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Destination Star Trek London - John C. Kirk

Oct. 20th, 2012

01:42 am - Destination Star Trek London

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Today I took the day off work to go to Star Trek London convention. It's running for 3 days, but I'm busy for the next 2 days with SJA duties. I've been to a few conventions before, but I'm more interested in meeting writers than actors. Picocon (at Imperial College) is good for that. I've also been to a couple of bigger conventions at the Radisson Edwardian near Heathrow: The Babylon 5 Wrap Party in 1998, and Telefantastique 2 in 1999. They were both "media conventions", so they had a few celebrities there, but they were still mainly skewed towards story. In particular, I really enjoyed talking to Peter David (one of my favourite writers) at The Wrap Party, and John Rhys-Davies talked about his story ideas for Sliders. My concern about this event was that it might be more like the Galaxy Quest convention; also, would there be anything new to talk about that hasn't already been covered in DVD extras etc.?

First things first: this event involves a lot of queues, so it's worth taking a book to read. People who bought tickets in advance could either have them posted out or collect them on the door. When I arrived today, there was a huge queue for people to collect their pre-paid tickets; at a guess, I'd say that they had to wait at least 30 minutes. By contrast, I was able to buy a ticket on the door at a separate counter (S9 in that photo), where there was no queue whatsoever. So, yay for being slack and leaving it until the last minute! However, this may not be behaviour that the organisers really want to reward...

It cost £30 for a standard ticket. That got me in through the door, so I could wander around and get my bearings. They didn't give out any kind of floorplan unless you bought the programme (an extra £10) but each of the stages had a timetable posted outside with a map on the back. After a few laps, I'd figured out where everything was. There's a virtual floorplan on the website, but you need an internet connection to use it (i.e. it's not in a printable format).

The first thing I saw was the "Klingon zone". This was a novelty restaurant, although I didn't go in to see what they had on offer. They also had a couple of people in Klingon costume, so attendees could sit on a wooden chair (throne) between them and pose for a photo. This seemed to be more informal than the rest of the convention, i.e. you could get your friends to take a photo of you rather than a professional photographer. Unfortunately, it really reminded me of the recent Oatmeal strip: the three people had frozen expressions while they waited for someone else to fiddle with a camera.

They had a few shops there (e.g. Forbidden Planet), but I didn't buy anything: I'd have to carry it around with me all day, and I didn't see anything that I particularly wanted or wouldn't be able to get anywhere else.

There was also a small museum there, on loan from the Filmwelt Center. Basically, one guy (Martin Netter) has been buying up old props for a long time; he gave a talk later in the day, and said that he now needs to ask for money to keep it going, e.g. replacing all the coat hangers on the thousands of uniforms that he has. Some of the uniforms in the museum were worn by particular cast members, and I was quite surprised at what that implies about their height: in particular, I'd assumed that Marina Sirtis was taller than that. (According to IMDB, she's 5'4½", which sounds about right now that I've seen the uniform.)

The big selling point for this convention was "The Five Captains" (Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, and Archer). They each had separate queues for autographs and photos, and you had to buy separate tickets for them unless you started out with "deluxe" entry (e.g. £899 for a Platinum Pass). There were also several other actors selling autographs/photos, although theirs were cheaper and didn't have such huge queues.

So, what could I get for my £30 without spending extra money? There were 3 stages (A, B, C). Stage A had the premium events (that you had to pay for). Stage B had free events, but you needed to get a ticket in advance (on the day). Stage C was free and anyone could just wander in.

I mentioned the museum, and the same guy also brought along enough props to reassemble the bridge of the "original" Enterprise (i.e. Kirk's rather than Archer's). You could pay £15 to get your photo taken there: that's a bit steep, but it's also a fairly rare opportunity, so I decided to take advantage of it. However, you had to queue up to buy that ticket separately from the queue for the actual photo. Neither queue had any indication of how long you'd be waiting, so I think that's an area where they could learn from theme parks.

It took me 30 minutes to buy the ticket. This worked a bit like an Argos store, with 6 separate queues. However, they didn't make it clear which queue was which, e.g. the left-most was only for cash purchases and the right-most was only for autographs. Also, the queue for free tickets (stage B) was completely separate. When I got to the front of the queue, I had to wait a couple of minutes while the staff manually copied out lists of autograph/photo tickets: I don't blame the people on duty, but I'd also question whether the organisers had really thought this through in advance.

