Exclusive: John McKay talks lost Red Dwarf VII episode Identity Within

Identity Within TitleFor the first 36 episodes of its run, Red Dwarf was written by the award winning partnership of Rob Grant and Doug Naylor. Following the breakdown of that working relationship after series VI, Doug Naylor decided to bring in new writers to share the load over the eight episodes of series VII.

One of those writers was John McKay, whose script ‘Identity Within’ would dig deep into the Red Dwarf mythology and heavily feature the Cat race for the first time since series I. For various production reasons, that script was never filmed.

John has gone on to become a successful writer and director on both film and television and when he attended the Edinburgh International Film Festival to talk about his latest film, the charming rom-com Not Another Happy Ending starring Karen Gillan, we decided to ask the question on everybody’s lips: what were his memories of working on Red Dwarf back in 1997?

In the early 90s I got introduced to Robert Llewellyn, pre-Red Dwarf, because I’d just moved to London and I had a girlfriend who was friends with him. I think we knew each other in comedy circles.  I was in a Scottish comedy group called the The Merry Mac Fun Co, he was in The Joeys. So we kinda came from the same world. We did a theatre show at the Assembly Rooms called Onan back in 1989 or 1990 which was, very topically for its time, about a right on, non-sexist porn magazine for left wing men who couldn’t bear to do without porn but needed it all to be really caring and understanding and supportive. It was a two man show; it was a big hit and we got on really well. Anyway I stayed in Bob’s orbit just as he was starting up this crazy new thing which was science fiction and which he needed six hours make-up  a day for.

Then about four or five years later, I guess several seasons in, they were casting around for people to write extra episodes and my name came up because by that time I had become a professional comedy writer. So I went and met the gang and I wrote a couple of episode outlines and I think there must be a script. Sorry to sound vague but I think I must have written a script and they must have over commissioned. I remember Doug Naylor or Rob Grant saying to me “yeah, you know it’s good but there’s something about it. It’s like you’re not taking Red Dwarf seriously.” I think therefore they put it in the B pile.

Identity Within CrewThough I note with interest that recently, because of the big appetite for Red Dwarf ephemera, they had it out on DVD where they storyboarded it with Chris Barrie’s voiceover kind of like a picture radio show version of the same thing. So it came out in the end.

I’m a big Red Dwarf fan. I particularly am a big fan of the bit in the middle where they got off the big ship and they got onto their little ship. There was a couple of seasons there where it was just really brilliant and I was somewhere in the middle of that bit there.

Thank you to John McKay for taking the time to talk to Gazpacho Soup. You can find out more about his career on his website or follow him on Twitter. You can watch the recreation of ‘Identity Within’ on Disc 1 of the Red Dwarf VII DVD set.

Not Another Happy Ending will be released later this year.