Monday, June 07, 2004

FedCon 12 and the future of Trek

Convention photos

I've loved Science Fiction since I was a boy. Ever since my parents introduced me to Battlestar Galactica the art of placing real life issues against a fantastical backdrop has held a fascination like no other.

It was probably for this reason that I fell in love with Star Trek. The original show may have been produced on the cheap and have aged because of it, but the stories and their impact on western society can still be felt today. Gene Roddenberry hit on an idea to take the problems of 1960's America and implant them in a time and place where they could have a voice.

The show was intelligent, witty and different. It challenged the basic principles of sexism and racism. It deplored war while America was embroiled in it's bloodiest since WWII. It was for this reason that Star Trek grew even after it's untimely cancellation. It reached it's peak in the early to mid-1990's. The Next Generation had achieved something even the original show couldn't - solid ratings.

Unfortunately, all things come to an end. Even by the time of the record breaking First Contact (1996), the seeds of decline had been sown. Trek had failed to move with the times. Deep Space Nine, while intelligently written, struggled in the shadow of The Next Generation and failed to deliver the ratings the studio expected. The answer was to create a show that harkened back to the good old days of Picard. Star Trek: Voyager was a costly failure. It achieved its now standard seven year term but many would argue that it limped across the finish line. Too often did the show re-use storylines from the past.

Voyager, in the end was a poor Next Generation. And while The Next Gen was groundbreaking in the 1980's, it was not something that the disenfranchised people of the late 1990's could ever relate to.

In recent years my desire to see the cancellation of the latest incarnation of Trek (the truly disgraceful Enterprise) has left the entire notion of the franchise in a bad light for me. However, I remain a loyal fan and nothing brings my love for it back to the fore than a superb convention. And nobody does it better, than FedCon.

FedCon XII, again in the German city of Bonn, took place over the weekend of May 21st - 23rd, and was hosted by the typically flamboyant American Marc B Lee.


Nichelle Nichols ("Uhura" - Original Trek)
Connor Trinneer ("Trip" - Enterprise)
Anthony Montgomery ("Mayweather" - Enterprise)
Robert Picardo ("Doctor" - Voyager)
Tim Russ ("Tuvok" - Voyager)
Grace Lee Whitney ("Janice Rand" - Original Trek)
Robert O'Reilly ("Gowron" - The Next Generation/Deep Space Nine)
J.G. Hertzler ("Martok" - Deep Space Nine)
Musetta Vander (Various - Voyager/Buffy/Stargate/B5)
Virginia Hey ("Zhaan" - Farscape)
Ed Wasser ("Mr Morden" - Babylon 5)
Julie Benz ("Darla" - Buffy/Angel)
Tom Lenk ("Andrew" - Buffy/Angel)
Amber Benson ("Tara" - Buffy)
Richard Arnold (Trek Research Consultant)
Larry Nemecek (Editor - Communicator Magazine)
Lolita Fatjo (Script Co-ordinator - The Next Generation/Deep Space Nine/Voyager)

A typically packed schedule (plus an inability in getting out of bed) meant that I missed a number of guests, so apologies in advance.


The well documented passport incident had been resolved by the time of registration (at least until after the convention) so we were able to get there on time.

First up were Robert O'Reilly and J.G Hertzler. Their double act routine is, by now, well rehearsed and they didn't disappoint. A superb medley of shakespearean quotes had the audience captivated and illustrated again how much more interesting on stage the theatre actors tend to be. This perhaps didn't help as Julie Benz was next up for us and while some of her talk was interesting she often seemed like a fish out of water. She had some interesting comments about her time on Angel but in truth, that was about it.

Following the brilliantly orchestrated opening ceremony, it was time for the first of the big three. Only a day earlier, the official announcement was made that Enterprise was to continue for a fourth season, and when Connor Trinneer stepped out in front of the 2000 strong crowd you could tell his emotions were mixed with both relief and excitement.

Unfortunately for him, things were not so happy in the crowd. When I traveled to FedCon X, there was so much anticipation surrounding Enterprise that the guest at that event (Dominic Keating) was given a grand welcome. But three years of unoriginal storytelling and appalling viewing figures had left an air of resentment in some sections of the main hall.

Out went the questions about enjoyable episodes and in came relentless questioning about the future of the Trek franchise. Trinneer really didn't help himself. He accused the audience of being downbeat when questioned about the decision to move the show to the graveyard slot on a Friday night (a slot traditionally for shows that are about to be cancelled). Meanwhile he seemed to irate to answer the few questions he did have regarding the his time on the show.

