Red Dwarf XII - Episode 5 - Set Report featured image

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 on a Friday for the last time this year. G&T weren’t there, but once again we’re delighted to present a bumper crop of testimonies from volunteers Stephen Abootman, Kris Carter, David Fisher, Andy Holland and Simon Peel. We sent them some questions, and their answers are provided in full below, repetition and contradiction included.

Before we get started, a couple of things to note. We did ask everyone if there was any further mention of the episode six postponement. We’ve omitted their replies, but just imagine the word “no” five times and you’ll get the gist. Also, yes, that is a picture of Kryten’s full make-up and costume, courtesy of naughty DoP Ed Moore. Consider the comments section of this post as your opportunity to discuss this unexpected spoiler. The vast majority of photos in this report come from Ed’s Instagram, so do give him a follow.

But with no further ado, let the Q&A commence…

What’s your opinion on the way the show looks on screen?

STEPHEN: Impressive, same setup as last week with the bunk & science rooms, though they made full use of the corridor sets as well.

KRIS: The sets looked fantastic. Some clever lighting used in this episode to represent something that happens on board the ship, and there’s one shot of Kryten explaining loads of things as the cast walk through the corridors that just looked amazing, and really made the studio space feel big. Focus pulls, depth, under lighting… Series XI and XII are going to look amazing. Doug’s direction continues to step up, the camera moves are more dynamic and fluid, and the cinematography is just lush.

DAVID: Unsurprisingly the overall feel is quite similar to Series X, with the sets having the same type of aesthetic. That being said, the sleeping quarters certainly looked more compact than it did in Series X. I didn’t have a clear view of that set but I didn’t see noticeable items such as the car-shaped sofa so I presume they’ve been removed.

The medi-bay makes an appearance in the episode. Other than this episode, I’ve not seen any of Series XI or XII so I don’t know if this set is a repurposed set but it certainly had science room elements to it. This set reminded me visually a lot of Series IV and in my opinion, is a big improvement over the one seen in Series X. Patrick Monahan, on warm-up duties, remarked that one of the major props within the medi-bay set was from the Prometheus movie; it’ll be an obvious one to spot if you’ve seen that particular flick.

Stylistically, I think the team were going for a darker look than they were with most of Series X. On screen, it certainly looked as if the lighting was dimmer than it usually would be. I can only assume this was in keeping with the tone of the episode.

ANDY: I’ve seen a few TV recordings and – while unquestionably entertaining – I couldn’t help but feel as though the experience somewhat spoiled the magic. So, to say I was nervous about witnessing Red Dwarf first-hand would be an understatement – what if, by the end of the evening, 28 years of fandom lay in tatters? I needn’t have been nervous.

Tonight’s recording opened with a fleeting curtain malfunction, where I feared (for the briefest of moments) that three quarters of the main set would be hidden from the audience’s view. Needless to say, the crew very quickly resolved the issue, but not before giving Robert opportunity to gladly fill the spare seconds with the first foul-mouthed quip of the evening.

Once the curtains parted, however, what lay before us gave rise to a heart-warming applause. The attention to detail – particularly in the sleeping quarters – is second-to-none (as cast and crew have happily teased over the last few weeks). It’s clear that the designers have gone to great lengths to craft something that looks and feels the part today while continuing to retain elements of Red Dwarf history.

I’m encouraged by the familiarity that will run through Series X to XII; in many ways akin to the coherent look and feel of III to V. In some respects, it’s a pity that a lot of this detail will be missed on first viewing, but this trend goes right back to Series 1 with, for example, the ever-changing message on the lighting above Lister’s bunk, and will no doubt provide ample material for eagle-eyed fans to devour on many a repeat viewing.

While the trend towards a more cinematic look – with copious amounts of shallow depth of field (ooh, get me!) – will serve to obscure some of the detail of the set, I’m in no doubt that it’s a great direction for the show to go: it just looks great.

A previous set report initiated a hearty discussion about the smoothness of the production; if there were technical issues on previous occasions, there was little evidence of that this evening. The vast majority of scenes appeared well-rehearsed and it was nice to see first-hand a couple of fluid shots in the corridors and regular sets executed with (albeit to my untrained eye) skillful precision.

