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 (René 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.”