Coming face to face with a Shatner in the wild, this is Destination Star Trek.
As a kid there was always a stigma attached to the phenomenon that is a Star Trek convention. In the press and with the working class man, it was the stuff of ridicule, the reserve of weirdos and freaks. Yet in my household I was actively encouraged to watch the original series along with a host of other sci-fi classics by my working class father who, if truth be told, was watching as much for his own enjoyment as mine.
Although I don’t consider myself a Trekkie, Trekker or any other faction of the fanbase, Star Trek has always been an integral part of my life, in particular the Original Series (OS) and The Next Generation (TNG). The technology, the exploration of the unknown and the moral backbone of Gene Roddenberry’s vision always appealed to my nerdy nature. It’s taken thirty seven years for me to circumnavigate that inherited stigma attached to a Star Trek convention, and today I boldly go where no Harrison has gone before. I spend the day at Destination Star Trek.
No ordinary convention, Destination Star Trek is in its third year and forms Britains largest gathering of cast and crew from across the Trek universe, and despite the event starting on a Friday there were plenty of big names around, many of whom I recognised, others I did not. Most represented, it felt, was The Next Generation with Levar Burton (Geordie), Marina Sirtis (Troy), Michael Dorn (Worf), Gates McFadden (Crusher) and Denise Crosby (Yar) all in attendance on this first day with Captain Picard himself (Patrick Stewart) to steal the limelight later in the weekend. Voyager, Enterprise, Deep Space Nine and one or two names from the Next Generation movies including the glamorous Alice Krige who first played the role of the Borg Queen in the motion picture Star Trek: First Contact. The only representatives from the current run of silver screen movies are Karl Urban (Bones) who gives talks throughout the weekend schedule and Bruce Greenwood (Pike).
Of course the actors are available for autographs and photo ops in exchange for your cash and patience whilst waiting in tremendous queues for the more popular cast members.
The talks come in a variety of skill levels over the three stage areas which are aptly titled Excelsior, Voyager and Enterprise. The latter being the largest and separate from the convention floor, whilst the other two inhabit the same space and can be dipped in and out of. For the hardcore Next Gen fans a hosted discussion was in full flow, where the audience would have to nominate their top ten episodes from across the entirety of the long-running series. Nominations would be made, arguments and counter-arguments would ensue with a show of hands generally deciding the status of any given episode. This is where fans get to exhibit their in-depth knowledge and, although fascinating to take in as a spectator, I felt very much out of my depth.
Less intense were talks by Star Trek author and editor Larry Nemcek giving insight into behind the scenes of the shows via a simple slideshow. By far the most interesting for me on the day, and perhaps surprisingly so, came a talk from Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning officer (real job title) of Microsoft with his talk – Tomorrow is Yesterday: Bringing the tech of Trek to life – where we were shown film and pictures of some of the technology being developed by Microsoft that could be a precursor to that seen on Star Trek. For example, an augmented reality screen that allows the user to interact with three dimensional shapes in a physical space is not that far removed from the famous holodeck of the Enterprise 1701-D. When Coplin finished his engaging presentation he pointed us in the direction of some of his team who were armed with new Windows phones that had been specially programmed to allow the personal assistant function, Cortana, to translate English to Klingon. A fine example of the Universal Translator in action.
Kivos Fajo is a collector of original, set-worn costumes, props and items of set. He brings a small number of artifacts from his museum of more than 150,000 items to the show as a free to view exhibition. He tells us that each item is genuine and verified as such, though many of the items are in poor repair from years of use on the shows. The highlights of today’s exhibition include TNG uniforms and Geordie’s visor, an item Fajo points out as one he’d love to try on but could not risk damaging given its fragile state. Easily missed but placed around the floor near the pop-up museum are works of art, mostly bold graphic prints representing all things Trek.
There was a boast ahead of the event of being able to find love in the Klingon Zone, something that seemed unlikely upon closer inspection as it appeared to be a mildly themed cafe area where a trio of full costumed Klingons would come and randomly (presumably) abuse patrons, in Klingon. Despite their aggressive perception, the three were quite happy to pose for pictures before breaking your arms off and beating you to death with them (dramatisation, may not have happened).
Smaller areas of interest included the gaming zone which consisted of a room for playing Civilisation: Beyond Earth, an area for previewing the forthcoming new Trek game, Star Trek Timelines alongside some retro and role-playing booths.
For more photo ops with the stars, but also attractions in their own right, are the Borg regeneration area, the Enterprise transporter pad and a replica of the bridge of the Enterprise from The Next Generation. The latter is something of the star of the show and with use of my press pass I got to explore, uninhibited, ahead of the show opening and get close to the original Captain ‘James Tiberius Kirk’, William Shatner. I hate to spoil the illusion, but a lot of it was polystyrene, the set I mean, not Shatner.
As you’d expect, those geeky, awkward people once condemned to ridicule were able to roam the floor, free of persecution, in full costume, and some had made a real effort. A blue alien, guys dressed in federation mini-skirts, Borgs and any number of federation uniforms from across the generations of trek were out in force. Vendors and customers alike were all pleasant and willing to Engage! (sorry) in conversation. Not least Alison and Bill who had brought in their labour of love to be placed on show at the convention. A couple of years ago Alison bought a Honda Goldwing from an elderly gent who had begun to customise it with airbrushed trek characters. With the intention of keeping her husband Bill occupied Alison had a vision. The once cherry red machine was stripped, re-sprayed metallic blue and liveried with stunning airbrushed characters from The Next Generation on one side and the original series on the other. It doesn’t stop there. Bill has added some special touches including decal slogans and enough LED lighting to match the Enterprise with programmed patterns to emulation attack modes, warp speed and more. This beautiful machine is road legal and the pair literally travel to conventions on it.
…home. It was a long day. I had the luxury of a press pass that allowed me access to the floor a full two hours ahead of the public to photograph the stars, attend the Q&As and meet the vendors selling merchandise. With a brief break for lunch, not in the Klingon Zone I might add (I don’t care for Klingon insults with my sandwich), I toured the floor seeing as much as there was to see, talking to as many people as I could and taking in parts or entire talks where possible. It’s not a big event in square footage with a limited number of attractions. As a non-trekkie, one day was adequate to satisfy my desires. Hardcore fans would of course schedule their talks, and plan their activities for a whole weekend.
Whilst I felt a twinge of regret that I wouldn’t return for the next two days, and there were talks that I would have found entertaining, I left ExCel, London feeling thoroughly satisfied and up-beat. I took the cable-car home (living in the future!), regaled my wife with the highlights of my day and sat and watched part of an original series episode with my eldest daughter for the first time ever. before she had to go to bed at the insistence of her mother. I saw Captain Kirk today! The real one!
With a basic day ticket starting at £29, it’s not unreasonably priced, but any con attendee will know that photos and autographs with set you back more. If you’re rich, tickets rise incrementally to an eye watering £2999.00 for the VIP ‘Admiral Ticket Pass’, which includes virtually every perk the show has to offer, and you would hope – the first born child from your Star Trek cast member of choice*!
Would I go again? Yes, but unless I’m suddenly inspired to engross myself in the world of Trek? Just for one day thanks. Great fun, lots to see and a very friendly atmosphere. Well done Destination Star Trek!