What’s better than meeting your Star Trek hero or heroine? The opportunity to meet dozens of the stars of the legendary series is exactly what happened when thousands of Trekkies beamed in to ExCel London a week ago today.
Stars from all five series of Gene Roddenberry’s groundbreaking show as well as from the two JJ Abrams reboot movies were in attendance at DESTINATION STAR TREK, the third event of its kind from organisers Media 10/Showmasters following their previous successes in London and Frankfurt.
Fans of all ages gathered to meet their favourite actor, get autographs, pose for photos and listen to talks where they could pose any questions they’d like to ask. A large number of fans also took the opportunity to dress as their favourite character. Starfleet’s finest to adversaries like the Klingons and Borg were all proudly represented.
The event had been billed as a rare chance to see a full reunion of ‘The Next Generation’ cast but a last-minute withdrawal by Jonathan Frakes (Commander William Riker) meant the anticipated coup did not materialise.
But any disappointment felt by fans was soon forgotten as Colm Meaney (Chief Miles O’Brien) was announced as an eleventh hour replacement in a rare convention appearance. In addition to Colm, Star Trek ‘saviour’ and director of arguably the most popular movie entry ‘The Wrath of Khan’, Nicholas Meyer also made a rare visit to meet the fans.
Convention newcomer Bruce Greenwood (Captain Christopher Pike) was widely hailed as one of the friendliest and engaging guests, but the highlight for those ticket holders lucky enough to have exclusive access was a Skype talk with everyone’s favourite Vulcan – Leonard Nimoy!
startrekblog had press access to this event, and a chance to meet the stars before they went about their usual convention duties. I was fortunate enough to ask the first question of the whole weekend, one I directed at Marina Sirtis, asking how she and the rest of the cast are going to cope without Jonathan Frakes on board. After explaining that he and her are not REALLY married, she said they would miss his energy and his ability to “change the atoms in the room” to which LeVar Burton agreed.
We were also allowed to walk around the convention halls before the doors opened, where we had the opportunity take photo’s of the wonderful items that were on display, including a shuttle craft, screen used costumes, a chance to visit the dealer stands and photo’s in the Borg Alcove and on the infamous Enterprise-D bridge set.
The main event kicked off with a screening of ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’, introduced by Nicholas Meyer. Meyer considering himself to be ‘lucky’ to have found himself in the position to revive Star Trek after the mixed reception of the previous film Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Following an afternoon of autographs, photo shoots and shopping, fans were then treated to the Opening Ceremony hosted by Jonathan Ross. All of the guests were brought out for a brief chat with ‘Wossy’ in what proved to be a lively ninety minutes. Nothing raised a bigger laugh than when Ross talked to Levar Burton (Lt Geordi La Forge) about his ‘Rainbow Reading’ project in America. When Burton corrected him saying it’s called ‘Reading Rainbow’, Ross quipped ‘whichever way round it is, it’s still difficult for me to say!’
The second day of the convention saw a packed schedule with ten hours of fun pencilled in. ‘Voyager’ fans were treated to a double whammy of the chance to have a ‘Regeneration Chamber photo shoot with the Alice Krige (the Borg Queen) and fan favourite Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine). Ms Ryan was also one of the star speakers on the main ‘Enterprise Stage’ where fans learned amongst other things that her favourite colour is pink – when pressed as to why pink she answered ‘I guess I’m just a girly girl’, and that shooting on the Voyager set was regularly interrupted by her time-consuming bathroom breaks. It appears going to the bathroom in a skin-tight ‘dermal regeneration’ suit is not exactly plain sailing!
Colm Meaney was another hotly anticipated talk and he didn’t disappoint the fans. He revealed he relished the opportunity to play the Everyman Chief O’Brien although he had to think carefully about going from a semi regular on The Next Generation to committing to becoming a main cast member for a seven-year run on Deep Space Nine. He also confided that he enjoyed his recent appearance in Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa as he enjoys bringing comedy to the roles he plays.
Other talks included Aron Eisenberg and Max Grodenchik as Nog and Rom, in full make up and screen used costumes, The Women of Star Trek which included Hana Hatae, Alice Krige and Suzei Plakson, and Robert Picardo, Ethan Phillips and Tim Russ talking about their time on Voyager
The day was rounded off by the showpiece event of the weekend: The Next Generation Reunion talk moderated by William Shatner. Nine cast members headed by Sir Patrick Stewart were quizzed on their time in the show, some with a glass of wine firmly in hand! Despite some technical issues and the talk running a full 20 minutes shorter than advertised, there were nice moments such as John de Lancie (the Enterprise-Ds nemesis Q) sharing his appreciation of conventions as a way to connect with his fans in the same way he experiences at the stage door during his many theatre appearances. Brent Spiner (Lt Commander Data) would like to see transporters as the next Trek technology to be invented for the real world ‘let’s all beam back to my house for dinner!’ Levar Burton shared his excitement that real world replicators are just around the corner and Gates McFadden (Dr Beverly Crusher) said she’d love to take a trip into space if it’s possible in her lifetime. William Shatner may or may not have had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he chipped in ‘Sir Branson wanted me to pay $280,000!! I’d do it if he paid ME $280,000’.
There was a slightly quieter feel to the final day as the excitement, and late nights, started to kick in. But there was no let up in the schedule.
