Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Star Trek: Prodigy: Paramount Plus to Premiere New Episode 'Kobayashi' on Jan. 6

After a brief hiatus, Star Trek: Prodigy, the brand new Star Trek CG-animated series from Nickelodeon returns with brand new episodes, beginning with the all new episode "Kobayashi" (#106), premiering Thursday, January 6, exclusively on Paramount+. Try it FREE at ParamountPlus.com!

As the Prodigy crew seeks to learn more about their starship after escaping the Diviner by way of the high-powered “proto drive” — and Gwyn (Ella Purnell) seeks to find her path forward — Hologram Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) introduces Dal (Brett Gray) and Jankom Pog (Jason Mantzokous) to the Kobayashi Maru simulation in the ship’s holodeck. Featuring special guest appearances from legacy Star Trek characters (see below for spoilers!).

Synopsis: KOBAYASHI — As Gwyn struggles to find her role aboard the U.S.S. Protostar, Dal tests his leadership skills in the newly discovered holodeck. Written by Aaron J. Waltke. Directed by Alan Wan.

Kobayashi Maru is a seemingly unwinnable Star Fleet training exercise in the Star Trek universe designed to test the character of Starfleet Academy cadets in a no-win scenario. A ship in distress — the Kobayashi Maru — is stalled in the Neutral Zone. Try to save them, and the Federation will start a war with the Klingons. Do nothing, and they’ll die. Any choice leads to multiple levels of failure. It is, as said above, a no-win scenario designed to test how a cadet reacts under stress, and with a crew; not a problem to be solved.


A few spoilers:

Dal tries to solve the Kobayashi Maru quest by asking the holodeck to give him the best of the best. And that’s exactly what he gets: Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and eventually Scotty (James Doohan) from The Original Series; Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) from The Next Generation; and Odo (RenΓ© Auberjonois) from Deep Space Nine.

Since they’re all holograms created by the ship’s computer, the artifice of clearly spliced together clips from previous shows actually works, with the audio quality varying wildly, but giving the whole scenario a wistful touch of nostalgia. It’s most noticeable with Nimoy, who gets to respool some classic lines like “live long and prosper,” and “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” with the voice ranging from some of Nimoy’s first appearances as the character, to some of his last.

Given that Dal is the newest captain (albeit self-dubbed) in the franchise, it’s a lovely little way of passing the torch, and having classic characters other than Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) pop up on the show without sending the cast through time, or into Federation space.

The episode also ends with a beautiful dedication that states, “In memory of RenΓ© Auberjonois, James Doohan, and Leonard Nimoy, who inspire us to go boldly.”

And on a less sad note, we do get one more classic performance, in the form of Robert Beltran as Captain Chakotay. This time, it’s not reused audio clips, though… Turns out the Star Trek: Voyager character was the original captain of the Protostar, and as already revealed, we should be seeing more of him as the show goes along.

But hey, if Prodigy wants to bring back some other classic characters for more holodeck adventures, we won’t mind. To paraphrase Nimoy from Wrath of Khan: they have, and will always be, our friends.

Season one of STAR TREK: PRODIGY premiered on Thursday, Oct. 28 with a one-hour episode, exclusively for Paramount+ subscribers in the U.S. New episodes of the first half of season one continued to roll out weekly on Thursdays through Thursday, Nov. 18. Following a mid-season break, the remaining five episodes of season one’s first half will be available to stream weekly on Thursdays, starting on Thursday, Jan. 6. The 10-episode-long second half of season one will be available on Paramount+ at a later date next year, to be announced.

Season 1 left off before the hiatus with Gwyn choosing to remain with Dal and his motley crew versus continuing to fight for her father’s affection and acceptance. The choice came into focus when dad, otherwise known as The Diviner, made it clear he would rather secure the Protostar ship for his own selfish interests versus save his own flesh and blood.

Gwyn’s upbringing that trained her how to operate the Protostar came in handy when she engaged the Proto Drive to escape The Diviner and warp off into the unknown. The biggest lingering question entering this next block of five all-new episodes is where or when did the Protostar arrive considering The Diviner and Drednok can no longer see the ship on any of their tracking instruments.

Produced by the Nickelodeon Animation Studio and CBS Studios’ Eye Animation Production, STAR TREK: PRODIGY is already a hit amongst Paramount+ subscribers, and had the top-performing premiere day out of any original animated kids series on the service. The series was recently renewed for a second season, which is slated to premiere in 2023.

The STAR TREK: PRODIGY voice cast includes Kate Mulgrew (Hologram Kathryn Janeway), Brett Gray (Dal), Ella Purnell (Gwyn), Rylee Alazraqui (Rok-Tahk), Angus Imrie (Zero), Jason Mantzoukas (Jankom Pog), Dee Bradley Baker (Murf), John Noble (The Diviner) and Jimmi Simpson (Drednok).

Developed by Emmy® Award winners Kevin and Dan Hageman (“Trollhunters” and “Ninjago”), the CG-animated series STAR TREK: PRODIGY is the first “Star Trek” series aimed at younger audiences, and follows a motley crew of young aliens who must figure out how to work together while navigating a greater galaxy, in search of a better future. These six young outcasts know nothing about the ship they have commandeered – a first in the history of the “Star Trek” franchise – but over the course of their adventures together, they will each be introduced to Starfleet and the ideals it represents.

