Bag Pipes

Greetings, Ghostwatchers! On Wednesday 24th August, in the heart of bustling, tram-linked city of Edinburgh, Scotland, Filmhouse (home of the city's International Film Festival), hosted the world premiere of Red Dwarf XI, set to air on Dave beginning, 22nd September. And guess who flew up to Auld Reekie to check out the proceedings. No clues, just have a guess.

Moderated by SFX Editor, Richard Edwards, the event notably featured an appearance from our very own Hallowe'en Witchboard enthusiast, Craig Charles.

Also, quite unexpectedly sharing the flight over was none other than a noticeably rubber-less Robert Llewellyn - the man behind the iconic, square-headed mask of mechanoid counterpart, Kryten. Soon after, I noticed a well-known, classic Big Brother alumnus, sitting just a few rows behind. Later still, and who ethereally glided past in Arrivals, but the man responsible for birthing Radio Norwich's most venerable D-Jock into the world (not literally, that would be hideous). At this point, I naturally expected the next P.A. announcement to call for Commandant Lassard, Chief Hurst, Madam Mayor, Mr. President, His Holiness the Pope, the King of Norway, and other honored guests to please make their way over to Gate 15.

Incredulous star-striking aside, in light of the recent news that Dave is planning on releasing the entire new series of Red Dwarf XI one episode at a time, each week ahead of broadcast via online platform UKTV Play (... no, really), and least of all, the threat of laser-targeted, embargo enforcement droids consciously hovering over my head, fear ye not regarding spoilers, here on in. Though, as I have been heard to remark in the past - a story should not depend on a twist, the same way a twist should depend on a story.™©®

Yes, it seems that the good old days of viewers especially taking the time to gather as a community in order to enjoy watching something as yet, largely unseen, air at a designated time and place, are finally approaching extinction. And just for the record, I refuse to believe that any resistance to this undoubted, broadcasting game-changer is (solely) the rose-tinted spectacles talking. In all important respects, National Séance was built around preserving that simple notion, alone.

That said, as with Ghostwatch, Red Dwarf has that peculiar gift of being able to reach far beyond the confines of the medium for which it was first intended. In particular, audiences for each programme seem more than willing to congregate and enjoy the chance to go all 'Big Screen Experience', as and when the opportunity rolls around. It's the reason I remain such a staunch supporter of the long-mooted movie project, or better yet, stage show featuring the cosmic characters, which I'm sure would be, for lack of a better word, ace.

Nevertheless, as someone probably once said, the proof is most certainly in the vindaloo, or something - and fortunately, as far as Twentica is concerned, it won't be long until the episode can be checked out in full via official stream, albeit in near-glorious Standard Definition.

In the meantime however, and to paraphrase High Cat... what is this..?
It's newly, officially released footage for today's full-length trailer, that's what. And for some very special reasons, this single fleeting shot by far caught my eye than any other. But more on that particular brow-curling curio, for another day...

So, why has Red Dwarf endured for close to three decades? That's far too big a question to satisfactorily answer here and now, but my general feelings are, up until a certain point, the characters, unquestionably being the series' primary focus amidst a plethora of truly inventive science-fiction and perpetual mirth, didn't so much evolve or complicate over those years, as they did further refine and more credibly deepen.

The final, excellent episode of Series V, Back To Reality, involves our seemingly-worthless gang of misfits realising they are in fact a largely-random troupe of entirely different people, until now caught in a soul-sappingly mundane, group computer simulation, or 'Total Immersion Video-game'. Nevertheless, as this subversively functional deconstruction of the Red Dwarf myth continues to develop, their core characters remain implacably resolute - even whilst subject to increasingly-unbearable depths of despair...

For all his obvious faults, last human, Dave Lister, is ultimately described as being, "A good man, a man of moral courage." In the context of the story, maybe he is, maybe he isn't. But in that brief, precious moment, no-one in Starbug's cockpit argues contrary to the description provided. Amidst the gentle humour and pervading absurdity of the characters' extraordinary predicament, it remains a profoundly-moving moment, as it exposes between them, a genuine skein of mutual respect. Person-to-person, the Boyz from the Dwarf couldn't be more different, but since when did that ever stand in the way of true friendship?

