Monday, 12 September 2016

Stars Of Time 2016 - A Detailed Review

Guests met and discussed in this review (with the franchise I most associate them with personally) :-

• Colin Baker (6th Doctor from “Doctor Who”)
• Miltos Yerolemou (Syrio Forel from “Game Of Thrones”)

Two quick notes before we get started...

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With that being said, let’s dive in...

This will without a doubt be my shortest convention review in history by a considerable margin. This is because myself and my gorgeous, esteemed girlfriend, Robyn, were only at the event for about 45 minutes in the morning and about half an hour in the afternoon. Why attend an event if you’re only going for such a short time, you ask? Well, I’ll take you back...

The 2016 edition of “Stars Of Time” took place at the Tropicana in Weston-Super-Mare over the bank holiday weekend of the 28th (Sunday) and 29th (Monday) of August. My primary reason for attending was Colin Baker, most famously known for his portrayal as the sixth incarnation of the Doctor in “Doctor Who”. Ironically, Colin is attending a convention in my home-city of Gloucester next month, but I was unsure if I’d be able to attend at the time, so I figured we could drive the one-hour south to Weston, meet Colin, say “hi” to Miltos while we were there, and spend the rest of the day on the beach...or what passes for a ‘beach’ in Weston. I’M SORRY, IT’S 75% MUD! Alas, I have since discovered that not only will I be attending ‘Gloucester Comic Con’, but I’ll also be crewing the event and helping Mark and the team set up, which results in this convention being something of a waste for me financially, irrespective of how nice it was to meet Colin and how great it always is to see Miltos. With Colin in Gloucester and Miltos at “Wales Comic Con” in November, I could have met both in 2016 regardless. No matter, no matter...onto the event itself!

Myself, Robyn, and my family departed Gloucestershire at 9:30am on Sunday morning. I’d used my usual trick of telling everyone we were leaving at 9:00am, knowing that at least one person would be half an hour late. I was correct. One hour later we arrived in Weston-Super-Mare, which, surprisingly, was sunny. With doors opening at 10:30am, myself and Robyn joined the back of the queue at 10:40am and were able to go straight in as we’d pre-bought our entry tickets (£6 each). On the plus side, it was obvious from the moment we entered the venue that every effort had been put into the event. There was a lightsabre training area, various Iron Man costumes on display, Daleks everywhere, and the Delorean from “Back To The Future” parked between the convention venue and the theme park rides next door. There was even a workshop area dedicated to teaching people how to create their own Dalek! Very, very cool.

On the downside, the building is quite dark and shoddy-looking. The walls are largely black and there are very few windows, making you feel a little like you’re attending a convention in a cellar. Historically, “Stars Of Time” used to take place at the Helicopter Museum 10 minutes away. I’m not sure why the venue was changed, but looking at pictures from those events vs. this event, I think the Helicopter Museum might be a better choice of venue. However, as I never attended an event there, this is purely speculation on my part. Furthermore, in addition to being quite dark (making photos with the guests turn out quite badly for me personally), the venue was relatively long and narrow in the middle-section where the guests were contained. I’d estimate that perhaps a thousand people were at the event during the time I was there, but it felt significantly more claustrophobic and cramped than ‘LFCC’ did a month earlier, which contained 130,000 attendees over the three-day weekend. Ultimately, while it’s simply my opinion, I feel as though the venue needs a re-haul for next year’s event, which has been announced as taking place on the 27th and 28th of August 2017, once again a Sunday and Monday over bank holiday weekend.

The merchandise stalls on offer were the same sort of thing you’d find at most conventions, but there was a decent selection given the venue size. One unique – and beautiful – stall was assigned to an artist, dressed like an elf, who’d painted nerdy motifs into wood. They were spectacular and Robyn even ended up buying one for a very reasonable price, in addition to a watch that was also being sold by the elf lady. In an amusing contrast, highlighting the differences in our personalities, I bought a figure of the Face of Boe from “Doctor Who”. Robyn’s the hippy, I’m the nerd. I also ended up buying three necklaces from another stall. Two were from “The Vampire Diaries” – one as a surprise for Robyn and one for a friend of ours in Argentina. I also bought a “Shadowhunters” necklace for my sister as a reward for passing all of her G.C.S.E.’s a week or two earlier. It’s both strange and unusual for me to attend a convention and have the time to peruse the merchandise stalls as I’m usually too busy with the guests, so I did revel in the opportunity to take my time and chill out.

Colin Baker: You can instantly tell that Colin does one of these events practically every weekend somewhere in the world, as he’s got the process down to a fine art. He’s courteous, polite, and talkative, while also keeping a barrier between you and him, and not taking too long with each attendee. Personally, I would have liked a little more time talking to him, but he was nice enough that I can’t find anything to complain about. I should have more time to talk to him in Gloucester next month, so this is all relatively moot now anyway. Of course, we talked about “Doctor Who”, with a particular emphasis being placed on “The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot”, a parody sketch revolving around Peter Davison (who also wrote it), Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy trying to be a part of the 50th anniversary episode. There are also cameos from practically everyone associated with the show, including David Tennant, John Barrowman, Russell T. Davies, Steven Moffat, and Paul McGann. It’s hilarious. You should check it out...

