Star Trek: The Adventure opened on the 18th December 2002 to coincide with the release of the last Next Generation era film, Nemesis. An interactive temporary exhibit constructed and situated in London’s Hyde Park over the festive period and running for over six months into the following Spring, the exhibition was modelled on the Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas and was a showcase of interactive exhibits, props and sets from the various series and iterations of the series to date and of course a wealth of merchandise to buy. I was employed for this event for the entirety of its run working in the exhibits merchandise section, a cornucopia of books, DVDs and video games, and worked with a large assemble crew providing an experience to bring to the UK of Gene Roddenberry’s positive and optimistic vision of the future. The Adventure was an interactive experience in its entirety, from the green screen photography, the bridge sets and live action adventures to the recreation of some of the series best known locations, as with its American counterpart, a pioneer in this form of experience event, perhaps both ahead of its time and a product of its time.
The exhibit was a unique and distinctive celebration of this franchise unlike anything that had been seen in the UK previously, certainly in contrast to its American counterpart a shadow of that great exhibit but a strong presence in its own right. With a great cast of characters to work with, it was a memorable first job amongst the bright lights of London to be involved in and as a fan of the series, getting up every day to be surrounded by the world of the 24th century and beyond felt like a dream vocation. With it’s closure, these large grand scale celebrations of fictional media seemed to be consigned to history but in recent years with the emergence and growth of the convention scene in the UK and permanent attractions such as Harry Potter world in Watford, there is an appetite for events such as this to launch as an occasion to a waiting and willing audience. You can imagine with the plethora of sets, props and costumes, any visitor in the present day would long to fill their social media accounts with those precious memorable moments and photos from their time there, in the infancy of digital photography and reliable high speed internet connections, there does seem to be less said and shared about this particular exhibit
Reflecting back on this exhibit, in retrospect it does feel like the prelude to the final chapters in that particular iteration of the series. With a consistent presence on both the small and large screen over a period of four decades there was perhaps an element of fatigue creeping in, the feature film series had drawn to a close in some ignamony with purported discontent amongst the actors towards the direction of the final film, it felt very much like a franchise with a finite lifespan. Enterprise was the final series in that continuation which itself drew to a premature conclusion after its fourth season breaking a seven series structure from the previous shows. Perhaps its good fortune the shows creators and studio had confidence in the franchise to showcase its history on this scale outside its domestic market, testament to a faith in the appeal of its legacy from an international perspective. With a new found confidence in the Star Trek franchise, with the announcement of a fourth concurrent series due to film when the studios return to work, you imagine in the near future the possibility and potential for an exhibition of this type to be held across the world in due course. For now, a reflective look back as this series drew to an conclusion with this exhibit in 2002.
Walking Around The Final Frontier
Advertised as the largest exhibit in Hyde Park since the Great Exhibition in 1851, The Adventure begun with your arrival to Earth base Op’s and a chance to relive some of series greatest moments to date. On arrival after passing through a courteous security inspection, the welcome hall was filled with an assortment of banners and flags with Starfleet’s finest setting the tone for the occasion. It was a perfectly crafted nostalgic moment to remind you of the trials and tribulations of Starfleet’s most famous captains and the trials they faced individually and collectively across the various iterations of the shows. After this, you were provided with the opportunity to see props and vehicles from Nemesis including the Scorpion class attack shuttle used by Picard and Data during the valiant escape sequence from the scimitar. From there the exhibit opened up and became a largely open planned space to walk around at your leisure and explore, from the simulator rides to the recreation of Quarks bar and restaurant serving a variety of foods.
The feature films from the Next Generation franchise were highlighted prominently with a focus on the Borg prosthetics and costumes used a particular highlight, First Contact won an academy award for Best Makeup with the work of Michael Westmore amongst others a recognised talent. In addition as noted, props and vehicles from Nemesis which for a fan of the series at that period of time was exciting to see given the film was showing in cinemas and this was an opportunity to see them in person. Looking back to the past, there was a recreated Original Series bridge set that had been featured in the holodeck scene from The Next Generation of this previous iteration of Star Trek. A variety of uniforms were on show from the classic era films in addition to the more recent releases as well as props and sets from the recent series Enterprise, notably the torpedo launch room. There were more interactive sections of the exhibit with a blue screen transporter section imposing you onto an Original Series or Next Generation backdrop. In addition, a VHS video special that inserted you into a scene, an opportunity I partook but now sadly, confined somewhere to a box in a loft.