In fairness, it can't be easy. As an actor on a modern trek show he has little input to any of the issues that have caused the shows downfall. Plus, as he kept saying, he'd only just found out he has a job for next year, so he doesn't care about the future. My friends who made Trinneers Sunday panel told me he handled himself better, so maybe he was just jetlagged.

I've seen Tim Russ a number of times and he is always entertaining. He's one of those convention guests who knows how to make the audience laugh. Do something in character. Talk about funny pranks on set. Sing. As always he did all 3 and they were as entertaining as the first time I saw him back in 1999.

Despite all the big names, the star of the day was undoubtedly Ed Wasser. Relegated to the graveyard 9:30pm shift it was unsurprising that so many people left. Even I did! However, I returned for the second half of his talk and was very impressed. The smaller names at these shows are often the most gracious and Ed was clearly taken aback at the level of support he was given. The surprise guest during his talk was his young son, who turns out to be a skate boarding fanatic and he can't be much older than 5!


We arrived in time to catch Tom Lenk, who scarily enough talks just like his character in Buffy. Following him was the second of the big three.

Now Anthony Montgomery hadn't exactly endeared himself to me and my friends as he had been on our little flight from Heathrow (along with Bob Picardo, Lolita Fatjo and Musetta Vander). We watched at the gate as he flouted the rules, demanding that he be allowed to take a second (overly large) piece of hand luggage on the plane with him. "I'm not leaving this stuff with these guys to trash" was one of the few phrases we heard.

So by the time he appeared on stage he had a lot to do to convince me he wasn't just an arrogant actor with delusions of grandeur. He failed. Like Connor Trinneer the day before, he also resented questioning about the shows future and by the time he had told everyone to shut up for talking during "his show" I was ready to leave. He was quite frankly, arrogant and somewhat egotistical and he thoroughly destroyed the image he had created at the start of his talk of the young black-american boy struggling against adversity. A word to the not so wise, Anthony. It ain't your show and it ain't no lecture. We paid a lot of money for you to entertain us and you failed miserably.

In comparison, Amber Benson was a breath of fresh air when she hobbled on stage with one leg in a cast. Like Ed Wasser, she seemed to understand the meaning of why these people turn up in their thousands to conventions. She understood that people wanted to be talked to, not at, and she gave some interesting insights into the harsh reality of independent film-making.

A quick hop across the corridor to the other hall and it was time for Lolita Fatjo. It always seems to be the case that I prefer listening to the behind the scenes people than the actors. Maybe it's my own desire to become a screenwriter or maybe it's just because the backroom staff know more about what really goes on. Either way, I've seen Lolita Fatjo at 4 conventions now and she's one of my favourite guests. No longer working for paramount, she's able to talk more as a fan than as an insider. Having been responsible for dealing with thousands of script submissions for Deep Space Nine and Voyager she understands what it means to be a young scriptwriter starting out. Her devotion for the shows she helped to create is clear and her respect for the great writers to emerge from those years (Ron Moore, Ira Stephen Behr, Rene Echevarria to name a few) is not misplaced. I'll look forward to seeing her again at a future con.

The main hall then became host to the dazzling costume performance. As always, these events are spectacular, well choreographed and ultra-realistic. When you hear that some costumes cost up to 1000 Euros, you can see why.

Now it was time for the main star. Nichelle Nichols is an icon for so many. I think she realises this and so when on stage there's a certain regal aura about her. It's shameless, but not off-putting because when she speaks you realise just how big Star Trek really is. The classic stories we've all read about were there. Martin Luther King telling the young actress she must not quit the show because she was a symbol of hope for black people. The many famous black women who's dreams became a reality because they saw Uhura in a position of authority. And of course... that kiss. It's easy to laugh now at something as tame as a kiss, but the episode was banned from many networks (including the BBC) for years for fear of offending people. Nichols may have been playing at being royalty but she certainly entertained.

Another convention favourite is Bob Picardo. A great entertainer with a lot of mileage behind him in classic 80's movies (Innerspace anyone?!). Holly was clearly quite taken with him as she snared him for a dance later that evening and then got chatting to him at the airport on the way home.

Saturday night was rounded off with the party. There's nothing quite like watching 10 fully clad stormtroopers dancing!

It was during that party that I realised something about myself. I don't know if it's the case with all trek fans, but there's more than just a hint of embarrassment about admitting to liking the geekiest franchise around. I've always felt it. And to my own disgrace I have often hid from admitting the geekier side of my persona. It's something I must fight, because the truth is, I have never felt as welcome and at home as I do at conventions.


A 4am finish at the party meant that the final day went by in a bit of a blur. The downside to the weekend came at the autograph session. Normally a stereotypical example of German efficiency, this year it left a lot to be desired and caused a serious amount of grumbles when, at ticket number 1000 the decision was taken to stop Nichelle Nichols signings. It was a poor finish to an otherwise superb weekend.

