Sunday, August 7th was the fifth and final day of the Star Trek 50th Anniversary Celebration here in Las Vegas. After the previous day’s three captains — Shatner, Bakula, and Mulgrew — in addition to Walter Koenig, Michael Westmore, and the crowd-pleasing Star Trek The Concert, one might wonder how Day 5 could hope to top all of that.
Upon arriving at Quark’s Bar this morning for some much-needed tea and coffee, it was clear that some of the festive spirit of the first four days had succumbed to the realization that the celebration was nearly over. There were hugs and even tears as some convention-goers were saying goodbye to friends, old and new, before rushing off to catch flights. The crowd of more than 6000 people who jammed themselves into yesterday’s Shatner session and last night’s Nevada Pops concert had been whittled down by Sunday travel plans (and perhaps also by raging hangovers), but it was nice to see that the Leonard Nimoy Theatre was still at near-capacity for the morning panel sessions.
Today’s programme had fewer items on it, but it was still an amazing day with some of the most candid and intense panel sessions of the entire convention — especially the incredible six-person DS9 session! You can read all about it below.
Day 5 Round-up
Q&A and Music with Casey Biggs (Damar, DS9) and Vaughn Armstrong (Admiral Forrest, Enterprise)
The day began with an energetic session with Casey Biggs and Vaughn Armstrong! Regarding Damar’s drink of choice, kanar, Biggs had this to say:
BIGGS: I want each of you to go home and pour yourself a two-and-a-half ounce glass of carob syrup. And pretend that you like it.
(Note: In a later session, Armin Shimerman (Quark) countered this by saying that kanar was a mixture of corn syrup and prune juice.)
Biggs explained that Damar wasn’t originally intended to be an alcoholic, or even to have a major role, but the writers loved his performance manhandling Quark over kanar in the Ferengi’s bar.
He also mentioned that his death scene in the DS9 series finale was not written so dramatically. After reading it, he took the writers aside requesting to go out with “two guns blazing” before dying in someone’s arms….
Biggs and Armsrong treated us to a musical duet with Biggs on guitar, Armstrong on harmonica, and both on vocals:
Give me a forehead. Put me back on TV….
They returned later in the day as part of the Star Trek Rat Pack! More on that below….
Panel Session: Voyager stars Robert Beltran (Chakotay), Robert Picardo (The EMH), Robert Duncan McNeill (Tom Paris), and Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine) with guest host Garrett Wang (Harry Kim)
Jeri Ryan and the three Bobs of Voyager were guests of honour this morning, bringing the theatre to a standing ovation. Together with Garrett Wang’s lively hosting, the gang helped to restore the festive spirit of the convention.
Here are some of the things they had to say.
Building on a question from an audience member, Jeri Ryan revealed that many fans have told her over the years about Seven of Nine’s inspiration to those coping with autism and how they had found parallels with Seven.
On the challenges of being a Voyager actor:
RYAN: The most challenging thing I had to do was keep a straight face with any of these bozos. (looking at her co-stars)
Robbie McNeill followed this up by mentioning that there were various gags happening on set, including fart jokes — something also brought up by Garrett Wang a couple of days ago.
When asked about their favourite Delta Quadrant aliens:
RYAN: BORG!!!! (audience laughter)
McNEILL: The Vidiians. They were really edgy. The Delta Quadrant allowed us to push the boundaries with aliens, making them edgier and darker.
PICARDO: My favourite was the alien from “Night”. He looked like a giant Tootsie Roll. We called him “the Captain’s Log”.
PICARDO: The Kazon were my least favourite. They were so stupid. They couldn’t find the water cooler.
On the cooking scene with Seven of Nine and Chakotay and whether they cook in real life:
BELTRAN: I cook water well. I call it “boiled water”. Maybe some of you have tried it?
On the Doctor’s name:
PICARDO: I had no input with “Joe”. I thought it was funny because almost every male member of my family is named “Joe”. If I got to choose my own name it would have been “Mr. Seven of Nine” probably. (audience laughter)
RYAN: Mister of Nine.
PICARDO: Yes, Mister of Nine. But going through the ones mentioned on the show over the years, I like Doctor Mozart. I would have kept that, because it implies my love of music.
They also did hilarious impersonations of one another’s characters, as well as ones of other stars and lines from movies. Garrett managed to deliver the following in a perfect copycat voice:
“Anyone can stargaze on the bridge…but the real action happens in Sick Bay.”
On playing more than one doctor on TV:
PICARDO:China Beach obviously was a very gritty drama about Vietnam…and there’s a certain stylization to Star Trek because it’s set in the future….whether it’s set in the past as China Beach was or in the future, those scenes felt the same to me…because the essential drama of a medical emergency, if a scene is going to work, that is the same. The only difference is that to kiss a woman on TV like in China Beach I had to wear a hairpiece. Back then, you couldn’t kiss a woman on TV if you didn’t have hair. But Patrick Stewart changed all that!
