Dimension Jump XXI

by Curtis Threadgold

Friday

As old friends and new made their way inside the hotel's main hall they were struck by the quality of the work that had gone into constructing the staging area, which, as a clip shown later in the weekend proved, featured far too many easter eggs and references to The Promised Land's sleeping quarters to count. It was a true message of intent. After all the uncertainties and doubts, it was finally here. Dimension Jump XXI was actually happening.

After a specially recorded clip from Rebecca Blackstone's Pree welcomed everyone and introduced the weekend's safety guidance, it was on to the opening ceremony. You could feel the excitement building as the Fan Club team made their way to the stage.

Written by TORDFC's Alex Newsome, and performed by Alex, alongside his fellow team members Andy Holland, Shelley Smith and Kerry King-Neale, the performance was a pun-filled, callback-packed, loving tribute to Red Dwarf, referencing episodes as wide ranging as Lemons, Blue, Demons and Angels, and even the recent AA adverts, with big laughs generated by the specially made effects shots of the AA ship landing outside the Crowne Plaza, and a wonderful 8-bit recreation of the Red Dwarf theme tune that touched all the right nostalgic buttons. It was clear that a lot of love, work and planning had gone into this event.

As the opening ceremony concluded with the announcement of the weekend's many, many guests, it was time for the first of the weekend's games: the live quiz hosted by Hattie Hayridge, which this year, in a particularly touching move, was renamed The Seb Patrick Award For Diligence and General Devotion to Duty.

Covering a wide range of tricky subjects such as Dwarf-related Food and Drink, through to History and Geography, diligence and devotion was indeed the order of the day. This was no walk in that park. The questions set by Alex and Joey Newsome tested our recall abilities to bursting point, resulting in a hard-fought battle with the prize eventually going to The MILFS.

With this fiendish quiz concluded, it was time for the surprise guest to make his first appearance.*

* (Well, we say "first appearance", but that's only strictly true if you don't count the fact that this guest was already wondering around the hotel and chatting to attendees!)

Johnny Vegas arrived on stage to rapturous applause, clutching a pint of Guinness, and bearing a childlike grin. This was his first ever convention and he spared no time in letting us know that he is a massive fan of the show.

And not just a casual fan either, but the type of fan who owned the VHSs back in the day and poured over the detail in the stories. Red Dwarf, he told us, was something he loved in his formative years. It shaped who he wanted to be, and he considered Dimension Jump one of the privileges of his career, so much so that when he was approached about this appearance, he just said "yes", regardless of the fee.

His enthusiasm was infectious, but before we could get to the Q&A there were a few ground rules that needed to be established. Chiefly, if you're going to heckle Johnny Vegas, you should know there will be consequences. Suffice to say, if anyone found anything unpleasant in their beds when they returned to their hotel rooms that night, then they only had themselves to blame.

Johnny is one of the UK's top comics and the way he commanded the room was a masterclass in comedic creativity. He talked about his experiences getting mugged on Benidorm, before demonstrating his knowledge of Dwarf with a full breakdown of which character would win at Taskmaster (it was Holly), and delivering a ponderous thesis on how the show works by comparing it to Steptoe and Son and rightly explaining that, despite the inventiveness of the science fiction, the heart of the show is the confinement of the characters and their struggle to co-exist. At this point, it was all too easy to forgive him for insisting his favourite episode was "Polymal".

Johnny talked about comedy being the "arena of the unwell," and with his gift for pathos and wit, he told us that he sees the form as a means of processing experience. "It either chews you up and spits you out, or you do the reverse." He says it's a survival tactic, and if that's the case, then he clearly skipped Bear Grylls' survival workshop and went straight to Robocop's, as the comic skills on display were nothing short of a full on assault from the military industrial complex.

As he left the stage, you could see he had had just as good a time as we did, confessing that he got "less love at my 50th birthday." A superb opening Q&A and a guest we hope to see at many more Dimension Jumps to come.

In the chaotic aftermath left in Johnny's wake, TORDFC's Alex Newsome returned to the stage with the first of the weekend's two auctions, which included a set of Corgi miniatures, rare t-shirts, and an official Red Dwarf jacket. This lot also included several items kindly donated by Series XII and The Promised Land's graphic designer, Matthew Clark, including replica Starbug console displays and a recreation of the Partick Thistle F.C. Subbuteo set from the feature-length special. In a surprise move, one of these items was even acquired by Johnny Vegas for the bargain price of £330.

The opening night drew to a close with the now traditional karaoke. As the music filled the hall and friends gathered to discuss everything they'd just seen, it was as though we'd never been away. And just as a side note, if you've never seen Johnny Vegas caterwaul Love on the Rocks or American Pie into a microphone at 1am, surrounded by at least 50 backing singers, then we're afraid to say you've never lived.

With that, it was on to Saturday...