Doug Naylor Interview, Part 1: We Chat with the Red Dwarf Co-creator about Returning the Show to its Peak.
For those of you who hadn’t noticed, Red Dwarf is back! Yes, Series XII of the classic space-adventure sitcom is now in full swing on Dave and UKTV Play, and if the first two episodes are anything to go by, then the show is in the same kind of form that caused impressionable youngsters to call each other “Smeghead!” back in the 90s. The sets look snazzy, the stories are wonderfully high-concept, and the jokes come just about as thick and fast as the skid-marks in Mr Lister’s underpants. What better excuse could there possibly be for spending time chatting with the mastermind behind it all, co-creator, writer, director and general comedy legend, Doug Naylor.
Congratulations on the new series. We’ve had the first episode, Cured, which is now on Dave and the second episode, Siliconia on UKTV. What’s the reaction been like from the fans?
Absolutely fantastic. They did a thing where they looked at the tweets and it was 2.5 % that were critical, which is phenomenally small, especially when you’re dealing with comedy and science fiction. And the overwhelming reaction to Cured, the first one, was incredible. Just people talking about how much they’d laughed and how much they’d enjoyed it.
Yes, it’s interesting, because with Series X having the show back felt nostalgic, but now we can really just settle down and enjoy the show for what it is.
I didn’t think X was particularly nostalgic. I didn’t think Trojan was particularly nostalgic, I just thought it was a Red Dwarf show. Fathers and Sons, where they did the Lister stuff, we’d never touched upon that before. We’d done double stuff before, but never in that way. That was one of Craig’s finest moments, playing against himself like that. But yeah sure. I think people go in with preconceptions of, “Oh, it’s not as good as it once was, and it’s not going to be as good” and they don’t actually see what’s in front of them for a while, in the way that the first few series weren’t particularly a hit, although later went on to become seen as very good shows. So, you sometimes have to do a couple of series before people see what’s there.
I guess by nostalgic, it’s more that I meant that people had missed the show, and it was back and it gave people a warm happy glow that it was with us again.
Oh, I see. Yes, that’s definitely an aspect to it. But then equally, when the boys come back and they look older, people are shocked and go “Oh they’re older.” Well, they are older.
Yes, we all are.
So, they’re not all watching for a while, just sort of thinking “Oh my God they’re older.” Now they don’t see that because they’ve accepted it. But it’s interesting, in Series XII, they are three weeks older than they were in Series XI. People don’t notice…. three weeks is okay.
I think we’ve all gotten used to the age thing, but it seems as though Cat has been in stasis for the last ten years or more.
Phenomenal. But then when you see him in Death in Paradise, he looks so much older you wouldn’t think he was the same actor.
I wanted to ask you about that first episode, Cured. What is it about Hitler that keeps you coming back for more?
It’s not so much that. I wanted someone who was the epitome of evil. It could have been anyone, but Hitler is the go-to epitome of evil. You could have used someone else, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as funny because they wouldn’t necessarily have been well known. And then there’s degrees of evil. Stalin, for example, killed far more people, but I don’t think it would have been as funny if we’d have used Stalin because people aren’t as familiar with him. And of course, it turns out that he’s not Hitler, and he was a regenerated Hitler anyway. We’ve had the real Hitler in a bit of footage, but we don’t generally have Hitler as a guest star. I did think long and hard, is there anyone better than Hitler for this, and I didn’t think there was. Obviously, Hitler isn’t funny. There isn’t anything intrinsically funny about someone who did what he did.
Ryan Gage was absolutely amazing as Hitler, or as a sort of Cyborg Hitler. Did you look at anyone else for the role?
No, he was first person that Linda [Linda Glover, casting director] put forward, and she said, “He’ll be great.” Ryan had wanted to do something with us and we were waiting for a part. I wouldn’t have said it was the obvious fit, but we went with her instincts because they’re usually so good. And boy was he terrific and had such a great chemistry as well with Craig. It was the energy of that song that made it work so well.
Yes, he really gave it some welly, didn’t he?
