Con Kasterborous ( www.conkasterborous.com ) is a Doctor Who convention in Huntsville, Alabama, which also happens to be the location for the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the US Army’s Redstone Arsenal. Con Kasterborous was until this year a rather small local convention where area fans came to groove with other Doctor Who fans after the season was over. But this year marked the first time they had a media guest, Caitlin Blackwood, who played young Amelia Pond during Amy’s and Rory’s time in the TARDIS. Attendance at the convention tripled and they are looking for a larger hotel for 2014. Huntsville fans are no strangers to running conventions because ConStellation has been running yearly since the 1970s, when Your Humble Columnists were young local fans in the area. This resulted in a new convention with a very well trained staff. They were very organized, had very obvious security personnel (all staff had color-coded shirts according to function, sort of like the brightly- colored Daleks of recent seasons), and worked very hard to make sure the extremely large crowd for the convention space all had a good time while staying safe.
The dealer’s room was fantastic as the local FYE and Books-a-Million stores had ordered extra Doctor Who merchandise and brought it across the parking lot to the hotel. Also there is a local SF shop which has 3 stores in the area and they had brought merchandise as well. Huntsville’s chain shops have always catered to a very SF-heavy crowd because the newer shopping areas all are located near most of the contractors who work for Marshall and the Arsenal as well as being near an Arsenal gate. In the 70s and 80s, NASA publications were frequently featured as local interest publications in the bookstores and the SF section of the Waldenbooks then was nearly half the store. Even today the stores have more geeky merchandise than the same stores in other locations.
Caitlin Blackwood is now a charming twelve year old who is already getting her adult height, rather than the nine-year old who filmed the series. She is a dancer and a veteran of several conventions on both sides of the Atlantic, so she handled the crowds and the microphone with grace and charm. On Saturday, the autograph and picture session ran for longer than they had planned in order to get everyone through who was in line when they called a cutoff. Caitlin signed for nearly 2 hours, and was starting to look tired but she is a pro and never complained.
They stopped between signing and pictures to let the poor child have some cake, which she must have been dying for, because all the fans had been getting cupcakes off the table and munching while they waited in line. After 2 hours, any 12-year-old’s patience would be at an end after seeing everyone else in the room having cake, but you couldn’t because no one wants frosting on their autographs. She didn’t complain, and was very lady-like with her eating, not wearing any afterwards, unlike some fans who had various colors of frosting on them the rest of the day. The Doctor Who-themed cupcakes and TARDIS cake were definitely a hit with everyone, even if some frosting went places it probably shouldn’t have. The fans included many children because of Caitlin’s presence and the fact that many Huntsville fans had got together and made more little fans. Some families had 3 or 4 generations present, which was great to see.
Costumes spanned the generations too, with people from infants to grandparents wearing costumes. It was fun to see many people in store bought costumes, because this is really the first year that any have been widely available in the US. Having chains like Hot Topic, FYE and Books-a-Million carry Doctor Who wear has really changed the clothing choices for DW fans. Even people without costumes seemed to all have at least one Doctor Who shirt in their weekend wardrobe.
No DW convention is complete without a TARDIS and this convention had two! And a working Dalek!
The Dalek was remotely controlled by a Doctor cosplayer and he had quite a sense of humor, so the Dalek scared several little Doctors who approached not realizing it talked and moved. It even gave some adults a fright when it was still and quiet, and then suddenly would blare out “EXTERMINATE!” or “THE DOCTOR MUST DIE!” when someone walked in front of the gun and sucker. On Sunday he used a very short version of the Dalek scream to make it sound like the Dalek had done too much partying on Saturday night and was cursed with the burps, which gave us all a laugh, even if the children didn’t get why he was “burping”.
The convention had excellent panels with Caitlin doing a question and answer session, a group of podcasters talking about their work, and artist Kelly Yates talking about working on the IDW Doctor Who comic books. Kelly is a friend from Greensboro, NC but we had never seen him do panels alone before. He did a great job and showed us some great behind the scenes things. Hopefully next year they can plan to connect his tablet to a projector (he has already agreed to return for 2014).
In addition to the convention, we visited the U.S. Space and Rocket Center (www.rocketcenter.com) again. We are members of the museum because we are in Huntsville several times a year. This time in addition to the displays of the Pathfinder shuttle, the Saturn rockets and the IMAX dome, there was a special exhibit on black holes which gave up to date information on theoretical information as well as information gained from astronomical research. It was interesting and informative. There are two Saturn V rockets at the center, one suspended in sections in the Davidson Center, which is the new building built to house it, and a vertical one in the rocket park outside the Davidson Center. To someone who saw the Saturn IB become part of the Huntsville’s skyline in 1970, walked under it in amazement as a very small child, then saw modern construction of overpasses and interstates hide it, the vertical Saturn V has returned Huntsville’s skyline to its proper look. It is even protected by law now so no construction can hide the rocket from the skyline. For first time visitors to Huntsville who come in from the airport or Interstate 65, it is quite a sight to see. Caitlin and her mom were quite amazed by it when they first arrived.
In addition to the museum, which is also a visitor center for Marshall Space Flight Center, there are tours of Redstone Arsenal including Marshall Space Flight Center available. Camps are available for all ages through Space Camp, Space Academy, and Aviation Challenge.
The ultimate in geeky weekends away: Con Kasterborous and a trip to the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The next convention will be held in June of 2014, but the location is still being determined due to this year’s large crowd, so watch the website listed at the top of the review!