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 2
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble is very upset not to be asked back into the Red Dwarf studio. How did you feel about SERIES VIII - being the only writer brought back from the previous season?

That I must have done something right! (Laughs) It was obviously very flattering to be asked back - and daunting too. The thing that had made Season VII slightly less daunting for a writer than it might have been was the fact that Chris wouldn't be in all of it. In other words, it was a different show. You couldn't directly compare episodes in VII to earlier episodes because the character dynamics were different, and that seemed a very slightly less daunting task than if it were more of the same.

In Season VIII, though, Chris was back with a vengeance and the series was much more Red Dwarf. There was even a studio audience! Because I had a season under my belt - and I'd worked on some peripheral stuff like the Red Dwarf Log and Can't Smeg Won't Smeg for Red Dwarf Night - I felt like I had a reasonable handle on the characters and the 'world' of Red Dwarf, and I was just looking forward to spending some more time in it. Plus my parents live in Shepperton, about five minutes walk from the studios, so I always had somewhere to go for a cuppa. (Laughs)

I believe KRYTIE TV was something of an amalgam of several script ideas?

Several?! That's an understatement! (Laughs) Actually, Krytie TV was atypical inasmuch as most of the shows usually have some sort of big SF idea in them - you know, nanobots or time paradoxes or talking viruses or whatever - and Krytie TV ended up being a lot more 'domestic'. It was kind of about the minutiae of life aboard Red Dwarf; a 'bottle show' as the Trekkies say. The 'big idea' was actually a sort of satire of Beadle/reality TV-type shows... with a nod to Porky's. (Laughs)

It went through about a zillion drafts, I think - it seemed like we were still suggesting jokes for it while it was going out, but I think this is just my memory playing tricks. It was one of those ones where Doug had to take a lot of disparate ideas and gags and kind of wrestle 'em into some sort of order, which he's brilliant at, but I'm sure he'd rather not have to do!

However it turned out very well, it's a funny show, I think. One of the buggers about Red Dwarf - it not being exactly your typical sitcom - is the whole 'exposition versus pure gags' thing, and having to cut 'pure' comedy moments to get the story to make sense. Because Krytie TV didn't have lots of complicated SF ideas in it there was more room to just do funny stuff. My personal favourite bit was actually the stupid trailer for the low budget SF movie - there's no other show on British TV where you could write a show like that and expect to get it filmed looking so great.

Mr Flibble said he'd been stuck working for students with camcorders ever since his much-publicised fish addiction hit the press. Now, the PETE two-parter wasn't originally planned that way, correct?

Yes, originally Pete was one story. Ed and Doug wanted to do something with a dinosaur, because Chris Veale had said he could, in theory, do a dinosaur. We are all boys, and boys like dinosaurs! (Laughs) So then the problem was - what the hell kind of plot could get a dinosaur onto the ship?

Back when I was still doing comics and writing Starblazer Digest I'd invented - not literally; I don't actually have a prototype or anything! - this 'time gun' thing, kind of a wand that can either download or upload time. The idea being that if you were being chased through a forest you could grab an acorn, throw it in the ground, zap some time into it and see a huge oak tree erupt instantly in the path of your attacker's car. Or you could point it at someone and suck a load of time out of him, seeing him age and turn to dust before your eyes.

I really liked this idea of downloading and uploading time, because it seemed a way of doing a 'time' story without having to do time travel - which is used a lot in telefantasy in general, and in Red Dwarf [in particular]. Before I started writing it, there was a time I kind of thought of [Dwarf] as 'that show where the cast meet themselves from another time every week.'

So one of the stories I'd originally been pitching for Series VII was about 'time hackers' - teenagers from the past (or possibly another dimension) who had hacked into the 'now' of Red Dwarf and were downloading time to sell to rich guys and give them 'eternal' life. So Lister would wake up really old one day and have to figure out what had happened and get his years back. Which is a totally rubbish story for Red Dwarf, and was rightly consigned to the bin.