After the session, I ran into Robbie McNeill in the Vendors’ Area, where he signed the mutated Tom Paris figure I bought on Day 1. He also mentioned that The Elephant Man play was his personal inspiration for how he approached Tom in “Threshold”. (We had heard during Day 1’s Subspace Transmissions that Cronenberg’s The Fly was the main inspiration behind “Threshold”. That reminds me: another point that came up in Subspace Transmissions was how TNG “Starship Mine” had been inspired by Die Hard — I meant to note that in my report!)
Panel Session: DS9 Stars Armin Shimerman (Quark), René Auberjonois (Odo), Andy Robinson (Garak), Cirroc Lofton (Jake Sisko), Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun / Brunt), and showrunner Ira Steven Behr
Like DS9 itself, this session was deeply engaging and sprawling in its scope. I can’t do justice to it, but here are some bits and pieces.
On Odo kissing Kira:
AUBERJONOIS: Having a rubber mask on, it was like having safe sex.
Behr told the audience about the pressure during Season 1 to make the show more like TNG. Thankfully they were allowed to do their own thing in the end, as I’m sure many fans will agree.
On Weyoun’s immortality:
COMBS: In my very first episode, the writers killed me [Weyoun]. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But then we fixed it.
BEHR: I asked myself, why did we kill this character we could use? I hated to waste good characters. I hated to waste make-up. (audience laughter)
On Jake Sisko’s arc:
LOFTON: I’m happy with the story arc because I got to do different things compared to the other actors. I was able to get into trouble. I went into journalism….I got to be this outside observer of all the things that were happening.
It was also Cirroc Lofton’s birthday today and the entire auditorium sang him “Happy Birthday”!
On the development of the Ferengi:
SHIMERMAN: The Ferengi started off in a bad place on The Next Generation. I take full responsibility for that. (audience laughter) I made it my goal over the seven years to give the Ferengi a proper development, like the Vulcans, the Klingons….
On getting the part of Garak:
ROBINSON: As a worker in any field, there are turning points…when they hired me to play Garak, well, as you may know I was up for Odo….I was like, “F@&k, offer me the part already!” I was called back three times for this flat-faced guy….But there were bills to pay….I was kind of a snob about television, but maybe because I had done so much bad television in the 1970s….but Garak had so many layers, colours….I had to write a book to get this guy out of my system!!
On the fact that Sisko wasn’t a captain at first:
BEHR: Mistakes were made. But just to defend everyone: originally, Sisko was supposed to be young and somewhat callow….but then we decided to adapt the character to the actor. It takes its time, but it eventually gets there. The writing staff were fighting to make him a captain almost immediately. As soon as Avery got cast, we realized we were in trouble….it took a while to make it happen.
One fan remarked on the many cooking scenes and feasts in DS9. About DS9 as the “culinary” Star Trek series:
SHIMERMAN: This one time for one episode the food department brought in something horrible to eat. It smelled terrible. Now, this is really bad. I hate to admit this. But I sad to Max [Grodenchik, i.e. Rom], “You eat it!” And he did.
On closure in DS9:
BEHR: Even today, I still get the question: will there be a DS9 movie? I love the thought but even at the time, we knew that would never happen….At the same time, that gave us the opportunity to not worry about where the show was going to go in another iteration….We were just going to go the distance and end it as best we could. I think that last image of Jake and Kira looking out the window, there’s so much going on in that tableau: hope, sadness, questioning the future. It seemed like the perfect way to end the series. The station’s still there. It’s not going away. It’s not pulling away, we are. It’s getting smaller, but it’s still there. It felt like a good way to go out.
One word each about Star Trek:
SHIMERMAN: That was mine! Okay, so I’ll just say: thank you.
HOST: Armin, those are two words.
Panel Session: Writers Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, and Naren Shankar
During the final panel session of the convention, we heard from key TNG-era writers Ron D. Moore, Brannon Braga, and Naren Shankar. It was quite a candid, even raw discussion. Here are some of the things they had to say.
Shankar and Moore discussed technobabble:
MOORE: At one point, I was writing scripts that said, “PICARD: Mr. Data, please tech the tech. LaFORGE: Captain, if we tech the tech, then it might create a tech that will overload the tech. DATA: Sir, I believe there is a theory that if we combine tech with extra tech, then we can repair the tech without any risk of tech. PICARD: Make it so.”
About the go-ahead for Generations :
MOORE: Rick [Berman] came in and said, “I’ve been talking to them [Paramount Studios] for a year…” So they have some conditions…we have to have some of the original cast at least at the start, there has to be a villain as big as Khan, and there have to be some Klingons in it.
We met him [William Shatner] for the first time, which was great. We sat down with him and Bill had some thoughts on the script…his key note was that Kirk wasn’t integral to the script. Then Brannon starts explaining how Kirk is integral to the script, giving our pitch, and then all of a sudden Bill interrupts us in his Kirk voice, “But. He’s not. Integral. To the Script.” (audience laughter)
There was a lot in that film, a lot of it connected to the theme of mortality: you had the destruction of the Enterprise-D, Picard dealing with his brother’s death, and Kirk’s death tied into all that….
