“Personally, I thought it started well, but fell apart….”
– Cat, “Holoship”
From the early 1990’s, up to 1999, Red Dwarf was a massively successful BBC2 sci-fi comedy that garnered huge ratings and a cult following of obsessive fans (hello!). The millennium brought us precisely no new series of the show, it was dumped by the BBC, and for ten years drifted in a creative limbo until it’s successful relaunch on the Dave channel.
This ten year self-imposed exile was largely caused by the production team’s desire to follow in the footsteps of loads of 1970’s British sitcoms – by transferring the show to the big screen. These transitions often had less than successful moves to the big screens, but there was hope that Red Dwarf could buck the trend.
So, following in the traditions of such TV-to-film endeavors such as Rising Damp, Porridge, Are You being Served etc, at one point we were on course for an actual, honest-to-God, Red Dwarf movie. Announced formally in August of 2001, the film was expected to star the original cast of the TV show (including Chloe Annett as Kochanski from series VII and VIII, Norman Lovett’s Holly, and Mac MacDonald as Captain Hollister). Doug Naylor would write, Ed Bye would direct, and the film was hoped to be released in 2002. Drafts were written, cast read-throughs attended, crew appointed, and financing secured. Storyboards were generated, body-casts taken for the Kryten costumes, and movie updates on the Red Dwarf website were coming along quite regularly. It all seemed to be happening. Unfortunately, piece by piece, the production started to unravel. Financiers dropped in and out, Ed Bye vacated the directors chair, and slowly but surely, months of stalled production became years, and the Red Dwarf movie gracelessly slid off the table.
In 2009, prompted by the success of re-runs of the original series, Dave stumped up the cash for “Back To Earth”, a three-part special, that heralded the shows return to TV. A ratings hit, this lead to more new series – Red Dwarf X, XI and XII over the coming years.
The Movie still crops up in fandom circles and discussions. So what could we as an audience have expected from it? And what, if anything, have we actually seen of it?
“Holly, what the smeg is going on?”
– Rimmer, “Backwards”
A flyer produced to promote the movie to financiers overseas gives us a few hints.
“RED DWARF THE MOVIE is set in the distant future where Homo Sapienoids, a fearsome combination of flesh and machine, and the next stage of human evolution, have taken over the solar system and almost wiped out the human race.
The only survivors are the crews of long-haul space freighters that left Earth before the conflict began. The Sapienoids send forth fleets of Death Ships to hunt them down. One by one – the human ships fall, until only one remains.
It’s name – Red Dwarf…”
So it seems the film would have been an action-filled dark comedy with Lister and co fighting for their lives against (to all and intents and purposes) a new breed of Simulant villains.
Storyboards from the film were released online at the Red Dwarf website for a while throughout 2001 and 2002, and gave a few hints as to what the story would contain. (http://www.reddwarf.co.uk/news/2001/03/30/movie-storyboards , http://www.reddwarf.co.uk/news/2001/10/12/cryo-chamber-storyboards , http://www.reddwarf.co.uk/news/2002/01/11/ships-storyboards). As there were numerous differing drafts of the movie scripts, there’s no guarantee that the randomly selected storyboard sequences are all from the same version.
Looking at the various sequences out of context, it looks likely we would have seen an elaborate sequence showcasing Lister arriving on board Red Dwarf, and Red Dwarf itself then launching from an orbital space station (presumably near the start of the film, which you could hazard a guess would adapt the early sections of the first Red Dwarf novel. Another storyboard shows Holly’s visage projected massively onto a wall with someone (Lister?) standing on a gantry in the foreground, which very heavily evokes imagery from the novel.
Other boards show Rimmer waist-deep in water – notably, Rimmer is not a hologram in this sequence, and in fact for the majority of the storyboards the iconic forehead ‘H’ is absent. Perhaps this Rimmer didn’t die in the radiation leak, instead maybe dying in a Sapienoid attack later in the film?
Other boards do show an armed assailant cutting a hole in the hole attacking through it….
