An evening with the crew of the Starship Enterprise

Calgary’s Comic Convention seems to be growing by leaps and bounds every year. While I’ve never been, I’d heard how Leonard Nimoy had been scooped a couple of years ago (they even managed to take him out to Vulcan — no joke). Last year’s event was the biggest, ever. This year? Well, “record-setting” isn’t the right term, really. When the Fire Marshall has to tell people to disperse, you’ve got a number of problems — good and bad — to work yourself through.

But in particular, this year was important, because they’d somehow managed to arrange for the first-ever complete reunion (and the first gathering in celebration of the 25th anniversary year) of the complete (original) cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. And for one night only, they’d all be on the same stage in an event called “Star Trek: TNG Exposed”.

Like I wasn’t going to go…

Now, for the record, I only heard of the event through my friend Tamara, who despite calling me a “nerd” more emphatically than most, is the one who actually went to the Calgary Comic Convention, stood in lines, got signatures, and so forth. So draw your own conclusions, there. But she was the one who first caught wind of the TNG Exposed event. And knew when the tickets were going on sale, and she was not going alone, and my presence was a requirement for my continued existence.

How exactly Calgary had managed to score this event is a matter for some debate. There are those who think Calgary effectively won the Convention circuit lottery, and paid the most to win the event. There are those who thing it was a matter of providence, where a couple of the cast members had already signed up, and it happened to line up with the rest. And then last night, it was suggested that, really, the rest of the cast was merely waiting for Sir Patrick Stewart to say “yes”…

At any rate, it was my first solo outing in … well, so long, I can’t even remember the last one. I met up with Tamara, our friend Adrian, and a couple of Tamara’s friends at Wurst, a restaurant on 4th St. that happens to have the best “homemade” mustard in town (challenge me otherwise, if you dare!), and some of the best bratwurst I’ve ever had. The beer is, regrettably, overpriced and when my headache hit me full-on during the event, I also began to question how often they clean out their lines. I may not be returning anytime soon as a result.

We got to the Stampede Corral just after 6:30, and wound our way through the rather extensive (but swift-moving) lineup to find our seats. Tamara had got the two of us a pair of seats in the sixth(!) row; poor Adrian was scattered into the Nether-regions of the bleachers somewhere. And we waited.

While waiting, we talked with a couple of folks around us (all geeks, and a surprising number of people who you may work with and never have a clue that they were Trekkies), and listened to Johnny Summers and his Little Big band, a local jazz-influenced performer who has a collection of some disturbingly talented performers (note: if you live in Calgary, you need to see these folks perform, it’s something else!).

Finally, just after 7:00, Emily Expo, the “mascot” of the Calgary Comic Convention (a 20s-ish woman with fire-red hair, who is pretty much just as geeky as everyone else in the audience) came out to introduce the show. The cast wouldn’t be seen until much later, but first there was an introduction of Garrett Wang (who played Ensign Harry Kim on Star Trek: Voyager), and a former director of Star Trek: TNG (whose name I’ve sadly forgotten), who regaled a few interesting notes about how the future they had conceived in the late 1980s, taking place some 400 years in the future, was already coming true today (witness the iPad, the US DoD’s research on cloaking, devices that effective operate as a phaser set to ‘stun’, and so forth). As he repeated stated: “we are living in Star Trek”.

Then came a reel that the Expo team had compiled of interviews Emily Expo conducted at the Emerald Con back in January. It opened not with any actor, but none other that Calgary’s most well-known geek, Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who was adamantly distressed about the fact that he was missing the show. (I doubt it was an act. No offense intended, your Honour, but you’re a lousy actor. You’re a much better geek.)