Oh, they both did. They really did. And they got a huge reaction when we did the premiere in Edinburgh. Three rounds of applause in the show. People really got it, I think. And also, I think it’s an interesting question: if evil were a disease and if you cured people, would we be able to forgive them, and how comfortable would we feel? Even in that ridiculous environment of, “let’s jam together,” it would be difficult.
It would really polarize society, wouldn’t it?
Ryan Gage’s take is so extraordinary. Did you have it in your mind, how you wanted it played? Because he’s very bashful, and trying very hard to be charming, with this big grin on his face all the time.
Yes. I mean the idea was, he won you over. And in fact, we did cut it in the end. Where he goes “It’s because I’m Hitler isn’t it?” there was a big “aww” from the audience. And I thought, oh my God, we’re in a very strange place now (laughs), where we’ve made people, at this point when they think he’s Hitler, feel sorry for him. It was because Ryan was so engaging and so charming, but also slightly strange, just oddball. Of course, he’s nothing like that in real life. He was amazing.
Moving on to the second episode, Siliconia, I wondered whether it was your idea to have all the boys turned into mechanoids, or whether Robert Llewellyn whispered in your ear at some point?
Funnily enough, it was the end of one of the shows, and we were having a drink, waiting for Craig and Danny to show up, and they came into the green room both wearing old Kryten masks, and they’d coloured them so they matched their own skin tone. And they came in and Danny did an impression of a Caribbean character, and Craig did something else, and people just fell around. Because it was just so odd. The juxtaposition of the different Kryten’s and these accents that were just completely wrong. Then they took them off and said, “We’ve got to do a show.” And I think Craig said, “Wouldn’t be fantastic if we all got turned into Kryten, and Kryten got turned back into a human.” My opinion was we’ve kind of done that. But if we thought of an idea where all four of you are Kryten that might be more interesting, but there has got to be a story, rather than just crowbar this in and then it’ll be kind of funny for five minutes. So, we kicked it around for a long time. In fact, it was Richard Naylor [producer] who said “look we’ve got to crack this, we’ve got to get a story for the four of them.” And then we sat down and finally got something.
If you don’t mind me saying so, it’s one of the best concept the show has ever presented. I was watching it thinking, it’s such a good idea I can’t believe you hadn’t thought of it before, but clearly you had, you were just working on it.
The thing is you are always limited by money. You are always limited by what you can do. We certainly couldn’t have done it in the Dave era before. I mean, when we did Back to Earth, we couldn’t afford an audience or sets, and we disguised that rather well, I think. We used an Australian company and a vis effects supervisor called Mike Seymour, who did a lot of things for free. But it wasn’t Red Dwarf in the traditional sense. All the shows were twenty four minutes, we couldn’t afford an audience, we couldn’t afford sets, and the budget was teeny because it was supposed to be a clip show introduced by the boys in costume. And then, of course, when you go to Red Dwarf X we can afford to build the sleeping quarters, but we can’t afford to build Starbug. So we’ve built all this up. Which means, now we’ve got a free sleeping quarters, now we’ve got a free Starbug, so you can spend your money elsewhere. And those Kryten masks do cost a lot of money. So, to have a lot of people in Kryten masks, because the other three boys all had to be fitted for them, it can be extremely expensive. So, we were able to do that with this one. The dressing room was such a bizarre sight, seeing all these Krytens, all sitting in the makeup chairs. It was just the strangest thing.
It’s amazing, because you can see their personalities come through the makeup.
Yes. But the boys have said several times in different places, just how difficult they found it. They thought Robert was exaggerating a bit when they heard him talk about how uncomfortable it was. Chris got very sick. And there are real problems about where perspiration goes, because there’s no good place. There was a mistake in Craig’s case where they put a bald cap on him and put the mask on top of the bald cap and there was nowhere for the perspiration to go. So that made the second day very very uncomfortable. But anyway, it was an adventure, that’s for sure.
So, was it Craig who struggled the most during the filming of that episode?
No, I would say it was Chris. Chris got really sick and we actually had to call off shooting one day during the sequence where they had the mop off. It was very cold outside, and because we had all the burning torches we were very warm inside, and we think the combination of the two affected Chris, and he just felt very unwell and he had to go home. And the other two, they wouldn’t be in any rush to do it again. Whereas Robert just soldiers on.
