NOTE: The following analysis speculates about the upcoming series Star Trek: Prodigy and contains potential SPOILERS.
Prodigy and Janeway
In April 2019, it was announced that CBS had tapped the Emmy-winning Hageman brothers to develop a new CG-animated kids series for Nickelodeon, and last July the title was revealed as Star Trek: Prodigy. The only official description for the show is that it “will follow a group of lawless teens who discover a derelict Starfleet ship and use it to search for adventure, meaning and salvation.” The biggest news came last October: the show’s star would be Kate Mulgrew, reprising her role as Star Trek: Voyager‘s Kathryn Janeway.
So far there are no official details on where in the galaxy or when in Star Trek history the series will be set, but we are assuming that like Star Trek: Lower Decks, this new animated series will fit into the established canon of the Prime Universe. However, Janeway’s inclusion on a show about lawless teens on board a derelict Starfleet ship doesn’t immediately seem to belong in the universe we know. Yet we think there is a fun way it might… and one that fits nicely with the mission of the new series.
First, let’s lay out what we know.
Prodigy is about alien teens
A big clue regarding where Prodigy was set came in late February with the first reveal of the “bridge crew” and a good look at the style of the show—and more importantly, the “group of lawless teens” that will be at the center of it. The point was made that this will be the first Star Trek show with a fully alien crew.
Some fans think they have identified one or two of the aliens. The one pictured below (second from the left) could be a Talaxian, which might indicate Prodigy is set in the Delta Quadrant, but that is by no means definitive. Regardless, these do not seem to be familiar Federation species, a strong indication that this series is set outside the confines of the United Federation of Planets. Also, a derelict ship run by a group of teens would only be able to roam free outside of Federation jurisdiction, especially if the series is set any time prior to “The Burn” in the 31st century. Another clue that these teens are unfamiliar aliens came from Nickelodeon president Brian Robbins in February when he said the kids on the show “have to work together to commandeer a starship, and explore a universe like no other you’ve ever seen before.”
This all raises the question of what Janeway would be doing on an “abandoned ship” so far away from the Federation, Don’t worry, we’re getting to that…
That’s Captain Janeway
There is also the question as to when in Star Trek history the show is set, and there can be a clue in Janeway’s rank. The official press release about Kate Mulgrew stated that she “will reprise her role as Captain Kathryn Janeway.” She was referred to as Captain Janeway multiple times during the video announcement as well.
Assuming all these references to her as Captain are describing her character on the show, there are two immediate possibilities for when Prodigy could be set. One would be during the years before Janeway took command of the USS Voyager in the year 2371. The other would be in the brief period between returning home from the Delta Quadrant in the year 2378, and her promotion. Mulgrew’s last appearance in Trek was as Admiral Janeway in Star Trek: Nemesis, set in the year 2379.
While both of these hold true to canon, does it really make sense for a new series to be set in a brief gap of time between 2379 and 2380, which also happens to be around the same setting of Star Trek: Lower Decks? And while canon could allow for Janeway to have been a captain prior to taking over the USS Voyager, does it make sense she would have all these adventures with some teens and never mention anything about it to her friends during those seven years lost in the Delta Quadrant?
In theory, Janeway could have been demoted back to Captain and have her adventures in the later 24th century, but we think there is a more obvious answer…
Theory: Prodigy Janeway is a hologram
A simple way to fit Captain Janeway onto a derelict Starfleet ship of alien teens is for the real Janeway to not actually be on the ship at all. Derelict implies abandonment, which would mean no Starfleet personnel on board. However, Starfleet ships of Janeway’s 24th century came standard with holographic technology, which remained in use by the Federation all the way through to the 32nd century (as seen in the third season of Star Trek: Discovery).
It makes sense that the teens would need help figuring out how to run the ship. Our theory presumes one of the holographic programs available on this ship would be of Captain Kathryn Janeway. It would be reasonable for Starfleet to use the noted scientist, explorer, and hero of the mission to the Delta Quadrant as a holographic template, complete with a record of her experiences and wisdom. The kids could turn to this hologram to teach them how to use the ship as well as the ways of the Federation.
Having a Captain Janeway as a teacher character for the alien teens also fits how this show made for kids has been described. Remember, the synopsis says these lawless teens are searching for “adventure, meaning and salvation.” Alex Kurtzman described the logic behind having the character on Prodigy by saying “Captain Janeway was held to a different standard than her predecessors. She was asked to embody an inhuman level of perfection in order to be accepted as ‘good enough’ by the doubters, but showed them all what it means to be truly outstanding. We can think of no better captain to inspire the next generation of dreamers on Nickelodeon, than she.”
