MATT AKES US ON A JOURNEY THROUGH HIS FIRST STAR TREK CONVENTION
I have been a fan of Star Trek for as long as I can remember — some of my earliest memories are of watching Star Trek at 6pm on BBC2. I had never been to a convention despite wanting to since I found out about them. So, when I saw the advert for the 2018 Destination Star Trek that mentioned a 25th Anniversary Deep Space Nine talk, I decided that it was time for my first Star Trek convention. Deep Space Nine is my favourite Star Trek, and the fact that it was the 25th Anniversary of its first airing seemed quite apt for me to attend my first Star Trek convention. After booking the hotel and initial entry ticket, each payday for the next several months I would purchase tickets for photos, talks and a documentary screening before the big day came.
DAY 1 – FRIDAY
The day finally arrived, and it didn’t really start all that great. The second of three trains I had to get was delayed by 41 minutes, when I got to Birmingham station to change to the third train I just missed the next train so had to run to another platform for another, and then when I finally got booked into my hotel and set off to the NEC my phone tried taking me across a locked footbridge. At that point, I nearly had a breakdown as I couldn’t find a way across the train tracks that the footbridge went over. Once I calmed down and had a think, I wondered if there was a way through the station, and there was. The main entrance was through the train station! Why my phone’s GPS was trying to take me across the footbridge I have no idea.
After my near breakdown was averted and I finally got into the convention hall, I looked around in awe of everything that was there. Stores, stages, sets for photos, prop museums. I was in paradise. Because Friday wasn’t a busy day, it was the perfect opportunity to have a look around the stores and the museums. I got my free bridge photo I’d purchased taken as well.
There were some talks that I thought sounded interesting, and I managed to get a decent seat close to the stage which was even better when Anthony Rapp from the new Star Trek Discovery jumped on stage as a surprise to everyone in the audience. My respect for him instantly jumped, as the reason he came out on stage was because he liked talking to fans like us. After a few questions when he was told that the next question would be the last he sounded genuinely disappointed and even asked if they could give him more time. That to me was such an amazing thing: everyone in the audience had come to see the stars of Star Trek and here was one of the stars who wanted to see us.
After Anthony Rapp left the stage, there were some preparations made for the next talk which was by prop maker Mike Moore. He had worked on The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. His talk was part demonstration, part question and answer session. He started off by showing a mould of a prop and then poured a resin into the mould. Whilst it set he took questions from the audience. There were some really interesting questions, one of the most interesting one was about 3-D printing. He said that he didn’t think that 3-D printing was at a point where they could realistically use it for prop creation due to the cost and time it took to print the props. Once the resin had set, he removed the mould and showed off the prop. One of the audience members asked if they would give it away at the end and they were called on stage to be the lucky recipient of the prop. It was an interesting talk and demonstration of the prop making process.
The next talk was called The Cardassians, so I stayed in my seat because this was one that I was very interested in seeing. Andrew Robinson, Casey Biggs and Vaughn Armstrong were the guests. There were plenty of questions asked and answered in this session. The level of humour in some of the answers was brilliant. One audience member asked a question about the relationship between Dr. Bashir and Garak to which Casey Biggs jumped in part way through and said “So what you’re saying is that Garak swings both ways?” and without skipping a beat Andrew Robinson replied back with “No, Garak swings ALL ways.” This left the audience in fits of laughter. It was such a fun talk, I could have listened to them talking all night. That was the last talk I attended on the Friday.
DAY 2 – SATURDAY
Saturday morning I was awake at 7am and showered and out of my hotel by 8am walking down to the convention centre. Now I knew where I was going I was able to avoid another breakdown. I got there bright and early, but not as early as others. We were instructed to go outside and into a different door that took us into the part of the hall where I collected my pass from. The queue was massive, and I was a little confused as to why there was such a large queue. I later realised it was so the front entrance wasn’t blocked up with people. When the doors were opened, everyone filed back through in an orderly fashion. I headed straight for the Enterprise stage where the 25th Anniversary Deep Space Nine talk was scheduled to start.