However, when the dinosaur discussions started arising, I knew the time gun could make a comeback, since, as every schoolboy knows, the direct descendants of dinosaurs are... cute little birdies. And suck enough time out of a cute little birdie and you de-evolve him back to a T-Rex. Happens all the time! Result! (Laughs)

The time gun element worked really well in Pete. It gives you loads of scope for visual gags, stopping time, etc. - in fact I liked it so much I worked it into a spoof spy script I wrote about three years ago which is currently languishing in some Hollywood trash basket.

Pete was originally a single story, and there was so much 'stuff' in it (plus, dinosaurs aren't cheap) that it became a two-parter. As I'd only been contracted to write two shows for the season and script edit the rest, and as I already had my first credit on Krytie TV, I ended up with my name on only one part which was fine - but I wish it had been Part One not Part Two, because I thought Part One was better. Plus it set up all the cool ideas!

What does SCRIPT EDITING on Red Dwarf actually involve? And do you think it's useful to have an extra set of eyes on a script?

Yeah it is, especially when the scripts are being written and rewritten during production, as is invariably the case on Dwarf. And especially when the main writer is also the producer! In an ideal world, you'd write something, put it in a drawer for six weeks, then come back to it and edit it/polish it yourself. But modern production schedules don't really allow for this. The next best thing is to have someone who's in tune with the rhythm, tone and humour of the production come in and look it over and make suggestions. That's me!

Doug really does want the shows to be as good as they can be, and the first part of that is making the scripts be as good as they can be. Which means - don't shoot the first draft. Or even the second. Or the third. But keep honing it and polishing it for as long as possible. Cos Doug's also the producer he can't always keep honing and polishing as much as he wants, but what he can do after a readthrough or whatever is give a script to me and say, 'Needs more Kryten gags,' or, 'Second act's not as funny as it could be,' and having done that he can go off and make the eight-zillion decisions a producer needs to make every day while I go off and make notes on the script, gag it up, make suggestions about structure, etc.

How involved is the script editor in the content of a series?

Depends what you mean by 'content'. Basically, the story is developed - and as script editor I may have an input into that - then, on a script I'm not co-writing, Doug will go off and do a draft and then it's all hands to the pump to hone that draft. Which usually means punching up gags, streamlining scenes rather than monkeying around with the story or structure.

The way it usually worked on the episodes I hadn't written was that Doug would present the script to me, I'd do a polish based on Doug's notes as to what he thought worked or didn't, and then we'd keep pinging the script back and forth between us, making it better, funnier, sharper, shorter. One of the great things about Doug is that he's not precious about where a good idea comes from. If it's good and will make the final product better, he'll use it. He may not always agree with your suggestions but he'll always give them a hearing.

One of the nice things about being script editor of Red Dwarf was the chance to write extra jokes and one-liners for all the characters as part of that process, meaning I have jokes in nearly all the episodes of the last two seasons. For example Cat's, "We've been copied more times than that poster of the tennis girl scratching her butt," in Tikka to Ride, or Kryten's thing about Lister seeing Kochanski as a bag of KP Nuts and not being able to wait to tear the wrapper off, "and get to the salty goodness" in Duct Soup, which I like.

Is there anything in your Dwarf scripts - or elsewhere - based on a real experience?

W**ky writer answer - it's all me, darling! (Laughs) Everything you write is kind of based on your world view and your observations, which are of course a direct result of your experiences. Having said that, I can't think of a lot that is directly based on experiences - I mean, I've never snogged a zombie or anything... though it's felt like it a couple of times.

Mr Flibble says he might have dated some of the same girls. What have you been up to POST-DWARF?

See my biog for details! Sitcom episodes - for Goodnight Sweetheart, My Hero, Ed Stone is Dead, etc. I also wrote or co-wrote a third of every season of the S-Club TV series and have just co-written the S-Club movie Seeing Double which I urge everyone reading your website to see... Not because it's a great movie, but because if it grosses a lot of cash, I get paid more!

I'm currently writing an episode of the Jasper Carrott sitcom All About Me and more episodes of the Granada TV series My Parents Are Aliens. Another movie script, Pet Assassin, is due to start shooting in September, and I have a couple more commissions for film projects I can't talk about, because it's bad luck!

Mr Flibble enjoyed talking to Paul Alexander, and now that it's over... Mr Flibble is very cross.