It’s Cold Outside

It begins twenty-four-and-a-bit years ago. Tuesday 19th May, 1992. BBC2 are repeating the fourth series of a sci-fi sitcom called Red Dwarf. I’ve heard vague mutterings about Red Dwarf from classmates at primary school, and from my cousin. But back in 1991, it was on at 9pm, and I wasn’t allowed to stay up to watch it. This time, however, the repeat run is on at 8.30. On Tuesday evenings at 8.30, my mum is out at night school, and in the preceding months my dad has been letting me stay up with him to watch A Question of Sport. But the then-popular quiz show has finished its run, so our shared TV-watching timeslot needs something new to fill it – and the Brittas Empire repeats that we’ll later enjoy are themselves a good few weeks away from starting.

Hence, Red Dwarf.

Continue reading →

Eleven months ago, I took a train down to Shepperton, and made my way to the Grant Naylor Productions office to discuss the terms of my taking over the job of running the official Red Dwarf website. A couple of weeks later, one of my first news updates on the site was the announcement of how fans could get tickets to see the brand new Series X being recorded. In mid-December, I was sitting with 299 excited others watching one of those very recordings. In January, I had to repeatedly pinch myself as I walked around the set on a pre-record day (I was on Red Dwarf. On the actual ship! See the rather-appallingly-taken picture at left, which I finally feel safe enough to share now that everyone’s seen the sets and we’re all about to see the actual episodes) And now, finally, after what’s at times seemed like a never-ending wait, the new series is upon us. Episode one of Red Dwarf X, “Trojan”, airs for the first time on Dave at 9pm.

I’ve already written about my opinion on the series in general based on my experiences of having seen a number of the episodes recorded – an opinion that’s only been strengthened by, last night, watching “Trojan” at the Prince Charles Cinema in London. It’s come together absolutely beautifully – it’s funny, of course, as funny as it was seeing it “live” (indeed, one scene in particular plays out magnificently as a direct result of that live recording, with one of the most brilliant examples of a cast riding laughter and timing their deliveries to perfection); but it also looks incredible, with some truly stunning model-based outer space sequences that, just as in the show’s “classic” years, complement the sitcom material perfectly.

Having been a fan of this show for over twenty years, it’s still quite unbelievable that we’ve got a new, full series of it. And, more impressively, that said full series is so great. It’s obviously difficult to talk in detail about a lot of the reasons why that is, but it’s at least possible to vaguely hint at a few things. So for a bit of fun, here are a few cryptic teasers. I will neither confirm or deny any guesses anybody might have as to what they mean, however, so you might as well keep them to yourselves, and then just be smug afterwards if you got any of them right:

1. T f a c w h n b s o s s 1989.

2. D D c m t t t R D c p S.

3. W f t R t a u o I a m h f a.

4. A c c H, w w o g t a i t m, i a i T B.

5. A a w a i S VI p a s – b d – c i E.

6. T f l o t s i a c t t v f e.

Enjoy the series. I think it’s brilliant, and I think you’ll think so too.

Red Dwarf X

To say that there’s been a fair bit of concern expressed by Red Dwarf fandom over recent Twitter comments from Doug and Richard Naylor is putting it mildly. And it’s only natural that, given the insane levels of optimism that accompanied the audience’s reaction to the live shooting weeks of Series X, that any kind of setback – whether it ultimately turns out to be a minor or a major one – is going to deflate things a little bit.

Nevertheless, whatever’s happening with the production at the moment – or what might be speculated as happening with the production – I still think there are a whole host of reasons to be optimistic. And, in my position as Official Red Dwarf Cheerleader, I feel it’s my duty to remind people of them.

