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.

It’s been quite a film-y sort of time recently. I’ve managed to wangle my way into a number of screenings for free – some just because I’m great, but others because I actually have to – cuh – review the things. Anyway, while you don’t get to see my detailed thoughts on Pirates 4 (bit crap) and Attack the Block (bit excellent), I now have reviews up of what are likely to be two of the best films I see this year: X-Men: First Class over at Film4, and Senna on Den of Geek. I also did a fluffy tie-in piece for X-Men at Den of Geek (in a confusing bit of crossover since it wasn’t DoG I reviewed it for, but), looking at five other superhero properties that would make great “period piece” films – one for each decade from the ’30s through to the ’70s. Meanwhile, I also interviewed (well, co-interviewed) the director of Senna recently, but was a bit slow in getting the piece over to the DoG folk, so that probably won’t be up there until early next week. Have a look, though, it’s interesting stuff.

And also, although it was a few weeks ago, I’m quite pleased with my main contribution to the Doctor Who review canon this year (we’ll ignore my sloppy, far-too-short and unfocused review of “Day of the Moon”) – I’ve been waiting a long, long time for Neil Gaiman to write an episode of the show, so there’s a good reason why my write-up of “The Doctor’s Wife” is somewhat long and rambling. But I think I hit upon a nice theme with it, and that it’s a good piece all in all, so… yeah.

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!

eyeonspringfieldOkay, this is very nerdy, but bear with me.

I’ve been watching lately a fair few episodes from what I’d call the “Late Imperial” era of The Simpsons – that is, the era in which, at its best, it was still the best thing on television; but in which it wasn’t hitting its “best” with every episode. This has largely involved watching most of season eight, but I’ve also watched odds and sods from seasons seven and nine as well. And this got me thinking in more detail about a theory I’ve had for a little while, which is this:

I believe a Simpsons episode is more likely to be good if it opens with an in-universe TV show/film/radio show than if it doesn’t.

I’ve come up with this theory based on the fact that the “show within a show” kinds of fiction (largely covering TV shows, but also including movies and radio stations) often tend to be among the funniest and most memorable moments in the series’ history (particularly when they involve Krusty, Kent Brockman or Troy McClure). And for some reason, when an episode opens with one of these scenes, it instantly feels sharper and more imaginative than one that just brings us in to a random scene somewhere in Springfield or at the Simpsons’ home. This is particularly noticeable during these later seasons (and when I say “later”, I mean “later in the good period” – we’re going by the assumption that the programme is largely not worth watching, and thus non-existent in my head, after around season eleven), when it’s the more dull and boring episodes that seem to start in this mundane way, and the better ones that give the laughs by opening with – for example – the Krusty Komedy Klassic, or an edition of Eye on Springfield. It therefore feels to me like I’m simply more likely to enjoy an episode if it’s got one of these opening scenes (which from now on I’m referring to as “TV openings”, even though they also covers other forms of media).

So, I’ve decided to test it out. And count up data in Excel. And turn it into a graph. Because that’s how I roll.

Continue reading →

treehouse1

To mark Hallowe’en this year, I’ve decided to sit down and watch The Simpsons‘ annual “Treehouse of Horror” episodes, in order, at least up to the point where they stop being any good (probably about season 11 or 12). And I thought I might as well throw out a link to something I wrote three years ago – a list of what I think are the ten best individual segments.

Whether I still agree with that list after watching ten or eleven of the things in a row, meanwhile, remains to be seen…