Karl Urban (Dr Leonard McCoy) gave an interesting talk and was incredibly gracious and respectful to the audience. It was great to hear of his genuine love for Star Trek and that his line in the first 2009 reboot ‘you green blooded hobgoblin’ was not originally in the script but ad-libbed by Urban as a nod of the head to ‘the late Great DeForest Kelley’.
Nichelle Nichols (Lt Nyoya Uhura) and Robert Picardo (EMH) then took to the main stage to talk about Nichelle’s time playing Lt Uhura on the Original Series. The highlight of which was a beautiful duet of ‘You Send Me’ after which Picardo and Nichelle kissed and the huge amount of respect and love between the two was plain to see.
Bruce Greenwood was a huge hit on the Voyager Stage, a welcome addition to this years proceedings as a much improved and enlarged free talk stage. Greenwood was animated throughout and had the audience laughing when he recalled JJ Abrams frantically trying to reach him once the script for 2013’s Star Trek: Into Darkness had been sent to him. Already on his guard, he recalls the moment where Abrams told him about his ‘pivotal’ role in the new movie. ‘PIVOTAL?!?!’ At that moment he knew all would not end well for Captain Pike. After also having shared his beat boxing skills (surprisingly good!) he delighted the audience by jumping down off the stage to shake hands with many fans and pose for selfies.
For those lucky few who paid a vast amount of money for the top package, they were treated to a Skype video link talk with Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy. Fans had the chance to ask Nimoy a variety of questions ranging from classic Trek to the reboot movies, and his thoughts on the upcoming Star Trek 3 – will he appeared with Shatner one final time?
William Shatner headlined the final days festivities with his talk on the main stage where a somewhat bizarre exchange occurred with a fan who wanted him to recite some lines from 1994s Generations movie. After several misunderstandings regarding what he was being asked to say, he said the line too much laughter and applause. The rest of the talk proceeded in a more conventional fashion with Shatner being asked whether he believed in extraterrestrials. After much deliberation he concluded ‘anything’s possible’.
But what are the thoughts of those fans who spent, in some cases, thousands of pounds? You may remember that 2012 suffered a lot of justified criticism, as did the Frankfurt event, but had anything been learned by the organisers? We took the opportunity to ask a number of people these questions and the general feeling from fans was that the event had been a huge success and many lessons had been learned. The organisation was good and the actors were almost universally friendly, spending a lot of time with their fans and leaving them feeling like they’d made a real connection in the few minutes they’d shared.
The biggest praise went to how the free talks were managed throughout the weekend. Gone was the endless queueing for tickets, this time there were two very large, open stages that you were free to just walk up to, take a seat and enjoy the talk, there was still priority seating for the top ticket holders in the first 4 rows of seating, but that’s to be expected.
The sound from these free talks was very good, you could hear the guest and they could hear you, a surprise considering the stage’s were open to the surrounding main hall, where noise that proved to be an issue to the main stage was easily ignored here on these smaller stage’s.
The dealer stands were quite impressive, much more to choose from than previous events, you could purchase pretty much everything from these stalls, from starship models, photo prints, autograph holders, DVD’s and Blu-Ray’s (at great prices), clothing and of course, Starfleet uniforms. As with all big events, most of the prices were inflated, but there was also the odd bargain to be had here and there.
The museum pieces were quite impressive too, with Filmwelt again the supplier of all items.
There were a few complaints however, one of which is the fact autograph tokens had to be purchased before you could visit your chosen guest. This was to avoid the long queues at the autograph area, and the handling of cash, which to be fair, seemed to work, but there has to be a better way to do this other than lining up twice.
By far the biggest complaint lies squarely at the Main Enterprise Stage. The sound system here was appalling. The guests on stage could barely hear any of the questions asked, leading to misunderstanding and confusion. This was most evident at the TNG Reunion Talk, an event that cost £55 per person and was supposed to last 45 mins. The moment that Stewart, Sirtis, Mcfadden, Dorn, Meaney, Burton, Crosby, DeLancie, Spiner and of course Shatner took their seats things went wrong. The microphones handed to our guests either did not work or suffered from ear-splitting feedback, the monitors that should have helped them to hear us, at first, were pointing towards the audience, Marina Sirtis herself turned them the right way, but that was a semi-pointless act because there were no microphones in the audience.
Once the audience had mic’s, the guests still had extreme difficulty in hearing any of the questions, leaving Shatner and Sirtis to control the proceedings, at one point Marina had to walk off stage to change her mic so we could hear her.
What really had everyone up in arms was the fact the show finished on time, despite it starting 20 minutes late, hardly value for money, considering all the other issues. This was because the group bridge photo shoot was over subscribed, and had to be extended to allow all those waiting to have their shot done, something William Shatner himself apologised for at the TNG talk, something such a high-profile guest should NEVER have to do. We are of course still waiting for an apology from the event organisers.
Clearly the positives outweighed the negatives this time around, with the organisers listening to previous feedback and acting upon it, which they deserve great credit for.
And so an amazing Trekkie weekend closed with thousands of satisfied fans leaving the ExCel centre with new prized autographs and photographs to add to their collections. Friendships had been renewed and strengthened with fans coming from all over the UK, and many other parts of the world to share their love and passion for Star Trek.
Surely, the best of times?!
Meeting the guys from Star Trek Email.
Me, meeting fellow blogger Star Trek Risa.
Betty appears courtesy of Fuschia Nova Cosplay and Performance