Set Report: Series XI – Officer Rimmer (4th December 2015)


Despite having been permanently camped out at Pinewood Studios since August, Alex was unable to make it see the episode four record of Red Dwarf XI. By a happy coincidence, Andrew just happened to have been granted a ticket for the recording having pleased the gatekeepers of fandom with a series of elaborate gifts. It provides the perfect opportunity for us to explore the experience from the point of view of a virgin…and also someone who hasn’t been to a Red Dwarf recording before.

For our thoughts and opinions from the recording, you can find our spoiler free set report below. 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 4 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 have been revealed publicly by Doug, the cast or the production, will any details in included in this report.]

A trip down a single track lane in a hire car with plenty of traffic coming the other way is enough to convince you that your satnav has finally lost patience with your inability to turn left at the right time and actually has no intention of taking your Pinewood Studios. Instead it’s taking you to a remote location to kill you. Eventually a series of huge buildings emerge with car parks filled with people aggressively shining torches to direct you into parking bays.

From there, I walked to a giant tent where the Red Dwarf fans were gathered and was given wrist band by the helpful people from Lost in TV. Having arrived at just after 5pm, there were already 51 people in ahead of me, sitting on the uncomfortable garden furniture and wondering if the massive tent would stand up to the increasingly high winds.

Going to see filming at a studio is a bit like being in a cross between a theme park and prisoner of war camp. There’s something you really want to see but there are very stringent rules and regulations and you can only go to the toilet when you’re told. After an hour we were escorted towards the studio, past the parking spaces especially reserved for 8 out of 10 Cats personnel and towards Television Studio 1 where we stood outside long enough to appreciate the scale of the 007 Stage which overshadows the TV complex.

Inside, there are 8 rows of seats stretching the length of the studio which was covered with a black curtain so as not to spoil the big reveal when filming began. The seats were quickly filled with Dwarfers, with a couple of rows reserved, presumably for production team members not involved with filming and friends & family of the crew. There are six screens in total for the audience to see the camera feed of the action; three widescreen TVs along the front and three larger projector screens above the audience. On them was the already officially released Red Dwarf XI logo (Well it isn’t quite the same logo, the ellipse goes through the ‘W’ rather than in front) although on the screens it’s 3D and spinning, like it’s the best Windows 98 screensaver ever.

As Alex has mentioned before, it’s the attention to detail that really helps this feel like a proper Red Dwarf recording.There are music cues playing from the early shows including ‘Tongue Tied and Ace Rimmer’s theme. The crew are all wearing shirts with the original Red Dwarf JMC logo; and even the reserved signs use the Microgramma font used in the credits of early series and the most recent.

Everyone’s favourite warm up man Ray Peacock then came out to introduce himself and inform  us of some rules and generally get us relaxed and laughing. This is no simple task and the fact that Ray makes it look so easy, shows what great skills he has a comic. Although he has some prepared lines about the set and crew, the vast majority of what he does is completely improvised and relies on audience interaction and conversation and he created a number of decent running gags involving a prop and an audience member and most seemed pretty game. It also helps that he really knows about Red Dwarf. Ray was keen to tell us that we’d been the best audience so far, which might just be showbiz flattery but the audience appeared to be having a great time throughout.

Ray introduced Doug who came out to a round of applause and gave a warning not to share spoilers and briefly introduced the episode, telling us that it’s something that we hadn’t seen before and that although the visual effects weren’t quite finished, they had something to show us. The cast all came out, in order of Chris, Craig, Danny and Robert, to adulation and applause.

The curtain was then lifted to reveal the sets in darkness and a short pre-record VT was played. Then instantly the main action began with a bunk room scene featuring Danny and Craig and then later Chris. It would be fair to say that this scene didn’t go especially smoothly with a number of retakes but the cast generally remained in a good spirits. There are some great one liners from Cat in an opening scene which manages to be both funny and set up the premise of the show.

As this was going on, the audience were taking in the main standing sets, with the Bunk Room, Science Room and new corridors on display. The new Starbug set is located at the far right as the audience looks towards on and therefore, few could actually see the shoot, but on camera it looks great. It is different to the old ‘bug but feels very much of a piece with the Series XI design elements. The closest comparison is the sets from Back to Earth with the one remaining set from Series X feeling a bit like the odd one out.

The lighting has been significantly improved from the previous series with excellent use of colour and shadow which adds incredible depth. It’s fair to say that there isn’t any other studio sitcom that looks this cinematic and the camera blocking appeared to be far more ambitious than we’ve previously scene. Starbug even has a fourth wall to allow extra coverage.

This episode has plenty for the ensemble to do, but it definitely focuses on Rimmer and explores similar themes to Series X’s ‘Trojan’. That said in terms of structure and tone, it could easily fit into Red Dwarf IV without damaging its reputation. That’s not to say it feels like a retread either. Doug has taken a piece of technology from today and extrapolated its potential end point in a smart science fiction way, and also turned it into a brilliant visual gag.

A couple of classic props also make a return which will probably delight fans, although it’s likely they’ve turned up before this episode. There’s also a costume change for one of the regulars which clearly references early series, which should definitely raise a smile. It’s clear that there’s an extra, almost fannish attention to detail going into the production which reassures that everyone involved is pushing in the same direction.

A large section of the episode involving the main guest star was pre-recorded. The exchanges between this star and the crew and very funny, even if this complex sequence on the Starbug set required multiple setups which appeared to leave the cast slightly frustrated at points.

That said, after a couple of tricky scenes at the start, the quartet of performers hit their stride and nailed a couple of their scenes in a single take. There was also some big laughs with audience banter, especially from Craig who built on Ray’s suggestion that someone in the audience had come specifically to lick him and later  he got topical as he pondered who ITV would mistake for Danny if he ever got knighted.

The episode features some superb practical effects which will presumably be enhanced by CGI. Even in this rough form, it was a very impressive looking creation. There’s will also be a fair amount of split screen which is used here for some great laughs with the same performer appearing multiple times in a classic Dwarf style.

The use of incidental music from ‘DNA’ was probably temporary but it remains effective and really makes it feel like Red Dwarf. There’s some new music in there too and fans of Howard Goodall’s dulcet tones will be in for a treat.

The scope of the episode feels bigger than anything seen in Red Dwarf X with extensive use of different corridors and some OB records which just make the ship, and the universe it occupies, feel bigger.

If the record is anything to go by, then Series XI should be a triumphant success. The episode is entertaining, utilises all the main cast effectively, explores the characters and provides plenty of laughs both in the writing and the visuals. It doesn’t really feel like a stand out episode and I mean that in a good way. It’s the show playing to its strengths to produce a really decent 30 minutes of comedy and you can’t really ask for more than that.

If you enjoyed this spoiler free set report and would like to read more from Series XI or XII, then you can find one for every episode in our features section.