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 first time since 2015. As will be the case for the vast majority of this series, G&T weren’t there. But we have some excellent volunteers who were there. The main report comes courtesy of Emmeline May AKA The RockstarDinosaurPiratePrincess, while Carrie Parsons of the Fan Club adds her spoiler-free thoughts on what sounds like a quite remarkable series opener.
Having been a fan of Red Dwarf since Series 1 was broadcast in 1988, being able to get hold of a precious ticket to the filming of Series XII (TWELVE!) has pretty much made my life. I have been asked to provide a non-spoilery set report for Ganymede & Titan – I will do my best!
When the curtains went back to reveal the set for the first episode of Series XII, the first thing that struck me was how big it was – there was only one section that we could see in its entirety from our audience position, and this turned out to be (most likely) a set purpose built for this story. There were corridors that extended around the back of the set, therefore outside of the audience view. The Bunk Room looked similar to how it looked in Series X but from our seats we could only see half of it. Luckily for us, very little was filmed in the section we couldn’t see!
Starbug’s interior was allegedly over in the far corner but I don’t think it was visible to any of the audience, and then to the far side of the audience was another set that again appeared to have been dressed specifically for this story. The sets do look fantastic in real life, it was really exciting for a long term fan to feel like rooms from Red Dwarf are right there in front of you. The attention to detail even in the sets that appear to be built just for one or two shots in one story shows how much heart is being put into this series. I was really struck by the level of detail in the dressing, particularly in the bunk room; something you can’t necessarily see on screen.
Before filming started, Doug Naylor let us know that as Chris Barrie had been unwell in the previous week, there were a few scenes missing; none seemed to affect the sense of the storyline at all. He also said that the model shots hadn’t been completed at the time, so were filled in with some storyboard style drawings and narration from Kryten and with a few visual effects made using Another Sci-Fi Franchise ™ and perhaps MS Paint. One shot in particular worked rather well and maybe they should keep it – I probably shouldn’t say what it was in case they get in trouble for copyright! The pre-shot scenes on VT were partly location shoots (one particularly dramatic location that looked really familiar) and partly on the same sets, but with a very good reason for being pre-shot that I cannot reveal because #spoilers.
There seemed to be a few production issues, perhaps down to this being the first episode to be filmed, with long breaks in between each scene, some resetting of some live effects and a few long delays in running the VT after “roll VT” was said. The warm up comedian Ray Peacock did a great job; “warm up” is a bit of a misnomer as it suggests he just gets everyone in a mood to laugh before filming when in fact he was more of a “maintaining a comfortable temperature “ comedian, keeping the audience’s engagement and spirit up during the breaks between scenes. At one point he noted that no one was wearing a Cat t-shirt so drew one on the back of an audience member’s white t-shirt, which was later autographed by Danny John Jules, and it was actually rather marvellous. If Ray ever finds himself without a gig, he could always fall back on doing caricatures of people for a fiver a pop at festivals…
There were slightly more VT scenes than live scenes shot, but the live scenes were lengthy and reshot several times each so it felt more balanced. While the proportion was probably close to 60% VT to 40% live it felt more like 50/50. I was surprised by how long the individual scenes were, and how most of them were filmed in one take repeatedly, rather than shorter scenes with the actors resetting for camera changes. One scene in particular was filmed with tracking cameras following cast members as they moved around the set. You really develop an appreciation of the cast’s ability to learn and recall the lines when each scene is filmed in this way.
The professionalism of the cast was clear; as a theatre graduate myself it was fascinating to see each of them prepare their character at the beginning of each scene, moving from larking-about-on-set to focusing, preparing their emotions and tension for the scene, and then once “cut” is called how they relax again. I will never tire of hearing Barrie, Llewellyn and John-Jules switch between their character’s voices and their real voices. On the whole, lines were well rehearsed and I didn’t notice anyone needing their lines written on large pieces of card! From an audience perspective it’s hard to keep laughing at the same lines during re-takes when you know what’s coming up, so it’s testament to the skills of the performers that they manage to keep the lines fresh, sometimes trying slightly different deliveries to keep the lines funny each time. A few aspects of this particular episode really allowed the cast to stretch their acting abilities; you’ll see what I mean when the episode airs and I am sure you will enjoy it as much as the live audience did.
Having said that, there were certainly a decent number of Smeg Ups in this episode. Indeed Barrie made an error in the very first scene after it had taken considerable time to set up (apparently they had to do a last minute set rebuild) and he did struggle more than the rest of the cast with line fluffing, I suspect due to having being ill. We had a few imaginary languages (somewhere between Russian and Korean), a charmingly offensive ad lib from Charles, a few blank Cat stares, the essential comedy gurning from Kryten and even a Barrie “oooh, matron” which is all any Red Dwarf fan can ask from a live show.
There were several guest stars in this episode, and a number of non speaking extras too. I can’t say much about them at risk of revealing plot details, but it lead to some really fantastic scenes and great performances. All of the guest performers were a joy to watch and one scene in particular involving mostly just guest performers is just brilliant, visually and narratively.
As for the plot, it was very much a Kryten focused episode; a really neat little self contained story, albeit with a number of callbacks to other episodes – mostly to Camille, but also perhaps to DNA and even Kryten from Series 2. The story had some interesting twists and some really nice character development opportunities. There was also a really interesting aspect to the story that paralleled both the character development and the experiences of the actors over the years, which I found most enjoyable.
Most importantly, it was very funny. I had aching abs by the end, particularly from the final scene which has a number of really great gags. My housemate Paul, who accompanied me to the filming, commented that it was a real return to form; high praise indeed as he’s not easily impressed and he wasn’t a fan of Series VII or VIII at all. Although Paul’s generally allergic to being positive about things, while I am generally inclined to be overly positive about absolutely everything, he was happy to admit it was easily one of the best episodes he’s seen for a long time. I was too excited to just be there and see the cast and filming process happening in front of my eyes to be truly critical, so to hear him being so optimistic about series XII is a good sign for everyone!
TINY TEASER: Flouncy shirts
APPROXIMATE SCENE COUNT: 16 and a half
APPROXIMATE SMEG COUNT: 1
Huge thanks to The RockstarDinosaurPiratePrincess, who incidentally has a website, along with Twitter and Facebook profiles, and to the Fan Club‘s Carrie Parsons. Are YOU going to any Red Dwarf XII recordings? Would YOU be willing to write a full report, a mini review, or even just answer a few questions? If so, do get in touch.