In terms of lighting, this week’s show was – for the most part – intentionally bright (the plot very much lent itself to this) which did leave less opportunity for more dramatic lighting. This doesn’t mean that there weren’t great flourishes throughout, though, from lighting to enhance visual effects, to the the ceiling fans casting dynamic shadows across the set – all of which brought everything gorgeously to life.

Overall, I have no worry at all about this series looking salivatingly glorious for years to come.

SIMON: I thought it looked fantastic. Very detailed, and looking like it had more of a budget behind it than in the BBC years, or indeed so far in the Dave era. Coloured lighting in the shadowed areas was more apparent in the camera views than to the naked eye, and the overall look was quite similar to Series X, but with more of a nod back to Series V/VI. Clever use of camera angles made the corridor set look a lot larger than it really was. The ever-present data screens of Series X are still present but toned down and less obtrusive.

Danny’s hair was much better and less “tall” than it was in Series X, and while his costume wasn’t one of the flashier suits in Cat’s wardrobe, he was definitely looking good. For anyone concerned about new-look Kryten; don’t be. Yes, he looks different (again) but he still looks like Kryten.

What are the main cast’s performances like? Anyone on particularly good/bad form?

STEPHEN: All the cast put in good performances although Robert made enough smeg ups for everyone. This did provide plenty of humour for the audience though when he’d say something like “the chair made me stand up when I wasn’t supposed to. Naughty chair!” and wag his finger at it.

KRIS: Set almost entirely aboard Red Dwarf, and for a large portion of that in the Science Room, Lister and Kryten got the main share of the dialogue. Rimmer and Cat were present throughout, but primarily there to just insult each other, but entertainingly so. Poor old Bobby gets hit hard with the exposition hammer this episode, but he was game and did a pretty damn good job of remembering some fairly torturous dialogue. Performances – great. Everyone pitched things well, Bobby was in full science-y Series V mode.

DAVID: Each of the main cast contributed equally to this particular episode with none of them standing head and shoulders above the others. Craig handled the majority of the drama whereas the rest of the crew had a solid selection of gags and dialogue to deliver throughout. Robert was mainly on exposition duty but he had at least one woofer that he delivered with aplomb.

Aside from an ensemble psychical gag that played well with the live crowd, Danny garnered the biggest laugh of the night with a gag reminiscent of one seen in Series IV. Danny probably had the least to do in this episode but he certainly made the most of what he was given. Chris got in a few solid belly laughs throughout and had a piece of serious dialogue to deliver in the opening scene which he did brilliantly.

There were a couple of guest stars that appeared and both were effective in their roles despite the fact that tonally, they were at opposite ends of the spectrum. One of the characters gets some good laughs in despite their screen time being limited to one scene. For sure, both characters will remind viewers of characters we’ve seen in previous series.

ANDY: The cast were on top form. They really seemed to be enjoying themselves tonight. Even as the evening was drawing to a close and a less-rehearsed scene caused a few minor difficulties for both cast and crew, their energy levels never faltered; Craig quipping that he ‘could be driving down the cobbles now’ and Robert’s charming self-deprecation helped alleviate any potential tension.

While there are still a few brief glimpses of over-acting that I felt affected series X, the cast’s performances are much more akin to Series IV or V. Chris plays Rimmer’s self-loathing well and has amusing occasion to show off one of his many talents. Craig nails some of the more perilous moments in the story. While there was one recycled gag that Danny played in a slightly unexpected way (though – on reflection – a very ‘cat-like’ way), the Cat is otherwise back to his cutting and sarcastic manner. And, finally, Robert delivers some of the more complex explanatory dialogue with the style we enjoyed in V and VI.

It was great to see that where the cast might not have nailed a line first time around, re-takes were requested, and the show will certainly fare all the better for this.

SIMON: Robert had the honour of being the first to bungle a line, and indeed remained top of the league table for fluffs throughout. To be fair, he did have some big expositional dialogue to deliver. There were a couple of points where it took several takes for him to nail the line, but he was good humoured about it. Danny hit the mark on some very funny gags, and I think he had some of the biggest laughs from the audience. Craig was good, but the script didn’t really give him very many “big laugh” moments.

