(previously unpublished review 1990)
In its own grounds surrounded by lush greenery and weird fern things, the Imperial Hotel is just the perfect place for Exo-Space! The event may not have been the biggest event of the year but in place of hype and hoopla we instead had a fun, intimate and friendly time where one felt like the committee wanted us to be there for reasons other than balancing the books. It fits in neatly with Exeter itself which has a fresh, exuberant high street, the splendour of a cathedral and lots of those tea shops you normally see in small country villages. The Imperial nestles amidst hills and slopes above the main railway station and not too far from the University.
Problems? Exo-Space had them by the cartload. The tragic death of Graham Williams, the late change of venue, the fierce competitiveness of the 1990 convention calendar and even changes of main hall between Saturday and Sunday. Despite the open and relaxed mood the sadness of Graham Williams' death was far from forgotten, especially for those of us who'd met him. I’d had the pleasure of interviewing him some five years ago and found him to be charming, modest and great company in one crowded convention hall that day. He'd been scheduled to headline this event and it was re-organised as a tribute.
It's not every event that gets to share its venue with- wait for it- a spear fisherman's gathering and a gang of spiritualists laying on hands with gusto, but we did! In fact, as one of the organisers later mentioned, everything that could possibly have gone wrong did and this proved to be no barrier to the enjoyment the event provided. The team- David Trigger, Kevin Smith, Paul West, Jason Clifford, Jonathan Collins and Chris Frankum- deserve all the plaudits they received.
Lalla Ward is, of course, from another planet! How else do you explain that cool, goddess like quality she exuded in her first ever UK convention appearance as she took in two panels, a photo session and endless enthusing about Twin Peaks. Always charming and approachable yet with just the right amount of distant star quality, she was so successful that if you'd started a Lalla Ward fan club there and then everybody would have joined up. She looked back on her time as Romana with fondness, whilst pointing out how "bonkers" Tom was; "he'd rather work with machines". She did admit though that their on screen chemistry was bubbling. She also revealed that she picked her own costumes after being forced to wear a "dreadful" outfit in 'Creature` although soon came to regret her imitation Doctor gear when the scarf kept snagging on the scenery. Perhaps unsurprisingly she had very fond memories of 'City of Death', despite the cold weather and she didn't mind screaming. In fact she labelled the very idea of not screaming "boring". Throughout the interviews she was honest and forthright and later said she'd enjoyed it so much she'd do more.
Fanzines; we need 'em and at this event we certainly had 'em. The soon to be seminal 'Purple Haze` made its debut as did 'Brave New World' and there was also the 'Skaro' crew and the impression seemed to be that a new breed of zine is emerging for the new decade.
Plenty more guests too. lan Stuart-Black and Christopher Barry offered a thought provoking panel as both mused about the differences between television in the 60s and right now. The latter they found lacking in the sort of human values and production standards which shaped the medium's legacy. Often, when you hear this sort of talk at cons it comes across as misty eyed and rose tinted but these two are well qualified and proved erudite on the topic and could easily be at the cutting edge again if television bosses allowed. Using examples such as holding back overtly graphic sequences and relying on the mind's eye as well as avoiding formulaic cliches, they put across a highly convincing argument. Oh, and did you know that lan created Danger Man?
Outside interest in this event proved quite widespread and a rep from the university's radio station, Rob Lines, was lurking to talk to a cross section of the attendees. Rob ended up enjoying it so much, he even attended the next day. Saturday evening saw something different as we glowed in the reflection of a fireworks display (well it was November 5th) and gobbled up a barbecue; just a couple of the things on offer. A quiz ran at several junctures culminating in a final on Sunday plus there were also two video rooms, a charity auction which raised more than £800. Jeremy Bentham also presented a tribute to Graham Williams.
Sunday saw Peter Miles, something of a regular on the circuit, but always a welcome one. Resplendent in a red bow tie and interviewed by a Dalek, he was vibrant and amusing and has clearly given much thought to how he would play the Doctor if the chance ever arose. Amongst the other things happening on the second day were a Marvel panel featuring John Freeman and Lee Sullivan. People do tend to say "oh, it's only the Marvel panel" but this is the place where you find out little things.
Exo-Space proved to be the climax of a memorable convention year and there is set to be a follow up in 1991 too. There have been bigger and bolder events since but there's something about this one which makes it, for me, the best in a long while.