Red Dwarf, and the movie that never was

A Red Dwarf movie was announced in 2000, and news on it would follow for years afterwards. So: what happened?

When the eighth series of Red Dwarf left our screens in 1999, with the titular (nanobotically-reconstituted) mining vessel being devoured by a highly corrosive micro-organism, it left us with the words “The End” emblazoned over the image, before being replaced by “THE SMEG IT IS.”

And then, nothing.

It was ten years before the boys from the Dwarf were back on our screens, albeit for a three-episode run on Dave. But that lost decade was not spent watching re-runs of The Flintstones, nor was everyone trapped in a completely immersive video game indistinguishable from reality. Most of it involved co-creator Doug Naylor (his comedy partner Rob Grant left the show after season six), trying to get a movie off the ground.

This had not been the plan. But with the BBC rejecting Naylor’s proposal for a ninth series, along with the show reaching 52 episodes (a suitable figure for international syndication, according to the official website), he felt the time was right to put his movie plans into action.

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Getting started

On 20th November 2000, the official Red Dwarf website announced that, as of August 2000, the main cast had all signed on to make the movie. Chris Barrie (hologram and resident smeghead, Rimmer), Craig Charles (last man alive, Lister), Danny John-Jules (an animal descended from cats, err, The Cat), and Robert Llewellyn (neurotic mechanoid, Kryten) were all going to be involved. As were Chloe Annett (series seven newcomer, Kochanski), as well as Dwarfer veterans Norman Lovett (senile computer, Holly) and Mac McDonald (Captain Hollister).

Production, we were informed, was to start in spring 2001, with the cast’s filming allocated from May.

First read-through

The next announcement was on 2nd February 2001. Doug Naylor and long-time Red Dwarf director Ed Bye (who was to co-direct the movie with Naylor) were holed up in an office in Shepperton Studios working on the script. They must have worked well, because on 22nd March 2001, the first official script read-through took place, with all key members of the cast taking part. It was also announced that the film was imaginatively titled Red Dwarf: The Movie.

Around this time, the script (which was eventually to undergo 35 rewrites), was written with a “really big budget” in mind (circa £19 million), as per the advice they had been given. But this, it later transpired, also would have involved recasting, which Naylor was, understandably, not prepared to do.


In May 2001, in which filming was originally due to start, they were still in ‘pre-pre-production’ and storyboards were still being drawn up, with pre-production proper scheduled to start at the end of the month. Shooting, it was announced, was now to begin in September 2001, for a summer 2002 release. Harking back to a more innocent time, the Red Dwarf website declared:

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“With new Star Wars, Matrix and Star Trek episodes also due out around the same time, Red Dwarf: The Movie has one trump card to play: of all the major SF movies, it’s the only non-sequel!”

Very true…

Second read-through

A second read-through was carried out in May 2001, based on a new draft of the script. At this point sets were “still at the design stage”. These read-throughs were filmed (as were the previous), in order to be “edited alongside existing Red Dwarf TV footage and animated storyboard sequences to provide a clear idea of how the finished product will go together.”

During all this time, there were continual additions to the behind the camera staff, many of whom had quite impressive resumes.

Towards the end of June 2001, the traditional plastering of Robert Llewellyn took place, to make the moulds for his full-body costume. A long and sticky process, he was doubtless delighted when it became apparent it was all for nought.

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On 13th July 2001, it was announced that co-director Ed Bye had now dropped out, leaving Naylor to direct the film alone. We also found out that the film, which had been mooted as a follow on from season eight, would in fact be a standalone film that takes place before. It was also announced that the official website would be charting the making of the movie.

Then… nothing.

September came and went without any news about filming. On 12th October more storyboards were released, followed by even more on 11th January 2002, only for things to fall deathly quiet again.

Pre-Pre-Production (Again!)

The next update came on 13th September 2002, a full year after (the already delayed) shooting was supposed to begin. Producer Charles Armitage announced the project was in “pre-pre-production” (sound familiar?) with pre-production now scheduled for November 2002 and full-production to start in March 2003. When asked about the delays, he said:

“It’s a combination of dates, budget, the instability of financial markets and other productions. We’re waiting until Chris Barrie and Harvey Harrison [Red Dwarf: The Movie‘s Director of Photography] finish on Lara Croft 2.”

