HomeInterviewsINTERVIEW: Star Trek: Prodigy Writers Julie & Shawna Benson

INTERVIEW: Star Trek: Prodigy Writers Julie & Shawna Benson


Joining us this week, we have Star Trek: Prodigy Writers Julie & Shawna Benson who penned the first season of Star Trek: Prodigy episode ‘Mindwalk’ – Available now on Paramount+! As well as Star Trek: Prodigy – Julie & Shawna have also written for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Wu Assassins, The 100 and more! With the dust settling on Star Trek: Prodigy’s first season, we’re going to take a little trip back in time to discuss the thoughts and inspiration behind Mindwalks escapades.

Artwork for Star Trek: Prodigy (Via Trek Central + Paramount+)

Keeping with the theme, I’d like to ask you both who your favourite captain is and why?

SB: I gotta go with Picard. I love them all, but Picard was my captain, having grown up with
TNG. I admired his ability to work toward a peaceful solution, even if it often failed. But in later seasons, Picard got out of the Captain’s chair more often and was able to be in the middle of the action. To me, he’s the most well-rounded leader of all the captains.

JB: Ditto. Also, he just seemed more empathetic and less egotistical as Kirk. Don’t get me
wrong, I love me some Kirk quirks, but Picard just felt more worldly… other worldly I suppose.

Picard’s later season adventures also came with more fashionable uniform choices

Mindwalk relies on the classic ‘body swap’ trope that exists in different forms in many genres.
Indeed, Trek has already had one of those this year (SNW: Spock Amok). Are there inter-show discussions about who gets to use which trope and how difficult is it to make such an old trope fun and fresh?

JB: Keep in mind that these episodes were written in 2019 and the first two months of 2020. While we were breaking the episodes there was some discussion with the other shows at higher levels about storylines, characters, or other elements that might be in heavy use elsewhere that could necessitate adjustments to our stories.

JB: At the time, “Strange New Worlds” was in development and not officially greenlit, so the use of the body swap trope in both shows is coincidence. Like most major Star Trek or sci-fi tropes, there’s a desire to put your own spin on them, which we both did.

Was there a particular line or moment that you wanted to see in the episode from the moment the pitch got approved?

JB: There were two, one bigger and one smaller. The smaller one was Dal as Janeway spitting out the coffee Dr. Noum orders that she drink. That was an early idea as we brainstormed how Dal would act in Janeway’s shoes.

JB: The larger moment was the scene between Holo Janeway and Admiral Janeway. Since we were going to have the Admiral on board, we knew she should meet her hologram counterpart. There’s a big gap between them, not just in their knowledge but experiences. Holo Janeway has all the memories and attributes of Janeway, but she’s stuck in time – she’s a blank slate compared to the Admiral, who has dealt with life post-Voyager and played an important role in the development of the Protostar and the real U.S.S. Dauntless.

JB: It was important to all of the writers to let that scene breathe as much as we could, given its
importance to the characters.

This episode hinges on Dal having proto-organian DNA, considering that the Organians
reportedly evolved into energy millions of years ago. How do you imagine Soong may have got his hands on it to sequence into Dal’s genome?

JB: This is pure conjecture, but one could imagine it’s the same way they would get Medusan
genetic material. There must be some matter component to the energy for it to have sentient life, as we understand it right now. On the other hand, it’s possible that 200 years from now, we will learn that there is an energy signature that resembles the DNA structure. Ultimately, a genome is sequenced and fed into a computer to be studied, so maybe energy beings just skip over the material DNA and go straight to the sequences within their energy structures?

JB: We talked about a half dozen species that could plausibly be involved with the body swap, but of those Organians seemed to fit the requirement the best.

The Janeways’ discussion in front of the construct evoked many memories of Voyager
(specifically Janeway vs Janeway in Deadlock and Endgame), was it always the plan to have
Dal/Brett impersonating Kate for the majority of the episode and visa versa or was there an
earlier version of the script that used some temporal/physical/perspective trickery to have more of Kate on the Protostar and Brett on the Dauntless?

Kathryn, we HAVE to stop meeting like this! Janeway meets Janeway in Mindwalk

JB: We can’t recall any discussion of presenting the body swap in a different way. We knew our
actors would be up for the challenge and they far exceeded our expectations with their

This episode features the first TV canon mention of Janeway’s sister’s name – Phoebe which
previously had only been ‘beta canon’ in Jeri Taylors Mosaic and the post – Endgame novels.
Did you have to get any approval to officially name this character?

JB: We’re not sure if the Hagemen’s had to get approval or not, we just pulled from source material whether it be books, the original animated series, or the other canon series.

I was certainly on the edge of my seat at points alternating between nail biting tension and
laughter as Dal stumbled his way around The Vindicator’s suspicion/wish to re-incapacitate
Janeway, was there ever a version of the script where she found out about the shenanigans
going on?

