Dimension Jump XVII

by Seb Patrick


We'd make a clever reference about cockroaches shuffling too loudly, but it could be construed as a comment about the cleanliness of the Holiday Inn - when in fact, the hotel is lovely. Especially when serving hangover-busting buffet breakfasts on the last morning of Dimension Jump.

Sunday morning is traditionally the time when fans filter slowly and bleary-eyed into the room - but there are a surprisingly high number of alert and attentive fans filling the front rows first thing today. Is it something to do with the presence on the stage of Rebecca Blackstone, Sydney Stevenson and Isla Ure? We wouldn't care to speculate, but the trio cope with being the latest DJ debutants with as much aplomb as Tony and Simon before them.

In a short but sweet session, the girls are asked when they discovered that "all of this" went along with playing a part in Red Dwarf. "On Twitter immediately afterwards!" laughs Sydney. "I went from about 60 followers to over 600 within an hour of the show!" All three are keen to stress, however, just how enjoyable the experience has been. "The cast, crew and fans of Red Dwarf are the loveliest bunch of people," says Isla.

While Rebecca had always wanted to play a computer or a robot, we learn - interestingly - that Sydney had actually also auditioned to play Pree. "My reading was more upbeat and joyful," she says, which surprises Rebecca: "It never crossed my mind to be upbeat with Pree!"

Neither Isla nor Sydney had worked in sci-fi before, although Red Dwarf seems to have given them the bug - long-standing friends and collaborators, they're presently writing a sci-fi-related project of their own. Isla also talks about the difference between doing voice-over work rather than appearing on screen - rather than being a challenge, she finds it "liberating". She also admits that she didn't know she could do a French accent until asked to by Doug.

As we wait for the second Q&A session, there's just time for another auction - presided over by Danny John-Jules and Hattie Hayridge. There are more costume and merch pieces up for grabs, but once again, it's models that grab the headlines. The original nameplates from the Remastered model - taken off and replaced when it was refurbished for Series X - have been specially mounted along with another couple of pieces by Bill and Steve, and a fierce bidding war sees them change hands for a whopping £350. But there's more to come.

A replica created by Bill Pearson for the BBC gameshow Whatever You Want in the late 1990s, the huge Starbug model has been attracting admiring glances all weekend. With the promise of a pre-handover refurbishment from Mike Tucker as part of the prize, not to mention the fact that all proceeds are intended to go to Tony Hawks' Moldovan charity, it's a special auction indeed - and once again, a compelling back-and-forth breaks out before finally the one-of-a-kind item is won for £1,200.

With that business out of the way, Danny introduces his cohort in the latest two-hander session: Craig Charles. The banter is quick to fly, with Craig immediately bemoaning how the pair's respective time off Red Dwarf is spent - "While I'm on the cobbles in Manchester, he's off for six months in bleedin' Guadeloupe!"

They're so caught up in their back-and-forth that it takes a good few minutes to remember that they're actually supposed to be doing a Q&A session. The eventual call to the audience for questions gives one fan the opportunity to voice the same one he's managed to ask of every guest: how do they feel to have been part of such a big cult success for as long as 25 years? Quick as a flash, Craig agrees that yes, it's very special to have worked on Robot Wars...

Of course, a more genuine answer is forthcoming. "We thought we'd maybe get two series, and then that'd be it. That's how it normally went with sitcoms. Instead, twenty-five years later, I'm still putting up with him." At this point, Danny interjects: "Twenty-five years later, I'm still carrying him around on my back!"

"Twenty-five years of Robert Llewellyn forgetting his lines," adds Craig. "Twenty-five years of Chris Barrie smelling of diesel," says Danny, completing the set. Once again, whenever this pair are onstage together it's like we're watching a well-rehearsed standup routine. There's a punchy answer to just about every question: "Going home at night!" says Craig, when asked what the most fun part of shooting Series X was.

"Actually," he admits, "it was fun coming in every day, realising that we hadn't grown up - making all the same running jokes we've had for the last twenty-five years. But even better, because we're closer now than we ever were back then."