In October, an advert looking for crew members (for production, not Red Dwarf!) appeared, looking for CVs from interested parties, which indicated that shooting might happen in Australia. This was indeed promising news, but then it all went quiet again, for another six months, at least officially.

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During this time a flyer appeared online and in sci-fi magazines about the movie. This apparently gave a breakdown of the plot, the characters, the TV show, fan club, books, merchandise, internet presence and DVD sales.

It summarised the plot:

“RED DWARF THE MOVIE is set in the distant future where Homo Sapienoids, a fearsome combination of flesh and machine, and the next stage of human evolution, have taken over the solar system and almost wiped out the human race.

The only survivors are the crews of long-haul space freighters that left Earth before the conflict began. The Sapienoids send forth fleets of Death Ships to hunt them down. One by one – the human ships fall, until only one remains.

Its name – Red Dwarf…”

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There were some small errors and the authenticity of the flyer was in question. But, in April 2003 there was another official update. The flyer was real. It was intended to sell the movie in international territories. Meanwhile, Naylor was indeed in Australia looking at studio facilities for a September shoot. The movie was, they declared, “becoming a reality”.

Then it went quiet.


Dimension Jump XI

June 2004 saw the 11th Dimension Jump Festival (a more-or-less annual weekend-long festival dedicated to all things Red Dwarf).

Whilst Doug Naylor did not personally attend, he did send a statement of some considerable length, which was read out and tackled the status of the movie.

In it, he addresses some of the issues he had raising funding for the movie. One firm, he claims, had agreed to invest £10 million of the £15 million budget, but by the time he had finished the script “the company’s share price went through the floor and so did their money.”

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There was also the tax incentive EIS scheme. This took over a year and “cost legal fees into six figures.” But that also fell through and the production team had to be disbanded.

Undeterred, he travelled to numerous countries in search of the elusive investors. Germany, Austria, Spain, Canada, Italy, France and New Zealand were all mooted as potential lands where funders were to be found, but all was for nought.

Finally, they found a distributor, but they were “slashing the budget from 13 million to somewhere below six”, so that deal also collapsed.

Then there was the useless UK funding body (which, apparently, couldn’t raise any funds!) and Peter Jackson’s decision to make King Kong which stopped them using Weta Studios, but finally, there was…

The Duke of Manchester

Whilst Naylor was in Australia, he got a call. The man on the phone claimed he had £60 million to invest in movies, and asked how much of it Naylor wanted. After careful consideration (“3 nanoseconds”), Naylor decided that £60 million would do just fine.

Naylor and the Duke agreed to meet, but then the Duke asked if Naylor could pay for his airfare and let him sleep on his couch.

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However, after some research it was discovered there was in fact a Duke of Manchester (who knew?) and the family had moved to Australia at the beginning of the 20th century.

So, even that faint glimmer of hope was enough to convince them to keep on going. They asked to speak to the Duke’s bank manager, but of course, he was a very busy man and couldn’t possibly find time to speak a movie director on behalf of one of his multi-million pound clients.

They did manage to get the Duke to fax over a bank statement showing an account with 100 million US dollars (“completely faked of course”) and, finally, after he tried to convince them they were speaking with a famous Australian actress (“’I’ve got such a bad cold’, she insisted, ‘but I really am the famous actress’”) the dream finally plummeted…

…Back to Earth

Despite the proclamation that he hoped to miss the next Dimension Jump due to filming commitments, the Duke effectively signalled the end of the road. There were no more official updates, no more statements.

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It was to be another four years before it was announced that Red Dwarf was to return to TV, for the first time not originally broadcast by the BBC. Going on to break viewing records for Dave, the three-part Red Dwarf special ensured the show would live on, and was followed by full series, with further series scheduled for 2016 and 2017.

Whilst the dream of one day making a movie is still alive, Naylor has taken the advice of Chris Barrie, namely, that any film should run alongside future series. After a decade off the air chasing the elusive dream, who could argue with that?

One day we might finally see the boys from the Dwarf on the big screen, but at least in the meanwhile we’ve got plenty of small screen smeg-ups to look forward to. And to be honest, isn’t that where they belong?

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