Red Dwarf is a cult classic of a comedy series, and probably the only sitcom to be set in space. The story follows the last human, David Lister, as he drifts through space on the mining ship after which the series is named, with only a hologram, a robot, and a life-form that evolved from his cat for company. Beginning in 1988, the first eight series ran on the BBC until 1999. Now, thirteen years since the last full series, the boys from the Dwarf are back, this time on Dave, for series ten. Our man James Harle chatted with half of the crew: Robert Llewellyn (Kryten), Chris Barrie (Arnold Rimmer) and writer Doug Naylor.
PopBucket (PB): So, how has it been working on this series of the show? Have there been any new considerations?
Chris Barrie (CB): Umm, no, not really. Tonight’s the first episode of a traditional kind of series, the kind that we did in series one to eight- what we call the classic Red Dwarf: a series of six episodes filmed with an audience. It’s been a few years since we’ve done that kind of show. Of course, we did Back to Earth, the last thing we did together, as a three-part series without an audience… but going out in front of a live audience puts a certain amount of pressure on you.
Doug Naylor (DN): It’s just the four boys, back on Red Dwarf, really.
PB: So the characters being older doesn’t change anything?
DN: No, not really- not at all, in fact. It doesn’t come up, because it’s just the same characters in the same situations- they’re not running after 18 year old girls, they’re adrift in space, so it doesn’t change on that level.
PB: Maybe we’re lucky that men- especially the Red Dwarf crew- don’t mature too much over time?
DN: Haha, well, there is that- and men do mature so slowly, physically, that the actors have hardly changed at all… so we’ve been really lucky.
CB: Oh, I think I have! [Laughter] The ten years have been more like twenty. It certainly feels that way.
DN: Well, the make-up disguises it brilliantly, anyway.
PB: I think it’s a question that’s often been asked, but as you finish the tenth series- which actors are most like their characters?
CB: I would say that the other three are most like their characters, and I’m nothing like mine. But my character is Rimmer, so I would say that! I don’t know, I think there are elements of Rimmer in me- he’s a classic British loser. But I’m not all Rimmer, because if I was I couldn’t survive.
DN: I think that we all recognise parts of ourselves in the characters, depending on our mood or whatever- but I think that’s true of everyone, and I think that’s why the characters are relatable.
PB: The series overall has importantly interacted with- and deviated from- the plotline of the novels; is that the case with series ten? Have the cast read the books?
DN: It’s a new series, all new complete storylines with nothing from the books in them at all. We nicked some things from previous drafts of the screenplay, but nothing else.
CB: I did read the novels, on a beach, in the south of France… about ten years ago… I hope Doug will forgive me for not revisiting them! [Laughter] I meant to read them again for this series… maybe if there’s another series I’ll read them again…
Robert Llewellyn (RL): Well now that Chris has said that, I’m happy to admit that I read them in Australia, closer to twenty years ago…
DN: Yeah, I’m with you- I think I read them slightly before they were published.
RL: I don’t remember a lot about them, but I remember that I enjoyed them enormously, and I’m not just saying that because Doug is right here!
CB: I love the bit in one of them where Rimmer is looking at himself from a distance- obviously this could be apropos of ‘Me2’ or thereabouts- and he’s frowning at the size of a developing bald patch on the crown of his head. That really upset my holiday, actually. It made me feel quite depressed.
DN: You think you had it bad, that was probably inspired by me.
PB: How does it feel to be cult figures now, through the series?
RL: I don’t know that we can even begin to understand it. It’s an incredibly bizarre thing, especially for me, because I can wander around the world fairly unrecognised as Kryten. But then, people do come up to me sometimes and say: “Aren’t you that bloke with the rubber ‘ead?” That does happen.
DN: It’s that walk that you’ve got.
CB: It’s the walk.
RL: I can’t help it! That walk is how I walk in real life, I don’t put it on. But it is amazing- doing the show again this year has really brought it home, how popular it is and how many people love it. It’s been more than ten years- more like fourteen years since we did the last show in front of an audience, and people still love it.