Actor-specific questions include Craig being asked whether he's actually tried beer milkshakes ("I know you lot all probably have! But nah, they curdle horribly, don't they?") and Danny discussing his favourite outfits from the show's history. While he still has a fondness for the original pink suit, and loved the Riviera Kid outfit, Craig interjects that his favourite is Duane Dibbley - going on to share a story of a regular extra on the Coronation Street set unfortunate enough to be named Duane, and his guilt over Red Dwarf making the guy's life a misery...

By now it's a standard for Danny to be asked to sing "Tongue Tied" - and for him to initially appear reluctant before getting fully into the swing of things - but in a surprising first, he and the crowd actually manage to persuade Craig to join in on backing vocals. Well, at least until Craig loudly calls a halt to the whole thing moments after the first chorus.

The two-hander then becomes a three-hander, as the pair introduce Red Dwarf co-creator, writer and director Doug Naylor. Last time Doug was at Dimension Jump, in 2011, he announced the official commissioning of a new series - would he have similar news this time?

Well, possibly, but it seems to take the audience a little while to realise they could ask him. The first question put to the boss is actually about possible future Red Dwarf novels - and Doug confirms that not only is he planning to write more books, but suggests that there also might be more in the future from Rob Grant. There then follows discussion of rejected plots from Series X - including one idea in which Talkie Toaster returns and takes over the ship, turning everything to bread in the process, and the fascinating outline of the original planned ending of "Entangled", which would have seen Rimmer and Lister bickering over looking after the chimp like a divorced couple.

Finally, however, somebody puts the all-important question to Doug: are we getting a Series XI? He sighs. "I had a plan... I planned it. I wanted to be able to announce it this weekend, but we can't. We're not quite in a position to do so yet. But everybody wants it, we want it, the channel wants it, the cast want to do it... and it's my feeling that we will be shooting it in February next year."

We go on to learn that while Doug has story ideas aplenty, scripts aren't yet written - due to the series not yet being officially commissioned, and hence not having a finalised budget - but that the likely plan is for six episodes, all of which will again be written and directed by Doug. And both writer and cast are adamant on the subject of whether or not any future episodes will be shot in front of an audience. "We'll never go back to not having an audience," says Doug; while Craig and Danny reminisce about just how effective Series X's "moose" scene in particular was precisely because of being able to feed off the audience reaction. "We're four natural show-offs," admits - or brags - Craig.

Exiting to applause and cheers, Doug leaves the stage to Danny and Craig once more, and the latter rounds off proceedings by reciting a section of his poem for children, "Scary Fairy". Due for publication as a book shortly, with an intended animated TV series to follow, it's an intriguing new step for Craig - the poem features his trademark fast-paced wordplay and delivery, but tailored to appeal to children, and feels somewhat like a modern-day Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhyme.

The remainder of the day is given over to Sunday's guests running the photograph-and-autograph gauntlet, but there's still fun to be had in the main hall as things die down. Following previous efforts Smeg Or No Smeg and Smeggheads, another classic gameshow is given a Red Dwarf twist in the shape of Goitless (a take-off of BBC1's Pointless, if you didn't know). Presenter Ian and his "pointless friend Danny" at the laptop challenge four pairs of fans to give answers to Red Dwarf-related questions in as obscure a fashion as possible.

Following a succession of knockout rounds, the surviving pair, Aimi Brear and Heledd Flower, are given the opportunity to win the jackpot (a pair of Series VIII Canaries uniforms) if only they can think of a Car Pool guest not named by any of the one hundred pre-surveyed fans. Their three guesses score, in succession, 3, 2, and 1 points - which wouldn't quite be enough to sway Alexander Armstrong, but in the spirit of fair play and honest-to-goodness decency, they get the prize anyway.

And following the distribution of the remaining set of rare prizes, courtesy of the all-important raffle... that's that. The biggest Red Dwarf convention in well over a decade, and certainly - we'd say - one of the finest. And the best thing about it? If there really is another series on the way, you can bet your bottom dollarpound we'll be doing it all again sooner rather than later...