VISIONS '96 CONVENTION REVIEW by Brad Black
This marked the 6th consecutive year I have attended the Visions convention. One might ask,"Why? Is there any star of Doctor Who or Blake's 7 you haven't met after six cons?" If you're asking this question I'm going to presume you haven't been to very many conventions. Meeting celebrities is only one reason to attend a convention. And probably not the most important one. Simply put a well run convention is vastly entertaining. The dealer rooms are a veritable mini-mall full of goodies you just can't get anywhere else (except mail order). And finally you get a chance to mingle with your fellow fans. I find it refreshing one or two weekends a year to be able to wear my Blake's 7 paraphernalia in public and not have to explain myself. For the sci-fi fan a convention is a place to meet other people who think the same way you do (scary, huh).
A case in point, where else but at a con could the following conversation take place? Seven of us pile into an elevator hoping to make for the lobby. Except for Paula, I have never met any of these people. The elevator indicator reads "UP". Your clueless reviewer pushes the "L" button and the lift obligingly heads down in defiance of the "UP" indicator.
One rider asks, "Did he use the manual over ride?" And Paula leads a group of strangers in a chorus of, "NO! He reversed the polarity of the neutron flow."
Like I said, pretty scary. But a GOOD kind of scary.
This years guest list contained the usual mix of Doctor Who, Blake's 7, and Robin of Sherwood. In addition Babylon 5 had a big presence and Forever Knight was represented. The complete guest list follows:
Colin Baker (6th Doctor - Doctor Who) Lalla Ward (Romana II - Doctor Who) Sarah Sutton (Nyssa - Doctor Who) Deborah Watling (Victoria - Doctor Who) Yee Jee Tso (Chaing-Li - New Doctor Movie) Philip Segal (Executive Producer of Fox's New Doctor Who movie) Gary Russell (Former Editor of the Doctor Who Magazine) Claudia Christian (Commander Ivanova - Babylon 5) Richard Biggs (Dr. Franklin - Babylon 5) Stephen Greif (Travis I - Blakes 7) Michael Keating (Vila - Blakes 7) Ben Bass (Vachon - Forever Knight) Mark Ryan (Nasir - Robin of Sherwood) Jessica Kindzierski (Freelance Colorist for X-Files and Conan) Chesca Potter (Artist Guest of Honor)
As a rabid Blake's 7 fan I knew I'd love Michael Keating (and I was right). I was really surprised at what an impact Stephen Greif made on me. I shouldn't have been, look at the impact he made on B-7 in only four episodes. Stephen is well respected amongst his fellow actors and for good reason. He proved to be a versatile talent and a witty conversationalist.
The popularity of Claudia Christian and Richard Briggs proved that Bab 5 is a fast growing fandom. Their panels were packed, partly because of the blooper tape they brought, but the Bab 5 autograph lines challenged all time champ Doctor Who for length.
The Doctor Who contingent was led by Colin Baker, who is everything you expect in a Doctor - larger than life, humorous, and a fascinating entertainer. Deborah Watling's vivacious personality is a marked contrast to her best known character, Victoria. Lalla Ward spent as much time shopping in the fan rooms as she did at scheduled appearances, as did Sarah Sutton, looking for gifts to take home to her daughter.
Mark Ryan (Uncle Marky to those who attend Visions) is a regular fixture, and was this years host at the Variety Show.
The variety show is an annual favorite at Visions. This years big hit was Ben Bass of Forever Knight. His R&B guitar act complete with original songs brought a huge ovation and a demand for an encore. Michael Keating, perhaps in an attempt to break his Vila stereotype, gave a riveting reading of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Premature Burial." Colin Baker sang an original song. Sarah Sutton showed just how great a tragedy it is that she is no longer acting, as she performed the prologue to act 5 of Henry V. Kenneth Brannagh could have used Sarah instead of Sir Derek Jacobi and not missed a beat. Philip Segal recreated two Monty Python sketches to the delight of all. Mark Ryan was the MC and showed his versatility by singing, telling jokes, and generally being a marvelous host.
A first at Visions (or perhaps any convention) was the Fan Variety Show, where convention attendees got a chance to show their stuff. In addition to a variety of wonderful costumes there were dramatic readings, stand up comedy, and original songs.
The Visions Video Rooms offered a varied choice of viewing. Almost anything one could want was shown, including Doctor Who, Babylon 5, Red Dwarf, from Forever Knight to Rik Mayall, Alexei Sayle, MST 3K, and Dave Allen. Conspicuous by absence was Blake's 7. Oh, well, I have all the episodes on video anyway.
I love to shop so the dealer rooms are always one of my favorite attractions. The Pro Dealer Room completely filled one ballroom with such merchandise as Books, Photos, Video Tapes, Zines, T-Shirts, Costumes, Swords (real ones), Jewelry, Posters, and more than I have room to mention. The hot seller this year seemed to be the wide variety of Dragon T-Shirts. Blake's 7 and Doctor Who videos were also selling well according to my friends at The Sci-Fi Continuum.
The fan dealer room was rather sparse this year, but Quality can make up for Quantity. Conspicuous by absence was any large fanzine dealer. The largest array of goodies in the fan dealer room was offered by our dear friends at Horizon (see Judith's links and visit their homepage). The best new products were the audio cassettes, "Blake's Back: Liberatored" (an interview with Michael Keating, Paul Darrow, and Gareth Thomas) and "The Mark Of Kane" (original "radio" drama starring Gareth Thomas and Brian Croucher). Also present were the usual lot: The Spirit Of Sherwood, The Prydonians of Prynceton, The Elizabeth Sladen Information Network, and a Forever Knight fan club.
It's hard to say where you'll have the most fun at a con: listening to the actors answer fan questions at the panels, watching the entertainment at the Variety Show, the celebrity auction, the art show, or just mingling with your fellow fans. But the point is, you *will* have fun.
The best of Visions 96, in my own humble if somewhat bigoted opinion:
Best celebrity quote: Lala Ward offering her opinion of the New Doctor Who: "A Doctor should never kiss a companion,. and he should never ever marry one.
Best goodie at the celebrity auction: The Sea Devil Head brought by Philip Segal.
Best Costume: Mary Alice Ladd as "Mad Rimmer In a Red Gingham Dress," complete with a Mr. Flibble puppet.
Best American Accent by a British actor: Stephen Greif
Brad D. Black
Michigan City, In. USA
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