Do they look at him with new respect now?
Oh, for sure, absolutely. They all happily admit that. And how he’s been doing it for the length of time he’s been doing it is extraordinary, and still being terrifically funny.
Does he struggle more now that he’s a little bit older?
We do it in a different way now. They used to have to make a mould and put a load of gunge all over his face. And he’d have straws up his nose and have to keep his mouth closed. And he did get to the point, I think it was the last series, where he said he just had a fit. It was a bit like someone who suddenly becomes afraid of flying. You’ve been able to do this up to a certain point and then suddenly it becomes terrifying. And he said, is there any other way to do this? His face obviously changes from season to season. Because you might put on a little weight and so you have to do it again. So, this time we scanned it and of course he just sat there and the machine scanned his features and then the mask was made from that. It was a much much more comfortable way of making it for him. And it’s not made of rubber latex, it’s made of a kind of silicon now, which again is much cooler, and he says it’s far and away the best mask he’s ever had. Much easier to get on and off. He’s actually very happy.
I remember reading an interview with Robert Llewellyn, and he said he wished you’d destroy all of the Kryten heads and have a new redesigned head. Have you ever given that any thought at all?
(Laughs) I haven’t heard that one actually. You’d think he would have mentioned that to me. I think there was a point where they did an American pilot and I think they adapted the mask for that. And it just wasn’t as good. It was like half a mask stuck on the human face. Also, it is Kryten, for better or worse, and people go bonkers if you change any tiny thing. It is iconic. And he is able to be very funny in it, so in that sense it does work. I would be afraid of fooling around too much.
And you’d lose all the jokes about the shape of his head as well.
I was wonder, are you constantly thinking of comical ways of describing Kryten’s head and writing them down in a notebook? Because the list is incredibly long now.
(Laughs) Yeah, there’s quite a list. When I’m writing it I’ll just go, okay I’m going to have half an hour and try and think of some, and then if I need one I might come up with four or five, and then I’ll put them in a file for a rainy day. And then pull them out. I don’t spend a massive amount of time thinking of ways to describe it. We’ve done so many.
You’re not in the middle of a conversation and then you just hold your finger up to silence someone…?
(Laughs) I’ve just got to get this one down…. No. That would be a good one. I must think of that more.
The one that’s never left me is novelty condom head. That’s just lodged in my brain.
Yes, I like that one very much too. Absolutely. I completely agree.
I guess one of the things that’s really going to excite fans is the return of Holly, which has been teased prior to this series. Was it easy to get Norman Lovett back involved?
The story with Norman is, I obviously had to write twelve shows. I was half way through and Norman text me to say was he going to be in the new series, because he kept being pestered by fans at science fiction conventions who wanted to know. And I called him and said “But Norm, last time we spoke you said you didn’t want to be in it anymore.” And he goes, “Oh well, I was daft and I do now. I do want to be in it.” And I went, “Well great. There’s no one who loves you more than me and you’re hilarious and always have been, but you haven’t wanted to do it. Okay, the situation is I can’t really put you in the shows that are finished, but I’ll do my absolute damnedest to get you in.” So basically, the first opportunity to get him back in, I got him back in. And the audience reaction was great and they seemed to enjoy themselves.
It so exciting, and in the trailers and teasers it’s one of the funniest moments, seeing him again.
Yes, it’s a lovely moment, I agree, when you realise, it’s him and he’s back.
There’s one question I wanted to ask. As someone who started with Series 3 and then caught up with 1 and 2 later, will Hattie Hayridge ever get a chance to come back and shine?
Yeah, I think so, absolutely. I mean, again, it’s all about being able to afford things, and we are in a stronger position now than when we first came on Dave. The fact that the series has been a success and continues to be, will mean we’re hopefully able to make it more like we did back in the day on the BBC. Back then we could have motion control rigs and shoot the miniatures. We just can’t afford that, so there’re all sorts of things that we can’t do, or couldn’t do until recently which limits you. But now… certainly in the next series we’ll be back to where we were season 4,5, and 6.