It was a terrible disappointment in 2020 when the annual Sci-Fi Scarborough convention was cancelled due to COVID-19, but we were far enough into lockdown for it to be not entirely unexpected. We hoped and dreamed that by Easter 2021, the pandemic would be far behind us and we’d be able to ‘geek beside the seaside’ once more, but as lockdown followed lockdown and the whole scenario dragged on and on, it was with a crushing sense of inevitability that the 2021 event was also cancelled. However, loyal fans were not disheartened, as the previous year the folks behind Sci-Fi Scarborough had pulled out all the stops to provide a free online event for those missing the actual convention with interviews, music, online merchandising, cosplay competitions and pretty much everything else you would expect from the convention… with the exception of a fish ‘n’ chip supper from The Fish Pan.*
The online convention proper took place on Sunday 18th April 2021 on Sci-Fi Scarborough’s Facebook page, but as an extra treat to all their loyal supporters, they made regular postings for the entire week before of highlights from their earlier conventions. These consisted of a whole host of photos and press clippings that serve to show not only what a great convention Sci-Fi Scarborough is, but also how greatly appreciated it is by fans and journalists alike. The key word is – and always has been – ‘friendliness’; I remember going to conventions in my youth that were big and impressively organised but where the attendees were treated like cattle, herded from room to room by little tin Hitlers who, given a modicum of power, decided to use it to its full extent – but Sci-Fi Scarborough could not be more different. The hosts are never less than totally welcoming.
As with the previous year (reviewed here), the estimable folks at Sci-Fi Scarborough have laid on a wide variety of online goodies. The convention itself, unlike some of the bigger corporate events, is never just about queuing up to pay over the knocker for the autograph of some big name celeb who doesn’t really want to be there; there’s always a lot more going on, from demonstrations to talks on various subjects and the online event does its best to emulate that style. There are recorded video interviews with celebrity guests, though not as many as last year as last year as lockdown is coming to an end and professional actors are understandably looking for better-paid work. Convention appearances are very important to actors because they help sustain their public profile, but on their own they don’t exactly pay the mortgage
There are also musical performances, magic shows and comedy. ‘Attendees’ are encouraged to take part in quizzes and contests for all ages. Some of the merchandisers who you normally see blissfully spread-out across the Scarborough Spa (none of this cramming into crowded aisles for these guys) are present and correct, offering their wares for online sale and taking bespoke orders in the case of some of the artists. And then, of course, there are the fan videos; these have been an important part of the online event, covering Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars and beyond, and hailing from all over the world! This year’s line-up features some fan videos of exceptionally high quality that I’m sure will encourage amateur directors everywhere to up their game.
The day started at 10:00am with a humorous message from Steve, one of the organisers of the convention. Is it just me, or is he wearing the same t-shirt he wore last year? Surely he hasn’t been wearing it for the whole 12 months! The artists and the traders went online shortly afterward, followed at 10:20am by the first video of the day; the latest adventure from those magnificent folks at Doctor Who Velocity. Last year they showed the first episode of this fantastic American web series and this year it’s the sixth, which cheekily combined the worlds of Doctor Who and 80s cult computer classic Tron (I won’t dwell too much on this because I’ve already reviewed it here). This is followed shortly afterward by a sort video of movie prop collector Andy Simpson taking a look at some of the original items used in films such as Superman – the Movie, The Terminator, Skyfall and Armageddon.
The first guest arrives at 11:00am in the form of Star Trek alumnus Lolita Fatjo, who worked on Next Generation, Deep Space 9 and the movies Generations and First Contact. It’s an interesting half-hour chat that’s not just for Star Trek fans… though there’s lots of information in there that any dyed-in-the-wool Trekkie or Trekker (do they still use those names?) would find fascinating. Also of interest to Star Trek fans is the video that follows at 11:30am: Galactic Battles, a 17-minute CG extravaganza featuring elements of Star Trek, Star Wars, Mass Effect and Halo. It’s a sort of supergroup of iconic spaceships blowing the bejeezus out of each other!
