Red Dwarf XI: Interview with co-creator Doug Naylor
‘Red Dwarf’ went supernova when it touched down on BBC Two in the late 1980s and remains a cult favourite with fans across the cosmos today. Lister, Rimmer, Kryten and The Cat have returned for an eleventh series of sci-fi parody and smeg ups on Dave, and Your Move has taken five with co-creator Doug Naylor to find out more about the new season, the aborted ‘Red Dwarf’ movie and his time studying in Liverpool.
Interview by Mark Langshaw
‘Red Dwarf XI’ marks your second full season for Dave following the ninth instalment ‘Back to Earth’. How is this series different from the last one?
Both series were obviously made for UKTV but series 11 looks much better. It looks like we had a lot more money for this season, although we didn’t. After the success of ‘Red Dwarf X’ I felt we were able to be more ambitious and the response so far has been terrific.
At the end of the day it’s all ‘Red Dwarf’ so series 11 can’t be completely different – there has to be consistency, but I can tell you that the reaction has been incredibly positive with lots of fans praising the production values since the first trailer landed.
A ‘Red Dwarf’ movie was stuck in development hell after the show’s BBC run ended. Were you always confident there would be more ‘Dwarf’?
You can’t ever be 100% confident in case one of the guys doesn’t want to do it or can’t do it, but I knew they all wanted to make a film. It took a long time not to get the funding we needed, by which time we probably wasted 10 years. Once we got over that everyone was keen to do more. The biggest difficultly was Craig Charles being in ‘Coronation Street’ but he’s left the soap so that problem has gone away. We just have to make sure Danny John-Jules isn’t doing ‘Death in Paradise’ when we shoot.
Just how big could the film have been if you’d done it at the right time?
It depends on how much the budget was. We were talking about a very big budget at one point and I was encouraged to rewrite the script to make it more expensive because the bankers who were raising the money didn’t think it was worth their while unless it was a lot of money.
If they had raised it, it’s hard to say whether it had made all of that money back. But if the budget had remained below £10 million I think it would have been very successful and done similar business to what ‘The Inbetweeners’ movies have managed.
Are there any elements from the film that you salvaged for the TV show?
There are definitely elements of the movie in series 10, a few bits and bobs. There were 30-odd drafts of the film, cheaper ones and more expensive ones, and in the process of writing and rewriting there were some ideas I managed to salvage. I want to keep the premise of the film under wraps because there’s a good chance we could end up doing something in the future.
You and your fellow ‘Red Dwarf’ co-creator Rob Grant studied psychology at university here in Liverpool. Do you look back on that time fondly?
I don’t look back on it fondly as such. I didn’t like the course I was doing. I realised quite early on it wasn’t for me – I thought it was going to be more about the psychology and less about the statistics, so I didn’t go into uni very often.
I decided I wanted to write at that point and was reading a lot of books about how to produce scripts and then, quite rightly, got kicked out at the end of the second year for not doing the work or passing the exams.
I did receive one good piece of advice at uni, though. The professor who was kicking me out sat me down and asked me ‘what are you good at? If you think you’re not good at anything, you need to get good at something and do that as a job’. So I took that on board and my main interest at that point was writing scripts.
I really liked Liverpool as a city. The people are great, although weirdly when we cast ‘Red Dwarf’ everyone on TV in a sitcom seemed to be from Liverpool and when Craig Charles emerged as the best person to play Lister in the auditions, I did worry that it was going to look like all these other shows. Of course now, that’s not the case at all. It’s weird how these things move in cycles.
Is studying psychology what helped you create such convincing neurosis for Rimmer?
Psychology is something Rob and I were interested in and it was kind of disappointing that we didn’t really learn much about it at uni. We read books on the subject after the course so I think Rimmer’s neuroses stem from an interest in the topic.
“When we cast ‘red dwarf’ everyone on tv in a sitcom seemed to be from liverpool… I did worry that it was going to look like all these other shows.”
You’ve spoken at length about the breakdown of your partnership with Rob. If he had a dramatic change of heart and wanted to return to ‘Red Dwarf’ would you be up for working with him again?
That’s not for me to say because he was very much the one who wanted to go off and do other things, and he did – he did ‘The Strangerers’ and ‘Dark Ages’ as well as his novels. He wanted to work on his own and has certainly never called me and said he wants to write more – I don’t think he would want to, but never say never.
How does making ‘Red Dwarf’ for Dave compare to making it for the BBC? Do you have more creative freedom now?
We’ve had creative freedom from both UKTV and the BBC. Nobody has ever really interfered but we never really felt a part of the BBC. We were always outsiders while UKTV are absolutely thrilled that we’re making it and couldn’t do more for us. They couldn’t be more enthusiastic.
Where would you have taken ‘Red Dwarf’ if you’d had the chance to make a ninth series for the BBC?
It would absolutely have gone back to basics after series eight because that season was only a diversion. Rightly or wrongly, we used to throw away the format and that’s what we did in series three – it was quite different from two and six was different from five, eight was different to seven and so on.