A new series of Red Dwarf has just begun filming, and Gazpacho Soup were there for the first episode. Below, you can find our spoiler free set report, but if you would rather listen to an audio version, you can find one on the latest edition of Channel 27 News on our own podcast, The Garbage Podcast.
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[DISCLAIMER: This is a spoiler free set report on the recording for episode 1 of Series XI. As per our spoiler policy, it will not mention any details on plot or dialogue, and no elaborate descriptions of any sets will be provided. Only where sets or other details details have been revealed publicly by Doug, the cast or the production will any details in included in this report.]
It’s 13th November 2015, and once again, various Red Dwarf fans lucky enough to have secured a ticket to an episode recording are back queuing in the cold for the opportunity to do so, though this time at Pinewood rather than Shepperton Studios. Following a slightly more rigorous check of tickets than with previous series, the audience is sent to a holding marquee to wait to be called in. That is, of course, provided they can first answer a fiendishly difficult question.
‘Have you come to watch Red Dwarf or Still Open All Hours?’
Despite the names not even sounding remotely similar and their only link seemingly existing in the form of James Baxter (this time less as the son of God and more as the son of David Jason), this is a question that a few people seemingly manage to ignore and end up having to be removed from the Red Dwarf queue before we are led through the studios to the stage that Red Dwarf is filming on.
Unlike with Series X, as the audience were admitted to the studio to take their seats, they were greeted by a large curtain covering the entire stage, with the audience monitors sat in front, displaying a rotating version of the recently released Series XI logo. The reasons for this were seemingly purely to do with trying to avoid people snapping their sets on their phones before the recording started, and given that I saw a fair bit of that with X, I can’t blame the production for that at all. If anything, it served to heighten the excitement in the room as we eagerly awaited to see how the sets will look for XI and XII. This was boosted further by waiting music from the spacewalk in Confidence and Paranoia and Tongue Tied being played as the set was prepared, only to then be undermined by it being followed by ‘Is This The Way To Amarillo’ by Tony Christie and ‘I’m Too Sexy’ by Right Said Fred.
After this, the warm up for the night was introduced, and we were delighted to see that it was Ray Peacock, returning to do the warm up for the show after having done episodes 2-5 of Series X. Warm up for a TV recording can often be something of a thankless task due to the stop-start nature of filming. It is to Ray’s credit that this time didn’t seem to drag, and he kept the audience dutifully entertained by reacting off of them and the things happening on set rather than by trying to recite a pre-prepared routine that would be cut off before the punchline by filming resuming. He is certainly a credit to the production at any recording he does the warm up for.
Following Ray’s coverage of the safety admin, we were then greeted to (in order) Chris, Craig, Danny and Robert (in a much improved mask), who proceeded to request the audience not take photos or spoil plot details. This was something that Doug would ask at the start of each recording for Series X, but with a different studio and a different set up, I would assume that the gallery is not as easily accessible to allow this, and as such we didn’t see Doug during the recording.
The recording then proceeded to start with a VT played in of the opening scene featuring one of the characters. From this opening alone, you could already get a sense that something was different, and it wasn’t just due to the two returning props (one expected and one pleasantly surprising). As the curtain pulled back at the end of the VT, it became apparent that on a surface level there have been tweaks since Series X, though only as we always expected there would be. This has seen some parts of the set revamped, some replaced and whole new sections created for others.
Doug recently tweeted to about how the Science Room and corridors were looking great, and both certainly looked the part. I for one was particularly impressed with the updates made to the corridors and the new ways of utilising them. Unlike with Series X where I was never able to shake off the knowledge that we were just looking at the same stretch of corridor, this update made me feel more immersed in the world of the show. The Science Room’s return was somewhat surprising when it was announced on Twitter, and it will be interesting to see how much it is used through the series as it would appear that this is a permanent set that will remain throughout.