When you were ready, your tour continued through a recreation of the Enterprise D’s engine room, turbolift and bridge to experience a Borg attack with live action tour guides assisting you during the experience. Similar to the US exhibit though lacking perhaps the enthusiasm for guides in appropriate make-up and uniforms, this part of the exhibit was the finale to the experience and as such you were encouraged to enjoy the sights and sounds inside before venturing into this area. Beginning in the Engine Room, it was a fun recreation of this part of the Enterprise D that broadly looked similar but certainly wasn’t an identical recreation. Call it the perfectionist, I did appreciate the spirit and tone of the area but in the absence of the warp core for instance, lacking somewhat. The turbo-lift then transported you to the next area of the ship, a fun capsule with the appropriate lift sounds as the two sets of doors closed and opened respectively before depositing you onto the bridge. A particular highlight with the Borg attack and appropriate sounds and video on the view screen before you survived in triumph and departed leaving in the exhibits merchandise areas. You could also return between simulations for a picture on the bridge.
Working in the exhibition was a fascinating and unique experience, I was young and this was my first role working in the capital and in such a memorable and distinct location. Arriving for work you would show your unique ID cards with the graphic and logo applicable to your role, working merchandise of course meant having a Ferengi stickered pass which for a Star Trek fan was such a cool touch. Walking behind the scenes through the vast tented structure with the sounds of the music and series echoing around you built up the intensity of the moment before emerging through our particular access door into the exhibits visual merchandise area. We were selling a variety of the series across both VHS cassettes and an emerging technology called DVDs in their infancy, the earliest sets an expensive indulgence for the dedicated fans. In addition, in collaboration with the exhibition, a new online aspect had been launched specifically to coincide with the Nemesis release, a series of four access keys that would inputted would provide full access to an exclusive Nemesis website. This form of interaction was very much in its infancy, indeed it felt like working at a cornerstone moment of history in this particular area with online, physical media and gaming all together to purchase and buy in one area.
A Familial Experience
Star Trek has long been a bonding experience I’ve shared with my father, a universal constant we’ve enjoyed over the years and decades from my earliest moments in my formative years watching the Enterprise appear on a small black and white screen in my parents loft to visiting the local cinema wherever we lived at the time to watch the latest iteration of the movie franchise with him. To date, it has continued with the shows latest iteration through streaming and media services with the release of Discovery and Picard. Who else and better to visit The Adventure with than my dad, and so in Christmas 2002 as a celebration of exam success and a birthday gift to me, we visited the attraction, adorned in an appropriate red shirt to partake in the exhibit before my working days begun in earnest.
We had previously attended a short run exhibit at London’s Science Museum in 1995, advertised almost as an oddity, this franchise coming over the Atlantic and making mainstream news for its use of science in its narrative. It approached the series in a similar fashion to the Star Wars exhibit that toured America and Australia looking at the scientific basis and application in its series. Finding residence at the Science Museum gave the exhibit a touch of authenticity and added to the perception of a show more grounded in reality with its application and use of science and technology. I don’t remember a great deal of this particular exhibit only positive memories of attending with my dad and the series has been a consistent presence we have enjoyed together ever since, the cross generational appeal ever present in our family.
The exhibit featured a number of interactive areas and photo opportunities, it was the only time I visited the Transporter Set feature, a green screen and physical effect area that juxtaposed your image and likeness into an Original Series and Next Generation era setting, certainly not original but it was certainly a great moment to enjoy together as two generations of Star Trek fans enjoying a common moment of bonding over this science fiction series. I always wish we could have visited The Experience in Las Vegas before its closure in 2008, but for what it was, The Adventure in London served us admirably for two generations of fans. The Adventure was one of the earliest large exhibitions of Star Trek props and sets outside of the United States and certainly felt authentic in its depiction and presentation. The various large flags hanging from the ceiling with the logos and chevrons of the Federation and various empires and factions added a degree of legitimacy to the exhibit.
