When I say to random people “Hey, what do you remember about the sets of the first two series of Red Dwarf?”, they back away from me and look for the nearest exit. Before they manage to escape, however, they usually mention the bunkroom. They might stammer out an anecdote about a yellow banana. Really cool people might mention how the Drive Room changes between series, or how the Observation Dome is a perfect combination of live set elements and special effects.
Still, all those stories have been told. I want to dig a little deeper, and I don’t care how boring things get in order to do so. With that in mind, Ganymede & Titan proudly present: a history of three wall sections, used at BBC Manchester in 1987-88.
Balance of Power
For reasons that will become apparent, I’m going to be telling this story in recording order, not broadcast order. And the first time we see the particular walls we’re interested in – though a fuzz of video noise which seems extreme even for an ageing Studio A at Oxford Road in 1987 – is in the second episode recorded of Series 1, as Rimmer stalks the corridors. We’re talking about the grey walls on the right, with the pipes:
Gaze on that for a moment. We’ll be seeing a lot of it.
We also get a brief look at part of either the same wall, or its friendly duplicate, later on in the episode. (More about that duplicate in the next section.) Take a look to the left:
Have you noticed the difference? Can you see the refinement in the funnel ed- wait, sorry.
Still, in Balance of Power, it’s difficult to get to grips with exactly what we’re supposed to be looking for. The views are so fleeting, and we don’t get to see all the sections we’re interested in at once. This is about to change, however…
Waiting for God
Here we go, then. We’re only just getting started. Let’s take a look at the early part of Waiting for God, where Cat and Rimmer have one of their trademark awkward encounters, and we finally get a decent look at one of the wall sections:
Later on, we see it in the same configuration, when Lister is learning all about the fate of the Cat People:
And then, when we go and see Cat visiting the Priest on the lower decks… whoa ho ho, what’s that I spy in the background?
Finally for this episode, when we cut to Lister making his way through the bowels of the ship – the very next scene, in fact:
That would appear then, to be the same wall sections used three entirely different ways, all in the same episode. Including in two consecutive scenes. Excellent.
It’s worth taking another look at the pictures of Lister travelling down into the bowels of the ship above, as it actually gives us the best look at what we’re dealing with in this article: two longer sections of wall running at the top and along the right side of the set, with a smaller section joining the two in the corner. This is the first time all three parts of the set actually appear on the screen at once. (This will become useful in identifying them in future episodes.)
Just a single use of one of those wall sections in this episode, in exactly the same configuration as seen in the second instance in Balance of Power:
Confidence & Paranoia
Again, just a single use in this episode – the wall outside the medical unit:
Here’s something I bet you haven’t noticed before. So: that cinema in Me²? Yes, a huge chunk of it is made up of these pipe wall sections:
All three of the wall sections are used here: one large section is the wall outside the door of the cinema, and then the other large section and the small section make up the wall inside the cinema. In fact, we seem to be seeing the reverse of these latter two sections compared to every instance previously – if you look closely at the diagonal struts, they’re on the opposite side to usual, with the pipes obscuring them.
Incidentally, if you were wondering whether we see these wall pieces in the cinema in Balance of Power, the answer is no. Me² on the left, and Balance of Power on the right:
The two episodes use entirely different sets, which is difficult to notice unless you’re directly comparing them. (Hey, it’s a big ship. We get a third cinema in Camille. Presumably the Officer’s Cinema…)
The End (remount)
So, remember I said these wall sections only showed up in the second recording for Series 1? That’s because the first recording was for the original version of The End, and – as shown by The Original Assembly on the Bodysnatcher DVD – our favourite little wall sections were never actually used in the original version of the episode.
However, they do appear – briefly – in the final version of The End. The remount was the seventh and final audience session for Series 1, and hence earns its place here. And they appear during the remounted version of Lister and Rimmer’s first encounter with Cat:
And with that, the walls were carefully stored away. I bet at least one rat had a crap on them.