We also talked about the imminent “Gloucester Comic Con” and some of Colin’s favourite places to visit on the convention circuit. A picture at the autograph table cost a further £5, which was fine, but there was no sign up anywhere to say this, which is always awkward for everyone involved as when you ask for the picture, they have to sheepishly say there’s a charge and you have to sheepishly dig into your pockets for additional money. Always have the sign up from opening, people. It helps everyone. The picture turned out okay, but not great, as the lighting inside the venue was poor. Guest Type = Responder.

(Regular readers, you can skip this section)

“Shangel, what’s a ‘responder’?”

I’m glad you asked, random voice in my head representing the new people reading one of my reviews. Many years ago, after attending numerous conventions, I devised a system whereby to categorise my experiences with guests and their level of interaction in order to compare the quality of my experiences across conventions and time. I have O.C.D., shut up. The following three types were found :-

·       The Responder: This type of guest is often polite and friendly. If you ask them a question, they’ll happily answer. If you comment on something, they’ll respond or smile gratefully. However, they won’t carry the conversation forward, you have to. These are the most common type of guest, and this is what you expect when meeting someone at a convention. This is a great category to be a part of.

·       The Groucho/Big Guest: There are two aspects to this category. Firstly, you have the groucho. The groucho is there for monetary purposes or is generally just having a bad day, or is a bit of an ass. If you meet enough people, one of them is bound to be an ass! The grouchos aren’t interested in conversations above a few words. They’ll say ‘hi’ (sometimes they don’t bother with that), sign, say ‘bye’ (sometimes), and you’re on your merry way. Of course, in certain situations this is relevant and expected, which brings me to the second part of this category, the big guest. Some guests are going to be insanely popular. Such as Stan Lee at LFCC ‘14, who had an entire building to himself basically. When you get a huge queue like that, the guest can’t take a lot of time with everyone. If they did, many people would go home disappointed at not getting to meet them at all. Therefore, the convention company and the guest want to get through as many people as possible. You cannot have a huge guest and expect to get above a minute with them, which is perfectly fair.

·       The Conversationalist: This is easily my favourite type of guest. They’ll answer your questions with a smile, ask you questions in return, and are happy to chat for an extended period of time (extended = above 2-3 minutes), regardless of where the conversation leads or how long you’ve been talking. Obviously, there has to be some cut-off point if there is a queue behind you, but you leave the experience feeling euphoric and like you gained a lot more than just the autograph you queued for.

Feel free to let me know your experiences with guests in the comments!

Right after Colin, it was time to go and say “hi” to Miltos!

Miltos Yerolemou: Miltos is, without a doubt, one of the nicest and most talkative gentlemen on the convention circuit. Like Colin, he does a lot of events, but he still takes the time to make everyone feel like they’ve gotten their money’s worth. Myself and Miltos started by generally catching up a little bit as I hadn’t seen him in a situation where we could talk properly for nearly three years! He’d been in my “Game Of Thrones” group photo at “Wales Comic Con” the previous November, but a photo opportunity gives you little time to converse. We talked about a convention Miltos attended the previous day. I forget where it was, but it was in a castle! Now there’s a convention venue! However, Miltos said that literally nobody went to meet him all day. Nobody. Ouch, ouch, ouch. No matter, Miltos stayed until lunch time, got his delicious baguette, then left, so it was no worries for him. I can only assume that the castle was in the middle of nowhere. We also talked about his recent stint in the theatre in Manchester, where he played The Fool in “King Lear”, alongside Don Warrington and Alfred Enoch. We discussed theatre vs. television acting, we discussed “Game Of Thrones” (of course), and we talked about the rumours of Syrio’s return in the most recent (sixth) season. Furthermore, we discussed his upcoming convention and acting appearances, which spanned China, Australia, New Zealand, the United States of America, and more! One of the perks of conventions being so huge right now is that the guests can have free holidays. They can go to a country, flight paid for, hotel paid for, and explore any time they want, barring their contracted convention hours. Not a bad life, really...not a bad life at all. Miltos was his usual charming self, and it was great to see that his attitude and enthusiasm haven’t wavered. I grabbed a picture with him at the autograph table too. He came around the table to stand next to me, which is always appreciated and looks better than an over-the-table shot. The charge for the picture was a contribution to charity. If you’re going to charge for pictures, this is the best possible scenario. People can pay whatever they can afford, money is raised for a good cause, and the attendees don’t feel short-changed. Win-win at its finest! Guest Type = Conversationalist.

With the stalls perused, the guests met, and my assigned money depleted, it was time to head outside of the venue to spend the rest of the day on the beach and at the water park. We went into the sea, chilled out, and I got majorly, majorly sunburned, even though it didn’t feel that hot. As I was wearing sunglasses and my bandana, I got home to discover I had a white forehead, white eyes, and bright red cheeks and nose. I looked like Rudolph. Suffice to say, I was using some ivory white foundation for the following week. Thankfully, the embarassment had disappeared before the following weekend’s “Film & Comic Con Bournemouth”.

Would I attend the event again? It’s line-up dependent, but I’m certainly not opposed to it. Any convention that I can drive to within an hour is something that’s going to be on my radar. However, if I attended next year, I’d go in the afternoon when the crowd had started to thin so I didn’t feel so claustrophobic. Keeping in mind the size of this event and what this event was, I think they did a good job. My only major criticism was the venue, everything else was well organised and the effort and passion was definitely there.

Oh, I also won a Groot on the 2p machines...


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