CB: It’s always quite interesting though, because if you have a given group of people- maybe five or six people you meet in the street or in everyday life- you’ll have perhaps one person there who’s an avid Red Dwarf fan. I get it sometimes, if I’m doing a corporate job or something- you get a group of five, and one of them will come out and say: “It’s Chris Barrie! IT’S CHRIS BARRIE! Binkle, squirmy, blib blab blob! Toodly-pipsky, sir!” And they’re doing all the Red Dwarf quotes, and the other four are going: “What on Earth is Jason doing? Who is this person?” And of course, they’re just not interested in science fiction, they’ve never heard of the show… it’s quite weird.
PB: What do you think it is about the show which has encouraged this cult status to develop?
DN: Now, there was an article recently saying that on paper no one in their right mind would have ever anticipated Red Dwarf being a success. I would argue differently: I would say that, at the time, in the late 80s, Doctor Who wasn’t around and there was no British science fiction at all. We were able to harness the BBC’s whole visual effects department, because they were just twiddling their thumbs with nothing to work on. Most science fiction is ideas-based, but this was character-based- Steptoe and Son in space, whatever you want to call it- and that evolved into more of a four-hander. So, I think the secret to its success was that there was very little around that was like it. That explains its initial success, and since then there really haven’t been any other sci-fi comedies created for TV. Look at Men in Black, a fantastic and very popular film; it’s a genre people absolutely love, but it’s hard to do. And the demand is definitely still there- take Back to Earth. The viewing figure for that bank holiday weekend when we screened it- if you total both times we showed it- were over 11 million, so that’s phenomenal.
RL: It’s also a very flexible genre, we can do things other comedies can’t- like in one episode of this series, where we go back to India in 23AD.
PB: We’ve all seen the smeg-ups, the gag reels on your DVDs. But have there been any big smeg-ups in the production of Red Dwarf X?
DN: There’s a two hour documentary, actually, which we’re going to release, because there were some huge smeg-ups and we had a few problems getting it all together. I think we were able to overcome those problems, but it’s really quite jaw-dropping- we’ve never done a two hour one before, so that says a lot.
PB: So it’s been over ten years- but now, after breaking the hiatus, can we expect further series after this one?
DN: There’s a very good chance, absolutely. Obviously this series needs to be a success, to perform well- but that said, everyone seems to be keen on doing more, so there’s a pretty good chance you’ll see more.
PB: You’ve also been much in demand at sci-fi conventions for a few years now- what are they like?
CB: At first, when I was first in the show, I was a little bit apprehensive about sci-fi conventions to be honest. I thought I was going to meet people who would drive me crazy and I just didn’t know what to expect. But having been to a few now, as well as the dedicated Red Dwarf convention Dimension Jump, it is essentially just giving something back. The fans are thrilled to be able to shake your hand, to have a chat with you about the show, and it’s a great opportunity to go and meet some of the actual viewers. We all attend them as regularly as possible now- Craig and Danny too. You do get one or two people who are incredibly immersed in the series, and probably walk around their everyday lives with a big H stuck on their forehead, or in Lister’s jacket or in a full-blown Kryten mask, but it’s a measure of the high regard for the show we talked about earlier.
DN: Also, most people would presume that it’s mostly guys, and it’s not- it’s actually a 50-50 split, which always surprises people. There are a lot of women and girls who love Red Dwarf and go to the conventions.
CB: And younger and younger generations, too. People who were fans of the show in the 90s, and coming to the first conventions, are now bringing their sons and daughters along as well.
DN: And there’ve apparently been Red Dwarf babies, with fans meeting at a convention and, well… yeah.
PB: Amazing. Well, that’s about all we have time for- and luckily none of you have said anything incriminating, since this is all going on record.
RL: Alright, I didn’t do it! It wasn’t me! I didn’t go to France with that schoolgirl…
RL: Or maybe I shouldn’t mention that? I won’t mention that.
The first episode of Red Dwarf X airs tonight at 9pm on Dave.