STAR TREK: PRODIGY is from CBS’ Eye Animation Productions, CBS Studios’ new animation arm; Nickelodeon Animation Studio, led by President of Animation Ramsey Naito; Secret Hideout; and Roddenberry Entertainment. Alex Kurtzman, Heather Kadin, Aaron Baiers, Katie Krentz, Rod Roddenberry and Trevor Roth serve as executive producers, alongside co-showrunners Kevin and Dan Hageman and Ben Hibon, who also directs and serves as executive producer and the creative lead of the animated series.

STAR TREK: PRODIGY is distributed by ViacomCBS Global Distribution Group and is also available to stream on Paramount+ in international territories, including Latin America, the Nordics and Australia. In Canada, it airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave.

From Polygon:

How Star Trek: Prodigy creators pulled off animated cameos for the ‘Trekkiest Trek that ever Trekked’

The new episode ‘Kobayashi’ is a Starfleet fantasy draft

StarStar Trek: Prodigy is the latest installment in the Star Trek canon, an animated series designed to be an on-ramp for kids who are totally unfamiliar with its 55 years of sprawling mythology. On Prodigy, a crew of five young people (and one indestructible blob creature of indeterminate age) have commandeered the U.S.S. Protostar, a highly advanced Starfleet vessel that they find buried on a mining asteroid where they were once held prisoner. Through the guidance of a holographic mentor in the likeness of Voyager’s Captain Kathryn Janeway (voice of Kate Mulgrew), Prodigy gradually introduces the Protostar crew and a new generation of viewers to the key sci-fi concepts and philosophical principles behind the Star Trek universe.

In today’s new episode, “Kobayashi,” the Protostar’s self-appointed captain Dal R’El (voice of Brett Gray) wanders onto the ship’s holodeck and, seeking a way to win his crew’s respect, loads up an advanced command training simulation called “Kobayashi Maru.” He needs a crew, but rather than invite his comrades to play, Dal tells the computer to populate his simulated vessel with “some of the best you got.”

[Ed. note: This article contains spoilers for the “Kobayashi” episode of Star Trek: Prodigy.]

In a flash, the bridge is manned by an array of familiar faces from Star Trek series past — Spock, Uhura, Scotty, Odo, and Dr. Beverly Crusher — all of whom are total strangers to the viewpoint character. Dal, a selfish teenage brat, bungles his way through countless attempts at the Kobayashi Maru test, baffling his Starfleet all-star team with his ineptitude.

One could be forgiven for assuming that the team behind Prodigy simply threw a bunch of legacy characters together in the hopes of inspiring fan interest (and articles like this one). But, according to episode writer Aaron J. Waltke, the story of “Kobayashi” actually began with a specific character need and grew into an increasingly complicated endeavor that allowed Waltke, a lifelong Trekkie, to create his dream holodeck episode.

“Very early on we wanted to balance a few things with the characters’ story arcs, specifically how quickly we introduce them to the world of Star Trek as most fans know them,” Waltke tells Polygon. “[We needed to] get Dal to realize that as much as he fantasizes about being in the Captain’s seat and ready for leadership, that maybe he still has to learn a thing or two. It dovetailed quite nicely into the discussion of ‘Well, what is the greatest leadership test in all of Star Trek?’”

First introduced in the 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the Kobayashi Maru test is a simulation in which a command officer candidate leads their ship into hostile territory in order to rescue passengers from a damaged civilian vessel. What the player doesn’t know is that the test is fixed — no matter what they try, their ship is always destroyed by overwhelming enemy forces. The scenario is designed to teach a prospective captain to cope with failure and to confront the real possibility of losing their ship, their crew, and their life in the line of duty. (James T. Kirk, famously, cheated at the Kobayashi Maru, reprogramming the test and becoming the only person ever to complete the mission successfully.)

While the Kobayashi Maru remains an often-referenced piece of Star Trek lore, Waltke realized that it had never actually been depicted on television before, and that The Wrath of Khan remained its latest appearance in Star Trek’s internal chronology. Since Prodigy is set 98 years later, the Prodigy team felt certain that Starfleet would have updated the test in the interim to use holodeck technology, giving the writers license to revamp the simulation to suit their own purposes. This eventually led to the idea of employing Starfleet legends as non-player characters.

“If you look at The Wrath of Khan, it’s not just random ensigns or whatever that are at Starfleet Academy,” says Waltke. “It’s literally Spock and Uhura and Sulu. They’re there, as this all-star crew. You have the best crew that you’ll ever have. Now, how are you going to face this, cadet?” Waltke argues that, when compared to Khan’s depiction of the Enterprise senior staff administering the test to Lt. Saavik as a live-action role play complete with death scenes, Prodigy’s holographic fantasy draft is relatively plausible.

Bringing the premise to screen presented a host of challenges, not the least of which was deciding which characters would make the lineup, one of the geekiest workplace arguments that anyone’s ever been paid to have. The Prodigy writers room attempted to create the perfect Star Trek bridge crew, an exercise in which diehard Trekkies (Waltke included) have participated for as long as there’s been more than one cast to choose from.

A consensus crew proved impossible, but the technical requirements of the episode helped narrow down their choices. Waltke felt strongly that the characters had to have their original voices, and sought out and spliced together lines of dialogue from classic episodes that would be appropriate for their new scenes.

Having the right line in the script wasn’t enough, either — the performance and sound recording also had to be the right fit. Finding applicable sound bytes was a painstaking process that Waltke took on primarily by himself, reading about 90 teleplays and rewatching 40 episodes from across the franchise looking for perfect matches, and then bringing the specific timecodes to the Star Trek archives where the individual audio tracks are stored.