Sadly, we left before the closing ceremony as we had to catch a train to Dusseldorf for a Monday morning appointment at the British Consulate ;-)

I went to FedCon with a feeling of disillusionment about the entire notion of Star Trek. Star Trek was once the ground-breaker. It set the trends and others followed. It hurts not only to know that it isn't at the heights it once was, but also that the current incarnation is just a sad attempt to re-create the past.

I no longer think Star Trek is in turmoil. Enterprise is in turmoil. Rick Berman may rue the day he promised Anthony Mongomery that the show was guaranteed a seven year run. Such arrogance comes only from a delusion that greatness will continue no matter what shit you put out.

Enterprise will be cancelled and be forgotten by all but the few. Star Trek, and the influence it has had on the world will last forever.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Seduced by the dark side of middle England.

If there is one thing that has been winding me up in recent weeks (apart from work and the usual stuff!) it's how easily people are seduced by the notion of patriotism.

There can be no doubting that there are issues within Europe, just as there are in every form of government around the world, but are these problems really worth isolating ourselves? If we are to listen to the ramblings of fascist heart throb of the elderly Robert Kilroy-Silk then shutting ourselves off from those evil foreigners in Europe is the smartest thing to do.

Unfortunately, as Labour prepare for the inevitable drubbing in the European elections and the Tories fight amongst themselves about how best to distance themselves from the BNP, it would appear that the disenfranchised electorate have turned to Kilroys UKIP to cast the sympathy vote.

Have the events of our history taught us nothing? Today is a poignant reminder of how far we've come in such a short space of time. 60 years since D-Day and western Europe is almost unrecognisable as the same place that saw so much horror. For the first time since the Romans ruled Europe 1500 years ago there is unity. Even in Eastern Europe the signs are now there that they too can be welcomed in from the cold.

It's not a utopia. It never will be. But surely working closer with Europe and indeed the rest of the World brings us closer to peace. Brings us closer to understanding the many cultural differences that led to war in the past.

60 years since the beginning of the end for the Third Reich and I can think of no more fitting tribute to those lost than to say in one loud voice that we all want to be a part of Europe. We all want to be a part of this world.

Isolation breeds hate. The UKIP are not the answer.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Another Angel... Another Apocalypse (SPOILERS)

The curse of studio executives seems to be striking all too often these days. Probably one of the biggest sufferers in this is Joss Whedon. The creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, like J M Straczynski (Babylon 5) before him, has had to fight continuously and often in vain to keep his shows on the air.

Buffy was one of the most intelligently written shows of a generation. It tapped into the teenage market like nothing ever before and very much created the mould for many of our modern tough female characters in TV and film. Buffy was like a modern day Ripley (Alien) except younger and full of wise-cracks.

As time wore on Buffy suffered the typical problems of being dumped by it's network. It and it's spin off Angel found a home on the fledgling UPN, which could never offer the mass market of the other big hitters. Despite the strength of the story telling Buffy ended with very viewers. I would argue that this was more because of the poor network it was served by, rather than because of it being a poor show.

However, at least it was given a chance. It was allowed to run it's course. Unfortunately, once gone, Angel seemed destined for the scrap heap. Only a year since the end of Buffy and the curtain has fallen on Angel. It was not planned. It was not expected. The staff weren't told until well past the halfway mark of what has turned out to be a final season.

In many ways this has attributed to a relatively poor conclusion after 5 years of dark story telling. Now don't get me wrong. The end of Angel was still well written and superbly orchestrated. Joss Whedon and his staff should be commended for managing to pull off a strong finish despite the lack of warning. But it was still lacking.

The first two thirds of season 5 were building towards a longer story arc, this seemed clear. Unfortunately, the decision to cancel has led to a number of liberties being taken with the story we had grown used to.

Out went the prophecy which has become central to the story. In came a suddenly devious and plotting Angel. That he claimed to have been plotting for 10 months was outrageous given that the first appearance of this came only 4 eps from the end.

The end, however, still packed a punch and deserves credit. A friend pointed out to me that one of the oddities of Buffy's finale was that it was the good demons that died (Spike, Anya), while the main human cast survived. On the surface it appears that it's rolls reversed in Angel, as first Wesley, then Lindsey and finally Gunn all bite the bullet. The remaining good guys are left unresolved. Running towards an impossible number of enemies as the screen fades to black. It's a cunning ending, leaving it open for a possible return of Spike and Angel. In my mind, they all died, but only time will tell.

All that's left is to say goodbye. Angel will be remembered as the disjointed one. It's peaks (Seasons 2 and most of 5) are some of the best television in recent times. It's troughs (season 3) are not so memorable.