Sci-Fi Scarborough is back! And not online either, this time it’s IRL, as the kids say. Or perhaps that should be IRS – In Real Scarborough? The excellent independent sci-fi con has had a rough ride of it over the past couple of years, having to cancel their 2020 and 2021 events due to ‘that COVID’, but they still managed to keep us entertained with a pair of fantastic online conventions, which you can find reviewed here and here. The online conventions were a lot of fun in extremis, but they were no replacement for the real thing and this year it’s great to be back on the Scarborough seafront, close enough to hear the sea, close enough to taste the fish ‘n’ chips and close enough to smell the wookiees (only joking, wookiees; I’m sure you smell fragrant, please don’t tear my arms out of their sockets). Yes, it’s time to geek beside the seaside one more.
For those unfamiliar with the annual Sci-Fi Scarborough convention, it takes place at the sprawling Scarborough Spa complex, a Victorian former health spa repurposed as a convention centre and theatre. It’s a big old place – and it needs to be because, unlike some more targeted conventions, Sci-Fi Scarborough covers Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Comics, Anime, Gaming and a whole bunch of other genre goodies too numerous to list. There’s something for everyone here and it’s spread luxuriantly throughout the many large rooms of the Spa; which, as I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, is great because I’ve been to conventions where everything is crammed into one large room and they’re a pain in the butt. What the Spa has is breathing space; if it all gets too much for you, you can sit in the café, sit outside or go for a wander along the seafront.
After two years away, my wife Shell and I slipped easily back into our Sci-Fi Scarborough routine. We arrived on Friday night, checked into the Premiere Inn (other hotels are available) and relaxed in anticipation of the next day. Unfortunately, there was a slight thorn in our side this year, as both of the funicular railways which take you down the steep cliff-face to the front were out of action. My wife is in a wheelchair so we kind of rely on those to get down to the sea front. There’s very limited parking along the front, where you have to compete with the surfers for the few available spaces and my wife wasn’t keen on parking around the headland after a stone cascaded down the cliff when we were passing that way and chipped the car windscreen. So we had to use road down from our hotel to the front, which was a fairly short distance but about a 1/5 gradient! Difficult going down, but an absolute nightmare pushing up.
Anyway, once I’d got my breath back we made our way along to Sci-Fi Scarborough 2022 (even the year sounds futuristic. Aren’t we supposed to have jetpacks by now? That would have been ideal for navigating the cliffs!) I wasn’t quite sure what to expect after two years of COVID; would this year’s Sci-Fi Scarborough be a subdued affair? The sound of a ranting Dalek and a bleeping R2 Unit reassured me; this was Sci-Fi Scarborough okay, even if the two aforementioned creatures did have to compete against the crashing surf to be heard this year (hence the preponderance of surfers, dude). I shouldn’t complain about the weather though; in previous years we’ve seen everything from blazing sunshine to torrential rain and this year it was nice and dry and sunny, but with a nippy wind coming in from the North Sea, leading to the unusual sight of families further along the beach making sandcastles whilst wearing overcoats and woolly hats.
As we moved into the Grand Hall, we realised that this was the Sci-Fi Scarborough that we know and love. As usual, it was packed with dealers selling all kinds of goodies from the collectable to the commercially produced to the hand-crafted. Self-published authors were, as always, strongly in evidence. In some previous years, the dealer’s tables have extended into the Prom Lounge and the Ocean Room, but this was not the case this year. I suspect that a lot of more commercial dealers have realised over lockdown that they can do the same trade online that they do in conventions, which is a shame, but I wouldn’t want you to think I was saying there was a shortage of stuff to purchase this year; they were just a slightly more select bunch.
Of course, having very slightly fewer dealers meant that there was more space for displays, of which there was certainly no shortage at all this year. Old favourites were strongly in evidence: the R2D2 Builders Club with their fantastic selection of remote-controlled R2 Units and other droids, the Sons of Skaro with a selection of Daleks and the Midlands Body Paint Project were all familiar faces (do Daleks have faces?), along with a whole bunch of other props, costumes and mechanical devices. Elsewhere, there were lightsabre fighting workshops courtesy of the Grey Jedi Order and a chance for the older attendees to meet the representatives of exploitation movie specialists Troma Films. Tromaville was not everyone’s cup of tea, but y’know, this demonstrates the sheer variety of interests that are catered for. A lot of families attend Sci-Fi Scarborough and this year saw the welcome addition of bouncy castles for the little ones in the Sun Court.
This year’s guests from the worlds of film and TV were Mike Fielding from The Mighty Boosh, Julie Dawn Cole from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Michael Carter who played Bib Fortuna in Return of the Jedi, Clem So from more franchises than I have room to list and Dean Andrews from Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, along with Matthew Graham, one of the creators and principle writers of those series. They were available for signing autographs throughout the weekend and were interviewed on both days in the Spa Theatre. Shell and I never got to see Mike Fielding for timing reasons, but we enjoyed the interviews with Julie Dawn Cole, Clem So & Michael Carter and Dean Andrews & Matthew Graham. For some reason, the interviews never seem to have a massive turnout, which I find hard to understand, but I’m really glad that they’re there ‘cos I’m an old-school conventioneer and can remember the days when interview panels were everything.
Sci-Fi Scarborough extended its reach into the town centre this year, with displays of famous cars from film and TV outside the Brunswick Centre in Queen Street. On Saturday, they had the ECTO-1 from Ghostbusters and the time-travelling Delorean from Back to the Future, which seemed to be drawing enormous crowds. Sunday’s display of the black van from The A-Team and a Ford Grenada from Life on Mars seemed to be less popular, but I suspect that was a combination of the town centre being less busy on a Sunday and those two vehicles being less immediately iconic. Nevertheless, it was a great publicity gimmick, which the organisers had carried forward from the previous week, when the unsuspecting citizens of Scarborough had been visited by Stormtroopers, Tusken Raiders and assorted other costumed characters.
Which brings us on to Cosplay, which has always been a big part of Sci-Fi Scarborough, particularly for its younger attendees. Because I’m an old fart, Cosplay is not really something that I consider doing at a convention, but I can see that it brings tremendous joy to those who like to dress up as their favourite character. There were Cosplay parades on both Saturday and Sunday, with prizes for the costumes that were judged the best. Some of these creations are truly extraordinary and people must work on them all year long with a view to attending an event like Sci-Fi Scarborough. It really makes me think about dressing up in some way for the next event – if only I can persuade Shell to paint her wheelchair pink and dress as Lady Penelope, I’d make a great Parker.
I was worried that Sci-Fi Scarborough would be in some way diminished by the after-effects of the COVID lockdowns, but I really needn’t have been concerned. Sure, there were a handful of less dealers and maybe a guest of two shorter than the previous live event, but I’ve no doubt that next year they’ll be totally back in their stride. And, y’know what? It doesn’t matter one little bit if they were finding their feet again this year, they still put on a hell of a show and my wife and I enjoyed ourselves enormously. So, if you’re looking for a nice, friendly, family convention in 2023 (God, that really IS the future, isn’t it?), that won’t cost you an arm and a leg, and where you’re never more than 10 minutes away from an ice cream or some fish ‘n’ chips, then you should make your way to Sci-Fi Scarborough. I know we will.
Photographs (c) Michelle Ferry