Dimension Jump XVII

by Seb Patrick


With a few - but thankfully not too many - sore heads being nursed, it's an early start for those fans who've booked a coveted space in the first of the two weekend Coffee Lounge sessions. This innovative idea, first introduced at DJ XVI, gives the opportunity for half an hour sat around a table with that day's guests, chatting in a closer and more informal fashion than in the regular Q&A sessions.

Robert Llewellyn and Chris Barrie are seated one apiece at each of the two tables, giving Robert cause for some grievance when the first group of fans to arrive immediately make a beeline for Chris' table. "Just because he's been covered in oil, they all want to sit with him..." He's more cheered, however - not to mention utterly terrified - when a fan in an unfathomably accurate Kryten costume enters the room, offering a rare photo opportunity as the man meets the rubber mask.

Meanwhile, in the main hall, Tony Hawks presides over a screening of his docu-dramatisation movie Playing the Moldovans at Tennis, followed immediately by a Q&A session. Potentially getting off on the wrong foot by admitting that he hasn't actually yet seen Red Dwarf X - attracting a suitable volume of pantomime boos in response - he mitigates this by explaining that it's because he doesn't currently own a TV. Really, Tony, haven't you heard of iTunes?

Asked if he'd be interested in returning to Red Dwarf, Tony says that "there comes a point where you can only play so many characters", but by the same token, he'd "love to do more". Indeed, having been in discussions about a small part in Series X, he admits that he declined, holding out instead for a bigger role in future!

Reminiscing about his various roles on the show, he's quick to answer the question of which character was his favourite: Caligula. "Doug was looking at pictures of the real Caligula, and apparently he's supposed to have looked like me! It was a lovely scene, the first one I'd done in the studio rather than on location. Even though I'd done the warm-ups before, it was nerve-wracking being in front of the audience." Picking a favourite episode is trickier - "When you're actually involved, it becomes subjective" - but he again plumps for Meltdown (albeit under the misremembered title of "Waxworks") due to the sheer amount of fun involved in shooting.

Outside of Red Dwarf, Tony fields questions about his #4 hit single from 1987, "The Stutter Rap" ("It was slightly taking the mickey out of people with stutters, which wasn't really a nice thing to do... although we are doing a new 2013 version!") and the frequent confusion that surrounds him thanks to the similarity of his name and that of a certain skateboarder. "Someone even thought I was him in the lift here! The problem is that although his name is Tony Hawk, his computer games are called Tony Hawk's. I want to say to people, ‘Clearly you've not grasped the concept of apostrophes!'"

After some further chat about his musical background, Tony makes way for the arrival of Chris Barrie and Robert Llewellyn, sharing the stage to auction the first of two batches of rare props and merchandise. A red top worn in the show by Chloë Annett sells for £60, while a rare Starbug t-shirt fetches £80 - but the choice item is a piece of the "pencil" ship model, left over from its Series X-induced weight loss routine, which goes for £140.

Auction over, Robert and Chris immediately launch into a Q&A - and Robert almost as immediately plugs his next novel, News from the Squares, to some amusement from Chris. Asked to name their most embarrassing moments working on the show, Robert is quick to reply "Everything!" Chris, however, is slightly more sanguine. "If you get embarrassed easily, Red Dwarf is not a place for you to work. We've done this show in our 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, so our perspective on it has changed a lot. At the beginning, when we were young and hungry, there may have been things that embarrassed us, but nowadays nothing really does."

"Did you know how good the series would be when you started working on it?" Chris is asked. The answer is - perhaps surprisingly - a negative. "I thought it might catch on, particularly with the characterisation, but I didn't really expect it to take off. It wasn't until after the first series that I realised just how good it was." Robert, for his part, is asked about his experiences coming into the series further down the line - and how he developed Kryten's voice. "He was very nearly a Swedish sort of Volvo robot. We didn't want to do a C3P0, or Marvin the Paranoid Android - no ‘posh butler' voice. I decided to do a Canadian accent, but in fact it came out sounding Boston, like Loyd Grossman. Those people from Boston who try to sound posh, who basically want to be English."

