SciFiNow caught up with Chris Barrie to discuss Red Dwarf’s recent new series, Back To Earth. As well as disclosing interesting facts on the process involved getting this series to screens, the Brit comedian also had some interesting things to say regarding the future of the newly revived sci-fi comedy series.
You’ve done great work resurrecting Dwarf with Back To Earth. But was there ever a point in the past decade when you thought it might never happen?
Yeah, there was a point when I thought that and that was pretty soon after the movie concept disappeared, which must have been about 2007. I thought, there’s been no news on the movie; my agent, Charles Armitage, is heavily involved with Red Dwarf and it had all gone quiet there. So I thought that’s it, they’re now going to have to start filling in that date – Red Dwarf 1988-1999. But it was only a matter of 2007 and a little of 2008 before we started to hear noises from Dave.
You must have been relieved when they picked up the show then?
Yes, I’ve always thought that Dave was Red Dwarf’s natural home. It fits that channel’s remit very well, bearing in mind that it’s a blokey channel, showing Top Gear, Buzzcocks, that sort of thing in the day time and then when you get to the night you’ve got things like Red Dwarf to relax to. It just fits perfectly there, so I was very pleased when I heard that they wanted to make a new production.
What did you think of the script when you first read it?
Initially I believe there was only supposed to be two half-hour shows and it later became three. And when I originally read those first two (in inverted commas) half-hour scripts, I was impressed. I thought, this is more of the same and Red Dwarf where it should be. And, as with any Doug Naylor work, it had lots of fantastic creativity that either had you laughing or your jaw dropping to the ground. So I was well pleased; it felt like getting back into an old pair of boots. It was great.
One of the highlights for us was Rimmer’s northern accent on Coronation Street.
Well that was just a typical Red Dwarf thing, wasn’t it? [In Kryten voice] “Sirs, we have to pretend we’re natives in this situation” and Rimmer obviously likes to think that he can blend in, that he knows his stuff. That sort of thing is just great for Red Dwarf. And it was brilliant to do it there on the set with Michelle Keegan, the genuine cast and the genuine set to give it that authenticity.
How different was the filming experience, particularly with Doug Naylor directing for the first time?
This shoot was unique because we were using the high-definition Red camera. And I think, even for a seasoned director, that would have been a tough task because the Red camera picks up everything, it has to be so precise, it sometimes crashes because it’s very computer led. We had two of these cameras but a lot was inevitably a single camera shoot. It was very slow, slower than anyone really wanted but, to be fair to Doug, he wasn’t going to be rushed. And I think what he’s pulled off, directing Back To Earth, has been an absolutely momentous achievement and I dare say that a few people out there thought he might not achieve it. I know of nothing else that he’s directed but he turned out to be absolutely brilliant. And in many ways, really, he was the obvious person to do it because he knows exactly what he wants to see as a writer. In the old days, we would have a multi-camera shoot for TV, as opposed to a film shoot, and you’d have a director like Ed Bye who’d been doing that for years and it was much faster because of the multiple cameras. We’re into different territory now because we’re using a lot of greenscreen and it was always going to be slower. We were getting back into it after ten years and it was never going to be a lightning shoot. This was our big comeback and we didn’t want to rush it and fluff it; we had to get it exactly right. And Doug, as I say, has proved a point. I don’t think there’ll be anyone else directing Red Dwarf in the future.
Speaking of which, what do you know about the future for the show?
I would say that, as we speak, people are maybe putting together a few notions about Red Dwarf in the not too distant future. I don’t think there will be anything more in 2009 but you never know. Before 2010 is too old, we may have started some more.
If there is more, what form would you like it to take?
To be honest with you, having done the Back To Earth trilogy, which is what I didn’t expect originally, I don’t really mind whether it’s a feature-length movie or another series of six. Given the way that we’re shooting and the look of it now, I’d be very happy, and that’s the way it’s always going to be. I don’t think we’re going to go back to a studio audience situation. Although, to be absolutely frank with you, that is the one aspect of old Red Dwarf that I slightly missed. But I think there’s so much to be said for the way Back To Earth was done that it will probably be the template going forward. And, given that, we can handle a movie or, as I say, another run of six.