Because the shows are great. Really, seriously, great. You can call me biased if you want, but anyone who knows me knows I’ve been plenty critical of Red Dwarf when I don’t like it. I know that due to my current role, I’d obviously have to be positive about the new series in public no matter what – but if I didn’t like the new episodes that I’d seen filmed, I’d simply avoid talking about them except in an “official” voice. As it is, though, I love them. Obviously, I can’t say too much about them without giving away things that aren’t meant to be given away, but here are just a few of the reasons why the return of the show fills me with so much joy:

  • First and foremost, they’re funny. Each of the episodes I saw (four, out of the six – although in one instance we only saw somewhere between half and two-thirds of the total running time being filmed) had at least one absolutely huge audience reaction moment, but the genuine laughs are healthily distributed throughout the entire series.
  • The stories are great. Strong, memorable, well-constructed plots, throughout the entire series. One episode – which I didn’t actually see being filmed, but have heard a detailed synopsis of – has a genuinely inspired and innovative central premise, one that I don’t think anyone has ever done before. It’s the sort of thing that carries on the fine tradition of episodes like “Future Echoes” and “Thanks for the Memory” in exploring inventive, original sci-fi ideas.
  • It’s fan-pleasing. A few of the episodes are really heavily rooted in established Dwarf lore, and do things that we might never have expected to actually see on screen. But man, are they satisfying.
  • Then there’s the final episode. Well. To say anything detailed about it would ruin the many, many treats it has to offer – but if it doesn’t immediately leap high onto the “all-time favourite” lists of the majority of fans, then the majority of fans are mad. It’s brilliant: thrilling, clever, funny, surprising, and even a little bit moving. It contains not one, but two of the best guest actor performances the series has ever had. And it has a final line that – no kidding – nearly moved me to tears right there at the recording.
  • The lead cast are all on top form. Any concerns about not slotting back into the characters after such a long time away were fairly well alleviated by Back to Earth anyway, but across this full series they feel comfortable, happy and confident in these roles. And more than anything, this is the series that will dispel the myth that Lister and Rimmer are simply too old these days for the show to work. They’re not – the show has simply adapted its tone and premise to fit them.
  • The guest actors, as already hinted at, are pretty much uniformly superb, too – I can’t think of a single bad performance across the episodes I saw, but I can recall at least three or four superb ones. A handful of actors get to play roles that are quite significant to the Red Dwarf mythos – and which rely on their being able to fit in with preconceptions a fan audience might have about them – and without exception they do so with aplomb.
  • It looks amazing. Obviously, we haven’t seen the special effects, model shots and so on yet – but I remain confident that, even with whatever technical problems are currently going on, ultimately it’s all going to look and feel terrific. One thing is for sure, though – the sets, whether onboard Red Dwarf itself or elsewhere, are astoundingly good. The Dwarf interior, in particular, feels like a combination and culmination of all previous incarnations, and ultimately it’s almost like the ship how it always should have looked. Maybe I’m biased towards it having spent a day walking around its corridors (and, I’ll admit, pretending I was actually onboard the ship), but I fell in love with it before that, at the moment I walked into the first audience recording. It’s beautiful.

That’s probably about all I’d better say, anyway (though if you want more from me on the new series, I wrote a bit more about the actual experience of a recording day in my official capacity) – there’s a delicate balancing act in talking about this series, because everyone with any kind of connection to it – whether official or fan – wants to avoid ruining the twists and turns it has to offer before its broadcast later this year. But my point is this: the recent chatter on Twitter about model shots and music is just about the first negative-sounding word that has come out from anywhere connected to the production, and it shouldn’t cancel out the immense positive feeling from the episode recordings – the feeling that, quite simply, Red Dwarf X is just about everything that a new series of Red Dwarf should be.

It’s going to be amazing. And Autumn can’t come soon enough.

So, er, yeah. Although this has been in the pipeline for a couple of weeks (and in fact, I actually officially started work at the beginning of this week), it’s only now been made public and can be announced: I’m now the writer/editor/whatever of The Official Red Dwarf Website.

It’s still sinking in, really, even though the first weekly news updates from my pen (keyboard) are already up on the site for all to see. I’m actually, officially, part of the Red Dwarf “family”. It’s been a long and odd journey getting here – from watching the show as a nipper, to setting up my first blog about it in 2004, to playing Doug Naylor (the Doug Naylor I now work for) in a fan film, to joining the obnoxious loudmouthery of peerless fansite Ganymede & Titan, to publishing a book about the show. Even then, I never expected through any of that that I’d ever really get to have any official connection with the series – even though, like anyone else, I’ve always had a dream that I’d one day be writing it (fitting it in and around my Doctor Who and Superman commitments, of course).

