The Sci-Fi Ball is an annual three-day Sci-Fi convention. This year it was in Southampton, so we drove down to check out the Saturday–the draw? For me, it was ‘Doctor Who’ actors Sylvester McCoy (seventh Doctor) and Sophie Aldred (Ace) and being around fellow geeks, and for my other half it was ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ actors Robert Duncan McNeil (Tom Paris) and Manu Intiraymi (Icheb).
Kind of new to convention-world, only having done a couple last year, we weren’t sure what to expect as with all these conventions there is a mixed bag of interests that aren’t necessarily going to appeal to everyone. We needn’t have had any worries…
We couldn’t get there in time for the writer’s panel which would have been interesting, but arrived for the James Cosmos panel. While I didn’t know him from much other than ‘Game of Thrones’ it didn’t matter as he had some entertaining anecdotes and got lots of questions from the audience.
But the Doctor Who panel? Sylvester McCoy was AWESOME, he had a ton of energy and was off the stage after a couple of minutes and pacing around the audience with his mic to field the questions, sitting next to attendees while Sophie Aldred and Andrew Cartmel (script editor on Doctor Who in their time) gave their answers, and generally having fun. I’m wary of seeing actors in the flesh as it’s the characters I love and I don’t want anything to detract from that, but I needn’t have worried with McCoy and Aldred–they were so genuinely nice and at ease and willing to have fun with one another. I felt a huge dose of geek love for my Doctor Who. This was the highlight for me and worth the 6 hour round trip and admission price alone.
Gerry Anderson’s son, Jamie Anderson, was there to talk about his father’s work and carrying on the legacy. I think a modern puppet show is going to have a hard time appealing to today’s youth growing up with all the CGI cartoons–but great if he can do it. The Voyager panel was also good, they had a quirky humour, but both of the actors goofed off with each other. It was fun hearing about Intiraymi lusting after Jeri Ryan. All these had been upstaged by the Doctor Who crew for me though and that was the highlight.
I have to say the quality of the audio visual side of the panel was great–better than the bigger conventions we’ve been to, with no sound drop outs and panel guests not being able to hear the questions, or comperes getting in the way. The venue was also nice with plenty of seating for the talks, so there was no worry about missing out. Other conventions should really take note–if you’re an attendee you want to make sure you can actually get to see what you came for and not just chance it.
There were a bunch of people in costume, Star Trek uniforms, and a group of colonial marines with a Predator and Alien which I recognised from Comic Con. There were also the usual vendor stalls, not so many, but an offering of vintage and craft sci-fi goodies. A boardgame vendor, boardgame extras, was there as part of the event with really friendly guys offering sci-fi themed game demo plays–which I turned down as I’m soooo slow at picking rules up lol. They were tempting me with ‘Star Wars Imperial Assault’, which I just need to keep my money away from or I just won’t have any.
Friendliness was the strength of this convention. It promotes itself as an intense social experience, and I expect it is. B, the hostess compere who introduced the panels and ran the auction, was fun and friendly and has an easy humour about her. The audience participation with her and her knowing a lot of attendees by name goes to show that if you’re there all weekend at the ball, the meals, the quizzes, themed disco and opening and closing ceremonies which I think the panel members are there for too, you’re bound to get to know some folk and maybe come away with some new friends–especially as some of the costumers seem to do the rounds at convention circuits, which is cool, because us geeks can often be lonesome in our obsessions.
The Sci Fi Ball was a really chilled day out, and with its strong charity fund raising and social motives it had a nicer atmosphere than the larger commercial conventions we’ve been to so far. I bet it would be a fantastic weekend.
Tempted? Were you there, or have you been to previous ones? Got any convention recommendations?