Were there any amusing bits of the cast/crew interacting with the audience?

STEPHEN: Craig got involved with the audience quite a lot this week, sitting next to them whilst some scenes were filmed, making a few jokes (upon correctly identifying an audience member as police he was asked how he knew and said ‘cos the other two are handcuffed to him!’) and dishing out an audience member’s sweets.

KRIS: Chris, Danny and Bobby turned on full camp after one lengthy scene, which was very amusing. They also sprung into quoting Deliverence at length! Bobby also gently mocked Doug for stopping a scene because a prop had been built too well for its purpose, and so had to be downgraded.

No Ray Peacock on warm-up tonight – instead Patrick Monahan took the reigns and did an excellent job keeping people’s spirits up between takes. More animated than Ray, but a similar edginess. Patrick moved audience members around to pair up singles, staged mock fashion shows, played “find the banker”, got a Swedish audience member to try on a Scouse accent, and generally larked about to great effect. He definitely tired toward the end of the evening, as there a few gaps in between takes at the end where it became noticeably quiet, but nothing drastic.

DAVID: Robert and Craig were on excellent form tonight when it came to audience interaction, Craig especially. Craig had plenty of time off camera and sat with the audience for much of this. He shared some gentle banter with the crowd and seemed to have a great rapport with Patrick Monahan. At one point the pair of them took some sweets from an audience member and began handing them out throughout the crowd. Craig even took the opportunity to play a game of ‘catch’ with an audience member from the other side of the crowd which elicited cheers from the masses.

Craig and Robert made a few masturbation gags which Craig continued to run with before realising there were some young teenagers in the audience. His palpable embarrassment was a source of high-comedy for the audience. Robert was using the word “fuck” liberally during the evening, more so than I’ve ever heard from him. From mocking the crew that failed to pull back the curtain correctly, to his many smeg-ups, Robert was an absolute joy to watch between takes, always remaining in the Kryten persona. He had a cracking line about being a man trapped inside the character that I hope is included on the eventual physical release.

There were plenty of smeg-ups throughout the filming, many of which will play well if and when they’re released. Many of the smeg-ups included throwbacks to lines we’ve seen in previous releases. Robert even busted out some Spare Head Three during one fluff. Two bloopers ended up with the cast doing some improv scenes; one with the guys being as flamboyant as possible and the other being a take-off of the movie Deliverance.

Craig had a couple of great comments whilst waiting for the others to nail their lines. Craig could be heard lamenting that he could be driving a taxi on the cobbles or presenting Robot Wars instead of being on-set with his Red Dwarf co-stars.

ANDY: At past recordings, Ray Peacock has been a key facilitator of cast-audience interaction, so I feared his absence might have had a negative effect here. How wrong I was. There were countless examples throughout the night, including our well-worn favourites – Craig pretending to pick his nose, and an apt revival of ‘get your lines right Bobby and there’s a bag of chips in it for ya’ – as well as a splattering of fresh amusement, including all four members of the cast impersonating camp American-sitcom characters or pulling off convincing Texan accents. As Ed Moore’s spoilerific Instagram demonstrates, Robert (and the rest of the cast) also had opportunity to sit with the audience to watch VTs, which is always exciting to members in close proximity.

Overall, the cast went to great lengths (more than I’ve seen at a previous recording) and the atmosphere was very jovial. If you’d have told my childhood self that it’d take just 20 years after first watching the Smeg Ups VHS to see this interaction first-hand, I’d never have believed you. It’s just what I hoped for.

SIMON: Robert was quite sparky throughout, joking about his own inability to deliver dialogue that even Spare Head Three would have managed – then treating us with a quick switch into his droid-rot persona to demonstrate. Due to the way the story went, there was a section where Craig had little to do and joined in with warm-up Patrick Monaghan, bantering with the audience, taking someone’s sweets and handing them round, and once again dropping in that he could be filming Robot Wars right now (prompting Patrick to ask “has anyone got a robot they would like Craig to enter?”)