In all the queues, I struck up conversations with complete strangers which normally I am not very comfortable doing, but everyone at the convention had at least one thing in common: we all love Star Trek. It was fun conversing with complete strangers and sharing our thoughts, opinions and general experiences with Star Trek. I’d never felt so comfortable talking about my love of this show to so many people, but it didn’t stop at Star Trek, I talked with a couple about video games and other films and TV series we both enjoyed. Everyone was so friendly and seemed interested in talking to complete strangers.
Once I took my seat in for the 25th Anniversary DS9 talk it wasn’t long until the guests appeared on stage and immediately started taking questions from the crowd. I managed to ask a question but I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to thank the people responsible for my favourite of all the Star Trek series. It was quite an experience thanking them and then having the audience applaud. Asking the question seemed like a bit of an anti-climax after the response I got from thanking them. The other questions that were asked yielded very informative responses, and it was fascinating hearing them talk about the challenges that they faced making the show how they wanted to make it.
Saturday was a lot busier than the Friday, and the cosplayers were out in spectacular fashion all in different and interesting outfits from every iteration of Star Trek. One of the best ones I saw was a young woman who had a prosthetic leg who was cosplaying as a Borg and worked her prosthetic into the cosplay. It looked amazing. There were other equally fantastic cosplays, some phenomenal Klingons, Romulans, Ferengi, Borg and Starfleet officers. I spoke with a couple of them, and it was amazing how many of them made their entire outfits themselves, including the props.
I had a couple of photos booked in for Saturday, and the first one was with Terry Farrell who played Jadzia Dax in Deep Space Nine. I wasn’t queuing long as they kept the photos moving at a brisk pace, and as I stepped up Terry caught sight of my T-shirt and exclaimed quite loudly “Oh my God I love your shirt.” That was quite a fun moment as the photos were not really a place where you could have conversations. The second photo was one that I had been really excited for, Armin Shimerman in full makeup as Quark for the last time on the mock up of Quark’s bar. The Quark photo had a huge queue and I felt like I was waiting for hours, but it was worth it for the photo and seeing him in full makeup up close. It was incredible how good the makeup is. I sometimes find myself thinking that as good as it looks on camera it probably doesn’t look as good in real life. The Quark makeup looked amazing. The only thing that I was annoyed at was the T-shirt I had worn specially for the photo cannot be seen in the photo because I did the natural thing that you do at a bar. I leant on it which meant I was photographed sideways on. But apart from that I’m very happy with the photo.
The one problem I found with the convention was the schedule overlap — photos would overlap talks that I wanted to see and talks would overlap each other at times. I had wanted to see the Securing DS9 panel with Nana Visitor and Rene Auberjonois, but my Terry Farrell photo was right smack in the middle of it. I only managed to catch the tail end of it, from way at the back behind a crowd of standing people. Also, the Discovery Year One talk that was included in my Lieutenant’s pass slightly overlapped with the Quark at the bar photo which meant straight out of that talk I had to run as fast as I could to the other side of the convention hall for my photo. Getting to that actual photo area was difficult because a rather large crowd had gathered for a glimpse of Quark. However, I was quite lucky with my overlaps as nothing really overlapped to the point where I had to choose between one paid item or another. The organisers were really good at making sure that people got to everything they had paid for. If photos overlapped they were available to assist in getting you in quicker or giving you advice on which one to go to first.
I went to the Ferengi Family Get Together talk which included Armin Shimerman, Aron Eisenberg, Max Grodenchik and Chase Masterson all in full makeup together and in character for the most part. It was quite a thrill seeing them all on stage as their characters, and some of the answers to the questions were utterly hilarious. Someone asked Grand Nagus Rom if he had any advice for Theresa May. His advice killed the audience, “Invest wisely, because you may find yourself out of work very soon.” Once that talk was over I had less than an hour to get some food. With everything crowded for lunch, I had an idea to go to the Subway in the train station which wasn’t that far a walk out of the convention centre. The queue there was a lot shorter and I was back in time for the next talk I had which was the Discovery Year One talk.