“I’m not gonna lie, it was probably one of the hardest writing experiences I’ve ever had. Obviously rewarding, but there were cases where I thought I had finally found the perfect line and then I would go track down the audio and the [actor] was just too far away from the 1960s microphones that were recording, or they were rattling something.”

Throughout the years-long production cycle of the animated episode (which was written way back in 2019 and finalized in the past month or so) the scene had to be reworked multiple times, requiring return trips to the archives. One draft of the script featured eight holographic crew members, but the process of streamlining the scene meant Worf, one of Waltke’s personal favorites, was written out of the episode.

Waltke and company eventually put together functional snippets of dialogue for Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), and Scotty (James Doohan) from The Original Series and Odo (Rene Auberjonois) from Deep Space Nine. When it became clear that one character would need to be able to interact more directly with Dal, Gates McFadden, The Next Generation’s Dr. Beverly Crusher, returned to perform her character for the first time since 2002. McFadden even improvised a few lines, one of which — “The phenomenon of your stubbornness belongs in a medical textbook.” — made it into the final episode.

The difference in sound quality between the new and old sound recordings is definitely noticeable, but between the playful tone of the episode and the in-universe artifice of holographic simulation, it’s easily dismissed. Frankly, it’s also more charming that way: A truly seamless integration of the archive audio might actually be unsettling, considering that Nimoy, Doohan, and Auberjonois are dead.

Dal and Jankom look at the simulation for the Kobayashi Maru in a still from “Star Trek: Prodigy”
Image: Nickelodeon
Prodigy doesn’t typically clutter its episodes with references to previous series (that’s squarely the domain of its sister show, Lower Decks), but executive producers Kevin and Dan Hageman let Waltke go “hog wild” on “Kobayashi.” Janeway introduces Dal and shipmate Jankom Pog to the holodeck by flipping through a few familiar scenarios, from the Vulcan kal-if-fee battle rites to the real Janeway’s well-worn BrontΓ« program.

Of course, it’s important that all of this fanservice for longtime Trekkies doesn’t overwhelm the story. After all, none of these in-jokes and cameos mean anything to the show’s younger viewers.

“We specifically pivoted it in a way that there’s an irony there, so newer audiences can still be on the adventure with Dal. He’s with this dream team and has no idea who any of them are, but senses that they’re good at what they do. He thinks ‘aha,’ finally I have a crew that I can work with,’ only to find that the problem is with himself. So there’s a story there that works whether or not you understand any of the Star Trek references at all. But the fun was, if we’re gonna go there, why not pack as much stuff for the super-fans as we can?

“Let’s just make this the Trekkiest Trek that ever Trekked.” 

New episodes of Star Trek: Prodigy premiere every Thursday on Paramount Plus.


Star Trek: Prodigy Producer Explains How Cameo-Filled Episode Came Together

Star Trek: Prodigy returned from hiatus today with its sixth episode, "Kobayashi." As the title suggests, the episode digs into Star Trek history by pitting the Protostar's self-proclaimed captain, Dal, against the unwinnable Kobayashi Maru training scenario. The scene became an opportunity to honor past Star Trek stars. Spock, Odo, and Mr. Scott appear (in holographic form) voiced by their original actors (the late Leonard Nimoy, RenΓ© Auberjonois, and James Doohan, respectively) via archival audio. As a result, the episode feels like a celebration of 55 years of Star Trek, introducing Star Trek: Prodigy's younger viewers to Star Trek's legacy, perhaps for the first time.

Star Trek: Prodigy producer Aaron J. Waltke wrote the episode. ComicBook.com spoke to Waltke over the phone about how the story came together, including navigating Auberjonois's unfortunate death after writing Odo into the script and what it was like building an episode around previously recorded audio. Here's what he had to say:

How did the idea for this episode come about? Did it start with you wanting to do something that honors all these Star Trek greats, or was there another narrative purpose and grew into this opportunity to do this tribute?

Aaron J. Waltke: Well, it was probably a little bit closer to the latter in that when we were planning out the season, there were a lot of things we wanted to try to service. And very early on, we realized that in terms of Dal's character arc as from, on Maslow's hierarchy of needs, someone who didn't have much in the way of a good upbringing or shelter and whatnot, and he's a little braggadocious and impulsive and maybe a little selfish at times, in terms of him finally getting the talking to or the wake-up call, we realized, why can't we have that happen in the same way that I think other braggadocious and impulsive and perhaps slightly arrogant captains have had a similar wake-up call? But unlike maybe Captain Kirk, who still found a way to cheat and preserve his ego, Dal instead actually learns the right lesson from it.

And so that was something we realized very early on, that we wanted to use the Kobayashi Maru scenario as a functioning metaphor for how our characters, but in this particular scenario, Dal, how they react to a hopeless situation, but specifically, Dal hanging onto this idea that he has to be in control in order to be a good captain. Not only a good captain but a good leader or a good crewmate to his friends. Because I think Dal is so not used to being in a family, a found family or whatnot, that it's uncomfortable for him, and so he tends to act out a little bit. In our minds, the Kobayashi Maru was the perfect chance for Dal to finally just brass tacks, all the cards on the table, here's a computer simulation telling you that you aren't what you want to think you are as a captain.

