seriously. I don’t say this lightly. This looks like almost certain to be the best episode of the Dave era so far. In fact, if we assume that nothing goes dramatically wrong in the edit, this could be the best episode since 1993. And in fact, if enough people react in the same way I did, it might even get into the Top 20 next time we do a big “favourite episode” survey.

And so, with six episodes in the can, there’s six incredibly positive set reports. Naturally, this was always going to be likely, but at least we’ve not heard of any weird things like episodes being recorded entirely out of sequence (Trojan), episodes being abandoned before the denouement (Entangled), or episodes simply not having been written in time (Dear Dave). Consistency seems to be the byword for Series XI – I’ve spoken to a few people who have been to more than one episode, and while they have their favourites, they’ve all said that even their least favourite one has been a damn fine episode.

Six damn fine episodes of Red Dwarf in a row, for the first time in over two decades. Can they make it twelve? While we hope the cast and crew enjoy their well-deserved Christmas break, roll on Friday 29th January 2016…

TINY TEASER: Resistance Bunnies
APPROXIMATE SCENE COUNT: 15 (Series total: 94-114)
APPROXIMATE SMEG COUNT: 1 (Series total: 9 or 10)

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33 Responses to Red Dwarf XI – Episode 6 – Set Report

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  1. This was the first recording I’ve ever been to and I really enjoyed the show. As soon as the curtain was raised the guest set I saw reminded me of an episode in season 6, as well as later costume changes to the main cast which were also similar to costumes worn in a scene in that same episode. This was very much a Starbug adventure episode with none of the episode taking place on the small rouge one itself, this again reminded me of series 6 which is my favourite series so this was a very good thing indeed.

    This was an ensemble episode with no focus on any one of the main characters, with a sizeable guest cast. The plot is an interesting one and similar to that of an episode in series X. This did seem quite a different episode to the norm, the premise was ambitious and I really think it worked. There were a lot of great gags and laugh out loud moments, special mention going to a brilliant visual gag where we are shown a feature of Kryten that has long been referenced in the show but never before seen!

    As far as the cast looks go Lister is very much the same as in series X. Rimmer’s hairpiece is longer and much improved. Cat’s wig is also an improvement since X, a more classic style with a lower hairline making the character appear more youthful than in X. Kryten’s head looks much better but I was very disappointed with the costume, it looked very cheap almost like I could have made it myself, it definitely took a bit of getting used to.

    The new Starbug set is indeed different but I soon got used to it. The crew seating positions are the same and many of the classic Starbug camera angles appeared to be used. The lighting did appear very blue and a little odd, but this isn’t necessarily a reflection of how it will look post-graded.

    There is chance that the sheer buzz of seeing a recording for the first time has heightened my opinion of this episode, but my instant reaction is that this show reminded me of the classic era. In my opinion it was better than anything done in X and maybe the best show I’ve seen post-1993!

  2. I really, really, really, REALLY want to see this.

    Two names in particular will stand out when the cast list is announced

    Is it Cannon and Ball?

  3. G&T Admin

    I cannot confirm or deny.

  4. I can’t WAIT for this series.

  5. I hope the gag that leans on the forth wall is subtle

  6. G&T Admin

    Especially since the sets are so wobbly!!!!1

  7. It’s not necessarily a household name, but if you consider yourself a fan of British comedy, your first reaction will be one of amazement that they managed to get him or her on board, before realising that actually, it’s ridiculous that they’ve never been in it before.

    Anyone who wasn’t at the recording is free to speculate as to the identities of these actors

    Paul Putner? Kevin Eldon (or is one ex-Hyperdrive-ee in one series too much)? That other woman who’s in everything?

  8. This is the only episode I’ve seen of series XI and I genuinely loved it. Here’s my two-penneth

    1. The production values have improved significantly since X. This is potentially the best looking Dwarf ever made. The Blu Ray is going to be lovely
    2. I’m looking forward to seeing some of the smeg ups as much as I am the episode itself
    3. The guest cast stole the show. Two performances in particular were outstanding
    4. I may be wrong about this but I think it might not be one but two people joining the likes of Ross, Hawks, O’Callaghan et al (VT anyone?). But like I say, I may be dead wrong about this
    5. Some of it was VERY funny. Two gags in particular had me laughing on the way home
    6. I really like the Starbug set. But I don’t yet think it feels at all like Starbug. This has as much to do with design as the lighting for me
    7. I spent a bit of the journey home pulling plot holes in the story. There were a couple but I reckon this won’t matter to be honest
    8. The opening scene deserved an episode of its own, though I hope they never do that given how long it took to film
    9. The atmosphere in the studio was much more fun than when I watched The Beginning. I think this was due to both this episode probably being better than The Beginning, and that Ray Peackock is a very funny man
    10. I think this has the potential to be a really good episode.

  9. G&T Admin

    This tweet from Doug explains a lot:

    We didn’t quite shoot all of RDXI ep 6, last night. I pulled plug at 10pm with 2 scenes left. Xmas – no over time! We all wanted a drink.