What chances a Red Dwarf/Doctor Who crossover in the future? "Doubtful!" is the response. Chatting about Who in general, the pair agree that they both like the older episodes - Chris in particular is a fan of the black-and-white Patrick Troughton serials, which he and his family find much scarier than the modern-day version. "Tell you what, though, I'd like some of that budget! If you asked Doug whether he'd like to merge the Red Dwarf and Doctor Who budgets, and take 50% out, he'd be very happy with that!"

A request by one audience member to recount the famous Gunmen of the Apocalypse horse-riding story instead draws from Chris an entirely different horse-related anecdote - the story of a first date gone wrong, which is too long to recount here in detail save that it ends with the phrase "I might have permanent brain damage."

Robert and Chris both agree that Lemons was their favourite episode of Series X to film, with Robert remembering it "very fondly", and Chris calling it "some of the best work Red Dwarf has ever done". That said, Chris has less-than-happy memories of the episode - and the series' - one location shoot, on the back lot at Shepperton. While he describes it as "bloody cold", Robert counters that in his Kryten costume, it was "perfect for me!"

On the subject of costumes, Chris is asked whether he's ever worn a red gingham dress outside of filming the show. "Er... no! Although an old girlfriend did have a nightie that looked quite similar, so I've lain next to one! No, I didn't ever ask ‘mind if I pop that on?'" He's also impressed by one fan's theory that Series X shows a softening of Rimmer's attitude towards Lister, and vice versa. Admitting that he hadn't really thought about it that way when making the show, Chris considers that yes, it does seem to be the case.

A common question asked of Chris is why he isn't on Twitter while all the other cast members are, and sure enough it rears its head again here. Initially trying to point out that Craig isn't on the social networking site either, only to be corrected by members of the audience (and Robert), he holds his hands up. "I'm not a twenty-first century bloke. I don't really have time - even writing a text message takes me a while!"

Rather more savvy with the Internet, of course, is Robert, who when asked confirms that yes, there are plans to make more episodes of his interview-in-a-car series Car Pool. He reveals that London Mayor Boris Johnson is potentially scheduled for a future episode: "I got a phone call one morning from his ‘people' - they said, can you pick Boris up from Canary Wharf in fifteen minutes? I live in the countryside! I don't think they really understood how the series was supposed to work..."

But what about more Dwarf? Of course, Robert and Chris aren't allowed to say anything even if there's anything to say, but that doesn't stop them hinting. "We know we're going to do a Series XI," admits Robert. "What we don't know is when. Or how!" It heightens anticipation in the room ahead of a certain co-creator's appearance the following day, that's for sure...

The final question in the Q&A is sparked by a comment previously made by Robert about how Simon Pegg might make a good Kryten - they're asked what "A-list" actors they think could play their characters. Robert suggests Tom Hanks for Kryten, while Chris says that he's heard people say that Tom Cruise could be Rimmer - but points out that he's not tall enough. "Besides," he says, "when they were making the US pilot they had trouble finding an actor who would lower their self-esteem sufficiently to play Rimmer. I think I'm about the only one who'd ever do it!"

And with that, it's time for the gents to dash off for a well-earned spot of lunch before retiring downstairs to pose for photos and sign autographs. Fortunately, the afternoon's entertainment continues with the famous DJ Olympics. Keen to keep interest fresh, the Intergalactic Olympic Committee have added new events for 2013, with a Red Dwarf-themed "Guess Who?" and "Garbage World Risk" joining old standards like "Bullet Drop", "Cat Golf" and "Junior Angler".

Otherwise, though, with all hands at the autograph session pump well into the late afternoon, it's a chance for some much-needed quiet time as the main hall is prepared for the Saturday night festivities...