Better Than Reality

“I alter people’s perception of reality.” – Dr. Hypnosis

One recurring theme of Red Dwarf has always been the rather tenuous grip on reality our crew have. Whether it’s the Total Immersion Videogame of Better Than Life, the hallucinations suffered in Back to Reality, those damn reality pockets in Out of Time – to name three of many – perception of reality is something which Grant Naylor return to time and time again.

What’s interesting, however, is that Red Dwarf is far from the first time Grant Naylor have explored this idea. In fact, we can trace their fascination with it right back to their very first solo writing credit: the first episode of Radio 4 sketch show Cliché, broadcast on the 16th March 1981.

I present to you the strange adventure of Dr. Hypnosis: his real name… Dr. Hypnosis.

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Hancock’s Half Hour: The Tycoon

When people talk about antecedents to Red Dwarf, it’s often science fiction which is endlessly referenced. Films like Dark Star, in terms of the situation and portraying working class people in space, or Alien, which amongst other things directly influenced many sets in the show, to Blade Runner, which… erm… I got nothing.

When it comes to sitcoms, there’s the classic “Steptoe and Son in space”, which is often thrown around as an early concept for the show. Porridge is also mentioned, in terms of the claustrophobic trapped situation between characters which the show was trying to evoke. All of this is certainly true, but typically there’s very little analysis beyond mentioning a TV show or film, along with a one line description.

Recently, I’ve had the utter delight of watching Hancock’s Half Hour for the first time. And the episode The Tycoon (TX: 13/11/59) has a number of remarkable similarities to the Dwarf episode Better Than Life, broadcast nearly thirty years later. Moreover, I don’t just mean in terms of character work – the main plot beats of the episode are broadly identical, despite Better Than Life seemingly hanging off a science fiction idea which Hancock would find impossible to replicate.

Rather than vague hand-waving or simplistic single line reductions, let’s take a look at the episode in detail, shall we?

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DwarfCast 71 – Queeg Commentary

Okay, suckers. Get this into your stupid thick heads. There’s only one thing I’m going to say to you: please listen to our episode commentary for Queeg. Danny, John, Ian and TORDFC‘s Jo Sharples gather around to discuss such topics as Ed Bye’s directorial flair, the nature of Holly’s consciousness, how the show might have developed had Norman Lovett stayed on, and the surface area of peas. There’s also a somewhat startling new theory about how long Holly’s joke lasted – was “Queeg” actually in charge for five months? Join us for an uncharacteristically competent chinwag.

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Red Dwarf: The Complete Guide To Almost Everything

Do you remember a time, a few years either side of the turn of the century, when the internet was mostly comprised of auto-playing midi files and non-HD porn? Back then, if you searched Yahoo, or Alta Vista, or Lycos, you could find tonnes of Geocities-hosted web pages for each and every one of your favourite TV shows, which invariably featured the same handful of low-res jpegs, lists of quotes, episode guides and those ubiquitous auto-playing midi files. Then blogging came along, and we all realised that we could just write about our opinions on our favourite shows, rather than trying to provide a comprehensive mine of information, given that new-fangled things like Google and Wikipedia could do that much better.

So things like episode guides disappeared from fansites. Not entirely, but they were no longer an essential component. It was only recently that we realised that G&T had nothing even resembling such a guide – not even a list of episodes anywhere. When we started, in 2002, we launched an ambitious project of producing detailed “capsules” for every episode, but, well, you can see how that went. We got to thinking that it might be fun to try and write an episode guide now, and see where it ended up. As it turns out, it kind of got out of hand…

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History of a Joke

Cliché, Episode 2
(TX: 23rd March 1981, Radio 4)

Out of tune bleeps and bloops, like Wendy Carlos on an off-day.

