Life During Dwarf Time

Celebrating 30 years of Red Dwarf fandom!

Twenty

The last decade of the twentieth century had had thirty-four episodes of Red Dwarf in it. The first decade of the twenty-first had just three - and they all came right at the end.

The 2000s, as far as Red Dwarf goes, were the story of the movie that never was - with Doug Naylor choosing to put production of the TV series on hold in order to pursue the dream of a big screen adventure that came agonisingly close to getting the green light on more than one occasion. But it would be wrong to say that either the show or the fanbase stood still while all of that was going on.

The newly-burgeoning internet was a fertile ground for Red Dwarf fandom - some would say the two were made for each other - and quite aside from this official site being founded in 2000, a slew of unofficial fan sites and forums have also taken up the baton over the past two decades. Sites like Smegweb, Red Dwarf World, The Red Dwarf Zone, Groovetown, Ganymede & Titan, Garbage World, The White Hole and Gazpacho Soup have all had their days in the sun - and some have even remained active right the way through to the newest episodes.

Meanwhile, the long-running alt.tv.red-dwarf newsgroup had also kept discussion going for many years since the 1990s, including collaborating on the infamous and extensive "Plot Inconsistencies Project" documents. And in recent years an increasing number of Red Dwarf-related podcasts have also shared the perspectives of both long-term and newly-minted fans.

Nor did Red Dwarf itself simply disappear from view while the team were busy trying to get the movie made. Most notably, a comprehensive set of DVD releases between 2002 and 2007 cast new light on the history and background of the show, as well as giving an opportunity for lapsed fans to rediscover the episodes all over again.

And there were the repeats.

Red Dwarf had started to be shown by the UKTV network on its UK Gold channel in the late '90s, and in the early 2000s it established itself a fixture of the offshoot UKTV G2. Frequent full-series runs made it one of the most popular programmes on the entire channel, delivering consistently strong ratings and helping to foster an entirely new audience of younger fans, who had not seen the show during its original BBC run but quickly became devotees.

"As with all great comedies, Red Dwarf has an enduring appeal," says Steve North, currently Genre General Manager for Comedy and Entertainment at UKTV and a consistent champion of Red Dwarf at the network. "People will happily go back to it again and again. And the amount of people we see comment online saying that they're introducing it to their children for the first time - it's that kind of comedy that can cross the generations. There's no doubt that fans of the show from twenty years ago are using the repeats as a way of introducing it to their families."

"Not everyone likes repeats, but in Red Dwarf's case it was a godsend," agrees James Bull, Chairman of the Red Dwarf Fan Club since 2005. "It kept people engaged and still fresh in their minds to seek out more information, whether it was from the official site or the Fan Club forum at the time."

In 2008, as part of a general rebranding of the UKTV slate, UKTV G2 was given the name Dave - and (aside from sharing a name with its lead character) Red Dwarf remained a pillar of the revamped channel's lineup, and indeed its whole ethos.

"Dave's three pillars are wit, irreverence and smartness - and Red Dwarf has those things in abundance," says Steve. "It's incredibly funny, the writing's incredibly sharp and relevant, and the camaraderie between the characters - it brings that to life so well."

It was natural, then, that UKTV and Dave would want to celebrate the show's twentieth anniversary when it came around - but what started out as a relatively modest plan for a part-scripted clip show retrospective ended up running into 2009 instead, and became the three-part Back to Earth special. It was UKTV's first original scripted commission - and it delivered astonishing ratings far in excess of any commission a non-terrestrial UK channel had ever attained.

The special was as much about Red Dwarf's relationship with its own viewers as it was anything else - and included reference to the existence of a Red Dwarf Fan Club as well as cameos from the club's incumbent committee members. Meanwhile, the reception granted to it by viewers showed just how much appetite there still remained for new Dwarf. This was unsurprising to any of the fans who'd continued to pack out online forums and the Dimension Jump convention during the off-air years - but even so, the extent to which fandom exploded yet again once the show once more became an ongoing concern was startling.

"When you've battled through the slow times and you get a reversal of such a magnitude, it's a feeling of joy and wonder," says James. "And with every personal device being able to send information it's made our job a lot easier. This gives us more opportunity to interact with the fans directly and personally, and with the show in full series swing we can have closer personal contact with the production company, too. I can honestly say it's never been better!"

"The biggest change I have noticed is the cosplayers. Early in Dimension Jump's history the team dressed in costumes relevant to the show, and had fan costume competitions. But lots of people thought dressing up was a step too far, too geeky? Now this has totally changed: everyone wants to dress in - for the entire weekend in some cases - a costume that they have spent hours making in such detail. It's staggering! It's added a different Dimension (!) to the conventions, but all for the better and I think it's brought everyone closer together as fans."


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