Once I'd got the ticket, I went off to stage C for the "Building the Enterprise" talk. I'd missed the first half, but what I heard was interesting, e.g. comparing model-making (miniatures) to CGI. The speaker also had a meteor rock there; I'm not quite sure why (I assume he explained earlier) but he said it was the oldest thing on Earth. I held it after the talk finished, and it was heavier than you'd think for its size. The person who passed it to me warned me in advance, and made sure that I was holding it securely before he let go (so that I wouldn't drop it), and I did the same thing when I passed it to someone else.

According to the schedule, the next event was supposed to be the costume parade: people would sign up at 16:00, then actually come for judging at 16:30. This was postponed until 18:00, but they didn't announce that until 17:00. Not a disaster, but a slight failure of planning/communication there. I'd already got a ticket for a stage B event at 18:15, so I decided that this would be a good time to get my bridge photo taken.

In contrast to the payment queue, I have to say that the photo queue was handled very efficiently. Basically, each person in the queue needed to have a ticket. You could then get photos taken in a group or individually; if you were in a group, you'd get n photos for n people, so you could take it in turns to sit in the captain's chair while everyone else filled up the rest of the bridge. I left my bag outside, and these were queued up in the same order that we went through, then it was waiting for me on the opposite side of the room when I came out. (They may have used an airport style conveyor belt; I'm not sure about that.)

Watching the groups ahead of me, the photographer called out for them to swap positions as many times as necessary, then called for the next person, so we all moved through at a decent pace. However, he didn't get involved in who stood where, so that was up to each group. My advice would be to rotate in a fixed order rather than randomly picking new positions, otherwise you may not be able to stand/sit in each place. They had 3 chairs (captain, navigator, conn) and a group of 5 had 2 people standing along the back wall (e.g. next to Spock's microscope thingy).

I went through on my own; I felt slightly underdressed without a uniform, but that sort of works: I think it's like the beginning of Star Trek III when they stole the Enterprise in civvies. When I came out, I only had to wait a few seconds for them to print my photo:

Captain on the bridge!

The printed copy actually looks a bit better than that scanned version. I spent about 10 minutes there altogether, and even with a "full" queue I doubt it would take longer than 20 minutes.

Once I'd finished there, I went back to stage C for Martin Netter's talk (the guy who provided the props). He speaks German as his first language, so he struggled a bit with the Q&A section, but it sounds as if he's built up quite an impressive collection.

After that, I stuck around for "Meet the Producers" (Ira Behr and Ron Moore). I didn't really learn much from that, although Ron Moore was able to compare and contrast Star Trek with Battlestar Galactica. He said that he didn't think people would want Star Trek to be as dark as Galactica, and I'd have to agree: it was getting pretty damn bleak by the time it ended.

Next up, they did the costume parade. I chose not to take any photos here, because they had someone standing next to the judges with a professional camera so I'm assuming (hoping) that they'll go onto an official website later in better quality than I could get, so I was happy just to watch it all live instead of peering through a tiny screen. Some of the costumes were very impressive, although I think that it's not really worth entering the contest if you "just" have a Starfleet uniform, particularly if it's pre-bought. The best entries were either home-made or imaginative. There were 2 Borg entries, and 1 of them made it into the top 3 costumes; I suspect that the judges wanted a bit of variety, otherwise they would both have won prizes. When the judges spoke to the winning Borg, they had this dialogue:

Q: "How long did it take you to put all that on?"
A: "An hour."
Q: "Just an hour?!"
A: "Borg are efficient."

That got a big laugh from everyone; well played.

2nd place was a woman dressed as a Klingon. She was in a wheelchair, and I saw a lot more wheelchairs today than I normally do when I'm out and about in London. I don't know whether that reflects the demographics of Star Trek fans or whether it says more about the accessibility of the venue; either way, I'm glad to see that it was step-free from the DLR platform (Canning Town) right into the convention area.

The winners were a couple: the man was dressed as a Ferengi, and the woman was dressed as a Bajoran. I think that worked well because the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. Both costumes worked well on their own merits, but the combination reminded everyone of Rom and Leeta from DS9. In fact, Chase Masterson (who played Leeta) came over to pose for a photo with them after they won, which was a nice touch.

More generally, I saw quite a few couples walking around where both people were in costume. I thought that was nice: it's good that they share a common interest. Coming back to demographics, there was definitely a male majority but it wasn't as much as I'd expected; taking a wild guess, maybe 70:30? There was also quite a variety of age ranges, including young children. It's now the 25th anniversary of TNG (so they're re-releasing the series on Blu-ray), and some adults there today weren't even born when it started. Although that makes me feel old, it's good to see the diversity.

