Mr Flibble Talks To... Alexander The Great
Mr Flibble gets chatty with Red Dwarf scriptwriter Paul Alexander in part one of his interview.
18 April, 2003
Paul Alexander - Part 1
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble surprised everyone by starting with an intelligent question for Paul, which Andrew respectfully passed on: How did you get involved with Red Dwarf VII?

I got involved with GNP [Grant Naylor Productions] before I got involved with Red Dwarf. The reason was that Doug and Rob had a very funny ITV sitcom on the air, The 10%ers, about a theatrical agency. A second series of it had been commissioned but they'd stopped writing together, so Doug was investigating using other writers on it and I was one of those lucky other writers.

I should mention here that I was a big fan of Rob and Doug's work, largely because they wrote the funniest radio series ever aired - Son of Cliché. I know Hitchhikers is supposed to be the funniest radio series ever aired, but I was slightly too young to appreciate it first time out and I much preferred Son of Cliché. Plus they were script editors on Spitting Image when it was actually funny and they did great work on Carrotts Lib, a live Saturday night satire show I used to watch when I was a sarky sixth-former.

In fact, when a bit later I went to work on Carrott Confidential, the successor to Carrotts Lib, Jasper said he brought me in on that show because he thought he detected in my writing a similar 'mental' take on material as he got from Rob and Doug - not surprising as I was basically trying to copy them!

Anyway, Ed Bye had run across me before, so I went in to talk some storylines with him and with Doug, and I ended up writing an episode of 10%ers, co-writing another and even doing a bit of script editing work on one or two more. Personally, I'm convinced that the main reason I got the gig was because I was, at that time, the only person in the UK apart from Doug using the same screenwriting program as him - Final Draft. Now every bugger uses it, which explains the subsequent downturn in my career! (Laughs)

When Doug was gearing up for production on Red Dwarf VII he remembered my name - and my cross platform compatibility with him! (laughs) - and asked me to get involved.

What's the system for storylines? Would you pitch ideas?

The system was basically that there was no system. Or, there was every version of a system you could imagine! There was lots of yakkin., lots of me watching tapes of all the shows - I was a Red Dwarf fan before I got involved with the show, but not a really committed 'fan club' type fan, it was just something I'd watch if I could, so I had a fairly steep learning curve - doing lists and lists of one-liner or one-paragrapher ideas, then getting together with Doug and yakkin' about those, and him telling me about ideas and story strands that they had hinted at, or wanted to do in the past. Then developing longer versions of some of those ideas, which could spin off in a completely different direction.

It was all quite organic, as I remember it, and in the early stages there was actually a bit of time to get together and talk stories with Doug and Ed and the other writers involved in that series like James Hendrie and Kim Fuller. But yes, I'd pitch ideas - everyone would pitch ideas! Red Dwarf eats up ideas, and also Doug gets very enthusiastic about certain ideas and has absolutely no interest in other ideas at all, so he can assess your stuff pretty quickly - and then send you off to come up with some more, better, funnier [ones]!

Mr Flibble wanted to know how he felt about his pitch for a 'Planet of the Penguins' episode. So that's the end of the intelligent questions, then. The topic instead moved on to Paul's first credited episode as writer - STOKE ME A CLIPPER.

The core thing in Stoke was I wanted to come up with a way of writing Chris out of the series in a kind of a meaningful way, so there'd be a real reason for Rimmer leaving, rather than just the actor wanted to go off and do other things. The fans liked Ace Rimmer and were always asking to see him again, and as this was Chris's swansong - maybe forever, maybe not, we didn't know then - this could also be the last ever chance to see Ace Rimmer, so Doug wanted this to be an Ace story as well.

So I thought the best way of including all these elements was to have a backstory that Ace Rimmer was just the latest in a line of Ace Rimmers, each one plucked from a different dimension, and that the latest Ace Rimmer was dying and had come into 'our' universe to anoint Rimmer as the latest champion. This was inherently funny, as Rimmer is about as far from a champion as you can get - but also kind of touching too, and the episode would feature .The Death Of A Major Character., so I really liked the idea of being involved with that. And [it] has a typical genius Doug Naylor idea at the end - where Ace's remains join zillions of others in the ring of a planet. Pure class.