Star Trek Discovery has been a bit of a divisive entry in the Star Trek series. I didn’t enjoy the first two episodes, so I never really finished it until I saw that the Year One talk was included with my Lieutenant’s pass. I decided that I should watch the whole series before the convention. I found that the further I got through the season the more enjoyable it became. It still has issues, canon-wise, which is one of my bug-bears with Post-Nemesis Star Trek in general. But that’s another story and I’m going to resist the urge to go off onto that tangent. This is about the Star Trek convention, not my opinions on modern day Star Trek incarnations. The talk itself was quite entertaining. It was especially fun watching Kenneth Mitchell answer the question of which was their favourite Star Trek series in Klingon before saying “Deep Space Nine.”
I got my photo with Terry Farrell signed, and she again commented on my T-shirt and we had a brief conversation about all the unique costumes and clothes that she had seen. Once I had my photo signed, I noticed Ira Steven Behr sat with nobody around so I took the opportunity to thank him again for Deep Space Nine. He asked if I was going to the documentary screening that evening, when I told him I was he said “See you there, you’ll love it.” Those were the moments that I really cherished about the convention — the conversations with what are heroes to me and I’m sure to many others and how polite they were. The last talk of Saturday was about the music of Star Trek. As someone who loves film scores, this was something that really interested me. It was interesting watching someone break down and analyse the use of music in Star Trek.
After the talk I headed back to my hotel to change into a shirt for the Red Carpet premiere of the Star Trek Deep Space Nine documentary “What We Left Behind.” You can read my review in an earlier post. I was glad that I changed into a shirt as there were people in full tuxedos in attendance. Walking the red carpet was quite an experience. There were all the stars getting photos taken, and I managed to get a seat very close to the front and saw more and more of the stars of the documentary coming in to take their seats alongside veteran Star Trek alumni such as Walter Koenig. Before the documentary started, the cast and Ira Steven Behr went on stage but it seemed Andrew Robinson didn’t get that message as he was still sat in the audience when they walked out on stage and marched up shouting about always leaving him out of the fun before he was pulled up onto the stage by a couple of his co-stars. There was a wonderful atmosphere throughout the whole documentary screening which really enhanced the viewing experience. Even if the seats were very uncomfortable. I ended up having to shuffle around in my chair a couple of times because my bum was going numb. Apart from that though the screening was incredible.
Once the screening was over I headed down to the Hilton Hotel for the Mirror Universe Party where the Star Trek blues band was playing. They were brilliant and all their songs had a Star Trek angle, unfortunately I didn’t stay as long as I wanted as I was absolutely shattered after a long day so I headed back to my hotel room and collapsed on my bed and went to sleep.
DAY 3 – SUNDAY
Sunday was a much more packed day than the Saturday in terms of talks that I had tickets for and I had a photo with Casey Biggs in full makeup as Damar scheduled. It was the same as Saturday morning, joining a queue and waiting for the doors to open. I got talking with a group of friends who had come down for the one day and again it was really fun talking to these complete strangers. I am normally quite shy when it comes to talking to people I don’t know but I felt so much at ease there.
Once I was in the convention hall I went up to the Enterprise stage for the Michael Dorn and Terry Farrell talk. The talk was interesting and they briefly touched on Terry Farrell’s departure from the series at the end of the sixth season and how they wanted to change when she left to the episode Change of Heart as it would have created more character development for Worf. There was an amusing anecdote that Michael Dorn told about using a part of Worf in a meeting with an IRS agent where he said to him that if he didn’t give him the deductions he wanted he would kill him where he stood. The IRS agent apparently didn’t see the funny side of that.
