Dimension Jump XVII

by Seb Patrick

Saturday Night

If you listen to Elton John, then Saturday night's alright for fighting. But if you're a Red Dwarf fan, then it would be more accurate to say that Saturday night is alright for parading in front of a room of hundreds of fellow fans in a painstakingly constructed home-made costume.

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Yes, it's cosplay competition time, and along with one of the largest fields in terms of sheer number of entrants in recent memory, the overall standard of costumes also seems to be among the highest it's ever been. Among a delightfully inventive range of outfits, there's astonishingly brilliant screen accuracy, dazzlingly lateral thinking and ingenuity, and in a couple of instances just downright adorable cuteness. It's always a delight to see costumes nobody's attempted before, and so it proves here as we're introduced to a "Night Watchman Holly" (built out of a real TV) and "Lister's Father's Day Card To Himself" (opening up to reveal a bit of poppadom, and everything).

Introduced by host Carrie as "Andrew Ellard... and his protégé, Seb Patrick", the judges are also joined by designer-maker Josephine Perry in the interests of bringing some much needed technical insight into proceedings. It's a tough call, though, and just about any of the entrants could have been in with a shout of winning.

Drawing a huge number of "Awwws" from the assembled audience, Juliette Peel takes third place as a tiny bundle of fur named Frankenstein, while Pavel Houska's awe-inspiringly good Kryten outfit - as debuted in the Coffee Lounge - is narrowly pipped into second.

The winning entry, however, is something else entirely, as Melanie Robinson totters on stage in a cumbersome outfit named "Red Dwarf couture". Rather than simply dressing up as the ship itself, Melanie has used it as the basis of an actual, properly-designed dress - and gobs are well and truly smacked when not only does the dress light up, but so too do the boosters on the Starbug and Blue Midget "shoes" she's wearing.

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As is now traditional, the annual parade of people dressed as models and props is followed by a Q&A session with guys who had a hand in making the originals. Bill Pearson and Steve Howarth take to the stage armed with a slideshow of some 300 or so pictures of their model work, and discuss working both on Red Dwarf and other sci-fi classics such as Alien and Blake's 7. And, er, Space Precinct. "The best thing I can say about Space Precinct," admits Bill, "is that it bought me my house."

This forthrightness is evident when discussing Dwarf, too, as Bill - a sci-fi fan first and foremost - is not afraid to share occasionally controversial views. "I hated Red Dwarf when it started. I stopped watching after the first couple of episodes - I thought it looked terrible, those boring grey corridors..." Only after hearing school kids talking about the show on a local bus was he convinced to give it another try - falling in love with it the second time around.

It's clear, though, that when it comes to effects Bill and Steve will always prefer models to CGI - and they remark on the relative cost of the two, telling a story of one producer assuming they'd left a zero off their quotation for work! Bill also becomes the latest guest to hint that Red Dwarf X might not be the end for the show, admitting that Doug had discussed the possibility of a "larger" ship model should there be a future series.

Making a convention debut is never easy, but the next guest Simon Treves is helped by being onstage with his friend Richard O'Callaghan - who had already been through the same thing at 2009's DJ XV. Simon admits to having had little to no prior knowledge about Red Dwarf before being cast, but says he discovered upon researching the history of his character that Rimmer's father had previously been played by John Abineri - who just happened, in a delightful piece of quantum entanglement, to have been an old family friend.

Richard, meanwhile, is a born anecdotalist, and just as in 2009, has the audience hanging on his every word - some of us could stand to hear him pronounce the word "theatre" all day! Of course, he has new questions to answer thanks to his role as Hogey the Roguey, and he does so with aplomb, sharing his theory that rather than actually being Mexican, the nutty rogue droid is in fact from the West London suburb of Ruislip, and has just seen too many films. He's even adept at the conventioneer's art of deflecting nitpicky fan questions, explaining that the reason Hogey was able to escape the ruptured hull in order to appear in the final episode's coda was due to the droid's "tremendously powerful buttocks".

With the last Q&A session of the day over, it's time for the cabaret - and John Lenahan, by now a DJ veteran, doesn't disappoint. His combination of magic and stand-up comedy is utterly lethal, reducing the crowd to gibbering wrecks throughout. A trick involving a spinning piece of card (we can't say any more for fear of spoiling it) utterly enraptures the entire room, while a final routine based on a semantic misunderstanding nearly causes your correspondent - and, likely as not, several others - to nearly choke to death laughing.

It would be a fantastic way to end Saturday night, if only there weren't the small order of a disco immediately following. There's something about the traditional final part of a DJ Saturday that seems to affect the memories of those recounting them, though - in this instance, we start to get hazy somewhere around "One Step Beyond". And, as is the custom at the Birmingham Holiday Inn, there may be a piano involved a bit later. Anyone would think there wasn't an entire Sunday still to come...