The cosy banality of conversation so often found in earlier series' bunk-room scenes, was at best, saddle-stitched to a requisite sense of soul that rendered many of the crew's often absurd statements, beliefs or dreams, solid and effectively timeless... Lister's humble wish of a farm on Fiji... Rimmer's physically-improbable ambition to become an Officer... Cat's eventual, timezone-spanning wardrobe... A living, breathing garden for Kryten to one day sow and tend. These personal ambitions stem from a plain, relatable core of truth, or if you'll pardon my pretentiousness, verisimilitude.

With the series now so longstanding (first airing in 1988), I still consider the entirety of those first 36 shows (Series I-VI) as being good enough for the time capsule. That's not to say that VII-onwards doesn't have its gems - Tikka To Ride, Beyond a Joke, Dear Dave, and The Beginning for example, all wear big hearts on their respective sleeves, and most are as visually dynamic as they are healthy in scope, or pathos alone. Don't get me started on Entangled, though, or we'll be here all week...

... Okay, I'll save the rest for the inevitable book, I think. Including an entire chapter on how Lister's unprompted allergy to tomatoes in Series VIII+1/2 makes so very little sense considering his renowned, curry-loving disposition.

Anyway, back to the event. And a thoroughly pleasant experience, it was, too - which also provided the opportunity to catch up with TORDFC teamsters, Alex Newsome as seen in Behind the Table, Jo Sharples from Behind the Curtains, and even Señor El Presidente, James 'Redge Wharf' Bull, accompanied by the lovely Señora Helen.

Before we begin, I would just like to say a few words about the event's host city. Edinburgh is... really, really great. Really. Never before have I visited a place where your gin & tonic arrives served with slices of orange instead of lemon or lime. Or home to a curry house where the waiters joyfully take the time to explain the finer points of Ghostbusters merchandise collecting, as you enjoy your chicken madras. There was even time to check out a snippet of the now eponymous Fringe, which in addition to showcasing some of the country's most exciting, untapped, artistic talent, also doubles as the UK's premiere open leaflet dispersal demonstration.

Just to set the scene, for those not in the know, your correspondent once cut his teeth in the professional world thereof, in part courtesy of Red Dwarf's production company, Grant Naylor. I was admittedly a fan at the time of my first gig, and who would have thunk, to this day, still find the series relentlessly debatable. RSSers of this blog may recall just one or two related articles, set reports, and the like, mostly from Back To Earth-onwards.

Taking place directly after the screening, the definitively embargo-less Q&A was great fun, despite all in, there only being enough time for three questions from the audience. "No Geography questions..." pre-warned Craig. "I'm shit at Geography."

Richard kicked off the proceedings by asking writer/director, Doug Naylor how he comes up with ideas for the show, to which Charles auto-replied, "He drinks a lot." Adding just slightly more detail to the creative process, Naylor went on to explain, "If I'm obsessing, thinking about Red Dwarf ideas, I'll often go to bed, and wake up in the morning with an idea [...] You've gotta be absolutely obsessed. And you can't be pissed."

"The difficult thing is getting your head around some of the scripts, though..." Craig added. "They are quite complicated. And we are quite thick."

"That wasn't one of the really tough episodes for me." conceded Robert, briefly glancing above to the now-curtained screen, before admitting that for this particular installment, "There were no post-it notes stuck to the back of Craig's head."

"I've so many photographs on my phone of Kryten with his glasses on!" Craig chortled. "They were printing the scripts, and [we were] getting re-writes all the time."

Though, according to Robert, the reduced font size required to accommodate these additions or alterations on the page was often, "Microscopically small."

"And the scripts would come, and you'd need thick glasses, or longer arms." Craig mimed.

