Today, I met Sylvester McCoy.
A year ago, at the previous Stars of Time convention in Weston-super-Mare, I met Peter Davison; this year, it feels equally fantastic to have met the Seventh Doctor. He was funny, friendly, and unassuming – and very tired, having travelled down yesterday (26th August 2017) from a show at the Edinburgh Fringe. Nonetheless, he spent time with fans, took an interest in what everyone was doing, and took a bit of time out to sing “if you go down to the woods today” to a baby, while playing with a toy wolf. Pleasingly, he also rrrrrrolled an “r” in front of me, and whistled like a bird.
He’s an entertainer through and through, isn’t he? Perhaps that does him a disservice. He’ just seems to get on very well with people. It was particularly great to see that, when this modest man went outside for lunch, someone instantly recognised him and gave off a huge smile.
Sylvester was clearly very weary, so many photos were taken at the table with him; there was a model TARDIS next to him, which he posed against a couple of times, then at 1:30, he attended a proper photoshoot against another TARDIS, K9, and a model Davros.
This is the first time McCoy has attended the Stars of Time convention (though he enthused about having worked there and in Bristol, and seemed to like the place), so it was really special to have him signing photos, DVD covers, and all manner of merchandise.
To one side of him was the always-welcome Clem So. You might not know his name, but you’ll know his face: his Doctor Who appearances include Asylum of the Daleks, Pond Life, The Angels Take Manhattan, Time Heist, and The Husbands of River Song, to name just a few. Most notably, he was a robot in Deep Breath and, in Oxygen, he was a lead zombie, seemingly killing Bill Potts.
You’ll be pleased to hear he’s less murderous in real life. In fact, he’s a really lovely guy who’s giving of his time and obviously enjoys what he does. It was nice to see a crowd building up for him, probably because he’s so enthusiastic and approachable.
On the other side of McCoy was an unexpected addition to the guest list: Hannah Spearritt! She’s probably best known for being in S Club 7 (and yes, I was a fan when I was younger), but sci-fi fans will know her for Primeval. You’ll so recognise another guest from that show – Andrew Lee Potts. The pair were separated by a dinosaur – smaller than a T. Rex; bigger than a velociraptor – but that’s a convention for you.
Spearritt and Potts were also very friendly of course, happily posing for photos and the former even entering people into a raffle to win her jacket. Yes, I can finally say that Hannah Spearritt asked for my phone number. Just you wait until my next school reunion.
Though there were only four special guests, three of them were new to the event, so it was a great line-up.
Thank goodness the guests were so great because the venue leaves something to be desired.
As with last year’s Star of Time, the event took place at the Tropicana, on Weston sea front. The weather was horrible, by which I mean, very sunny with a cloudless sky. Tourists milled about, licking ice cream and searching for where they’re to meet the coach back to Wales or Birmingham or Tibet. Kids decided that they’d be fine riding their bikes through the crowds.
The truth is, Weston-super-Mare is a stunning place, let down by the council’s inactivity regarding the Tropicana. You may know the location as previously hosting Banksy’s Dismaland; since then, the council has profited from the place, but not bothered actually investing in it. It’s a wreck, but they’ve stuck a fun fair in the main outdoor area so that’ll do.
The convention was held in a side section, with shops jostling for space and hoping to find it near an open door. Because it’s hot. Stallholders were typically seen wafting collectables in their own faces, as makeshift fans.
It wasn’t as hot in there, it has to be said, as in The Bay café at the front of the Tropicana. Well done to the staff for dealing with such an onslaught of custom. If you wanted stay-in lunch, your wait was between 30 minutes and an hour – but the staff were doing the best they could. It’s not their fault they were overwhelmed. That’s another problem with the Tropicana: there’s nowhere else particularly nearby to get food and drink. There’s not even an ATM on site, so anyone strapped for physical cash (to pay for signatures or products from stalls) would have to take a considerable hike to the town centre.
The Tropicana can apparently accommodate 3,500 people, but with the convention plus the fun fair, it was a noisy, hassled, and sweltering place.
I’m sure there are worse venues out there, but it’s such a shame that profit again takes precedence over enjoyment. I feel a parallel can be made between this and Oxygen; instead, I’ll settle for adding the Tropicana to a list that also includes burnt toast, and bus stations, and then there’s unrequited love, and tyranny, and cruelty.
I might sound downbeat, but you know what? Those little things don’t really matter because the day was fantastic anyway. I met the Seventh Doctor, and I couldn’t be happier.
The Stars of Time continues on Bank Holiday Monday 28th August 2017 at the Tropicana, Weston-super-Mare. And in December, the Star of Time returns to Weston… this time with Paul McGann!