JB: Does Asencia know that it’s Dal in the Admiral’s body? No. We just played it like
she thought The Diviner must have karate chopped her a little TOO hard in the head…

Chopped a little too hard in the head? Dal in Janeways body in ‘Mindwalk’

A further question regarding shenanigans – this episode saw Admiral Janeway doing everything from finger guns to spitting out coffee (the horror!), were there more antics that were cut for time and if so, can you tell us a little about them?

JB: We checked the script and we’re pretty sure we got every gag written in the episode and then some!

Both Kate and Brett did an amazing job inhabiting each other’s characters in this episode. How much preparation did you give them to impersonate each other?

JB: We asked the Hageman brothers about the recording process as we were already wrapped by the time the actors recorded their lines.

JB: We were told Kate and Brett recorded each other’s lines so they could hear how their character would say them, which allowed them to emulate each other more closely.

JB: It’s a testament to Kate and Brett that they were able to nail the mannerisms
and vocal tics so well. And the animators really sold the body swap with the characters’ facial
expressions and movement.

Dal’s confusion over being given a cup of coffee really gave away that he wasn’t the admiral

Following on from last week’s appearance as a bartender, this somewhat amnesia ridden Diviner seems to have far more compassion and perspective than his earlier appearances, even going as far to free who he thought was Janeway in this episode. Can you tell us anything more about the Diviners’ motivations here, why did he choose to free Janeway specifically instead of informing the wider crew about Dreadnok/The Vindicator?

JB: The Diviner is seeing things from a new point of view, without his memories of Starfleet’s first contact with Solum. Without that bias, he’s seeing Janeway and Starfleet the way we and the audience see it. Janeway in particular has shown him a great deal of compassion and kindness.

JB: Even once he remembers his mission and what happened to his people on Solum, his feelings toward Janeway are still positive. But more importantly, he needs the Admiral’s help to keep Gwyn safe. The Diviner’s memory loss also allowed him to connect with Gwyn less as a ‘progeny’ and a means to an end and more as a daughter. In fact, he starts referring to Gwyn as his “daughter” and stops using the term “progeny”. He has real love for Gwyn and doesn’t want his actions to affect her negatively.

JB: Ultimately, he is still dedicated to the mission, even if he is questioning how it is carried out, which is why he doesn’t tell anyone about The Vindicator.

A friendly face? The Diviner frees ‘Janeway’

In the space jump scene when Janeway and Dal almost touch in their EV suits it brings the
Discovery title sequence to mind, was this an intentional nod or happy coincidence?

JB: We didn’t consider that reference and we don’t know if the animators or our director Sung Shin intended the similarity visually. As far as the writing is concerned, it’s purely coincidental.

As the episode closes out we see some Star Trek fan favourite designs make an appearance –
The Defiant, The Sovereign, the Akira and surprisingly the Centaur which previously had only
appeared in a handful of DS9 episodes. Did you have any say or input in the makeup of the
fleet? Will we be seeing a Yeager class in the future?

JB: Here again, we have Sung Shin and the animation team to thank. They did a fantastic job
realizing all of those ships waiting for the Protostar at the end.

JB: We know there are a few people on the crew who have a deep love of Star Trek ships so there may have been some Easter eggs for fans who pay attention to the ship types in scenes.

No Yeagers here – The fleet catches up to the Protostar

This episode saw you working very closely with tenured Trek royalty and the newcomers with Prodigy. Is there any particular character from a previous series you’d love to see our new crew interact with in the future?

We’re pretty pleased about who has already made appearances in season one.

SB: I was personally happy that Dr. Crusher appeared in “Kobayashi”. I’d love to see some DS9 characters come into the story, even if just as a cameo.

JB: I’d just love to see our characters continue to interact with any of the other characters from the other series. The more they mix, the bigger, better, and richer the world.

Dr. Crusher lends a helping hand in ‘Kobayashi’

Finally, to close us out – Trek has had its fair share of body swap or body inhabitation episodes, aside from Mindwalk which is your favorite and why?

SB: The original series’ episode “Turnabout Intruder” is one of my favorites, because
nothing beats Shatner trying to play a lady who is trying to be Kirk (in his body).

JB: Can I just cheat and say the Jodie Foster “Freaky Friday”? I guess I just did.

TrekCentral would like to thank Julie & Shawna for taking the time to speak to us about Mindwalk, and we hope to see more writing from them in the Trek universe in the future!
You can now catch the entire first season of Star Trek: Prodigy on Paramount+.

When you realise you can marathon the entire first season:

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James Amey
James Ameyhttps://trekcentral.net
Self declared expert on all things Star Trek: Voyager, dedicated advocate for there being a right way, wrong way and a Janeway. Enthusiast of science fiction in all forms and writer of content for Trek Central.

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