Star Trek: Prodigy: A whole new generation

We speak to the cast and crew of the first Star Trek series developed for a younger audience: Star Trek: Prodigy.

“It was really important to start the show as far away as possible from Starfleet,” says Ben Hibon, director and creative lead of the latest entry to Alex Kurtzman’s expanded Star Trek Universe, Star Trek: Prodigy. “They don’t know anything about Starfleet, and they’re going to make their way there.

“It is that journey that we’re telling, so we had to create a world and a texture that feels different and off brand almost.”

Star Trek: Prodigy does certainly feel a lot different from its Trek brothers and sisters. Firstly, it’s the first Trek series to use 3D animation and secondly, it’s the first to directly appeal to kids.

“The Star Trek cannon is so dense right now and the characters, when you look at Starfleet officers, they’re fully formed adults who are the best of the best,” says Kevin Hageman, who is a creator and showrunner of the show alongside his brother, Dan. “Can kids really relate to that? I don’t think so.

“That’s why we start outside – let’s start with a bunch of youths. Let’s discover something new that we love about Star Trek every episode and start from the ground up. So for the kids, [it’s about] introducing them or a new audience, and for the adult fans, who love Star Trek, who take everything for granted – you’re reminded why you love what they’re doing. Or they’re seeing through the eyes of these kids, discovering what a holodeck is for the first time. It’s wish fulfilment.”

Star Trek: Prodigy’s creators wanted to start the series from the ground up.

Indeed, you won’t be seeing any pristine Starfleet uniforms here (apart from on a certain captain of course, but we’ll get to that later). The series follows a motley crew of young aliens who find an abandoned Starfleet ship, the USS Protostar, in the Tars Lamora prison colony. Taking control of the ship, they must learn to work together as they make their way from the Delta Quadrant to the Alpha Quadrant. But over the course of their adventures together, they will each be introduced to Starfleet and the ideals it represents.

For the show’s creators, Kevin and Dan, developing a Trek series was certainly a daunting task (“we felt overwhelmed, we didn’t think we were the right people for it,” laughs Dan) but developing one for kids was certainly in their wheelhouse. They co-wrote the Golden Globe-nominated film The Croods: A New Age and they also were showrunners of the multiple Emmy award-winning animated Netflix series Trollhunters for Guillermo Del Toro.

And like their previous projects, they wanted Prodigy to aim at a broad audience.

“We knew we were not going to write something just for kids,” says Kevin. “We were going write something for adults too. It has to serve both. At first we were scared, but then we were in the parking lot and I asked Dan ‘I know we’re both having a knee jerk reaction of it’s too scary, but what would a Star Trek show look like for us?’”

“We said ‘from characters who don’t know anything about the federation’, just because it gives us a security blanket of feeling like we can be outsiders just like our crew is,” adds Dan. “We know a lot about Star Trek, but no one thinks they know enough about Star Trek to write a show about it. We had trepidation with that and then at the very same time we go: ‘Who’s going to be leading them? Who’s going to be guiding them?’ and in that same breath we’re like: ‘Janeway’”

Janeway is here to guide the young crew on their adventures…

Ah yes, Janeway. Leading our young crew is the starship’s built-in emergency training hologram which is based on the captain of the USS Voyager herself, Captain Kathryn Janeway (voiced by Kate Mulgrew, who’s reprising her iconic role).

“A man by the name of Alex Kurtzman called me on the phone and he said ‘Do you know who I am?”,” Kate Mulgrew remembers on how she first heard about the project. “I said: ‘Who doesn’t?!’ and he said: ‘Listen, we would love to do this animated series with hologram Janeway as sort of its centre, teaching these kids’.

“I thought ‘I don’t know’. It was so big when I did it. I just remember that effort. That investment. So I thought for some time and I talked to the people I trust, my closest friends. They all said ‘you’re a fool not to do it’. To bring this to little children. They’d love it and they’d sit with their mothers and their fathers and it will become a conversation across generations. How can you beat that? And Kurtzman is a visionary, he will do this beautifully. So of course then I leapt for the phone and said, ‘I’d love to do it!’” she laughs.

Though she was initially uncertain about coming back to her iconic character, what Mulgrew certainly hasn’t been uncertain about is that Janeway is a character that would be with her forever. First introduced to the world in 1995 with Star Trek: Voyager’s first episode (‘Caretaker’), Janeway has a legacy that Mulgrew is appreciative of.