Not that I'm claiming this as a big original idea - this thing about several generations of heroes seeming to be the same eternal hero is pretty well used in SF and particularly in comics like The Phantom. It was recently used in Star Trek: Nemesis, and Lee Tamahori who directed the last Bond movie gave an interview where he said he personally thinks that Bond is just a name and a code number that is used by a long line of secret agents, who get killed and are then replaced with the next one! So this story idea has a good pedigree and had never been done on Red Dwarf, so we went with it.

The original villains of the episode were simulants, but using them was tuning the ep into a kind of too-serious and conventional Star Trek type 'threat' episode, so either Doug or Ed suggested other-dimensional Nazis and we went with that. It was great fun sitting round in a room coming up with ideas for the pre-title sequence, which actually ate the budget for the entire episode. And it was a joy for me writing lines like, 'Do you expect me to talk?' 'No, Mr. Rimmer, I expect you to die,' and, 'There'll be time for explanations later. And hopefully - some sex'!

Interesting Trivia Number One - the episode was originally titled Natural Born Rimmers, which I still think is the best title ever come up with. I am famously crap at titles. But it was ultimately rejected on the grounds that it sounded too much like 'Natural Born [Insert rude implication here]'.

Interesting Trivia Number Two - the Nazi bad guy, Captain Vorheese is named for Jason Vorhees from the Friday the 13th films. I've no idea why, I just felt like it.

Interesting Trivia Number Three - even though I preferred the original title, I did like it that GNP used, 'Stoke Me A Clipper - I'll Be Back For Christmas' on their company Christmas cards that year!

How did NANARCHY end up with three credited writers?

My memory of the writing process is a bit hazy - largely because after helping storyline it with my script editing hat on, I didn't have that much to do with it while James did his drafts. The fact there are three names on it is a consequence of the changes that happen during production of a series, inasmuch as eventually Nanarchy became the last episode and had to be re-imagined and rewritten to take that into account. I think James was probably busy doing something else by then, and the production departments were probably screaming for a script so Doug and I made the relevant amendments.

Nanobots were becoming very big in SF at the time, and James Hendrie - who came up with the basic idea for Nanarchy, and, I believe, the rather nifty title - had seen a Horizon documentary about nanotechnology and even had a copy of the Horizon script... which I remember being greatly impressed by. Research! (Laughs)

Mr Flibble started wittering on about the research he puts into every role. Sometimes he works for hours, just watching television in character. Thankfully, the discussion outside his reality had moved on to EPIDEME.

The core idea in Epideme was based on a Jasper Carrott monologue idea I never wrote up. The idea being that if a disease could talk, what would it say? It would easily be able to justify itself - by saying it was doing what it was created to do. Just trying to fulfil its potential - and aren't we all? The monologue was going to feature a whole pecking order of diseases, the rare, tropical diseases being very snobby about the common-as-muck diseases like colds and verrucas etc.

Originally this was a Rimmer episode and I had the neatest way of killing Epideme. The idea was Epideme would go into Rimmer's bloodstream unaware that it was in a holographic, virtual bloodstream. Rimmer would then deactivate himself, leaving the virus hanging in the air to get blasted by Lister and Cat. I was very proud of this for precisely one draft, after which Doug said, 'By the way, we're putting this out after Stoke Me A Clipper'. Aarrggh!

So that's when we decided to cut Lister's arm off. I remember Doug was very pleased with this, because in the Dwarf continuum it was well known that Lister was due to lose his arm at some point. It worked out well, because it fit in with the slightly-horror-movie vibe of the episode, and it made the audience we played the episode to go 'Urrghhhh!', which I always think is a fantastic reaction to get from a studio audience. (Laughs)

On the subject of the horror vibe - Ed Bye has always really wanted to be George Romero, and it was him who came up with the idea of making Caroline Carmen a zombie. Another great gross out moment! Also, it was either Ed or Doug who suggested giving the talking virus a game-show host personality, as in the very first draft he was more like a velvet voiced Blofeld-type character and it was a bit of a downer, frankly!

Mr Flibble enjoyed talking to Paul Alexander, and now that he has to wait a week... Mr Flibble is very cross.