There was also some humor involved too, because we were like, "Well, what if he goes into the Kobayashi route not knowing it's a no-win situation?" As someone who grew up in the age of gaming, there is something quite fun for somebody who first plays something like a roguelike or something, where there's actually not a way to win. All you can do is just survive for as long as you can, like Dark Souls or something. And if he goes in not realizing that there's no way to win it, we thought there could be a lot of humor there.

But on top of that, as we were talking it out like, "Well, let's look at the original Kobayashi Maru," and we realized how interesting is it that in Wrath of Khan, for instance, it's not just random cadets or whatever that are on the bridge. Saavik, she's commanding the Enterprise, and she has on the bridge with her Spock and Uhura and Sulu, and it's this all-star cast. And we're like, "Well, what would that look like in a computer simulation on the holodeck? Fast forward 100+ years, how would they have maybe updated that?" And we realized, my god, we've seen it in every other Star Trek show where they can just say, "Bring up a simulation of Leonardo DaVinci," and he would just appear.

We realized that we could tap into something that I think every Star Trek fan growing up had, that ultimate wish fulfillment and game of argumentation of what makes the perfect bridge crew. We realized very early on that it's a fool's errand to try to say, "Okay, this character is the best and that character's the best." If I had my druthers, I would probably have 30 people on that bridge. And we tried very early on to say, "No, no. But really, what's the best bridge crew?" But it was impossible. We couldn't choose because there are so many great characters in the 55-plus years that Star Trek's been on the air.

Ultimately, we wound up going with something that was a little bit more of a random generator of just like, "Okay, here's a selection of the best," and then just choosing a few characters that I think are the epitome of Star Trek. Then over time, while having fun and embracing the adventure of it and whatnot, and the legacy, it also was a chance to honor a lot of those characters as well. This episode was written back in 2019, I think mid-2019, and then we were in production when, for instance, we had already written the part for RenΓ© Auberjonois when he passed away.

Something unfortunately similar happened when the Hagemans and I were on Trollhunters. Ultimately, we decided if there's a way we can make this work, we want to honor the legacy of these characters, and it became a great platform, I think, in our minds of a chance for these new characters that are entering the Trek world to remember that they're standing on the shoulders of giants. That was our thinking, that animation is such a unique medium. It was a chance for us to hear the words from Leonard Nimoy himself, that I think maybe some of these kids who are watching never would've heard, the phrase, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few," and have it be impactful in a character's journey. That was our thinking. There were a lot of moving parts that snapped together in a way that felt right.

So you had written in Odo before RenΓ© Auberjonois died? Because watching the episode, I assumed the characters were chosen because they had died. Nichelle Nichols is still alive, but there's been a lot of stuff honoring her in the past year or so, with the documentary, for example. I assumed Beverly Crusher was there because you needed someone to deliver lines that weren't prerecorded. But you had actually chosen Odo before that?

Yeah, when we first were starting to write it, we were like, "Let's honor some of these characters that maybe are no longer with us, but also mix in some others." And then, over time, it just so happened to be that we lost RenΓ©, and at that point, we were like, "Well, we have to try to make it work." Because Odo has always been one of my favorite characters across all of Star Trek, period, and I hope that I did his character justice in that he always was this figure that was both playful and snarky, but also could get the job done, and, I would argue, was one of the greatest security officers that ever worked with Starfleet, even if he never formally joined them.

It was something that we wanted to honor. But as soon as we tapped into this idea that we were going to be bringing past characters back, it did make sense for us to see if we could really find a way to honor these legacy characters in the best way that we could.

I know this question is a little pedantic and not really the point of the thing, but I know some of the continuity-minded fans are going to wonder: did you come up with a reasoning for why Odo is in the databanks and chosen for the simulation, even though he wasn't technically in Starfleet?

Well, as I mentioned earlier, there's plenty of characters that are in Starfleet or in the holodeck data banks that weren't formally in Starfleet, but still could be generated. But as far as people that could serve on your bridge, Odo did serve on Starfleet bridges. There are numerous episodes where he was flying on the Defiant in the Dominion War alongside them, operating tactical and stuff. And you could argue that Odo single-handedly ended the Dominion War using his security tactics and his diplomatic skills, I guess, as the branch between the Changelings and the solids.

So to say that you couldn't build a bridge crew out of characters that served for the Bajoran Militia or served on Starfleet stations, it didn't quite make sense to us because there are so many instances in Star Trek where you have characters that aren't in Starfleet, but then come and serve alongside them anyway. So it made sense to us. He's one of the heroes of the Dominion War and saved Starfleet and served on Starfleet bridge crews. Why wouldn't he be an option in this simulation?

Was it particularly challenging writing this scene and around prerecorded lines from past audio? I imagine it required a whole lot of research.

Yeah, it was extremely challenging, is the short answer. We had the Star Trek archives, which obviously have the audio from the last half-century of Star Trek shows and movies. But ultimately, it did come down to how were the lines delivered? Were they the right intonation? Was the audio clean enough? Could it be cleaned up? Ultimately, what it came down to is I had all of the scripts, and I wound up creating a computer algorithm. I used a lot of Boolean searches, searching the scripts to see if I could find the right lines to fill in the blanks. Because there were a few key ones like, "In your own way, you are as stubborn as another Captain of the Enterprise I once knew." I knew I wanted to use that.

