The new SFX (what would be wrong with www.futurenet.com/sfx/issues/132/?) contains an interesting news item about Hyperdrive – the new name for Full Force/Power, which we mentioned a while back. I’ll quote it in full, as it’s all rather interesting – with some of my comments on the way that I advise you skip. So, erm, subscribe to SFX, or something. SAVE 31%! Just don’t sue. (There’s a nice picture of Cecil & Riley and a couple of conceptual designs for the main ship as well in the article, so you’ll have to buy the mag anyway if you want to see them.)
NEW SF COMEDY FOR BBC2
Black Books and Little Britain writers hope to have the new Red Dwarf in Hyperdrive…
With Red Dwarf long dead (and with little sign of the movie happening within this lifetime) and with Doctor Who smashing everything that stands before it in the ratings, BBC2 has announced a brand new science fiction comedy show based around the dysfunctional crew of a spaceship from the 22nd Century. Hyperdrive is the creation of Andy Riley and Kevin Cecil, a comedy writing duo whose credits include Black Books, Little Britain, and Robbie The Reindeer.
Right. Let’s get one thing clear. Red Dwarf is not “long dead”. There is no decision on whether there is to be a Series IX at present. I can’t begrudge them the snipe about the Movie though, even if I think it’s still very likely to happen. (Why they never reported on Doug’s DJ statement, I don’t know though…)
“It’s set on a spaceship 175 years into the future,” Cecil tells Red Alert. “It’s a British spaceship and it’s kind of like the British Army in space. The crew has got the kind of role that the British navy has now, so as well as fighting wars they’re doing trade missions and getting people to relocate their businesses to Peterborough. It’s a lot to do with institutions, rules and bureaucracy but in your space format. Rather than, say, Firefly or something where they’re like free agents, this is a workplace sitcom on a spaceship. I guess the joke is that a lot of mundane things and everyday things are going on as well as the exciting things.”
Adds Riley: “With SF comedy you’re looking for all the familiar and all the things that you recognise in human behaviour but on spaceships and with aliens.”
“So people are pedantic and annoying and find things difficult to get done,” says Cecil. “You know that bit in Independence Day when Jeff Goldblum brings down their computer? In our universe that wouldn’t work because he wouldn’t have the right lead. So that’s what we’re trying to do.
Actually, I maintain that it’s practically impossible to make a new comedy sound good – describe Red Dwarf in bare terms and it sounds rubbish. So I suggest we all wait until it actually comes on before judging it. Same with Star Hyke, which I still maintain has a chance to be very good, so stop sniggering at the back there.
Hyperdrive is actually the fourth attempt by Riley and Cecil to get a science fiction comedy off the ground. Self-proclaimed fans of the genre (and by that we mean they read SFX), they say that this attempt was the first time that “all the pieces were in the right place.”
“We’ve always had this burning ambition to do science fiction,” says Cecil, “and the chance doesn’t come round that often. The BBC decided the time was right, though.” Unlike the more trad Beeb sitcom Red Dwarf, Hyperdrive will be filmed using a single camera and without a studio audience.
Sadly, we aren’t told whether the finished episodes will be shown to an audience and a laughter track recorded or not. I’ll admit to being disappointed that it won’t be a traditional multi-camera sitcom, though, which is a true art in itself and a form that I absolutely adore. But, then, some shows don’t suit that (can you imagine a multi-camera Spaced, anyone?) so never mind.
“The differences with Red Dwarf are in the writing, the acting style and the level of the performances,” says Cecil. “It’s got a different look, too; it’s much more 2001.”
“level of the performances”? I wonder what that means…
“Also the situation is very different,” says Riley. “With Red Dwarf they’re answerable to no-one; they’re free agents. In ours, they’re very much not. They’re the crew of a vessel that is part of the British Space Force and they have to follow orders. With ours, I wanted it to look like the new Battlestar Galactica, but we don’t have that kind of money.
There’s an interesting discussion to be had about the whole free agent thing; programmes can feel a lot more fun when you know the characters aren’t controlled by others. (See our VIII Setting article, which briefly touches on this.) It’s not like it’s the crux of a show, though. The crux of a show is whether it’s funny. Or funneh.
Don’t expect any of the kind of out-there SF concepts that we have become accustomed to in Red Dwarf. The duo have a sign in their office which reads, “No time travel, no teleporting.” This SF comedy is resolutely about Brits in space and if it has any influences it’s more British war films such as The Cruel Sea and We Dive At Dawn.
“BORING!”, was my gut reaction. A very unfair gut reaction perhaps, but think back to episodes like Dimension Jump or Meltdown… “Brits in space” sounds very poor in comparison. I hate to state the obvious, but the point of the “out-there concepts” isn’t just to be cool or anything; they help serve the characters, and they make interesting plots that allow you to some kind of point, or let you do things beyond what purely realistic stories can. If you’re going to cut yourself off from things like this, then what’s the point of making it SF? But, y’know, see my discussion above. It’s not even stated shooting yet…
“A lot of it was borne out of the pre-publicity for Enterprise. It said it was going to be an earthy, back to basics series,” says Cecil. “And then when you watched it, it came out looking rather comfortable, just like the previous Treks. At the same time we’d watched Das Boot and that’s what I thought Enterprise was going to be like, and then it wasn’t. So we thought, “Let’s do something in space like that!” But our spaceship is a lot more advanced.”
Adds Riley, “It’s about the idea of being penned in and going crazy and crawling up the wall.
As all great sitcoms are…
At the time of writing, a few characters have been cast, though because contracts haven’t been signed, the guys are not naming names. Producer Alex Walsh-Taylor tells Red Alert to expect “a stellar cast”.
Hyperdrive starts recording in September, with transmission scheduled for early next year.
Excellent. Despite my slight misgivings above, I do have high hopes for this – Cecil and Riley = good. And if there’s something we all want, it’s more SF shows on telly – especially funny ones. I do believe that Who could kick-start British TV into doing cool SF shows again – let’s hope this is symptomatic of it…