Well, we certainly weren’t expecting this to happen today. We only caught wind of the possibility of Red Dwarf collaborating with The AA last Thursday, when a giant Starbug was pictured with an AA van near the Angel of the North, with resultant undeclared promotional pieces reported in the local press. When Danny John-Jules reassured us that “all will be revealed” on the 1st July, we were expecting a tweet or a press release. Not for a minute-long chunk of full unadulterated brand new Red Dwarf to turn up unannounced at ten o’clock in the morning. This is what all those hints about the cast getting back together have been leading to. It’s not Series XIII – though that’s not to say that work isn’t also taking place on that – it’s Rimmer, Lister, Cat, Kryten and Starbug appearing in a television advert for The AA.
The idea of my favourite show doing an advert might have filled me with dread and disgust at one time, with that Bill Hicks quote about “being off the artistic roll call” ringing in my ears. But the world has changed since then, and there are lot of things working in favour of this particular ad. It’s all original material, not just exploiting old clips and tainting them by association. It looks and feels like the current show, not some nostalgia trip trying to recapture past glories. And of all the brands they could have associated themselves with – betting companies, loan sharks, shady foreign exchange business – there’s not much fault to find with The AA. As it happens, there’s no need to worry. This advert is so well-made and so charming that it’s impossible not to be wooed.
Here’s one that’s been doing the rounds lately – a full, decent-quality (in technical terms at least) episode of Cyberzone has recently been uploaded to YouTube by Red Dwarf fan Chris Toone. The short-lived virtual reality game show was notable for several reasons. It was a new format from the brain of Tim Child and his production company Broadsword, in the same vein as their technologically-groundbreaking and hugely entertaining Knightmare. Cyberzone only duplicated that success in one regard, but it will always have its place in fandom folklore thanks to the presenting style of one Craig Charles, who adopted Hattie’s cry of “awooga” from Marooned as a catchphrase, which was in turn “borrowed” by footballer-turned-presenter John Fashanu – a guest on the first episode of the series – as his own catchphrase on the much more popular Gladiators.
The show saw Craig as the “Zone Warden”, guiding two competing teams of two through a series of virtual reality challenges set by arch-villain Thesp, a hybrid of the GamesMaster and Knightmare‘s Lord Fear, played by James Grout. One team comprised two members of the public, taking on a pair of sportspeople, in this case world rally champions Louise Aitken-Walker and Tina Thorner, in the second episode of the series, aired 11th January 1993:
In scenes rather reminiscent of Headfuck Monday, a real-life version of Starbug has been spotted on location in the north of England. This time, it’s in the vicinity of the Angel of the North in Gateshead, and rather than a customised Smart car, it looks like a car-sized screen-accurate model, on tiny little wheels, as captured in this photo by Twitter user Lee Harris:
Here’s a lovely thing. Reader Jon Kearey recently got in touch to tell us about his visit to the BBC Visual Effects workshop in late 1997. Jon was doing on a project on Red Dwarf‘s model and effects work for his Design A-Level, and was invited along to take a look by the late, great Peter Wragg. This would have been at the time when the team were working on models for Re-Mastered, which would turn out to be their last major contribution to Red Dwarf for the best part of twenty years, by which time they’d gone freelance and set up The Model Unit.
On his visit, Jon was fortunate enough to meet Mike Tucker and Alan “Rocky” Marshall, who showed him not only their collection of Red Dwarf models and props from across the years, but also their work-in-progress new builds of Red Dwarf and Blue Midget for Re-Mastered. And he was allowed to take photos. Our deepest gratitude to Jon for sharing those photos with us, so that we could share them with you.
May 2019. Broadcunting House lies abandoned, a layer of dust coating its various microphones, laptops and indigenous cats. Suddenly, a door opens, a switch is flicked, and a light bulb slowly stutters into life. From the shadows emerge four mysterious, yet sexy, figures. An ancient warning system is triggered, issuing a familiar call to arms. “Awooga”, it cries, “this is a DwarfCast”. And it bloody well is. It’s only the third one since Series XII finished, and the first regular episode commentary that we’ve bothered to release since September 2017. We are back.