Perhaps the Sapienoids kidnap Lister and/or Kochanski? Rimmer is revived as a hologram after the attack by Lister, Holly or Kryten, and then a rescue mission is mounted? Which possibly leads onto a later sequence that shows Kryten, using a torch powered from his groinal socket, approaching a cryo chamber in a darkened room. Who or what does he find there? Lister? Kochanski? Who knows.
We also see glimpses of the Sapienoids Death Ships, and confirmation that Starbug would also feature.
Other tantalizing snippets of what may have appeared in the film come from, of all places, a car boot sale. A folder of Red Dwarf movie concept art was picked up at this sale, as detailed here: http://www.reddwarfprops.com/red-dwarf-movie-concept-art/
From this folder we know there was another ship called the Rogue Limpet (presumably belonging to a new character called Hogey the Roguey – more on him in a bit…). The folder also reveals a set of bad guys called Paradroids – maybe these were the Sapienoids under another name and a different story draft, or maybe they worked for the Sapienoids? The Sapienoids themselves looked to be commanded by a Borg Queen-esque character known as Her Holiness…. perhaps she was in the Cryo Chamber Kryten found?
As for how Lister, Rimmer and the rest of the crew bandied together, it wouldn’t have been a direct continuation of the TV show. “It’s a complete story unto itself,” Doug Naylor said in one of the Red Dwarf website updates. “The story begins before the series started, and then goes off in a direction that the series didn’t go off on. So it’s set up and then has it’s own story, complete in itself, whilst still being able to assemble the cast that we know and love.”
So we were looking at a soft reboot of the show, albeit with the same cast. Speaking of cast…
“You’ll like them! Well, some of them. Well, one of them. Maybe.”
– Kryten, “Camille”
One new cast member from the film made the jump from the aborted production into the later television productions – Richard O’Callaghan. The English veteran of stage and screen had been cast as a new character named Hogey the Roguey for the film. Richard joined the cast in “Back to Earth” as the Blade-Runner inspired Creator, before properly realizing Hogey for the first time on-screen in series X episode “The Beginning”.
“The Beginning” was the sixth episode of Red Dwarf X, and probably the closest we’ll get to see of what the Red Dwarf movie would have contained story-wise. The episode itself isn’t a straight lift of the movie’s script and story, but it’s a fair assumption that the Hogey character and all the Simulant based story elements bear some relation to the Homo Sapienoids or Paradroids sequences in the film. We know that Hogey is a rogue droid, who unwittingly leads the bad guys to our heroes in “The Beginning”, and I’ll wager he would have played that exact same role in the movie too.
It wasn’t the only instance of script cannibalization – “Lemons” was the third episode of Red Dwarf X, and also contained a sequence re-purposed from one of the movie drafts – so we know at some point, the crew would have had to perform an ad hoc kidney-stone removal operation on Captain Hollister, with Rimmer eager to assist. Where and how this would have fit in the film, or how substantial Mac MacDonalds role would have been, is anyone’s guess.
“Sir, just because I have a head shaped like a freak formation of mashed potato, does not mean I am unsophisticated!”
– Kryten, “Out of Time”
The car-boot sale find of concept art gives us a better idea of what the costumes would look like for the cast. Cat and Lister appear to be natural evolutions of their small screen looks, not drastically different. The Kryten mask and costume however, look much more involved and upgraded for the big screen. The headpiece is taller, with more swept back lines leading to the ears, with a lit panel extending around the back of the head. The costume itself is much more of a casing-based affair, in a shiny, series VII-esque silver, with cyan-lit sections across the pelvis and torso monitor. The storyboards of course have already shown that the groinal socket would be present and correct, and the concept art shows that the legs in particular are now fully armoured, and this is a look that would be translated back into the TV show for every series post VIII. The only indications of Rimmer’s and Kochanski’s outfits are the series VIII publicity shots showing the tan Space Corp uniforms, so presumably the film would have followed a similar aesthetic.