If there were pre-recorded scenes, were they location or studio?

STEPHEN: The majority are on Red Dwarf, a couple of scenes aren’t but are still studio based. No scenes were missing but Doug had said it was a Vis FX heavy episode & there’d be a lot to add in during scenes so to use our imaginations. For the VT ones, “they will look pukka when they’re done but at the moment… they’re not pukka”. Also they were going to do a costume change for the last scene but ran out of time so just did it once for our benefit without the change.

KRIS: All VT was studio based, but necessary for some fairly complex visuals. I was worried after the news of next week’s recording’s delay that this record was going to be a crazed patchwork affair a la Dear Dave – not a bit of it. A whole episode was done here (well, one bit will need to be re-recorded for a costume change, but we saw the scene played out).

DAVID: There were three of four pieces of pre-recorded material shown to the audience. A couple of the scenes were shot in the sleeping quarters and were pre-recorded to demonstrate the rough visual effects. The remaining pre-recorded scenes were all shot in sets that were not seen by the live audience but looked like they were filmed in studio on a guest set. There were some visual effects in play for many of these scenes and a costume change for one of the cast.

ANDY: There were no outdoor locations, but the episode certainly doesn’t feel confined; a guest set (which was only visible on VT) served to open up the Dwarfian universe beyond the realms of our main characters – which is always nice to see. There were several additional visual-effects heavy scenes pre-recorded in and around the sleeping quarters, making for interesting use of this regular set.

SIMON: Five pre-recorded scenes were shown, all of them studio based. Some were aboard the Dwarf, but had to be VT’d due to the inclusion of a fair amount of visual effects. Doug Naylor had warned us that it was a “VFX-heavy” episode at the start, and it was interesting to see them in an unfinished state. I think they will look extremely good when polished and edited. The remaining pre-recorded material showed a minimalist but effective guest set, which worked well for what it represented.

What are your non-spoilery opinions on the episode?

STEPHEN: Quite an interesting story, though not one where you’d describe the jokes as coming thick and fast.

KRIS: Very good! Doug Naylor, bless ‘im, is not a man keen on extolling the virtues of large corporations, monopolies and crazy contract stipulations. It was apparent in X, it was apparent in Series XI recording 4, and the theme emerges again here. It’s fairly blunt social commentary, but entertainingly told. The age and health of the cast is touched upon, somewhat evoking very slight hints of the latter parts of the Better Than Life novel to my mind. The story built very well, and there’s a real sense of threat and danger throughout, especially in the big scene on the clinical, expansive guest set. The episode drops the ball somewhat in the final few scenes, opting for a more traditional sit-com “funny way out” rather than opting to explore what could have been some very interesting comedy-drama situations instead. But it makes sense, it’s funny, and it ends on a rather sweet little nostalgic nod.

DAVID: I’d be shocked if this episode made anyone’s top 10 list but it was an enjoyable episode overall. There’s a solid smattering of gags from differing members of the cast throughout but it felt like the plot was a little undercooked with no strong exit strategy. It seems strange to say the plot was overly ambitious when the cast didn’t really leave the confines of the ship, but I do feel that the plot would have been near impossible to do justice in a thirty minute show.

Whilst the final scene will put smiles on many faces when it airs, given the possibilities the plot offered, it seemed like a lightweight way to wrap it all up. Personally, this is an episode I’d have like to have seen earlier in the series where some of themes touched on could be paid off in later episodes. That all being said, there was some delightful fan service on offer throughout. Whilst I’m sure that this won’t end up being anyone’s favourite episode of Red Dwarf, I can certainly see it becoming comfort food for long-time fans.

ANDY: This is a strong episode. While I try to subdue my excitement of being at the live recording, this is likely in the top third of the new run, and not – as I feared – an episode-five slot where the weaker ideas are shrewdly hidden away.

Even if this isn’t a stand-out episode of the series, I join many a set-reporting friend and happily confirm that if this is the benchmark for XI / XII, we have a superb couple of years of brand spanking new Dwarf ahead.