But there are other lines that were just sort of like, "We have Klingons bearing down on us at mark 1.4, mark 10" or whatever, that I was like, "Okay, we have to find one that sounds good from this character." So it really came down to a lot of leg work and grunt work where I think I probably watched around 45 episodes top to bottom and read about 90 Star Trek scripts top to bottom to find the perfect lines. And sometimes I would find a line, and then I would track it down in the episode, and it wouldn't sound right, or it would be the wrong delivery, so then I would have to take that out and plug it back in. It was quite an endeavor, to say the least.

But ultimately, years and years ago, I used to work as a documentary filmmaker, and it was kind of interesting because you get used to working with sound bites, and sometimes you have a perfect sound bite, and you want it to be answered by another talking head giving a different sound bite that sounds like they're having a conversation. So in a way, my brain reverted back to that, and I was using these basic storytelling units of, "Okay, here's a bunch of great lines from Odo that kind of sound like he's upset, and here's some great lines from Uhura where she is alerting people to go to battle stations." And then it was a lot of shuffling around, but also catering a few specific lines to make it seem like they were really in the room talking to each other. It was a lot of finagling, but I think we finally got to a place where it works.

The first few episodes Star Trek: Prodigy felt like it was about getting these characters together and having them get to know each other. It seems like with the Protostar revealing what it can do, and that tease at the end of this episode, we're jumping into a deeper part of the pool. What can you say about how this next batch of episodes compares to that first batch?

Well, I think the first five were very much you could take them as a unit, which is this is the baseline of assembling the crew, and now they are all working together on this derelict starship and venturing into the unknown. So I think the back half is okay, but now where are we heading to? What is their north star that they can point to and sail straight on until morning? I think, as you hear in this episode and future ones, that north star is in fact Starfleet and the Federation, and the hope and ideals that maybe it represents aren't just something that they fake until they make it, but maybe something that they themselves can live by. That's, I think, is where the back half of this 10-episode arc is going. "Now that we have our freedom, where are we headed next?" And I think the answer is into, hopefully, a better future for everyone.


From Heavy:

How Did ‘Prodigy’ Bring Back so Many Classic ‘Star Trek’ Characters?

For some, Episode 7 of “Star Trek: Discovery” was a disappointment. A few fans who hadn’t seen the note that the show was taking a mid-season hiatus. The adventures of Captain Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), Saru (Doug Jones), and the rest of the crew would return on February 8, according to the official “Star Trek” Twitter account.  

Not to fear, fans of the franchise, because there would be something to fill the void. As Gizmodo said so eloquently, “don’t worry if you miss ‘Star Trek’ while it’s gone, there’ll be ‘Star Trek’ to fill in the gap.”

While “Discovery” is off, “Prodigy” is now streaming on Paramount+ to satisfy the need for new “Star Trek” stories. It is an understatement that “Prodigy” delivered just another episode. This new story, named “Kobayashi,” has quickly become a fan favorite. People have embraced the story, which brought back Spock, Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Scotty (James Doohan), Odo (RenΓ© Auberjonois), Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden), and Chakotay (Robert Beltran) — all voiced by their original actors.

Trek fans all over are saying that “Kobayashi” is their “favorite Trek thing.” Many are marveling at how the writers of Prodigy were able to assemble this all-star crew for the episode. 

Heavy spoke with Aaron J. Waltke, who served the first season as a writer and producer and is currently the Co-Executive Producer and Co-Head Writer for Season 2. Waltke told us that the actual idea for the episode came about in 2019, and he has been watching and reading scripts from past episodes to create the story for “Kobayashi.”

“We worked in the dark … in a vacuum … for a very, very long time on this episode,” says Waltke. “There was a long stretch where it was difficult, and it seemed like it might be more trouble than it was worth. Or maybe that it just wasn’t going to work because it was too hard to get the right audio samples.” 

Waltke said as he worked through these various issues, he did worry if the episode would work at all and possible negative feedback from viewers.

“To get the opposite reaction and in an overwhelming way was cathartic for myself and everybody on the crew,” says Waltke. “This entire episode and series really does come from a place of love, honor, and respect.”

Waltke says that part of the mandate of “Prodigy” is to introduce new audiences to the greater Trek world. Since “Prodigy” is destined to air on Nickelodeon, part of that new audience is youngsters, who previously were introduced to “Star Wars” first. “Prodigy” will ensure that children know what a lightsaber and a phaser are. 

Watlke with ‘A Strange New Pod’

To make this episode, Waltke said that the writers got together with various lists of the most remarkable bridge crew from the various shows and films through the years. Waltke says that when they were done with this exercise, practically every single main Trek character was on the list. Through the process of elimination, the writers finally agreed on the characters used and how they could introduce them into the story.

Waltke says that because the holodeck (or holo-suite) technology can conjure nearly anyone from history to interact with the living, it made sense that Dal (Brett Gray) could learn from the very best. And, since part of the “Prodigy” mission is to introduce core Trek characters to new viewers, it opened the door to bringing in some of the classic names.

“We knew very early that we wanted to have Spock,” says Waltke. “Who better to hear a life lesson from than the greatest first officer who ever lived?” 

Waltke says that they wanted Spock to be the primary voice to teach Dal how to grow into the captain’s chair and “finally let go of that impulsive Id personality desire to just be in charge for his own ego.”

The Needs of the Many…

The writers agreed that Dal needed to learn that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Waltke said in those early meetings, he and the other writers did not know if it would be possible to source Leonard Nimoy’s voice and performance for the episode. He says that imaginations ran wild in the writer’s room, and the job landed on him to figure out how to put it all together.

For Waltke, he approached this project the same way he used to when he worked on documentaries for PBS. Waltke says that “Kobayashi” was sort of a puzzle, somewhat like the films and shows he used to assemble from hundreds of clips. 

