A screening of first two episodes Twentica and Samsara was followed by an on-stage Q&A from co-creator Doug Naylor and the cast – Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules and Robert Llewellyn. We were specifically asked not to reveal plot details, which we respect, suffice to say that the former is a great season opener with a fairly hefty budget on display, while Samsara is one of those smaller ‘classic’ Red Dwarf episodes where the focus is on the rapport between the characters.
It’s been three years since Red Dwarf X and in a move that will surely satisfy all fans, two series have been shot back to back, meaning that a further six shows will follow in 2017. Craig (Lister) Charles explained to us ahead of the screening: “It was like trying to get The Who back together again… except that no-one had died.” Danny (Cat) John-Jules elaborated: “I was busy doing Death in Paradise, Craig was on Coronation Street – that’s tricky to schedule.”
The stage Q&A was hosted by James Rampton, who often had his hands full as the crew from the Dwarf talked across each other, interrupting and laughing. “We have 30 years of in-jokes – it’s like we’re talking in code,” explained Craig.
After making mock ‘old man sitting down noises’ the cast looked back at their first non-BBC series, the three-part Back to Earth. Initially there there had been no talk of a series, just the actors in costume introducing selected episodes: “Four hours in f*****g make-up, just to say ‘And here’s a clip’? I don’t think so,” adds Robert (Kryten) Llewellyn. Luckily, enough money was scraped together to make the half-season – part of the reason it was shot on the Coronation Street set was because it was free. This then led to a full season Red Dwarf X.
So, how do the cast feel about returning to these iconic roles? “I’m 55 and look like Tina Turner,” stresses Danny. “So, yes, I get nervous.” But while the cast is getting older, there’s no shortage of ideas for episodes. “The benefit of science fiction is that you can go anywhere and sometimes we say ‘Why did we never do this story before?'” explains series co-creator and writer Doug Naylor.
On why the show is still so popular, the shared consensus is clear – “It’s the writing,” states Robert. “When we read the scripts we know we’ll get something totally bonkers and barking mad. We are four completely different characters held together by a script.”
On his lengthy make-up process to become Kryten, Robert says: “Only a moron would do it for a really long time.” Craig throws in: “Yeah, but he’s had two books out of that mask!” And then it’s revealed that in Red Dwarf XII we get to see all members of the crew in Kryten make-up. “I spent three days with sweat pouring out of my eyes,” shares Chris (Rimmer) Barrie. “I’ve recently had a hernia operation and I would rather have that operation again than wear that mask again.”
Red Dwarf XII is in the can, so might that be the end of the adventures? “You never use up all the ideas,” reassures Doug. “There’s a tonne of ideas we haven’t touched yet.” But looking forward to that last ever episode, does he know how it will all end? “No, I don’t want to think about that final episode.”
Inevitably, audience questions drift towards the cast’s favourite episodes. Marooned and Polymorph are cited, but the last word goes to Doug. “I don’t have a favourite episode because I want the best show to be one I haven’t written yet.”
Breaking news during the event was that BBC had lost The Great British Bake-Off. I asked how the team felt about their new home at UKTV and whether they could conceivably have survived at the BBC under the current level of scrutiny it’s receiving. Doug is complimentary of the show’s new home. “We always felt like we were outsiders at the BBC, so it’s great to be embraced by UKTV. They really can’t do enough for us.”
Canapés and drink follow, the cast mingling with BAFTA members, fans, and the press. Selfies with the stars are taken – let’s call them Dwarfies. Yes, Red Dwarf is back – you better smegging believe it!
Red Dwarf XI is on at 9pm on Dave from Thursday 22nd September, but you can watch each episode a week earlier on UKTV Play.