SIMON: I thought this was a brilliant episode, with the classic Red Dwarf feel we all know and love. It was delightful to see deliberate references to old episodes included. The sniping disdain between Cat and Rimmer was a joy to behold, it’s always generated some of the funniest moments in my opinion.

Was there a focus on any particular character, or was it an ensemble piece? What kind of story was being told?

STEPHEN: Primarily one character, but the other three featured heavily. Not sure how to describe the story other than it probably being the closest Dwarf will ever come to doing an episode of Black Mirror.

KRIS: A bit of a Hitchhiker’s Guide style science concept, used to poke fun at large corporations. Lister is the main focus.

DAVID: This show was very much an ensemble piece in terms of screen time but the key character here is very much Lister. It’s a Lister story seen through the eyes of the other characters. There were times during filming where I thought this was going to be the darkest Red Dwarf we’ve seen since Series V, even if the one of the main conceits is well, a bit silly and a bit on the nose for my taste.

There are scenes and sections of dialogue that have a dark realism to them and others that begin to stray into sci-fi horror. During filming, I was legitimately intrigued by where the episode was going but I didn’t feel the pay-off was as strong as it should have been. Whilst the main plot is sewn up, I remain hopeful that some of the elements touched on will re-emerge in the final episode of Series XII.

ANDY: After the opening scene, you’d be forgiven for believing that the story will focus on one of our main characters, but – as appears to have been the case at several recent recordings – the plot takes an unexpected turn, and I’m certainly thankful it did; failure to do so might have led us along a far more limited path. The episode is certainly an ensemble piece, with each of our characters having a similar amount of screen-time and dialogue.

I toyed with writing this, but I can’t help but come back to the same conclusion at this point. This episode is just the kind of Red Dwarf I enjoy: a strong dystopian idea throws the posse into a perilous adventure, while a regular smattering of character-based and visual gags ensures the episode doesn’t stray too far into drama-heavy territory. The resolution of the story leads to a wonderfully satisfying closing scene that received a generously hearty applause. I do hope it comes across well upon broadcast.

SIMON: Lister is the key character in this episode, with Kryten taking second place in the dynamic of moving the plot along. Rimmer and Cat don’t really do much with the story beyond providing great comedy. It was refreshing to see that there was no attempt to create clever sub-plots which I think was one of the weaknesses of Series X. It was a straightforward, funny story which needed no elaborate twists. It’s very much a “bottle episode” with almost all the action set aboard the Dwarf, and the small diversion to another location for two scenes doesn’t really change that.

Did it remind you of a particular series or episode from the past?

STEPHEN: I could imagine this being a Series VII episode in an alternative universe where Chris Barrie hadn’t decided to leave. There’s also a reference to a story from Series III, a mention of a former Red Dwarf crew member, and something else from the past that I can’t get into, but got a great reception.

KRIS: Episode starts off feeling very Series IV, veering hard into Series V for its middle part, before aping Series X at its conclusion. Bits of it evoke the Better Than Life novel (but it’s NOT an adaptation of the book, I stress to add).

DAVID: There’s a veritable shit-ton of references and call backs to earlier episodes and series. In fact, I’d wager that this episode probably calls back to more episodes across different series than any previous episode. Some nods are subtle and others are explicit in referencing previous episodes. The two episodes it reminded me most of thematically were Epideme and Fathers and Suns.

ANDY: It’s pretty difficult to choose a particular series or episode that I was reminded of; while there are more perilous/uneasy moments in the story akin to episodes in IV and V, it’s a refreshing new spin. One of the most striking conclusions I’ve come to is that elements of the story and dialogue were very reminiscent of the Grant Naylor novels. Though maybe this will wane as the excitement of the recording fades?

SIMON: There was a strong similarity with an episode from Series X and another from Series 2, which I shall not name because it would definitely be a spoiler too far. But then again, there were elements from other episodes which were small enough not to feel like a re-tread of a tired idea. I don’t mean this to sound negative – one of the key plot points of this story is so much a fresh, new concept that I was almost surprised it hasn’t been used before.

Any other notes?