  10. Yes. Yes it does.

  11. I really, really, really, REALLY want to see this.

    Two names in particular will stand out when the cast list is announced
    Is it Cannon and Ball?

    Yes. I can confirm its Cannon. But as that changes when ever it suits the show anyway.
    It could well be someone else by the time the episode airs.

  12. This tweet from Doug explains a lot:

    We didn’t quite shoot all of RDXI ep 6, last night. I pulled plug at 10pm with 2 scenes left. Xmas – no over time! We all wanted a drink.

    Another nine months of cliff hanger, for me. Lol

  13. I hope the gag that leans on the forth wall is subtle

    Its no back to earth moment, don’t worry any, I’m sure i could find other subtle leans of this kind in older episodes in my opinion.

  14. Great set report. I agree with all of it.

    “When doing pick ups at the end of a scene, they knew that a particular line of theirs was already in the can, so they changed it every time, simply for the amusement of the audience, the rest of the cast and hopefully viewers of the DVD. And with the actual script, every line oozes with carefully considered inflection and rhythm. An all time classic guest performance.”

    This person was my highlight, and this variation of lines was something i wanted to go on all day. If they aren’t on the DVD in a years time, I’ve written them down.

  15. I notice on the right hand side of the Starbug cockpit picture that the back of the adjacent set reads ‘Starbug – Upper Deck’. Interesting. So there may or may not be a mid section but there does seem to be an upstairs. Can’t wait to see this series. I’m feeling very optimistic based on these set reports.

  16. …that blue lighting looks ridiculous. I realise you’ve said it looks less over-the-top during takes, but why exactly did they think it was a good idea to start with? Especially since the underlying set looks a lot more (VI-VIII) Starbuggery than I expected from some of the descriptions, which was typically kept pretty dark…

    Here’s a quick photoshoppery to take out the worst of the blue. Not perfect – it’s ended up a bit purple – but I certainly think the set, with VI levels of lighting, would look fine.

  17. I notice on the right hand side of the Starbug cockpit picture that the back of the adjacent set reads ‘Starbug – Upper Deck’. Interesting. So there may or may not be a mid section but there does seem to be an upstairs. Can’t wait to see this series. I’m feeling very optimistic based on these set reports.

    *phew*
    Now, on the subject of Rimmer’s hair… wig or no wig?

  18. No need for rudeness. I was making the comment about the mid section in response to previous conjecture on the subject. But I was genuinely excited that we might see some other areas of Starbug. I’m ultimately most interested in whether Red Dwarf can still tell interesting stories, but the wider production details; sets, costumes, effects etc still fascinate me and I don’t see why speculating that we might see the upper levels of Starbug is an invitation for mockery.

  19. No need for rudeness. I was making the comment about the mid section in response to previous conjecture on the subject. But I was genuinely excited that we might see some other areas of Starbug. I’m ultimately most interested in whether Red Dwarf can still tell interesting stories, but the wider production details; sets, costumes, effects etc still fascinate me and I don’t see why speculating that we might see the upper levels of Starbug is an invitation for mockery.

    Blimey, if you think that’s rude then you must be new around here. I didn’t call you a cunt or anything.

  20. Fair point. At G&T, not calling you a cunt the minute they set eyes on you is one of their warmest greetings. I am indeed hhckan hhhckassett (or ‘blessed’).

  21. After a while, it’s practically a term of affection.

    I hope.

  22. It’s only for really special occasions when you want to be really mega-polite.

  23. I often find myself frustrated there is no “like” button on this site. Some conversations really deserve it.

  24. Great report. :) I don’t want to know any more about these episodes… last time I was less surprised than I should have been. Same with Star Wars, wish I’d held back on the trailers.

  25. I often find myself frustrated there is no “like” button on this site. Some conversations really deserve it.

    *favourites*

  26. Doug Naylor @Dougrdnaylor:
    Just got back from seeing all new WIP Starbug model and all new WIP Red Dwarf bigature. It’s big!

    Hmmm. New model Starbug, eh? I hope it’s not a redesign and just a more detailed version so it will look better in HD. The new Red Dwarf sounds interesting too.

  27. I’m guessing it won’t be a redesign. Richard Naylor tweeted last week wanting to know the exact font ‘Starbug 1’ is written in on the original model, so it would seem they are aiming for a pretty faithful reproduction of the one we know and love.

  28. Makes you wonder why they would even need to make a new starbug, the classic one still looks good

  29. The one in Trojan looked fine, if only they could have done a proper model shot with it, instead of the botched one from Trojan, which was the only time we saw a Starbug flyby in Series X.

  30. I think they probably just want a new, tougher, more robust model. Can’t see them wanting to alter it.

  31. Oh, I’d love to see an all new version of Starbug taking off and leaving Red Dwarf. I hope all the model shots aren’t just of ships flying past the camera at certain angles and we see them take off/land etc.

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