Towards the end of Red Dwarf's lifespan, I met my wife, Laura. She was another big Red Dwarf fan (she once kissed Craig Charles at a 'meet and greet' following his one-man show - a photo of the two of them together takes pride of place in the Motobke.co.uk office). One of the best received presents was the year I bought her all eight series - the ones with the smeg-ups and smeg-outs, all individually packaged up with clues on them.
When TV Channel Dave commissioned a new three part series Back to Earth, we were genuinely excited. Sadly, it didn't, for us, live up to expectations (though as Rob Grant said, it was an homage to Blade Runner rather than classic Red Dwarf). But the DVD was still purchased to accompany the eight series, the Smeg-Ups DVD and the Beat the Geek game. But Back to Earth performed a very useful function; it showed to Dave that Red Dwarf was still massively popular...popular enough to warrant a new series of "proper" Red Dwarf.
The news broke in an almost throwaway comment by Craig Charles (yes, one Dave Lister...the one that my wife Laura has kissed) in an interview, confirmed by one of Robert Llewellyn's blogs. A new series of Red Dwarf (Red Dwarf X - if you include Back to Earth as series 9), had been commissioned by Dave! This was exciting enough, but the discovery that there was to be a studio audience!
This was something we never thought we would be able to see: Red Dwarf being filmed live! We attend a lot of show recordings, so it was a fair bet one of the audience agencies would get the task, which eventually fell to Lost In TV.
Apparently, in a meeting shortly before the tickets were made available for application, there were concerns raised; "What if no-one wants them, or we can't get a full take up?" The ticket application went live at 2PM. At 2:02PM, Lost in TV's website crashed under the strain of desperate "Dwarf fans trying to get in before they ran out! Give Lost In TV credit, they made use of social networking to get the word out - send an email with what you want and we'll do our best. Quick thinking, what date would see least people wanting to go? 23rd December seemed the best bet, so email fired off at 2:28.
I'm told by 2:29, the entire ticket allocation for all six episodes had been taken up. Time for an agonising two-day wait, to see if I had been successful. Then an email arrived. YES! We had two tickets to see the filming of the second episode of the Red Dwarf X!
Sorry, time to put the excitement to bed for a moment. The big question for all Red Dwarf fans has to be "Is the new series any good". I'm under solemn oath not to give anything away; as Rob Grant said at the recording, they had to fight tooth and nail to get permission to have a live audience at the recordings. A brand new, six-episode commission is a seriously big and expensive deal for Dave. So if anything gets leaked and viewing figures are affected, then if there is a series XI, there will be no audience.
Note: IF there is a series XI! Just talking about it means they are thinking about it. This is too much of a risk to spoil things for everyone. So I will talk about the show without mentioning anything specific from the episode, and I will also give a taste of what the recording was like. I figure put out this tempter and the chance of seeing for yourself if, as and when Series XI happens (or, Dave, face the wrath of a legion of fans) and behaviour will hopefully be guaranteed.
For anyone going along to later recordings of this series, please note the show is being recorded at the Back Lot of Shepperton Studios. This is at least a 15-minute walk from the main entrance, so do head to the right place. And the walk from the car park is along a dirt track, through an entrance that wouldn't look out of place at a paintball event... to another dirt track. Be warned, wear your best clothes on a wet night (like ours was) and they'll probably be headed for the bin afterwards!
In the holding area, the buzz is wonderful. There are not as many Red Dwarf t-shirts around as I'd expected, but the age range of the audience is a pleasant surprise, going from 16 to 60. When the Lost in TV team start getting people to enter the studio in strict number order, you can see people having to hold back the urge to run! If anyone had any doubt of the ongoing popularity of Red Dwarf, any lingering doubts would have been dispelled that evening. We are in the second group, so we line up and go into the studio, containing the Red Dwarf set.
The Red Dwarf set! There it is, the familiar Red Dwarf, but moved with the times so as to show it has been ten years since the last 'proper' series. I still break into a huge smile as I recall Laura's words "It is like being 15 years old again!" Once we are all ushered into our seats, the excellent warm-up Ray Peacock (the Dr Who fans in the audience are decently impressed when he tells them he was the guy that ran the Video Shop in the classic episode 'Blink') gets us laughing, sets the scene and then introduces the cast.
First out, Chris Barrie in Rimmer 'hard light' drive, followed by Craig Charles as a Dave Lister that has aged a bit along with the ship: still clearly Dave Lister, but the jacket is a little different, the look essentially the same, but with tiny tweaks. Then Danny John Jules appears, pirouetting across the stage in full 'Cat' mode. And finally Robert Llewellyn (whose wife (who played 'Camille in the episode of the same name) and daughter were in the audience) ballet-dances his way to the front! Kryten ballet-dancing is enough to have the audience in fits! After the introductions are made, Rob Grant comes out - and as I said earlier, makes the plea that nothing is given away. As I said before, way, way too much is riding on this for anyone to reveal anything about the scripts, not even giving "spoiler alert" warnings. Last week's audience had keep utterly silent, and Rob pleaded with us to do the same (aforementioned POSSIBLE Series XI plans, remember).
So, what are the scripts like? Don't worry, this is classic Red Dwarf. Seriously funny interplay between the characters, a series of seemingly disconnected ideas and events appear, only to come together into an hysterical conclusion. There is no harm in saying that we're back on Red Dwarf, so it gives the chance of make use of the ship's vast number of levels...I can't give the game away too much, but it gives a new way to let the cast interact in an excellently funny manner that I hope becomes a theme.
Like any recording, there are a bundle of separate scenes to be filmed, some of them live, but others have to be pre-recorded and shown on screens. But it is all done in order, so we're able to see the storyline develop in 'real-time'.
But, of course, as any Red Dwarf fan knows, a much loved element is the smeg-ups: those moments when something goes wrong. And eleven years on, it is still happening. Chris Barrie simply pulling a face sets the audience off. Craig Charles (who had been ill during rehearsals) tripping up over the simplest part of an otherwise very difficult chunk of dialogue had the place in a fit of giggles. But the moment that had me and everyone else cheering, was when Danny -John Jules took a peek at a newspaper he was holding, spotted an item about a fisherman, turned to us and said one word: "FISH!" - cue huge cheer and torrent of laughter!
In between takes, Ray Peacock keeps things lively with some great tales and a Red Dwarf quiz that somehow morphs into "Red Dwarf fans got talent"... or more accurately, don't! This gives a chance for Danny-John Jules to step in with a wonderful rendition of 'Tongue Tied'. And this brings me to a moment I shall treasure forever. Ray asked a Brummie lady in the audience what she did for a living, but couldn't understand her accent! Robert Llewellyn appears, staying totally in character as Kryten, taps Ray on the shoulder and says "Excuse me Sir, but I have translation mode. The young lady is saying she sells double glazing components." Kryten, stepping in and moving into translation mode! Just sticking completely in character (and gently resolving what was turning into an awkward moment) was, somehow the icing on the cake.
So, if you want to experience this for yourself: If you attend any of the recordings, please PLEASE don't give the game away. If you love Red Dwarf, or even if it made you grin all those years ago, watch the new series on Dave when it appears. And get the word out there; if it is popular enough and everyone behaves and keeps the stories a secret, we might get the chance to do this all over again for series XI!
And do you really want to prevent my wife from seeing Craig Charles once again? She has kissed him you know, did I mention that?
Red Dwarf X will be shown on Dave in Autumn 2012. Check the excellent Red Dwarf official fan club for more information as it comes available.
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