Six months later, Series 2 started recording. Oddly enough, the set doesn’t make any appearances in the first two episodes shot: Better Than Life, and Thanks for the Memory. However, the week after…
One section is briefly seen outside the door as Lister and Cat interrogate Kochanski’s roommate:
But hey, buried here in the centre of the article, it seems like a good place to bring up a mystery which I haven’t been able to solve. So: the Series 1 documentary The Beginning on the Bodysnatcher release. Remember this?
Ah, there’s our favourite little wall section in the background. But… I don’t remember seeing that in any broadcast episode. And sure enough, if you check The End or Stasis Leak, that doorway is entirely missing from both episodes:
So, clearly the background used for the Mac McDonald interview was taken from the rushes, not a broadcast episode. But why the set is different, and exactly which episode recording it was taken from, remains a mystery.
Just how deep are we in the rabbit hole at this point? Let’s try and come up for some air. Briefly, anyway.
The only time one of these wall sections appears in the finished episode is during Cat’s hero pose:
But if we nip over to the deleted scenes on the Series 2 DVD, we can also find one of the sections in the cut scene of Cat and The Toaster’s duet – in the corridor outside the refectory:
Clearly, the section used here is the smaller one, not one of the two bigger sections: the diagonal struts being that close together gives it away.
What’s that? They show up at the disco?!
Presumably, the set required for this scene was so big they dragged every single set element they could into commission: I would suggest that these wall pieces aren’t the first thing you’d choose to use for a recreational area.
Incidentally, it’s been difficult to tell up to this point because of the lighting, but this episode proves that the pipes themselves have been painted blue, instead of the grey colour as in Series 1. Everyone talks about stuff like the banana in the bunkroom being added in order to give Series 2 a bit more colour, but this clearly extended to every single part of the set in one way or another.
These walls also have one more use in this episode – behind Lister and Cat during the final pregnancy test scene:
I would be willing to bet virtually nobody would spot the set reuse here… unless you were looking for it. And so these pesky pieces of wall manage to show up in the very final scene of Series 2.
But not the final scene shot. Parallel Universe was actually the penultimate episode recorded for Series 2. And the final episode perhaps makes the greatest use of these wall sections of any episode.
Ah, Floor 591. By now, you’ve probably worked out where these wall sections are going to show up. And it’s in yet another configuration that we’ve never seen before:
It’s worth comparing this scene with Lister’s trip down to the bowels of the ship in Waiting for God: it’s very clear exactly the same three sections are used: two large, one small. You can even see the exact same dirt marks along the top on the right-hand section in both episodes!
And yet with a lighting change and a few of the elements swapped round, the two sets look entirely different. Excellent stuff.
We then enter Floor 592, which effectively involves rounding the corner into the same set used for Floor 591. Thanks to some clever direction by a certain Mr. Bye, it doesn’t feel at all odd:
For the first and only time, you actually get to see one of the edges of the wall sections here. I’m presuming you’re interested in this fact if you’ve managed to get this far down the article.
Finally… what the bloody hell do we have here?
Our famous little wall sections now make up the background to the corridor with the vending machine. (The struts, as ever, give the game away.) This is brand new; think back to how this corridor looked in Series 1 on the left, followed by Series 2 on the right:
All of which means, in Holly’s moment of glory in Queeg… that background may look rather familiar to you now.
OK, so is there actually any point to all of this, aside from satisfying a deeply worrying part of my personality? I would suggest yes, and here’s why.
I doubt any single person reading this article has noticed every instance of these wall sections being reused. You may have noticed some, but I was spotting brand new things I’d never seen before while writing this. Moreover, the general audience isn’t going to notice any of the above whatsoever. Whether you love or hate the Series 1 and 2 sets, I think the above is a testament to how much the production did with the money they had. They were constantly swapping things round to make the ship feel as big as possible. The result is a huge success: the same pieces endlessly reused, but it being far from obvious that’s what the production was doing.
In short: Paul Montague deserves a little more consideration than merely jokes about grey paint. However funny those jokes are.