Oh, Robert Llewellyn. You are a one man gun-jumping machine. This time, he’s turned up on the annoyingly-capitalised radio station talkSPORT, primarily to promote the forthcoming Fully Charged live shows. G&T regular Stephen Abootman was listening, and has very helpfully clipped up the part of the conversation that turned to our favourite show. Upon being asked by either Hawksbee or Jacobs whether he was “gonna do some more Red Dwarf“, Robert replied:
We are. We start Series XIII, which I can’t believe will be nearly 32 years since we started, which is quite daunting. So we’re all getting on a bit, but you know, we have such fun doing it. We’ve been working together recently and it is… I think none of us would do it any more if we didn’t get on, ’cause it’s such a difficult show to make. If you make a show that’s science-fiction, where everyone’s got loads of make-up on and props and difficult things, everything goes wrong. Mainly me and my brain not remembering what I’m supposed to say.
Despite Red Dwarf‘s futuristic off-world setting, it’s always been a show deeply rooted in reality. Rob and Doug drew their inspiration as much from Steptoe and Son and Porridge as Blade Runner and Alien, deriving humour from workplace antics, characters being trapped together and the good old British class system, all things that are far from alien to the viewer at home. As such, it’s always been intrinsically linked to the time and place in which it was made, and the fact that this time and place was up to 31 years ago now makes for some interesting anomalies between the future as predicted in the late 80s and early 90s, and what we now know about how society and technology has developed since then.
Well, then. We’ve been fairly cynical about the prospect of new Red Dwarf happening any time soon. Everything went very quiet for a very long time, and it seemed like once again, circumstances had somehow conspired to kill off any momentum and put the show back into the past tense again. We refused to get excited a couple of months ago when the cast went for a curry together, given that it’s not too unusual for a group of people who’ve known each other for thirty odd years to meet up for a bite to eat, but Danny John-Jules has tweeted a picture today, and…
Yep, it seems like something is happening. All four cast members present and correct (I’d recognise Robert’s bald patch anywhere), in what looks suspiciously like a production company meeting room, with bits of paper in front of them. Doug’s even there, although he doesn’t look massively thrilled about it. Now, this isn’t necessarily Series XIII. There’s still been no official announcement about that, despite what less reputable sites like Den of Geek or Digital Spy will tell you. It could be something to do with the long-proposed live show. It could be a meeting about future merch or something. It could just be them going for a coffee in the world’s worst-decorated Cafe Nero, and we’re reading too much into it. But finally, things are starting to look a little more positive…
Back in 2008, when Red Dwarf turned twenty, it was very much a former television programme. The last new series had finished almost a decade earlier, fans had finally accepted that the long-proposed Movie was never going to happen, the regular DVD releases had come, gone and done a lap of honour with The Bodysnatcher Collection, Dimension Jump attendance had fallen off a cliff, and while there were still regular updates from The Official Site and the odd dribble of merch every now and then, the general feeling was that Red Dwarf was a show that should be talked about in the past tense. And that was sort of ok. We’d come to terms with it, although we were all more than a little worried about what the fan community would look like at the next milestone anniversary without any fresh stimulus to keep us going.
But when Red Dwarf hit 25 in 2013 and 30 in 2018, the landscape could barely have been more different, thanks to what happened towards the end of that twentieth anniversary year.
…two months and nine days. That’s roughly the time elapsed between the frame-rate problem on the Blurays first being noticed and today’s TOS update, which represents the first time that the controversy has been acknowledged by an official Red Dwarf source. Snark aside, there are a million reasons why things like this take a while to get addressed – they have to wait for the manufacturers to investigate and put solutions in place before they go steaming in – but even so, it’s been a long wait.
There’s not a great deal of new information since the BBC finally got their arses into gear about this just under a month ago, but it’s nice to see confirmation that such a dramatic change to the source material was never the intention of the boxset. An apology might have been an idea, mind. The word “sorry” does at least feature in the BBC’s response quoted in the article, which is a slightly more official-sounding version of the email that was previously sent to complaining customers. The crux of the message is this bit:
Details of how to obtain your replacement can be obtained by e-mailing BBC Studios customer support line at DVDSupport@bbc.com
If you have already purchased the set and wish to replace the two faulty discs, you can do so at the address above; while we understand that replacement pressings of copies still in shops will be issued as soon as possible.
Good and interesting news that rogue copies in the wild will indeed be replaced. Spare a thought for the poor bugger who has to organise that.