The reel showcased Emily Expo interviewing people such as Christopher Judge (Teal’c from Stargate SG-1), the most awesome Edward James Olmos (notably of the revamped Battlestar Galactica series, but I grew up with him from Miami Vice and Blade Runner), Adam Baldwin (a sci-fi regular, seen mostly on Firefly), Robert Picardo (The Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager, but Picardo has been seen in my sci-fi outings), Walter Koeing (obviously for his role as Chekov from the original series, but I would be remiss to not mention his awesome portrayal of Bester from Babylon 5), and the legendary George Takei (yes, his voice really is that awesome). Also included in the reel were people who you might not recognise on site, but their voices are also well-known: John Di Maggio (who performs Bender on Futurama; his reading of “Space, the Final Frontier” should be recorded for all time, by the way), and the prolific voice actors Rob Paulsen and Jess Harnell (best known for the Warner Brothers Yakko and Wakko, from the Animaniacs).

Then we had an intermission. Which seemed like a little bit of a let-down, but it was really understandable. And necessary, as both Tamara and I desperately needed to drink some water.

During the break, however, Tamara pointed out the Garrett Wang — seated barely five metres away — was seemingly chatting it up with various people. How could I resist? Waiting patiently, he very graciously spent about a minute having a short conversation with me, and I got to shake the man’s hand. He was enthusiastic, to say the least.

Now, before you all leap over me with “Garrett Wang?!” or “but you were there to see the TNG cast!” and such stuff, let me elaborate a bit. For the record, Star Trek: Voyager was not my favourite Star Trek series … it was, actually, dead last. By a wide margin. There were a number of things about Voyager that had always bothered me, the most notable being the ever-present “reset button”, whereby no matter how badly the Voyager (the ship, not the show) was damaged in any given episode, it was restored to perfect condition by the next episode. Personally, I’d have preferred if the ship had been near-unrecognisable by the end of the series, held together with futuristic duct tape. But I digress…

The one part of the show I had always liked was the character of Harry Kim. He was the most junior officer, the least experienced, the most naive. He was also the one who regularly grounded the show, keeping it from leaping off into “no problem” territory (whereby the other characters would perpetually overcome the issue seemingly without effort); Kim made sure that everyone understood the problem and that, no, it wasn’t easy. That kind of a character is not easy to portray, and I felt Wang had done an excellent job of it. I had to thank him for it, too. (I left out the part where I felt he was really the only saving grace of the show, other than Robert Picardo.)

Finally, Emily Expo came back and introduced the “moderators” for the evening: the cast of Space channel’s Inner Space news show: Ajay Fry (who repeated stated that he was a mere four years old when TNG premiered), Cynthia Loyst, and Teddy Wilson. I don’t watch Space anymore (or hardly any TV, for that matter), so I really had no idea who these people were, and the tall “captain’s” chair that we had thought reserved for Patrick Stewart was summarily occupied. There was a brief chat, and then came the crew…

First out was Denise Crosby (Lt. Tasha Yar), who came out wearing a Calgary Flames toque. She was followed by Michael Dorn (originally Lt. Worf, who went on to be Lt. Cmdr. in Star Trek: Deep Space 9), whom I had seen at a Star Trek convention back in the early 1990s when TNG was still filming), and then Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi), who filled the right-most couch.

Then came Levar Burton (Lt., then Lt. Cmdr. Geordi LaForge), who received a lot of applause. Gates McFadden (Dr. Beverly Crusher) came out next. (I had a wicked crush on her back in the 1990s; she still looks almost as fantastic today at age 63!) She was followed by Brent Spiner (Lt., then Lt. Cmdr. Data).

The final couch was filled by the last three: Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher), who garnered the second-loudest cheer on his arrival; Johnathan Frakes (Cmdr. William Riker); and the loudest cheer went to the arrival of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (and Professor Xavier) himself, Sir Patrick Stewart.

Cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Stampede Corral, Calgary, Alberta, 28 April 2012

It was interesting to see how the cast had aged over the years. Patrick Stewart I had seen out-of-character only once before, as a guest on BBC’s Top Gear (he was a Star in a Reasonably Priced Car). At the time, I’d been rather surprised by the fact that he seemed to be behaving much like Picard had acted when he’d — in more than one episode — ended up an old man. Frakes looked like he’d just gotten out of bed, or had been sitting at an editing desk for far too long. Wheaton, who’d left the series at age 18 after thinking he could do better on his own (oops!) had aged the best, but he’s also by far the youngest. Spiner looked quite dignified with his whitened hair (compared to Dorn, who had no hair at all). Burton seems ageless, save for the slight greying. Sirtis, like McFadden, seems to only get better with age — she would do well on a sitcom, I think. Crosby, the quietest of the lot, seemed the only one to be struggling a bit, which I might even pass off as a result of the dinner the cast had supposedly shared before arriving (which might also explain some of the overly giddy nature shared by all of them).

Once the chaos had died down, the interview started. But it wasn’t really much of an interview, so much as the “moderators” starting a conversation and letting the cast run with it from there. There was much laughing as the various stories (likely been told many times over the last 25 years) were told again, likely in different ways, with a few new twists. There were new stories as well, made obvious by the casts’ reactions to hearing them.

Some questions came from the audience as well, courtesy of a contest that had been run earlier. There were only five lucky people, so presumably they had to make sure they were really great questions. They were certainly amongst the best I’d ever heard asked of people who’d been asked such questions for a quarter century. A sixth was added by a “sick boy from Vancouver”, who was revealed to be actor Aaron Douglas from the rebooted Battlestar Galatica (he was declared to be “sick” because he supported the Vancouver Canucks). But by far the most interesting question was: What question would you ask of yourselves, that you’ve always wanted to ask?

This caught the cast off-guard (clearly not asked before), and even made the audience go “ooooooh” at the thought. The cast exchanged glances a moment before Michael Dorn responded: “Well, we pretty much know everything about one another. I don’t think there’s anything left to ask!”

That elicited a round of laughter. But then Wil Wheaton, who has the enviable position of not only being a former cast member, but also being a convention expert (as easily one of the biggest geeks in the room), leaned forward. “Actually, I have one.” He bent towards Patrick Stewart. “Just how cool is it really to be in X-Men?”

Possibly the best question that could ever have been asked, in the manner that it was asked.

After the cheering and laughter died down, Patrick Stewart noted that the coolest part was “arriving at the make-up trailer each morning, and passing by all the mirrors, saying ‘good morning’ and kissing Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Famke Janssen, and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos”. Sir Stewart is a lucky, lucky man.

The moderators then asked a simple question: “Who was your greatest adversary on the show?” Audience answer: Q. After a bit of consultation on the left-most couch, the answer was “Daimon Bok”, a Ferengi character who had challenged Picard on a few occasions. The audience kind of nodded, but I didn’t buy it. It felt like a set up for something else. Which it was.

“That’s a load of poop!” came a voice over the speakers, but it wasn’t from those on stage. It was a familiar voice.And for the record, I (likely as many others) expected this.

John de Lancie, the actor who had played the intergalactic pain in the ass, Q (my favourite character) marched out from the rear of the auditorium, down the aisle passing within inches of me (excuse me whilst I sqweeeeeeeeee like a little girl), a large bouquet of flowers over his head. The cast, supposedly, had no idea he was going to be joining them, but since he was already at the Calgary Comic Convention, I doubt it was a complete surprise.

And suddenly, all the principal actors from the very first episode, Encounter At Farpoint, were all on stage again. Likely for the first time since that episode had been filmed, now that I think about it.

And then, all too soon, it was over. Patrick Stewart had “another engagement” (it was 10:00, so one could only imagine what he was trucking off to), and the actors all left the stage. John de Lancie would go out to the lobby for autographs (a two-hour lineup formed almost immediately; as much as I would have loved to meet Q himself, it would sadly have to wait for another time).

My head, by this point, was splitting. My headache had started just after the cast had taken the stage, and I was fearful that I’d have to leave so I could throw up (the pain was really that bad). So I was thankful to get outside, and even more thankful that Adrian drove us home (and I didn’t have to suffer on the bus).

So ends my evening of geekiness, for it will likely be some time before I get to do something that ridiculously nerdy again…