“As silky as the first day we got her,” beams Craig Charles’ Lister as he fires up his trusty transporter Starbug at the start of the new series of Red Dwarf.
But can the same be said of this show which is now in its twelfth – TWELFTH – incarnation?
The first episode of the new series takes the lads to a space station where Earth’s most horrific villains (Stalin, a very camp Hitler and murderous Ancient Roman nymphette Messalina) have been reincarnated, but with their evil scientifically extracted.
With all of time and space at their disposal this kind of history meddling is perhaps not the most original sci-fi conceit, but the main characters are so well-established – and continue to riff so brilliantly off Doug Naylor’s smart script – that you roar along regardless.
“It’s actually more fun now than it was at the beginning,” says Robert Llewellyn, the actor behind Kryten.
“I find it a nightmare,” chips in Charles. “At the end of filming it puts my shoulders out! No, of course not. We’ve kind of turned into a band of brothers. We have spent 30 years of our adult lives together and we know each other more than anyone we have ever met and it’s a joy to work with them. I just try to keep up.”
They have made more than 70 episodes of the series, which first aired in 1988, but even now they are coming up with new ways to keep themselves – and the audience – feeling fresh.
For example, in episode two lovable droid Kryten is being taken for granted, and matters come to a head when the Dwarfers encounter a group of robot freedom fighters called the Mechanic Intergalactic Liberation Front (an acronym which doesn’t escape notice). Without spoiling it, there is a scene in which all the Dwarfers have to wear a similar robot face – and it’s odd how they still look so much like themselves.
But it also meant that that actors suddenly realised the pain actor Robert Llewellyn was in.
“I was ill at the end of the first day,” says Chris Barrie. “He deserves a medal for that.”
Adds Charles: “I have been taking the piss out of him for years, saying you’ve got two books out of it, shut up and put the mask on. But it was a nightmare! It was the heat. I was sweating so much I thought I was sweating out of my eyes. And then when we went outside the studio it was freezing…”
Llewellyn himself says he didn’t derive any satisfaction from his colleagues’ discomfort. “People thought I must have been laughing, getting my own back, but it’s absolutely the opposite of that because you know what it’s like and you don’t want to impose that on anyone.
“We had some hard days filming when they had the mask on. It’s not something you would wish on anyone. It’s not fair to compare what I go through. What they went through was a shock jump. I have been doing it for a very long time.”
Part of Red Dwarf’s appeal is the endless way it is able to tackle philosophical and relevant conundrums in a lighthearted (and often silly) way.
Writer Doug Naylor says it’s political parables like these that help give the show new life.
“You look at areas like DNA hacking for example. That’s quite an interesting area, there could be a show about that. I use things that emerge in the news and ideas occur. There are thousands of different possible stories I could do.”
Naylor was particularly pleased with an episode from series 11 which imagined a world where science was outlawed – an idea that he believes has some true with the growing tide of suspicion about climate change promulgated, in his view, by US President Donald Trump. This series has an interesting episode which pokes fun at Corporate giants Apple and Google.
So what about another series after this?
“I think we’re going to do one,” said Charles.
“The chances are high to certain,” chips in Naylor who adds that he is actually writing a series 13.
They are also planning on a Red Dwarf tour – “a tour that doesn’t really move too far” jokes Charles. “We want to do as much as we possibly can as we’re running out of time. Have you seen the look of us?”
We have. And I for one still like what I see. Prepare to blast off many more times…
Red Dwarf series 12 starts on Dave on Thursday 12th October at 9pm
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