Brannon and I have talked about this many times. We don’t feel it [Generations] was a complete success. Our reach exceeded our grasp.
About writing Klingons and Romulans on TNG :
MOORE: On staff I was the only Original Series dyed in the wool “fan fan”. One day Michael [Piller] asked me to write a memo, explaining what the Klingons are and what the Romulans are.
Piller had of course understood both species on a basic level, but wanted sharper characterizations as TNG began to focus on both empires. Apparently Moore was then asked to combine two separate scripts, one about the Klingons and one Romulan-centric, into a single script, which is where “Sins of the Father” came from — an episode which helped to shape much of the Klingon content of TNG.
MOORE: People always ask me this, but I don’t speak Klingon. Nope. When I wrote episodes I made up so many words that had to be inserted later into the Dictionary!
On Voyager :
BRAGA: My only major contribution to the show was creating the Seven of Nine character. I felt Janeway didn’t have her Spock or Data.
On Voyager “Year of Hell”:
BRAGA: The initial pitch was can we do a year of hell, for that entire season? But in terms of serialized TV, apart from soap opera it just wasn’t happening.
On pitching and filming First Contact :
BRAGA: Initially, the concept was the Borg attack Earth in medieval times.
MOORE: Oh my God, you’re right.
BRAGA: It was a different movie. They assimilate a renaissance fair.
MOORE: At one point, Picard was on the surface playing out the storyline with Zefram Cochrane and Riker was upstairs battling the Borg. We switched that around and that was probably the biggest change after the plot was fleshed out.
BRAGA: First Contact was fun all the way through. We had an adage around the office: “fun to write, fun to watch.”
On having increased writing liberties in Battlestar Galactica :
MOORE: I loved working on Star Trek, but we were writing the end of the war in DS9 and I was definitely brushing up against some boundaries. I wanted it to be darker, edgier, I wanted to push some boundaries, I wanted to change the style, make it hand-held….I held on to some of these for Battlestar.
On loose ends in Enterprise :
BRAGA: The Romulan War would have been Season 5. Manny Coto was planning on doing that, I’m pretty sure.
Finally, they were challenged by a fan about the controversial final episode of Enterprise :
BRAGA: We never set out to make a bad episode. And I’ve been personally responsible for some of the worst Star Trek episodes of all time. In hundreds of episodes, there’s gotta be some stinkers….The cast wanted their own finale, and it’s the only time Scott Bakula ever got mad at me. In retrospect, it was a misfire.
- There was a TOS guest star panel session including Clint Howard (the Balok) and Bobby Clark (the Gorn)!
- Costume designer Robert Blackman and writers Paula Block and Terry Erdmann discussed the costumes of Star Trek
Closing Event: The Star Trek Rat Pack!
Building on their earlier performance, Casey Biggs (Damar, DS9) and Vaughn Armstrong (Admiral Forrest, Enterprise) were joined at the end of the day by the other members of the Star Trek Rat Pack: Max Grodenchik (Rom, DS9), Armin Shimerman (Quark, DS9), and Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun / Brunt, DS9, Shran, Enterprise). They were accompanied by keyboardist Bill Burchell.
The Rat Pack performed a mix of stand-up comedy and jazzy Star Trek-inspired musical numbers.
They opened the show with “Captain Kirk’s Lonely Star Trek Band”. Armstrong’s “Life Ain’t Easy for a Borg Named Hugh” was a crowd pleaser. Combs sang a tribute to his multiple roles in the Star Trek canon:
I was an Andorian too.
You’re all a bunch of pink skins,
And that’s why I can’t trust you.
They also delivered a short ode to the Borg Queen:
Borg Queen, making love to her’s brutal,
But Borg Queen, resisting her’s futile.
They even performed a jokey theme that they wrote for the unrealized Captain Worf series!
Biggs’ crooning and Grodenchik’s stand-up were arguably the best parts of the show, but the group were magical as a whole.
What a show to end not only a great day of Star Trek festivities, but also an incredible five-day celebration of fifty years of the Star Trek phenomenon!
While these five days have celebrated the Star Trek of years gone by, Star Trek 50 also shows us how much Star Trek has yet to come: the fan base is strong and global and the new Star Trek TV series seems to be the first of many new things on the horizon.
This is a good time to thank user Rand al’Thor for helping me to get set up on the SFF:SE blog, and especially Jack B Nimble for approving this project and making this series of articles possible. I also thank all of the Star Trek fans on SFF:SE who encouraged me to pursue this!
I think it’s fitting to end these posts with the following words of Casey Biggs, spoken during the concert:
Fifty years from now, they’re not going to be going to Friends conventions or ER conventions or whatever. But they’ll still be going to Star Trek conventions!