After the talk I got an early lunch as I knew that I wouldn’t get chance to later on due to the talks I had tickets for and the photoshoot with Casey Biggs. After I had eaten I went for the Casey Biggs photo shoot and they were running behind on Nichelle Nichols who was just before, this was due to her being unable to attend the photoshoot on the Saturday due to health concerns. The way the organisers arranged the crowd of people queuing for photos was spot on it was brilliant how they managed the situation. Whilst I was waiting I got speaking with someone who had come from Poland for the convention which I found to be so dedicated, I struggled travelling a few hours by train to get to the convention let alone getting a plane. Once I got in for my photo with Casey Biggs I was stunned at how awesome he looked in full makeup and when I had my photo taken I couldn’t resist and yelled “For Cardassia!” to him and to my utter delight he returned a authoritative “For Cardassia.” Hands down one of the best moments of the whole weekend for me.
It was another mad dash to a talk after the photo. The next 3 and a half hours for me were just back to back talks. First was the Man in the Mirror talk with Jason Issacs, he is such a great public speaker and took questions about all sorts of different things from his career. Not being a Harry Potter fan I didn’t understand when a member of the audience asked him if he wanted a sock he had. I asked a Potter fan what it was about a few days later. Another question was about the film Event Horizon and he talked about the body cast he had done for his death and that he wanted to keep it but wasn’t allowed. He was so funny and insightful and it felt like a friend telling you stories the way he interacted with the audience. He joked around and talked about how he was impressed with the group of Trekkies who were still at the bar when he went down at 5am and wondered if any of them were in the audience.
After the Jason Issacs talk was the Next Generation talk which consisted of Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis and Gates McFadden. They were great, Marina is completely unfiltered in her opinion and it was great watching her say how she really felt. Criticising CBS All Access for making Americans pay to watch Star Trek Discovery when the UK gets it on Netflix. They talked about their experiences on The Next Generation, the films and Gates talked about her directorial efforts on the show and how they all rallied around each other and helped each other out as much as they could. Especially when one of their fellow cast members was the director. Michael Dorn talked about what they called planet hell and how stray cats would use it as a litterbox. He included a hilarious anecdote about one day they were filming on planet hell and Patrick Stewart just started laughing and said “I don’t know how I got here, one day I was on stage and the next I’m laying in cat shit.” The talk was fantastic and didn’t feel like it had been an hour by the time it was over.
The last talk of the day was the Deep Space Nine Life on the Prominade talk, this consisted of the whole cast of Deep Space Nine who were in attendance and Ira Steven Behr, 17 people in total. For that many people on stage an hour didn’t seem long enough for everyone to talk. Armin Shimerman made a comment that really stuck in my mind, they were talking about if they felt that Deep Space Nine finally got the respect it deserved. He said, “No, take a look out there at those banners, there is one Deep Space Nine banner and it’s Avery, all the others have multiple characters from their shows and we have the one. So I don’t think it is getting the respect it deserves.” He was right, the Original Series and The Next Generation get so much attention as being Star Trek and the rest of the shows are unfairly judged to be inferior to them. Deep Space Nine for me is the best Star Trek because it had real character development and a long running story arc that ran from beginning to end, the episodes were not self contained stories and they tackled real world issues such as religious fundamentalism, terrorism, politics more so than any of the other Star Trek series’ did before. And yet it is still seen as that one of the space station by a lot of people. Even though through the advent of streaming it is becoming more popular it is still not getting the respect it deserves. I’m digressing again, sorry.
After the Deep Space Nine talk was over I went to get my photo of me at Quark’s bar with Quark signed by Armin Shimerman. He took a while coming back to the table because of a small reunion backstage after the talk and whilst I was getting my photo signed I asked him what it was like to be in the Quark makeup again. I was expecting some sort of response about how it was like finding an old friend or something like that. His response was simply, “Hot and sticky,” which I found really funny because it was completely not what I expected. I had wanted to get my photo of Casey Biggs in full Damar makeup signed but he had already left by the time I got to the table, but I’m sure I’ll get chance to next time, because I will be going to the next convention.
I absolutely loved my first Star Trek convention experience, I got a lot of great memories and experiences from it and I cannot wait for the next one where I intend on going all out and getting the VIP package if I can save up enough money for it.