Last year, I wrote a review of the Sci-Fi Scarborough 2019 convention for this very blog that saw my stats skyrocket from about 20 a day to over 300! That shows you the popularity of this convention. The fact that the comments I received were universally positive tells you something about the kind of people with whom it is popular. Sci-Fi Scarborough is a happy convention, a family convention; it’s a great couple of days to wallow in unashamed geekishness in the beautiful setting of a North Yorkshire seaside town. That’s why for the last 4 years my wife and I have really looked forward to the weekend of Sci-Fi Scarborough, making a little holiday of it and generally having a lovely, relaxing time. So, you can imagine that we, along with most of the regular attendees of Sci-Fi Scarborough, were absolutely gutted to learn that the event had been cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK. Not an unexpected cancellation, of course; but still a real disappointment.
However, the organisers of Sci-Fi Scarborough are not ones to disappoint their regulars, and so on Saturday 4th April, the day that would have been the first of the convention; they held an online event through facebook, available free to everyone – even if you didn’t have a ticket for the original event. So, how does an online convention work, I hear you ask? Very well, it turns out. The people at Sci-Fi Scarborough posted updates on their facebook page at regular intervals from 10am to 6pm on Saturday, providing the ‘attendees’ with plenty of stuff to entertain them: pre-recorded interviews, fan films, musical performances and contests in which people could send in their drawings (for younger members) and photographs of their cosplay (for all ages). Cosplay is a big part of Sci-Fi Scarborough and some cosplayers will have worked long and hard on their costumes in preparation for the convention, so it’s excellent that they still get the opportunity to show off their handiwork, even if it is from the comfort of their own homes.
Things kicked off at 9:30am with a video introduction from Steve, one of the organisers of Sci-Fi Scarborough, welcoming everyone to the event and explaining their motivation behind the online convention (sadly, they lost one of their team to the virus). Next, as a bit of fun and to get everyone at home warmed up, there was a video of ‘Spidey Family Yoga’, in which the Web-Sliger himself takes us through a superheroic keep-fit routine. The official start of the convention is at 10am, with a fabulous video montage of photographs from past events. This is also when participants are allowed access to traders, artists and authors, who made their wares available to buy via mail order. All of these things are open to comments and there’s a lively and friendly discourse going on the whole time. At 10:10am, there’s a message from actor Clem So, who would have been one of the guests at the convention.
The first of the fan videos that were scattered throughout the day appeared at 10:30am and it was the opening episode of the American web series Doctor Who – Velocity. I’ve been a big fan of Doctor Who – Velocity since I first heard of it about a year ago and it was great to hear from the comments that a lot of people who hadn’t heard of the series were being introduced to it. I love fan films and always have done since I first saw some clumsily done spoofs of Doctor Who distributed on VHS in the late 80s. It was a bitter-sweet experience to watch some of them on this day, as myself and some of my friends were in the middle of our own Doctor Who fan film Spawn of the Deep when the current climate erupted, leading to us having to abandon production indefinitely. Hopefully, when this is all over, we’ll be able to pull ourselves back together and relaunch (though we may have to start from scratch to avoid glaring continuity issues).
The kids’ drawing contest started at 10:30am and at 11am attendees were encouraged to send in their photos from previous events. Shortly afterward, there was a link to artist Sheikh Islam, as he painted live for a couple of hours. Another fan film went live at 11:15 with Doctor Who – The Resurrection, created by a group of young fans local to the Scarborough area, which led us nicely into the lunch break from 12pm to 1pm. After lunch break, it was the recorded interview that I had been waiting for: Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant, each speaking from their respective homes. I found this a really enjoyable interview and the informality of speaking from their own homes seemed to encourage them to express opinions possibly never expressed before; when asked about the 1993 semi-pro video production The Airzone Solution, it seemed to trigger a few home truths about BBV Productions that I’d certainly never heard previously. I do love a bit of gossip.
Star Wars fan video Stormtroopers and British Star Trek spoof The Away Mission put in an appearance, demonstrating that it wasn’t just Doctor Who fan videos that were being shown today. Also after lunch, the raffle and cosplay competition were launched at 1:30pm and 2pm respectively and there was more for fans of 80s Doctor Who with a recorded interview from Terry Molloy, the actor who appeared as Davros opposite Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. After a tribute to Jerry Scott, a sadly missed member of the Sci-Fi Scarborough team, there were the results of the cosplay competition, the drawing competition and the drawing of the raffle, which raised £177 for St. Catherine’s Hospice and Yorkshire Air Ambulance.
To add a sprinkle of variety to the line-up, magician Jay Gatling appeared at 4:05pm and juggler Mr. Erwood appeared at 4:30pm, followed by the Online Geek Movie Quiz at 4:50pm. Another big interview at 5pm with Garrett Wang who played Harry Kim in Star Trek: Voyager, appearing live from his living room in Calgary, Canada (not the US, oops!). This was a bit of a scoop, because he wasn’t even lined up as a guest for the actual convention if it had gone ahead, but it was an entertaining end to the interviews, though not quite the end of the event. To round things off with a bang, we have a selection of tracks from the sci-fi themed band Blues Harvest going live at 5:30, including a rather splendid rendition of ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky, a personal favourite of mine. A brief closing message from Steve (remember him?) and that was Sci-Fi Scarborough Online nicely rounded off for the day.
Now, this might not be everybody’s idea of a convention, but needs must when the devil drives. These guys didn’t have to put anything on at all; a great many big corporate conventions will have just cancelled and that’s the end of it, but because they care about their attendees and don’t want to disappoint people unduly, they went out of their way to organise the best day’s entertainment possible under the circumstances – and all for free. And the best thing is, even if you missed it, you can still go back and watch it – it’s still online! I really found this a lot of fun; I’d be lying if I said I was sat in front of my computer all day waiting for updates, but I did get into the spirit of things and entertain myself in a way that fitted in with the proceedings – I watched Revelation of the Daleks in the morning in anticipation of the interviews with Baker, Bryant and Molloy.
In that sense, it was very similar to being there, because nobody clings to the Spa Centre all day at a conventional Sci-Fi Scarborough; everyone with a wrist band has a wander out along the front to get an ice cream or some fish and chips. And that’s exactly what my wife and I intend to be doing at this time next year; we’re hanging on to our tickets and we’ll be taking the funicular railway down from our hotel in town to the Spa Centre as usual (I might be getting a few funny looks though this time, as I intend to be wearing my fan Doctor outfit). Until then though, a big round of applause for the chaps and chapesses at Sci-Fi Scarborough, who made us all feel that little better in these rather unsettled times.