Continuing on the topic of recent upgrades, Robert proceeded to shed some light on what has so far proven to be a fairly divisive new get-up for everyone's favourite service droid, despite his character's click-lock cranium, for the longest time, only ever appearing to have once been wedged between four particularly uncooperative iron vices.

"Yeah, it's a new one. It's actually really good to see [the final episode], because when they - I'm sure, some of you are aware - when the initial pictures were released by UKTV..." at which point, Robert referred back to a smartphone to laughingly read aloud his current-favourite Tweet on the matter... "That's it. The mask is awful. I won't be watching."

"The thing is..." Doug attempted to soothe. "... The mask is based on your face. And if your face changes, the mask changes. There's nothing we can do, unless we insist on changing your face."

Nodding in agreement, Robert reassured, "So, this year, it was made of a different material. It was made of silicon rubber - really, it's the same stuff you put round the bottom of the bath... the shower stall, to stop it leaking. It's quite heavy, so when I first picked it up, I went, "Oh God, this is really heavy - good, there's a whole new layer of moaning I can do." Once it was on, it was the coolest I've ever had, the most flexible, I didn't notice the weight. Also, the two things I didn't notice until we were well into [filming], the lighting was LED lighting, which isn't hot. Which meant the studio wasn't 150 degrees Centigrade [...] So, altogether, a huge improvement."

Moving on to the aforementioned, unfathomably-broad subject of precisely why the show has endured so well in the eyes of our trio, Craig cheekily replied, "I think it's 'cause we're still prepared to do it [...] None of use has actually cracked Hollywood, or anything [...] We've known each other longer than we've known our wives and children, which is quite weird. Nearly thirty years. 'Cause I'm the young one, I've grown up with [the rest of the cast], really."

The first question from the crowd, rightly voiced by a familiar, local accent, enquired as to any particular favourite series, or episode - lovingly capped with, "Just quickly... have any of you eaten a deep-fried Mars Bar?"

"... She's speaking Scottish." whispered Craig. "Someone translate! All I heard was 'deep-fried Mars Bar' - yes, please!" before explaining, "My favourite episodes are all ones that have filmed in front of a live audience, because we come alive a lot more. We're all natural show-offs, really. And it kind of ups your game. So, I do like doing it in front of an audience."

Suffice it to say, it didn't take a microsecond for either the audience, or Craig himself, to realise his marvelous double entendre.

"My favourite episode is yet to be broadcast." cryptically hinted Robert. "I've got a bit of a favourite in Series XI." only for Craig to jump in with, "Doug's is yet to be written!"

Another two-part question from a curious audience member, this time aimed at Doug - first asking if he still has the scribbled-on beer mat the original pilot script was legendarily based upon...

"Well, no. I don't know where that went. Maybe Rob [Grant]'s got it. I don't have it."

And secondly, if by the time Series XII draws to a close, could there possibly be more Red Dwarf still to come..?

"If I was a betting man..." the co-creator replied, following a short pause. "... I would say, probably two more, at least."

And with any luck, into production as soon as possible, if the cast has anything to say about it - with both Craig glumly admitting to being too fat and old to continue portraying the role (tish, p'shaw and nonsense), and Robert recounting a recent ADR experience, in which he admitted how footage displaying Kryten's increasing difficulty running down a corridor now oddly mirrors his own.

The final lucky inquisitor from the audience cunningly asked something potentially spoilery, so perhaps it's best not repeated here, just yet. In any event, despite there being a hopeful, though definitively non-committal answer from the rest of the panel in response, Craig's well-timed reaction was nevertheless just enough to raise a hopeful smile for the future... "... Happy days!"

And there you have it. All in all, a hundred-percent successful trip.

With thanks again to Filmhouse for putting on such a good show. And to the excellent City of Edinburgh, for there genuinely not being a cloud in the sky, all day. And remember, the premiere episode of Red Dwarf Series XI airs on Dave, September 22nd at 21:00. Be there, or be square as sideways-ironed flairs and transparent plastic sandals.

Until next time... try not to have sleepless nights.