Another clue that Janeway will be different on Prodigy came from the Hageman brothers themselves, who said on Twitter after the bridge crew was revealed that the reason they held back showing their version of Janeway is that it would be “the only thing anyone would want to talk about.” Kate Mulgrew herself may have indicated there is something different going on with this Janeway when she revealed she was initially “slightly bewildered” when first approached to play the character in the animated series, adding she “didn’t quite understand it,” but got excited when it was “explained to me in detail.”
There is also an element of poetry to this, as Janeway herself would often turn to the holodeck to get inspiration from a teacher of her own. Her holographic teacher was based on the real-life Renaissance artist and scientist Leonardo da Vinci. On Star Trek: Voyager we saw Janeway seek out the holographic da Vinci for advice and even some adventures together.
… and possibly Emergency Comand Hologram Janeway
Having a hologram as one of the main series characters was introduced in Star Trek: Voyager with The Doctor (played by Robert Picardo), the USS Voyager’s Emergency Medical Hologram. The show established that by the 24th century, Federation technology could create very elaborate holograms not only capable of complicated tasks but a level of sentience as well, with the ability to expand on their programming and learn.
One of the ways The Doctor evolved was seen in the episode “Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy” when he added daydreaming to his programming. In one of those daydreams, he envisioned himself taking command of the Voyager in emergencies as an “Emergency Command Hologram.” After suggesting this as a real option, Captain Janeway was later seen using the Doctor as a ECH.
It is entirely possible that after returning from the Delta Quadrant, Admiral Janeway had the idea adopted by Starfleet, and who better to use as a template than Janeway herself? And when the teens of Star Trek: Prodigy try to use the derelict Starfleet ship, activating the ECH makes sense. And there’s a hint that Janeway is in command of this ship when you read into what Kate Mulgrew said about taking on the role: “I have invested every scintilla of my being in Captain Janeway, and I can’t wait to endow her with nuance that I never did before in Star Trek: Prodigy. How thrilling to be able to introduce to these young minds an idea that has elevated the world for decades. To be at the helm again is going to be deeply gratifying in a new way for me.”
… it’s more than just the bit about being a Captain
The argument for hologram Janeway goes beyond the assumption the character on Prodigy holds the rank of Captain. In theory, it’s possible the official press release and producers and Kate Mulgrew referring to the character as “Captain Janeway” are only doing so because Janeway is most known as a Captain. However, you then have to wonder what the real Janeway is doing onboard a derelict Starfleet ship, and – perhaps more importantly – what she would do in that case.
It’s reasonable to assume if Kathryn Janeway (of any rank) finds herself on a Starfleet ship somewhere in the galaxy (or even in another galaxy), she is going to make it her mission to return home, which is essentially the plot arc for Star Trek: Voyager. Not only does it seems unlikely new series would be so derivative, it also doesn’t mesh with the official description of teens who find the Starfleet ship and “use it to search for adventure, meaning and salvation.”
But if the Janeway on board the ship is a hologram, then perhaps she can be persuaded to join the teens on their adventures, wherever they are. And if she is a hologram, Prodigy could be set decades or even centuries past the 24th century, which opens up even more creative possibilities. This would give the show its own era away from Strange New Worlds, Lower Decks, Picard, and Discovery.
So, we here at TrekMovie think hologram Janeway would be a fun way to have this character as part of a crew of teens. Instead of obsessing about getting back home, she can help these “lawless” teens find that “salvation,” through her wisdom, sharing the ideals of Federation, which are the ideals of Star Trek itself. One question remains… will hologram Janeway also be obsessed with coffee?
We may find out on Monday
This hologram theory isn’t new; we have been talking about it on the All Access Star Trek podcast for months. But with the news of a Star Trek: Prodigy virtual panel as part of the First Contact Day events on April 5th, we wanted to lay out our theory in detail before that. Hopefully, that panel gives us our first look at Janeway and answers some of these questions, perhaps even confirming (or debunking) the hologram Janeway theory.
What do you think? Do you have a theory of your own? Let us know in the comments below.
Star Trek: Prodigy will debut on Paramount+ later this year, and will later be broadcast on Nickelodeon.
Keep up on all the Star Trek: Discovery news and analysis at TrekMovie.com.