After the costume parade, I went over to stage B for another "Meet the Producers" session, although this time it was Brannon Braga. I had a ticket for this, but nobody asked to see it so I just went straight in. I think he's used to taking flak from fans, so he was quite surprised to see so many people who actually liked Enterprise. He mentioned that he's writing a TNG comic ("Hive"), although it seems to ignore everything that's happened in the novels (particularly "Destiny") so I'll probably give it a miss. Still, I'm glad that he had some new info rather than struggling for new anecdotes about things that happened several years ago. Also, someone asked him what crossover he'd like to do; apparently he wanted to do "Aliens vs. Borg" but 20th Century Fox refused. That's a story that I would pay to read, e.g. if they did it as a comic. In particular, could the xenomorphs be assimilated? As far as I know, we've never seen any Borgified chickens or fish, so is sentience a pre-requisite? Ah well, I'll see if anything comes of that.

At the end of that session, we all had to leave the room, even if we were attending the next session there; the organisers wanted to make sure that everyone with a ticket could get in. That's a bit inconvenient if you were already there, but on balance I think it's probably for the best. I've heard of problems at other conventions where people can't get into a particular event (e.g. a panel discussion) and the people who've filled up the seats aren't even interested in it, they're just reserving a seat for a later session.

I took this opportunity to go to the loo; there weren't any toilets inside the convention area, so I had to go out to the main hallway of the Excel Centre. When I first arrived, they stamped my wrist in case I needed to leave and come back, so that was useful here. I had to go down a flight of stairs to get to the toilets, but hopefully there were other arrangements in place for wheelchair access.

When I first looked at the timetable on the website, it mentioned an opening ceremony (all 5 captains on stage together) and an alternative opening ceremony (with the actors who played Trip Tucker and Malcolm Reed in Enterprise). I don't mean any disrespect to the latter actors here, but I had to wonder why anyone would choose to see them rather than the captains. It turns out that there's a simple reason: the alternative opening ceremony was free. So, that's the one I went for.

Oddly, I didn't need to show my ticket to get back into stage B, even though the room was packed out. Being on my own made it easier to find a spare seat, but it was a tight squeeze. The chairs were all linked together with cable ties, and I had to turn my shoulders diagonally so that I wouldn't push my neighbours out of their seats.

When the actors came on stage, they greeted us with "Hello, you cheap-arse bastards!" They were joking, but it sounds as if the "real" opening ceremony had a bit more substance to it. This one basically involved them introducing everyone who'd be at the convention over the next few days, but each other guest was only on stage very briefly; some of them (e.g. David Warner) literally didn't say a single word, they just came on, smiled, then left again. When they introduced Tricia O'Neil, I must admit that my immediate reaction was "Who?" However, Denise Crosby then emphasised that there are actually 6 captains here rather than 5, and then I recognised her: she played Rachel Garrett (captain of the Enterprise-C).

They also had another guy on stage throughout this session, doing sign language to interpret what they said, so that was a nice touch. However, I'm not sure how effective it was. Despite the signs that said "no photography", loads of people were lifting up cameras to film the event, so I couldn't even see the stage for most of the session. They had some big TV screens next to the stage and I could watch those ok, but it does rather defeat the purpose of attending a live event.

The alternative opening ceremony ran from 19:30 to 20:00, although I think the main ceremony went on for a while longer and the day's convention wasn't due to finish until 21:00. I had another quick wander around, then came home. I saw some other people travelling on the DLR in costume, including one guy in full Klingon regalia. That did impress me: I think it's harder to do something like that when you're in a small minority.

Speaking of Klingons, the actors who played Gowron and Martok turned up for the opening ceremony in full make-up. I assume that this was in preparation for "The Klingon Ball", running in a separate venue (further along the Excel hallway) after the convention finished. There's a similar event tomorrow, and people need to pay for each of them separately. I gave that a miss, but it could be a good opportunity to mingle.

Overall, I'm glad I went (if only to scratch an itch and satisfy my curiousity). If you're based in London and you'd like to meet any of the actors from the series then this is probably the best opportunity you'll get; tomorrow is sold out, but they still have tickets available for Sunday. However, if the same event happens again then I think I'll give it a miss. Next month there's the Thought Bubble comics festival in Leeds: it looks good, but I can't make it because I'm on an SJA cycling course. Next year I might try Eastercon to see what that's like, since that seems to be more focussed on writers rather than actors.