“Originally, we decided to try to preserve Leonard Nimoy’s performance, and then we’d see if other actors were available from ‘Star Trek’ who could come in,” says Waltke. He says that the writers thought they could use one or two characters from the past, and the rest would be newly recorded. 

Waltke says that he had already written lines for Odo and was in the process of contacting Auberjonois when he passed away. They decided to honor Auberjonois by keeping Odo in the story.

Waltke says that he read close to 90 scripts and rewatched between 40 and 50 shows, looking for just the right words to tell the story on the holodeck with Dal. He says that sometimes he’d find the right words or phrases, but someone else was talking or some other noise was happening on the episode, and he’d need to keep searching. 

“It was very much a ping-ponging back and forth to find what worked and what fulfilled the intentionality of the scene,” says Waltke. “And what hit the spirit of [the scene] which was meaningful.”

Having McFadden available as Crusher was somewhat of a luxury for Waltke because her voice was available to respond directly to Dal’s questions. She also interacted with the other characters and filled in spots where there was no available archival audio that would work.

Among the things Waltke did to build the scene was to use Nimoy’s voice from “Balance of Terror” when Spock was talking about the Romulan Neutral Zone. This worked, even though the Kobayashi Maru was taken from “Wrath of Khan.” That test involves the Romulan Neutral Zone. 

“Even down to the sound design, we put in nods and honorifics,” said Waltke. The ambient noise from the Enterprise-D, the computerized voice from the Kobayashi Maru test, the sound of the explosion of the Klingon Warbird were all sourced from the original episodes or films. And those are just a few. 

“Everyone said that if we’re going to do it, let’s do it right,” said Waltke.

Spock’s Final Lines

Waltke says that he added something special for Spock’s final words on the episode, hoping that Trek fans will appreciate it.

“I haven’t shared this with anyone else,” says Waltke, “but a real, profound realization struck me, which was that there is a very real chance that this may be the last appearance of Leonard Nimoy’s Spock in ‘Star Trek’ for the foreseeable future.”

As Spock finalizes the test with Dal, those final lines in the episode reflect Nimoy’s appearances in Trek over the decades. Nimoy’s voice came from “The Original Series,” “The Wrath of Khan,” “The Next Generation,” and “Star Trek (2009).” 

“In a very subtle way, I’m giving kids and new audiences a tiny little glimpse into the incredible artistry across the entire career over the last 40 or 50 years that Leonard Nimoy gave us,” says Waltke. 

A Happy Ending

In the end, the reaction by Trek fans has been very satisfying for Waltke. For him, the weeks of hard work were worth it, especially after learning how much people love the story.

“I’ve been living with [the episode] for so long,” said Waltke. “I poured over every single second, and every single frame [so] when people discover some of the things that I put in a year ago, or a year and a half ago, last month … and they are delighted by it … it makes me feel rejuvenated. They’re saying [to me that] all my efforts weren’t wasted for a crazy person in a cave somewhere. I didn’t make that episode just for myself.”


Interview: Writer/Producer Aaron J. Waltke On “Kobayashi” And What’s Next For ‘Star Trek: Prodigy’

Today’s episode of Star Trek: Prodigy was written Aaron J. Waltke who joined the series as a co-producer in the first season and is currently a co-executive producer and co-head writer for the recently announced second season. TrekMovie had a chance to talk to the Emmy-winning screenwriter about the lore-filled episode “Kobayashi” and where things are headed next for the USS Protostar and crew. The ensuing discussion reveals just how seriously the Prodigy writers’ room takes the show, and the amount of love and understanding of the Star Trek franchise they have.


Prodigy has slowly dripped in the Star Trek bits, but this episode was kind of a firehose of Trek lore. So, is this the new normal or a special case?

I wouldn’t say you’re just getting this one Trek cookie, and then nothing else ever again. I also don’t think every episode is going to be as jam-packed with this much classic Star Trek lore. Obviously, we have to sort of balance that with the new story that we’re telling. As you saw at the tail end of the episode, we do have the introduction that Captain Chakotay was the former captain of the Protostar. And that’s sort of the next stage of the mystery of where’s the Protostar from; how did it arrive on Tars Lamora; why is The Diviner after it. And those are all kinds of hints that it is tying into the greater Star Trek Universe beyond just it’s a Federation ship, but it’s a Federation ship that was once captained by some legacy characters.

This episode was heavier on it, perhaps as a compensation–overcompensation on my part–for us going so light on it earlier on as we’re easing young and new audiences into the Star Trek Universe. But because we had kind of found a way to earn it with the holodeck and the Kobayashi Maru program, I basically turned to the Hagemans and said, “Just let me go crazy with it.” And they, thankfully, let me do so. So the writers’ room and myself broke the episode and argued ad nauseam over who would be the best, greatest Star Trek bridge crew. But ultimately, none of us could agree and we would wind up with way too many people on the bridge, or we’d have like three engineers or it would be like, all TOS and then one person for Deep Space Nine. And so we ultimately decided just to make it like a fun grab bag of an episode which hopefully would satisfy a lot of the hardcore Star Trek fans who were waiting for us to go there. I wouldn’t call this the new norm. But I also wouldn’t say that we’re moving away from the Federation. If anything, we’re moving towards it. So you’re going to get more like this.

How did you come upon using the Kobayashi Maru to be the pivot for Dal learning to not be so selfish?