“It is the gift that keeps on giving,” Mulgrew says of her part in the Star Trek world. “It is a tribute to this fan base – to their unending love of space, to their appreciation of the metaphor of the starship lost in space. How we are all on the planet Earth just really in a starship, desperate to find home. It’s a very, very lofty way of thinking. And the more I did it, the more I dug it. And the more I dug it, the more I knew it was going to be with me till the day I died. So it’s been a very, very interesting journey.”

Kate Mulgrew is back as Janeway.

Though Mulgrew must know the character of Janeway inside out, playing her via voiceover was a new experience, but one she’s more than happy with.

“I’m a woman of a certain age now,” Mulgrew says, “And my ego, my vanity has been modified by time, by loss, by life, by love, by all of it, it matters. So I am absolutely delighted to be in a recording booth, giving my voice to a hologrammatic Janeway that will then be issued to children and shared on screen by these marvellous voices. Nothing actually could make me happier. Least of all I should think, live action.”

It’s up to Janeway to lead this young crew, which comprises of Rok-Tahk (played by Rylee Alazraqui), Dal (Brett Gray), Jankom Pog (Jason Mantzoukas), Murf (Dee Bradley Baker), Zero (Angus Imrie) and 17-year-old Gwyn, played by Yellowjacket’s Ella Purnell, who was also relatively new to voiceover work.

“This was the second voiceover job I’d ever done,” Ella Purnell tells us. “I’d done one show before, and I’d done a few episodes, but the characters could not be more different.  That was the other exciting thing, I’m still figuring out my American accent and the dialect of the sound. So being able to experiment with that on a purely vocal thing when there’s no physicality to mask my fluffs is interesting. It’s baptism by fire. I’ve really just jumped in there.”

“I haven’t heard you make any fluffs, because I’m often with you in the scenes,” Mulgrew intercepts. “I think it’s pretty bloody good!”

“Yeah?” Purnell responds. “Thank you, I’ll take that!”

As for Angus Imrie, who plays Zero (a noncorporeal, genderless, energy-based lifeform now less!), he already had some tie to the Star Trek universe, playing a younger version of a role played by Patrick Stuart in the movie, The Kid Who Would Be King: “We were playing the young and older versions of the character of the wizard, Merlin,” he remembers. “So having not known much about Star Trek, I was approaching old episodes, trying to watch Patrick and see how he behaves and try and find that in our character of Merlin together.

“As soon as you go online, you see what [Star Trek] means to people. That they’re fiercely intelligent, fiercely loyal, and fiercely invested in the whole show. Since I’ve been a part of it, my appreciation of what I’m involved in has grown and grown. And I feel very lucky to be in that world now.”

Angus Imrie plays Zero (right) a noncorporeal, genderless, energy-based lifeform who wears a containment suit as others would go mad at the sight of their true self

Speaking of the world of Star Trek, there are a lot of firsts associated with Star Trek: Prodigy, but the team behind the series are planning on taking our young crew to familiar territory soon enough.

“For canon, we’re very aware of what’s out there and you’ll see our crew heading closer to federation space,” Kevin tells us. “There’s going to be a lot more familiar faces you might be seeing…”

Indeed, this is just the beginning for Star Trek: Prodigy and with the series already a big success in the US, the show has been commissioned for a second series before it has even hit the UK.

“We have 20 episodes that are going to be coming out [in the UK], and then we’re already doing a Season Two of another 20 episodes,” Kevin informs us. “We’re writing episodes 39 and 40 right now, and it’s all one epic adventure.

“Fear not. Everything builds, we have a strong ending for 20 and we have a super strong ending for 40. We hope that all of this is just the beginning.”

“People have embraced it,” Hibon adds. “The audience, the old fans, have really connected with some of the harking back to what they knew and rediscovering aspects of the shows that they loved. New audiences have discovered a universe that they can just mine for more because of all the other shows and I think that the medium of animation has allowed that to happen.

“It’s definitely opening up opportunities for the Trek universe for Alex. Certainly to think about different ways and mediums to have more Trek adventures in, that’s for sure…”

Star Trek: Prodigy will be showing from Mon 25th April – Fri 6th May, 6pm on weekdays on Nickelodeon.