PRESENTER: The final cadences of the last symphony of the Spanish composer Don Dimitri, who died early this morning at the age of 86. Cliché now pays its own special tribute to Don Dimitri – one of the true musical innovators of this century. Don Dimitri’s life was characterised by his refusal to accept the conventions and mores of the society in which he lived. In 1926, he went to the Sorbonne to study music. Rapidly, it became apparent he could not reconcile his own ideas with those of the establishment, and after three hours at the university, he left to set up his own school of musical thought. Professor Blakehust takes up the story.

BLAKEHURST: Don Dimitri’s biggest contribution to musical theory was the decative. Instead of the conventional eight note scale the octave, he initiated the ten note scale – the decative. He invented two new notes: H and J. Instead of ‘doh, ray, me, fah, soh, lah, ti, doh’, the decative would run ‘doh, ray, me, fah, soh, woh, boh, lah, ti, doh’. And in reverse: ‘doh, ti, lah, boh, woh, soh, fah, me, ray, doh’.

PRESENTER: And he wrote all his symphonies using this scale?

BLAKEHURST: Indeed. And the instruments in his orchestra had to be adapted accordingly. Pianos were fitted with extra black keys; flutes now came in four sections instead of three; and accordions were scrapped, as the decative made them far too long for human beings to play. Trombones ceased to be a musical instrument, and now became a lethal weapon. And the lengthening of bassoons and saxophones extended the mouthpiece into the region of the lower intestine. Incidentally, in Don Dimitri’s orchestra, women were banned from playing the cello.

PRESENTER: What other significant changes were inspired by the decative?

BLAKEHURST: Time signatures were changed. Instead of 3/4 time it was now 0.75 time. 7/8 time became 0.875 time, and common time – or 4/4 time – was now simply… 1. Don Dimitri’s quartets comprised of five players, and his triangles had two sides – neither of them connected.

PRESENTER: And now, the last note of the last chord of the last cadence is written. At the grand old age of 86, Don Dimitri passed away this morning. Never one to do things in a conventional way, he died in a manner he would probably have appreciated – trying to suck a kazoo instead of blowing it. He inhaled the kazoo, it became lodged in his throat, and he died to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy. We leave you now with the strains of what is universally acknowledged as his masterwork: quintet for seven instruments in H minor. The only work he ever wrote in 0.333 recurring time, a time signature which never actually allows you to reach the end of the first bar. Hence it’s popular title: Dom Dimiti’s Unfinished Symph. Goodnight.

A warped version of I Do Like To be Beside the Seaside plays, with accompanying bleeps and bloops.

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High & Low: Deleted Scenes

Let’s be perfectly clear. Generally, when talking about deleted scenes – whatever the given TV show or film – the quality of the scenes themselves doesn’t actually matter. When I pop in a DVD, I don’t care how good they are. It’s how interesting they are which makes them entertaining. A scene can be absolutely appalling, deservedly cut… and still be one of the best extras of the lot.

This perhaps doubly-holds for Red Dwarf. It’s easy to forget how lucky we are with deleted scenes being included on the DVD releases; you only have to check your shelves to see which other sitcoms from 1988 include such things for the proof of that. (Mind you, sadly these days, budget cuts across DVD ranges mean we’re lucky to get them for a sitcom made today.)

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New Broadcasting House, Oxford Road (1976-2011)

We admit this rather snuck up on us. Last night, BBC Manchester’s New Broadcasting House studios in Oxford Road closed its doors after 35 years. Over the decades, the studios have been host to any number of shows – A Question of Sport, The 8:15 from Manchester, Mastermind, Filthy Rich & Catflap, Life on Mars, North West Tonight… and, of course, the first three series of Red Dwarf.

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Paul Montague RIP

As first announced by Danny John-Jules on Twitter, Paul Montague, Red Dwarf production designer for Series 1 and 2 of Red Dwarf, has died.

I am possibly the worst person in the world to report such news, as I tend towards either being extremely rude or inciting flame wars, so I shall leave it to Andrew Ellard to pay tribute – and make you furrow your brow at things being lost to the mists of time.

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