We figure out our character arcs in terms of 10-episode mini-arcs, and then into the 20-episode seasons and whatnot. And Dal’s arc in particular was: ‘What if there was a kid that dreamed of the stars and dreamed of being free, but he was also impulsive?’ And he wanted to be a great captain, but he wasn’t there yet and didn’t want to acknowledge that yet. We thought what makes a not-so-great captain and it was somebody a little too impulsive and maybe a little too wrapped up in their own ego sometimes, even if they do care about their crew, and maybe putting them in danger. There were multiple mandates we were trying to serve. One of them was: how do we introduce young and new audiences to classic Star Trek concepts? And then another mandate was: how do we track Dal’s arc and his character growth? and when does he make that change and realize that he needs a wake-up call that he’s not the leader he thought he was? And of course, organically that Venn diagram became a circle of the Star Trek leadership test of the Kobayashi, Maru.

Then in terms of what the emotional meaning of the Kobayashi Maru was, what’s kind of interesting is, it is a little bit of a Rorschach Test, in a way. Because every character who has referenced it, or taken it, or whatnot, seems to impart their own kind of lesson from it. Even if it is just how do you react to a hopeless situation. And I guess that’s kind of the point. So with Kirk, it’s, ‘I don’t believe in hopeless situations.’ That’s why he cheated, right? But for Dal, I think he’s so used to being in a hopeless place, he believes that if he just keeps throwing spaghetti at the wall, eventually he’ll find a way to weasel his way out of it. And when he doesn’t, that’s when he has to realize that maybe just his old tactics of survival for a kid that maybe hasn’t grown up in the best of circumstances, and hasn’t had a strong parental figure or a good role model to emulate–as as you’ll see in later episodes, perhaps–that he has to kind of forge his own path. And it who better to hear that it’s not about you, it’s about them, than from Mr. Spock himself, the ultimate voice of Star Trek. Even if Dal doesn’t know immediately who he is, the gravitas that Nimoy possesses and him saying “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” The idea that that could be a new idea to Dal and maybe even some of the kids watching at home, made me a little emotional to think about.

Can you talk about the logistics of what it took for you and the team to put all of that together using the voices of the legacy actors?

I basically had to create some algorithms with every Star Trek script ever written in order to search the databases for relevant lines. I also wound up reading probably 80 or 90 scripts, and rewatching about 40 or 50 episodes top to bottom. Knowing the shape of the story I wanted to tell, which, of course, is the Kobayashi Maru scenario and how Dal would interpret that, I then proceeded to go through find the lines to try to line them up to make sure they sounded like they’re all in the same room talking to each other. Then I went to the Star Trek archives where they thankfully have the remastered audio from all the DVD sets and the movies and such. And I would give them the time code and the episode and say, “Please give me the cleanest, just dialogue track of this line.” And then our team at Audio Circus, they had a specialist who was able to clean up the audio as much as they could using modern technology. Obviously, there’s still some of the stuff that was recorded in the ‘60s and it still has a little bit of a guttural quality to it. But I think it’s that’s almost charming in a way. Because it does feel relatively seamless once you kind of buy into the wish fulfillment of it. But there was a lot of a lot of takes that didn’t work for one reason or another. Maybe they’re too far away from the microphone or the line just didn’t work or the inflection was wrong. So there was a lot of back and forth and testing. Like getting the right delivery of “Live Long and Prosper” to work. He actually doesn’t say it very often in the series. I was kind of surprised to learn he only says it maybe six or seven times.

You also pack in a lot of your own lore, including more on the history of The Diviner, Gwyn, and The Protostar. So, in the flashback, The Diviner was looking for something called “Protostar” before the launch of the USS Protostar or even before the USS Voyager went to the Delta Quadrant? Is that right?

Yes. There’s only so much I can say without spoiling. But what I will say is you are right, and that the timeline is very wibbly-wobbly, and convoluted. But that’s also not the first time that’s happened in Star Trek. But there is a reasonable explanation for it, and you’ll probably figure it out. But I will confirm that The Diviner was looking for the USS Protostar 17 years ago, and several years before even Voyager had left.

Ah, so it rhymes with fime fravel?

[Laughs] You might say that, yes.

Well, Chokotay says something about an anomaly. That got my Trekkie sense going…

I believe the fan term is a “space wedgie” whenever you involve an anomaly in the storyline. But you are very eagle-eared to notice that yes, Chakotay went through an anomaly, and then was boarded by trespassers of some sort that you’ll find out about later.

You have mentioned all these mysteries for the show. Are you seeing the first 10 episodes as its own arc, that will wrap up the current big storylines like what’s up with Chakotay, and the Protostar and the Diviner’s obsession with it? That’s the story of the first 10?

I can’t spoil too much. But I think what I can say is: there are answers to those questions that are answered by the end of these 10. And there are other questions that either continue or evolve as the season continues.

Regarding Chakotay, when I interviewed the Hagemans, I asked if Beltran and Chakotay and the other actors announced at the same time were the original crew of the Protostar, and they said they weren’t. Were they just protecting a spoiler, or is there some nuance to this?

In that instance it was a miscommunication–they misheard and thought the question was whether Doctor Noum [Jason Alexander], Ensign Asencia [Jameela Jamil], and Commander Tysess [Daveed Diggs] were the former crew of the Protostar. I can confirm that they are not Chakotay’s crew on the Protostar, but Chakotay was indeed the former captain. We couldn’t clarify that until now without it being a spoiler.