“Who’d want to steal a gigantic red trash can with no brakes and three million years on the clock?”
– Cat, “Psirens”
Based on the expense spent on creating the huge, pencil-variation Red Dwarf model, it’s hugely likely that that model would have been used for the film. It had already been built to a big scale – unfortunately so large that it was unable to be shot using motion control rigs for the Remastered project. One piece of film test footage created by The Mill using the model has been revealed on the Bodysnatcher DVD collection extras, and it looked fantastic, so the scope for impressive model work on film was definitely there. Hopefully we’ll get to see more of this test reel at some stage.
As for the production design of the film, the concept art images show a possible design for the Red Dwarf control room (or drive room). The iconic cream coloured interior style from series III through V and VIII is now gone, replaced by a deep red colour scheme, that mirrors the exterior of the ship. This particular design motif was eventually ported back into the TV show with series X, XI and XII, and gives us a solid idea of how this may have all looked on screen. The look of the sets would have been hugely dependent on the lighting and cinematography, and I think here is where series X and XI show us how much of an impact can be achieved with light. Series X used a fairly flat, even lighting style, which was very bright and clear, but not particularly atmospheric. Series XI however, goes for a much more cinematic treatment of the set lighting, and also pushed the cinematography further into cinematic styles than Red Dwarf had done since series VII and the later “Back To Earth”.
“So what IS it?”
– Cat, “Stasis Leak”
Series VII had been a test-bed for filming the movie, as it was filmed with no audience, four walled sets, and more sophisticated lighting & cinematography. Series VIII had abandoned those aspects, but did give us Red Dwarf’s first long-form story with the three-part “Back In The Red”, so for the first time the audience would get a feel for what a somewhat-feature length story would be like (it’s not an ideal comparison, as “Back In The Red” wasn’t originally written as a three part story, but hey…).
“Back To Earth” had also utilized the film production aspects and long form story in the post-movie years, but “Back To Earth” went one step further in showing us another aspect of how the movie would look and sound – for the first time in Red Dwarf, there was no audience laughter whatsoever. Where series VII had pushed toward comedy-drama more than sit-com, “Back To Earth” felt more weighted toward drama-comedy without the audience laughter. As the film wouldn’t have had the sound of audience laughter either, “Back To Earth” is possibly the strongest contender to give us a ‘feel’ for what the movie would have been like.
“But sometimes you live, you die, and then you live again. I know, I’ve done it myself”.
– Rimmer, “The Beginning”
Red Dwarf ultimately never surfaced as a big screen production, instead arriving back on TV after a decade absence. “Back To Earth”, series X and series XI have been critically and commercially well-received, and the fanbase for the show re-invigorated. In the grand scheme of things, was it good or bad that the movie foundered?
If the movie had been a success, it’s highly likely that we’d have had no more new Red Dwarf on TV. If the film had been really successful, we could have looked forward to a sequel or two – but looking at the success rate of contemporary sit-com to screen efforts like “Kevin & Perry” or “The Inbetweeners”, it’s hard to imagine Red Dwarf being much more successful than that. The film also would have been a very visible separate branch of continuity, albeit with the same cast – which could possibly have been a source of audience confusion for the non-hardcore fans.
By contrast, not having the film produced has enabled the production of at least 21 additional episodes of Red Dwarf. The production knowledge learned in trying to get the film made looked to have filtered down to these new episodes in aesthetic ways, but both “Back To Earth” and series X had pretty tortured production issues that only appeared to get resolved once Baby Cow Productions got involved for series XI and the upcoming XII.
Personally, I’m glad the film never went ahead. The lack of audience laughter in “Back To Earth” is deafening in it’s silence, it’s an intrinsic part of the soundtrack to the show, and a laughless film would have felt very ‘off’ to me. I also don’t feel that Red Dwarf lends itself to stories over an hour in length, so I’m personally very happy that the show has remained a half hour sitcom at this point.
But man, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in reading a few of those movie drafts.