But now I do. I’m responsible for the weekly site news updates, as well as keeping it generally ticking over – and some other bits and bobs of work that I can’t really talk about now, to boot. And there’ll be a lot of news updates to come – in case you didn’t know, Red Dwarf is imminently entering production for a brand new series of six episodes, to be broadcast next year on Dave. And I’m going to be seeing a lot of that first-hand, and telling the world about it. In a lot of cases (as with our already-teased big announcement next week) I’ll be the first person to tell worldwide fandom of major goings-on (although in other cases, Digital Spy will probably beat us to it as we negotiate the “Can we publish this yet?” legal minefield that they’re not bound by).

Unfortunately, this also means I have to keep my opinions about Series VIII to myself from now on, but hey ho.

It’s a bloody exciting time, though. Unlike the man I’m replacing – the eleven-years-serving, pretty-much-impossible-to-follow Andrew Ellard, now a scriptwriter/editor of no small renown – this isn’t my full-time job, and I’m not involved in the production side of things, or anything like that. I’m the part-time news-monkey, basically. But still – all of a sudden, I’m getting paid to write about Red Dwarf. Every week.

It’s definitely one of those “wish I could tell the teenage self” moments, I’ll tell you that.

garbagepodsSo, I made a book.

Specifically, I collected a load of articles about Red Dwarf written by the Ganymede & Titan team over the last eight years, shuffled them around, edited them, formatted them, and turned them into a print-on-demand book that’s now on sale via Lulu.com. Hurrah!

There’d been talk about doing a G&T book of some kind for years, but it was after getting Jane Killick’s Stasis Leaked (a collection of old articles of hers on the making of Series I) for my Kindle that I again reasoned we could probably do something similar. The original plan was for an eBook release, with a view to possibly printing at some point – but as I investigated publishing options, it became apparent that getting a physical copy out there would actually be pretty feasible. The deadline I’d set – to have the book onsale at the Dimension Jump convention this last weekend – made it too tight to actually get any new material in (for one thing, I wanted to do a mammoth article on the history of the Dwarf novels), but it’s still a pretty solid package, with 200 pages of material that while available online will probably not have been read even by everyone who visits the site regularly. And if this one does alright, we may well do a Volume 2 – with more in the way of new stuff – in future.

G&T’s Photoshop wiz Danny Stephenson came up with an absolutely astounding wraparound cover based on my original concept, and this is one of the things that I think really helps it stand out as a darned fine artefact in its own right. Here’s what it says on the back:

Red Dwarf, the cult BBC2 and Dave sci-fi sitcom, has entertained millions of fans worldwide since its first broadcast in 1988.

Ganymede & Titan, a Red Dwarf fan website, has entertained literally several of those fans since its launch in 1999.

Now, a selection of the site’s best articles from between 2003 and 2011 have been rounded up and thrown into The Garbage Pod, the first such collection of unofficial fan writing in the show’s long and illustrious history.

Inside, you’ll find analytical critical commentary, bloody-minded arguing, meticulously researched Lists of Stuff, hard-sci-fi theorising and elaborate swearing from the site’s team of entirely unprofessional and equally unsanitary writers.

Over at Lulu, we’re selling the print copy for £4.99, and the PDF download for £1.99 (and a Kindle version might well follow when I can sort out creating/formatting it). We’re making a small profit on each copy sold, all of which is being donated to Amnesty International. And while I imagine most of the people I know who are Dwarf fans are already G&T readers so know all about it already, if there’s anyone who isn’t but would be interested in picking it up, you can do so right here.

We figured, though, that our best business would be done at DJ – and it seemed to go down pretty well. We sold around two-thirds of the copies we’d ordered in bulk and brought with us, and drummed up a decent amount of interest. We also gave copies to, among other people, visual effects king Mike Tucker, and – most excitingly – Doug Naylor himself (who insisted on paying for his copy, and asked us all to sign it, which was A BIT OF A THRILL). People who got around to reading any of it while there seemed to enjoy it, which was great.

So it may be a daft little self-published vanity project with an incredibly narrow niche market – but still. I’ve got a book out. Yay!