The props were amazing to see so close both in their detail and quality, the Borg exhibit for instance and the detailed prop drone head was an amazing feat of craftsmanship and design from the eighth feature, First Contact. It served the various eras and periods with due respect and courtesy, each given an opportunity to showcase their legacy from the original series bridge set to the Next Generation movie props, the vast reconstruction of Quarks Bar to the Enterprise torpedo room, whatever your personal predication there was enough to satiate your desires and enjoyment of the experience. The exhibit staff wore the blue boiler suits of the Enterprise series which provided consistency with the time the exhibition was held, in contrast to its American counterpart who were made up to look like the various species, it felt scaled down in retrospect but certainly you never felt diminished in quality or value.
It catered for both enthusiast, fan and family visiting the attraction through curiosity. As someone who has grown up with Star Trek and written in detail on its impact, being fortunate to see the uniforms and props outside of the US was a real treat and personally created far more of a connection being there in person. The sets and aesthetics of the exhibit were a welcome touch, the flags of Bajor, Starfleet and the Klingons all faithful reproductions of their in series appearance. For the adventurist, the Voyager shuttle simulator was fun to go on and admittedly given audience in attendance you never had to wait for to long to experience it. The food and catering was perhaps a little basic though certainly competent but the highlight was the Enterprise live action experience, being able to walk through a recreation of the iconic engine room sets from the Galaxy class ship before riding the turbolift and emerging onto the bridge, entirely encapsulated, it certainly elicited that moment of awe when Wesley steps onto the set in the pilot episode of the series. As staff, we were fortunate in our free time to be able to tour the exhibit and in the quieter days, you almost had the bridge and experience to yourself which afforded a chance for photography of this memorable experience.
When I was young and watched the Enterprise emerge against the backdrop of the stars, like many it inspired and intrigued me in equal measure, its broadly positive narrative had a profound impact on me as I grew up. It was a show I could watch with my family free of any cross generational controversies or division, with the release of the feature films an event we could enjoy together. And with the exhibits in the UK, thankfully in London where we resided at that time, something I could visit and form memories with my father. Today, there are no permanent attractions or exhibits to Star Trek, certainly not in the public domain and as such for a series that has endured and continues to resonate with its message and idealised portrayal of the future, that is a real shame with film sets and costumes consigned to history. With a resurgence thanks in part to the digital boom in streaming services and studios look to create original or new visions of existing franchises, Star Trek has seen a renaissance with four separate series now in active development, perhaps there is a division of sorts with the latest iterations drawing some ire but from a holistic standpoint, I can step back and appreciate more Star Trek in my life.
Where the legacy of its peers, Star Wars and Harry Potter amongst them exist with permanent visitor attractions, as established and viable enterprises, Star Trek is best remembered and celebrated through events such as Destination Star Trek or commemorative celebrations. I would long to see a more permanent exhibition opened, it has earned the right after remaining in the public conscious for over 50 years, having a substantial impact of generations of fans to have something to call its own, with the demise of The Experience and events such as The Adventure only a temporary fix at best, it seems that vision and hope is short lived. But the enduring message of the franchise has been one of positivity and optimism, of a future of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, in the modern age we live in today celebrating diversity which needn’t be the poisoned word some make it, a message as relevant now as it ever was. With the success of Discovery, Picard, a Section 31 show in development and the recently announce ‘Strange New Worlds’ series in response to overwhelming fan demand, and perhaps a fourth feature film from the relaunched franchise, the viability and success of Star Trek seems as assured and strong now as it has ever been.
I hope it has been of interest and you have gained an insight into this particular attraction, it was a pleasure to work at with some great people and whether something similar returns or not, the future is only just beginning.
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