Last year, the CW launched the sci-fi series Pandora, created by Free Enterprise writer/producer and certified Trekspert Mark A. Altman. Season two of Pandora debuts on October 4 and according to the CW it “boldly goes beyond the final frontier” for the sophomore season, with a move to more space-based adventures. With all the evoking of Star Trek, TrekMovie decided to have a chat with Altman about season two, plus we have an exclusive look at that new spaceship (the Dauntless) too.
Warning, the article contains big season one spoilers and minor season two spoilers.
Inspired by Star Trek
Pandora is set in the year 2199 and focuses on the story of a young woman named Jax (Priscilla Quintana) who, after having lost everything, goes on a mission to find answers. She ends up enrolling at the Space Training Academy, making the first season a sort of sci-fi mashup of Harry Potter and The Paper Chase.
“The Academy was our Hogwarts. Instead of magic, we used spaceships and slycers (our equivalent of phasers and laser guns) to save the universe,” explains executive producer and showrunner Mark A. Altman. Season one wasn’t just about the cadets. “I wanted Pandora to also be about their teachers that helped them become who they were as adults. We were lucky enough to have a great triumvirate first season in Professor Osborn played by the wonderful Noah Huntley, Ellison Pevney, played by Tommie Earl Jenkins and, of course, the marvelous Vikash Bhai who plays Shral who really was our Professor Kingsfield/Severus Snape.”
Like Star Trek has throughout the franchise, Pandora also deals with contemporary issues. Season one looked at such issues as free speech on campus, xenophobia, racism, date rape, slavery, and much more. However, even though the show deals with some serious issues, Altman emphasizes that Pandora isn’t dystopian and has “an inherent optimism and hope that the future”—which is also at the core of the Trek franchise.
He went into more detail on how Star Trek (and other sci-fi classics) has influenced Pandora:
Obviously, I’m a huge fan of original Star Trek as well as Next Generation and Deep Space Nine so there’s was no way I could do a space show without those series being important touchstones, but I have to say that season two of Pandora evokes even more the spirit of the classic genre series and movies I grew up on. There’s a little Battlestar Galactica, a little Firefly, a lot of TOS and even a little Buck Rogers and Logan’s Run. You can’t avoid the giants, but you also don’t want to just pay homage, you want to use what you’ve learned from these shows as a jumping off point to create something new and fresh. You can’t just remake TOS which was a product of the sixties, you need to speak to today which is what I think we do every week.
Of course, the show is also full of Easter eggs and Trek references, which will continue in season two, and some familiar faces (and voices) are part of the show as well. Season one had an appearance from perennial Trek guest star Jeffrey Combs, and Deep Space Nine’s Chase Masterson provides the voice of the computer, in an homage to Majel Barrett who did the same in the Trek franchise for decades. And there have been some Trek vets behind the camera, including designer Michael Okuda, who designed the emblem for “EarthCom” (the military arm of the Earth Confederacy).
Season 2 jumps into space
Season one was mostly about introducing the main characters; if you didn’t catch it, you can still jump in with the start of season two. Altman describes the October 4 premiere “Things Have Changed” (all Pandora episodes are named for Bob Dylan songs) as a “re-pilot.” It is set about six months after the season one finale. According to the showrunner, “We basically completely bring new viewers up to speed with where the characters are and the mythology of the series, but there will be lots of rewards for our existing fans, or Boxers, as they call themselves which I love.”
Altman also draws a comparison to growth and evolution seen in his second season with season 3 of Star Trek: The Next Generation. He explained how Pandora‘s second season feels even closer to Trek:
I think tonally it’s much more in the spirit of classic Trek than first season. It really becomes a space based adventure series in the second year and mission-oriented. Now that Xander has been promoted to Captain and has his own ship and been given the center seat, it’s hard not to draw the parallels with Star Trek in that sense. Of course, we have no center seat. On the bridge of the Dauntless we have what we jokingly refer to as the treadmill which is the equivalent of a standing desk, an operations station from which the captain controls the ship which was conceived by Christian Gossett, the creator of the two-bladed light saber.
You can get a taste of what is coming in the new season two trailer for Pandora.
Say hello to Dauntless
While there were some space adventures during the first season, they usually involved Jax and the cadets having to borrow or steal a ship for their missions. In season one, Jax also befriended teacher’s assistant Xander Duvall (Oliver Dench), but it was revealed he was actually at the Academy undercover and was really an operative in the Earth Confederacy Intelligence Services. In order to not repeat the ship-stealing, the creative team came up with the Dauntless. “We knew we needed to give Xander a portfolio this year and a ship. As such, he’s given the Dauntless by the CIS, the Earth intelligence services, and Jax is given an official capacity as well,” explains Mark Altman.
Altman explains what the addition of the Dauntless does for Pandora:
Under the aegis of our new production designer, Alexei Karaghiaur, we built a ton of great new sets including all the Dauntless interiors like the bridge, corridors, captain’s office, personal quarters, etc. and it just opens up the show in a big way. When we first started designing the Dauntless my marching orders to the concept designers were I wanted a ship that was iconic in the way the original and refit Enterprise and the original Battlestar Galactica or a Star Destroyer is, but could look nothing like any of them. And then I said it also has to be a great toy that would look awesome on the desk of my office. And, of course, even though I was joking that actually become an important plot point.
Season 2 starts this Sunday
Production on the 10-episode second season is wrapping up this week in Europe, after having to take a break due to COVID. The production team returned to work following the development of a “very aggressive mitigation plan,” which included fewer interior location days, a shorter shooting schedule, and more reliance on local and U.K. actors due to travel restrictions.
All ten episodes will air this fall on the CW. The second season of Pandora debuts on Sunday, October 4 at 8 PM on the CW. Pandora is also available anytime on the free CW app. The Unboxing Pandora podcast drops every Sunday and is available wherever you listen to podcasts. The Original Pandora Television Soundtrack is available from LaLa Land Records.