STEPHEN: Patrick Monahan was on warm up duties this week and did a great job; plenty of laughter between takes. The audience didn’t seem quite as up for it as last week – plenty of laughs on first takes but not many on the second or third. Also, as someone has mentioned on here before, coughing during scenes is maddening.

It finished pretty much on the dot at 10pm – they had mentioned that they were running out of time, but other than the very short last scene, they seemed to get everything they needed. Biggest laugh between scenes was probably Craig moving to the side a bit and saying ‘do you need some more room, Bobby?’, to which he replied ‘only for my massive groin’ and Craig said ‘I was thinking more of your ego!’

KRIS: We get to see the next in a long line of sentient AI of Red Dwarf hardware, again in the medical area, but (thank fuuuuuck) nothing like X’s Medi-Bot or Taiwan Tony. Two main guest stars pop up – the first I’ve seen before somewhere, but I can’t for the life of me remember where, and the second someone who completely earns his brief spot in the episode – I cheered his appearance. A third guest appeared as the previously mentioned voice over role in the Science Room, and there are a few non-speaking extras toward the end as well.

DAVID: The costumes and hair all seemed greatly improved from Series X. Cat could be lifted out of Series 2 or III at this point. Rimmer looks much the same as Series X but with greatly improved hair, he looks much younger now than he did during Back To Earth and Series X. Robert’s mask is a lot softer than it appeared last time out and is much better for it. I’m not sure if all of the details will show up on screen but Lister’s shirt has some cool character details on it to look out for when the episode airs.

ANDY: There were a number of guest stars in this episode; one of whom I was personally very pleased to see. As with previous reports, the quality of the guest stars’ performances has really taken this run to another level. The over-acted nature of some in Series X was a direction I didn’t really enjoy, so it’s good to see that reigned in somewhat in tonight’s recording.

The episode is fairly visual-effects heavy (indeed Doug referred to this during his regular appearance at the start of the evening), but the rough drafts played in gave us enough of an insight to conclude that the final output will be visually appealing, give rise to one of the rudest gags thus far, and is not something we’ve seen on the show before.

Previous reports noted that there have been several references in the dialogue made to past episodes and this is also true of this one. Aside from the aforementioned recycled gag, their inclusion here, however, is very much justified and indeed a rapturous reception from the rest of the audience suggests there’s nothing to worry about.

While Chris, Craig and Danny’s costumes are spot on, I’m torn with Robert’s. As Ed Moore’s Instagram reveals, the mask is very smooth, and while this likely allows Robert to put his expansive facial vocabulary to great use, I’m not sure it’s right. The main body of the costume is also much lighter and the texture is a little odd. Still, perhaps this will change when it all comes together on screen?

SIMON: Warm-up guy Patrick Monaghan was very engaging, with a lot of audience interaction and genial mocking of Scots, Mancunians and a junior doctor who happened to be present. Noting that filming for this series was almost finished, he encouraged us to take any prop or part of the set we liked the look of home with us!

A couple of scenes featured food, and I wasn’t surprised to notice Craig continuing to chow down between takes. At one point a replacement tray of food was brought in by a crew member, who was about to put it down… and then tripped. I can imagine how embarrassed she must have felt, as much mopping with paper towels ensued.

Robert got quite fidgety with Kryten’s hands, having to be told to leave them alone by a crew member at one point. Following that scene, they were taken off, fiddled with, and re-attached (the gloves, not Robert’s whole hands.)

Chris Barrie Kenneth Williams Impersonation Count: one.

There were three guest actors (one a voice part) plus a handful of extras in this episode. All three were just right in their roles. I didn’t recognise any of them, but I’m informed that one of them has a connection to this series already…

APPROXIMATE SCENE COUNT: 23 (Total so far: 82.5-83.5)
APPROXIMATE SMEG COUNT: 1-4 (Total so far: 9-14)

A huge thank you to all of our set reporters. You can find Kris Carter on Twitter, and grab his awesome funny comics (it says here) from Attic Studios. David and Andy are also on Twitter. Stephen Abootman remains an enigma, while Simon Peel was last seen walking into the distance, muttering “my work here is done”.

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