We have just got into the sci-fi and Star Trek weeds. Do you ever worry that these complicated, interesting, fascinating mysteries could end up being too complicated for a younger audience new to Trek? Is that a struggle in the writers’ room?

We had talked about it. But then I just thought back to my own experience as a seven-year old watching time travel movies and watching “Time’s Arrow” and staying up late at night thinking, ‘Wait, so if Data’s head was alive, what was in the ground for 500 years and they reattached it, does that complete the time loop?’ Ultimately, myself and the Hagemans and all the writers in the writers room are of the firm belief of: just write a good story. Kids, I think, are smarter than you might give them credit for. And even if there are a few elements that they don’t totally wrap their heads around right away. They’ll intuitively start to understand and think about them and they’ll eventually understand them later. I think a great example of that is Avengers: Endgame, which I would argue has some time travel elements that I’m still trying to unpack in my brain. But it was a hit movie, and I think kids love it. I think there’s stuff for hardcore, crunchy sci-fi fans and then there’s the emotional truths that you can glom on as you go on this adventure with these characters.

One of the questions my young nephew had regarded Gwyn being a clone, but did she come out of her tube fully-formed 17 years ago?

No. Because it was supposed to be sort of like a hazy memory, almost. So when it kind of goes out of focus, that was supposed to be a little bit of a time lapse to when she was older. I think she came out as a child and then eventually grew up just like any child. That was kind of a crossfade to 17 years later, before we cut to black. It was a little surreal so I totally I totally understand why your nephew asked that question.

Another quick clarification, are they now in the Gamma Quadrant?

I don’t know if they’re actually in the Gamma Quadrant, but they are–gosh, how do I say this without spoiling anything?–they were going towards the Gamma Quadrant. I can tell you definitively that Tars Lamora is on the border of the Delta Quadrant and the Beta Quadrant. So they were kind of going along the border, if that makes sense, riding the border between the Delta and Beta Quadrants, toward the galactic center.

So further or closer to Earth?

I think a little bit closer to Earth and a little bit closer to the United Federation of Planets.

You guys have been drip-feeding the introduction of Trek tech to not overwhelm new viewers, so this episode was the holodeck. But is it also count as the introduction of the transporter, which would have been handy in the previous episode for rescuing Gwyn. 

Indeed! The transporter comes into play. It is worth pointing out that in the previous episode, Hologram Janeway identified thoron radiation on Murder Planet, which is notorious for disrupting transporters. Probably not the best circumstances to learn how to beam up your colleagues, especially without a transporter chief onboard. Nobody wants to see a repeat of that transporter accident from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

There is also a C Story with Murf which is a bit fun, but would it be wrong to think this new “indestructible” reveal will come into play later in the season? 

You would not be wrong! Without giving any spoilers, Murf’s unique indestructibility isn’t forgotten as our story progresses.

Did you ever worry you were packing too much into this one episode? Is it denser than episodes 7-10?

This is probably the densest episode of the season, but I think we barely managed to make it all fit. I believe the first draft even had an additional four or five pages of fun holodeck and Kobayashi Maru material that we had to cut for time. At one point, there was an extended tractor beam tug-of-war sequence that became a sort of starship ballet, and I believe Dal even tried to negotiate with the Klingons by haggling over safe passage in exchange for some gold-pressed latinum or Romulan bubbly. He got blown up anyway.

Here’s a nerdy nitpicky question: Why set it on the Enterprise-D and not the more current Enterprise-E. Or why not the original refit, since the scenario was based on 23rd century pre-Khitomer Klingon/UFP neutral zone? Doesn’t Starfleet update the test to match current galactic politics and ships? (Obviously, Kirk took the test on a ship predating the refit Enterprise)

You are absolutely right, they update the Kobayashi Maru from time to time to match the era. We figured whoever was in charge of updating the program for the Federation exploratory ship fleet hadn’t gotten around to uploading the latest version yet–or perhaps Dal loaded an earlier version of the holoprogram when he was tinkering with the settings. Besides, the Enterprise-D is so beloved, we just wanted to see it again. Thankfully, it seems the fans agree with our instincts.

Was there ever an issue when you found out Discovery was doing an episode called “Kobayashi Maru” which would come out just a few weeks before?

There wasn’t really an issue, no. There are plenty of similar-ish titles in Star Trek – TNG/Movie: “First Contact”, TNG/TOS: “Eye of the Beholder,” TNG/DS9: “Emissary”, DS9/VOY: “The Muse”/”Muse”, VOY/ENT: “Demon”/“Demons”, etc.–but the stories are usually so different, there isn’t much confusion. With the timelines of animation being as extensive as they are, our episode was written back in 2019 while they were still working on Discovery Season 3.

With this episode, what message do you have for old-school Star Trek fans? What should they take way from this?

That’s an interesting question. I guess on the one hand, I hope that old-school Trek fans appreciate that it’s meant as a letter of love, and to that sort of fun and adventure that not only all holodeck episodes have but that I think the best Star Trek has. And also that the world of Star Trek is a pretty wide net, and there’s room for old veterans and newbies to coexist. And I hope that they can see that we want to bridge the gap and celebrate while expanding the universe.

Recently P+ announced an order for another 20 episodes, so are the writers already at work on those 20?  

Yes! We’re writing them as we speak. I can’t wait for everyone to see where we’re boldly going next in the first season and the next. It’s going to blow some minds.


Originally published: January 02, 2022.

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