Speaking of super groups, next up us the first of two appearances by Sci-Fi Scarborough regulars Blues Harvest, performing songs including Van Halen’s Jump, The Spencer Davis Group’s Keep on Running and a version of Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb with guest vocals by Mike Quinn (he played Nien Nunb in Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. D’you get it? D’you get it, Carter?). This is followed by an extraordinary fan film called Star Wars Origins, which it almost feels like an insult to call a ‘fan film’ because it’s so incredibly professionally produced. It takes elements of Star Wars and combines them with a bit of Indiana Jones in a plot which, taken out of context, might read like the most indulgently fannish thing imaginable, yet somehow manages to work. I can’t describe it further except to say just watch it.
Andrew Robinson played from the wide-eyed psycho to whom Clint Eastwood said, “Do you feel lucky, punk?” at the end of Dirty Harry, but he’s better known to sci-fi fans as Garak, the Cardassian tailor with hidden secrets in Star Trek: Deep Space 9. His interview at 12:30pm is only 15 minutes long, but it’s absolutely fascinating and at 79 years old, Robinson is still sharp as a tack! This is followed by another interview at 1:03pm, over Zoom with various members of the team behind the anthology novel Harvey Duckman Presents and then at 1:30pm some light relief with sci-fi themed magician Jay Gatling, followed at 1:45pm by comedian Russel Erwood.
At 2:15pm there was a talk by Lee Towersey, president of the UK R2 Builders Club, whose incredible droids have actually been seen in the more recent Star Wars films, then after an encore from Blues Harvest, there’s more goodness from a galaxy far, far away in the fan film Remnants of the Order. Once again, this is an incredibly accurate and professional production, as is The Last Padawan, which follows at 3:40pm. The fan films at this year’s Sci-Fi Scarborough Online are dominated by Star Wars productions, but they’re of such a high standard that it’s perfectly understandable. These films have incredible resources at their disposable and they’re really raising the bar for fan films right across the genre. I have to admit, my wife and I never really attended the fan film cinema a previous live events, but if this standard is maintained, we certainly will be next year.
Inbetween those last two films was an interview with actor and stuntman Clem So, a veteran of Sci-Fi Scarborough who has appeared in films as diverse as Guardians of the Galaxy, Beauty and the Beast and the indefinitely stalled James Bond film No Time to Die. As is often the case with actors who play mostly villains, he’s a charming and friendly fellow and his online interview is well worth a watch. At 3:37pm and 3:50pm respectively, the final judgements were made for the cosplay contest and the children’s drawing contest and, as always, there were some high quality entrants and very deserving winners. As we enter the final stretch, we have some humorous animations by Ben Nolan of Graphics and Media Scarborough, a rather long discussion with horror poster artist Graham Humphries (which is interesting but, at nearly an hour and a half, you kinda have to have an interest in 80s horror movie posters to endure), a final ‘live’ session from Blues Harvest, the mandatory Sci-Fi Scarborough Geek Pub Quiz and at 5:00pm, a final farewell from Steve.
In my review of last year’s online event, I commented that one of the most inspiring things about it was that they didn’t have to do anything, they could have just cancelled the event and that’s it. Well, this year there was even less reason that they had to do something – but they did… and that’s magnificent. It shows how much these people really care about their attendees that, for no profit whatsoever, they organised the best free online event they could. And it’s still there online if you missed it or want to relive it! And last years too!! Don’t get me wrong, next year my wife and I want to be in Scarborough, in the Spa, with fans and Wookiees and Imperial Stormtroopers and Megacity Judges and everything that makes Sci-Fi Scarborough so great – but if, God forbid, it has to be cancelled a third time, there are much worse ways to spend a day than Sci-Fi Scarborough Online III.
*Other fish ‘n’ chip shops are available in Scarbrough… lots of them.