‘Star Trek: Prodigy’ Serves as Entry Point for Newcomers

Star Trek Prodigy Cast
Dan Hageman, Ben Hibon, Dee Bradley Baker, Rylee Alazraqui, Kate Mulgrew, Brett Gray, Kevin Hageman and Ramsey Naito from Paramount+’s ‘Star Trek: Prodigy’ at the
New York Comic Con (Photo: Monica Schipper/Getty Images/Paramount+ © 2021 Paramount+)

Star Trek: Prodigy – the 10th series and the third animated series set in the 55-year-old science-fiction franchise – will serve as a gateway for Trek newbies, particularly children to whom it’s geared.

“In the pilot, they start in the Delta Quadrant (a largely unexplored region of space). That was our way in. We wanted a bunch of new characters who knew nothing about Star Trek, just like our young audience. And, slowly, as you saw the very end of the pilot, they meet a (hologram of Captain Kathryn) Janeway (Kate Mulgrew reprising her role). With every other episode, we get closer and closer to the Trek-verse. We get to have so much fun introducing everything we love about Star Trek,” said Kevin Hageman, co-creator of Prodigy.

Added his younger brother/Prodigy co-creator Dan: “There’s a lot of people out there who are curious about Star Trek, but they may be intimidated; there’s a lot of Star Trek out there. Where do they start? How do they know the difference between a Romulan and a Vulcan? This is a show that’s going to help not only a new generation, but people who are curious about Star Trek and want to jump in. This will guide them right into the franchise.”

Star Trek: Prodigy debuted on Thursday, October 28, 2021 on the streaming service Paramount+. Its first season will be 10 episodes. It will then air on Nickelodeon before the second season is released on Paramount+.

The Hageman brothers (The LEGO Movie) spoke about Prodigy at an Oct. 9 panel at the New York Comic Con, alongside director Ben Hibon (Tokyo Zombie); Ramsey Naito, president of animation and development for Paramount Animation; cast members Mulgrew (who played Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager from 1995-2001, the first female captain in the franchise), Brett Gray (On My Block), Rylee Alazraqui (Stillwater), and Dee Bradley Baker (Avatar: The Last Airbender). A Different World star Dawnn Lewis – who currently plays Captain Carol Freeman on the animated series Star Trek: Lower Decks – moderated the panel.

“I am honored to follow in your footsteps, female captain to female captain,” Lewis told Mulgrew, eliciting cheers and applause.

The audience was treated to a sneak peak of Star Trek: Prodigy’s first episode. The show occurs circa 2383 – long after the events of Voyager – where a motley crew of young aliens in the Delta Quadrant find an abandoned starship, the USS Protostar, and escape from a bleak mining colony on Tars Lamora, where they were slaves.

This ragtag band consists of Dal (Gray), a cocky, teenage, blue-skinned alien; Zero (Angus Imrie, The Crown), a genderless, energy-based lifeform wearing a containment suit; Rok-Tahk (Alazarqui), a hulking Brikar who’s really an animal-loving child; Murf (Bradley), an indestructible blob that speaks in clicks and squeaks; and Gwyn (Ella Purnell, Army of the Dead), a Vau N’Akat who dreams of exploring the stars and escaping her ruthless father’s (John Noble, Fringe) oppression. At the end of the first episode, once they commandeer the Protostar, a hologram of Janeway appears to serve as their guide.

“I traveled 75,000 light years to be here because the Hageman brothers promised me more than a passing glimpse of a younger, animated Janeway. I feel they failed in that respect. Do you agree?” Mulgrew asked the audience, which roared their agreement. “I decided to beam up a little something extra to satisfy my curiosity. Want to join me? Roll it!”

With that, the audience – much to their approval – was treated to several more minutes of clips of an animated Janeway from an upcoming episode. Afterwards, the actors spoke about their characters, starting with Gray. Prodigy is not only Gray’s first foray into Trek, but also his first animated series.

“Dal is scrappy and funny and charismatic and – sometimes – overzealous… I have some of those qualities,” he said. “It was really easy to find his voice.”

Like Gray, child actress Alazarqui had no trouble finding her character’s voice.

“(Rok-Tahk) wants to be loved and she wants other people to see her as how she is and who she truly is,” said Alazarqui. “I think Rok-Tahk is exactly like me. I just had to be myself to be Rok-Tahk. I’m an animal lover, I’m pretty sensitive, and I’m kind, so I think Rok-Tahk and I are twinning over here… I realized inside she was this big rock monster who’s like an 8-year-old girl.”

Star Trek: Prodigy Poster
‘Star Trek: Prodigy’ poster (Photo Cr: Nickelodeon/Paramount+ © 2021)

Lewis asked Mulgrew what made her want to return to Trek. Mulgrew’s last appearance as Janeway was a voiceover in the 2006 video game, Star Trek: Legacy. Prior to that, it was a cameo in 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis, giving orders to Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). In Nemesis, it was revealed that Janeway was promoted to admiral after Voyager ended.

“Why wouldn’t I want to return to this magnificent franchise?” replied Mulgrew. “We have overlooked in all of our (incarnations) a very important demographic, and that is the young people – children – who in many ways are far more astute than their elders. So when (executive producer) Alex Kurtzman (who co-wrote 2009’s Star Trek reboot) offered me this opportunity, I jumped at it. It’s wonderful to reincarnate Janeway and give it to the young and their vivid and marvelous imaginations!”

For the majority of the first episode, the characters are unable to communicate with one another because the slave-masters took away their universal translators. Once they board the Protostar, the starship’s universal translator activated, enabling them to communicate and work together. Lewis found this to be a powerful moment.

“That’s one of the things I love the most about the Star Trek universe in general because it demonstrates possibilities of all of us working together from different galaxies, from different humanities, from different species, from different languages… all of us finding a way (to work together),” she said. “And it was so powerful that the first thing that happens when you come on the ship is everyone can understand each other and everyone learns their role of how we can do this together. I think that from Day 1 – back to the original Star Trek – (it’s) the vision of who we can all be when we are willing to do this together.”

“Otherwise known as the Prime Directive,” added Mulgrew.

Lewis pointed at Mulgrew. “The Prime Directive – that’s right. It’s a beautiful, wishful thing that we as humanity can take a lesson from the worlds created by the Star Trek franchise of how we can do this together. It’s possible for us to do this together, not just in make-believe but in real life. We can do this together.”

When Mulgrew – who at that point was known for her roles on Ryan’s Hope and Mrs. Columbo, as well as 1987’s Throw Momma from the Train (as Billy Crystal’s ex-wife) – auditioned for Janeway in 1994, she wasn’t familiar with Trek. Oscar nominee Geneviève Bujold (Anne of the Thousand Days) got the role. Two days after filming, however, Bujold left Voyager, finding the schedule for episodic television to be too demanding. Mulgrew was then offered the role, even winning the Saturn Award for playing Janeway.

“I came into Star Trek as an innocent, but I think that actually served Janeway in good stead. I came into it knowing nothing, but now I wouldn’t dream of being without it,” said Mulgrew. “I think I got very emotional standing backstage watching this animated incarnation of Star Trek. And there’s a very good reason for that: The philosophy behind this will reverberate in infinity. It is a wonderful idea that (the late Trek creator Gene) Roddenberry had about the human spirit, about transcendence of all kinds of obstacles, and especially after this bloody pandemic to have something wonderful to look forward to – and that’s Star Trek.”