A couple of scenes later and the recording moved onto the Starbug set that was also recently confirmed by both Doug and Richard on Twitter as returning. Well, in a sense. There is no escaping the fact that this time around, Starbug’s interior has changed somewhat, as was always a possibility. Reactions to this were varied, but it’s not something that troubled me too much. Once you get past the initial surprise of what is different, you can see the elements that harken back and adjust to it quickly enough. We’ve seen Starbug change in the past, and this look feels at least in keeping with the way the Dwarf has looked different since Back to Earth.
It’s worth noting that in this and the previous scenes, one element that stood out was the lighting. Where Series X tending to have a single wave of light to make sure all of the scene was visible, this recording seemed to be making a greater use again of darkness and colour washes as was more common in the show from III-VI. This was particularly noticeable in scenes like the Starbug scene, and while it’s too early to say how the final result will look post colour grade, I would expect that the results should at least make the show more visually interesting than it was in X.
This was also played out in some of the directing, which contained a few more unexpected flourishes through the night such as playing around with depth of field that were more akin to what Doug would normally try to do in something like Back to Earth ,when not having to work around an audience. As with X, scenes were largely run through twice, but often with restarts, not helped by some difficult dialogue for some of the cast, and the occasional tongue twisting alliteration that can throw a spanner in the works when recording a scene.
It is a testament to the cast that though these restarts following a fluff were clearly a frustration to the cast, when going for the take they didn’t let their energy drop, and on several occasions the best take was often the second or third. This is especially impressive given that though there were two guest actors after a fashion, the episode largely just revolved around the four leads and the solving of a problem. There also seemed to be a greater drive to get things precisely right, with at least two occasions where a take was stopped because it went slightly too far off script. One of these was for using the name Kryten too many times in one sentence, in much the same way that it could be said some of Robert’s lines overused the word Sir in some scenes in X. That this wasn’t allowed to pass is an example of how the whole production seemed to be striving to get things perfect before moving on through the entire night.
After this, recording paused to set up elsewhere, and the audience was played a VT of the OB shoot the cast had recently been on in the New Forrest. The location used worked perfectly at expanding the world of the show just as the location work always used to, and played into one of the more Series V-VI parts of the show. The question of what series this new one evokes is one that many of you have been eagerly awaiting an answer to, and as with X, it’s not a particularly easy question to answer. At points such as with the location filming, it feels like V/VI, while at others there is something of a IV feel and others still an X type vibe.
Overall though, on the basis of this episode alone, XI feels like it’s own series rather than a continuation of X. This includes the writing, which from the off feels far more consistent scene to scene, and has a better run of genuine laugh out loud moment. There are at least three particularly strong woofers in this episode, and two excellent visual gags in the location shooting that got as big a laugh as anything else on the night. In plot terms, the episode was more cohesive by not using multiple plot strands in the way that episodes like Dear Dave did, and tying everything much closer together as was more commonly the case in earlier series of the show. Furthermore the plot which at one point feels like it could stop developing takes a left turn more akin to an episode in Series II, and ties up various elements that you may have expected were little more than throwaway sections.
Of course, what the audience see on the night it but part of the final show. One element that of course couldn’t be shown was model shots such as ship passes, and this was remedied by a combination of reusing footage of the Dwarf (both of the original model and the Series X ship), rough composite shots and at a couple of points, footage from other films/shows was cut in to demonstrate what will eventually happen in the final show. We also as of yet do not know the episode title, though on the basis of Series X, we can take a couple of fairly good guesses. Whether those prove to be correct though and indeed how the final product will turn out will be something we will have to wait until later next year to find out.
So overall, what to make of this new start? If I had to pick a word to describe the way the new series seems to be starting off it would be confident. It seems to have come straight out the gate with an episode that is at least the equal of anything other than The Beginning in Series X, and is probably more consistent in it’s quality throughout the whole run of the episode than say Trojan. In the design, some elements have been lost and some have been gained, but whatever side of the fence you fall, it becomes somewhat irrelevant when the quality of the writing and the casts performances are as good as they are here. If this in indicate of what is to come, then we are truly in store for some classic episodes of the show to rank alongside some of it’s best moments.