On the Good Ship…
I’ve touched on my admiration for Star Trek: Prodigy (PRO) in this column before, and while I can’t promise episode-by-episode reviews, every now and then an episode might come along that prompts me to take a closer look. Most installments of this freshman Star Trek series (created by Dan and Kevin Hagemen) have been very engaging, but “All the World’s a Stage” deserves a special mention. Dusting off an old Trek tradition of using Shakespeare quote-titles (from “As You Like It”), this episode is an affectionate ode to Trek fandom itself.
Written by Aaron Waltke and directed by Andrew L. Schmidt, “All the World’s a Stage” uses generous helpings of original Star Trek (TOS) fan service, much like Deep Space Nine’s TOS 30th anniversary episode, “Trials and Tribble-ations.” While PRO is primarily aimed at younger viewers, the TOS trappings support a surprisingly poignant commentary on the nature of Star Trek fandom itself, and how Trek’s inclusive, enlightened ideals often prompt its fans to be better people. That is at the core of this worthwhile story.
Before “Trials and Tribble-ations” got the green light, DS9 producer Ira Steven Behr and writer Ron Moore once toyed with a 30th anniversary Star Trek episode that would’ve seen Sisko and company revisiting the 1920s-locked ‘Chicago mob’ planet of Sigma Iotia II from TOS’ “A Piece of the Action.” Once there, Sisko’s crew would learn that the imitative Iotians now worship the TOS Star Trek-era of Kirk and Spock, complete with TOS-era Starfleet uniforms and conventions, in what would’ve been a comedic salute to Star Trek’s fans.
While this return to Sigma Iotia II never went before cameras, the seeds of its story finally take root…
PRODIGY, S1, E13: “All the World’s a Stage.”
Aboard the USS Dauntless, in pursuit of the missing USS Protostar, Admiral Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) is trying to learn what’s become of her friend, Captain Chakotay (Robert Beltran), through the interrogation of the amnesiac Diviner (John Noble). The villainous Diviner is still weak and unsure of his identity—only remembering that the Protostar was stolen, and that Chakotay was taken prisoner. Given the recent destruction of a Starfleet relay station with the Protostar’s dangerous onboard weapon, Janeway concludes that their search for the missing vessel has now turned into a “manhunt.”
Note: This opening sequence reminds us that there is a ticking clock, as the evil Diviner might regain his full memory and use an unwittingly complicit Starfleet to seize the Protostar for himself. The sequence makes the point without belaboring it. Kate Mulgrew expertly voices Admiral Janeway a bit more boldly and decisively than her more patient and maternal holographic-advisor self aboard the Protostar.
Aboard the Protostar, acting captain Dal (Brett Gray) observes his young crew’s lowered morale after learning their ship carries a highly sophisticated weapon that defies any attempts to remove or disarm it, despite Engineer Jankom Pog’s (Jason Mantzoukas) best efforts. Unable to risk contacting Starfleet for fear of the weapon’s contamination, Dal commits his ship and crew to upholding the ideals of Starfleet as best they can. That opportunity soon presents itself when the Protostar answers a distress signal from an unknown planet…
Meanwhile, ship’s science officer Rok-Tahk (Rylee Alazraqui) is looking after an ailing Murf (Dee Bradley Baker), after the typically energetic, amorphous blob-being becomes ill. Consulting her medical tricorder, Rok-Tahk is unable to determine what’s wrong with her resilient friend. Even hologram-guide Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) can do little more than offer comforting words, since Murf’s physiology defies Starfleet’s knowledge. Summoned by Dal to join an away team to investigate the distress call, Rok-Tahk is relieved when holo-Janeway offers to look after Murf for awhile.
Note: I absolutely love the character of Rok-Tahk; a formidable looking ‘rock monster’ who is actually a sweet and highly intelligent child. She is a classic Star Trek-style lesson in not judging books by their covers–a lesson Kirk and company learned when the ‘murderous’ Horta from TOS Star Trek’s “Devil in the Dark” was revealed to be a mother creature defending her eggs from callous miners. As voiced by child actor Rylee Alazraqui (who’d sound just as at-home voicing a role in “Peanuts”), Rok-Tahk is Star Trek’s IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) embodied.
After a slightly longer-than-usual transporter beaming effect, the Protostar’s away team find themselves in a thick green jungle locale. The area is also heavy with sub-spatial interference that gums up the team’s technology. Trying to isolate the source of the distress call, they are met by some curiously familiar-clothed locals…
Note: Once again, we are about to meet a culture whose entire history has been changed (or contaminated) following an encounter with Starfleet; much like the Sigma Iotians of the aforementioned TOS episode “A Piece of the Action,” as well as the VGR episodes “Muse” and “Friendship One” (the latter VGR episode told a bleak tale of a 22nd century Starfleet robotic probe whose propulsion system unwittingly destroyed a planet’s ecology).
The aliens all wear matching, crudely-sewn Starfleet uniforms (of 23rd century vintage), with the familiar delta insignias. They even sport a working communicator. After briefly mistaking Dal and his crew for enemies, the oddly-spoken beings identify as “Enterprizians,” and introduce themselves as James’T (Dee Bradly Baker), Sool’U (Eric Bauza), Scott-Ee (Bauza) and Cadet Huur’A (Samantha Smith); the long-corrupted names original USS Enterprise officers James T Kirk, Sulu, Scotty and Uhura, of course. Dal contacts holo-Janeway aboard the Protostar and asks why there are Starfleet officers on this remote planet, but holo-Janeway insists that no one from Starfleet has visited the planet in over 100 years.
Note: The idea of an entire alien culture emulating the crew of a Star Trek-like TV show was also explored to great comedic effect in 1999’s “Galaxy Quest”, which also spoofed and saluted its fandom as well. In some ways, “All the World’s a Stage” is very similar to “Galaxy Quest,” but without the meta, fourth-wall breaks into our present-day ‘reality.’
The Enterprizians welcome the Protostar’s landing party into their great meeting place, where large statues of revered “Star-flight” (nee: Starfleet) heroes stand to inspire generations to come. It’s been over a century since the Enterprizians’ first contact with Starfleet, and despite the corruptions in nomenclature, this entire culture worships the core values and practices of Starfleet and the Federation–even speaking in vocal affectations of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu, Scotty and Uhura (a nice workout for the series’ regular voice actors, such as the talented Dee Bradley Baker).
Note: While I enjoyed the voice cast doing humorous and deliberately-corrupted imitations of the TOS series’ actors (Eric Bauza’s George Takei impression is hilarious), I find it curious that the “Enterprizians” would so faithfully emulate a crew they’d never actually met wile still getting their names and terminology so wrong. Just a minor nit.
In honor of their Star-flight guests, the Enterprizians put on a live stage performance that reenacts a typical scene aboard the legendary starship USS Enterprise (“no bloody A, B, C or D”), with exactingly recreated consoles and panels of that famed starship’s main bridge. The performance features Enterprizian actors all reverently delivering their somewhat time-corrupted dialogue with great sincerity and earnestness to honor these descendants of their returning heroes—unaware that Dal and his crew of Starfleet officer trainees are little more than impersonators themselves.
Note: Once again, the 1999 movie “Galaxy Quest” comes to mind, as the main characters in that movie didn’t quite have the heart to tell their hero worshipping “Thermians” that they were only actors in a TV show…
During the performance, Dal and his crew learn that the subspace interference might be connected to a danger hidden deep within the trees known only as “the Gallows.” The community lives in fear of the Gallows, as it causes a mysterious illness among the Enterprizians, including young Cadet Huur’A. Dal soon notices dark legions spreading on his own purple skin, and realizes he’s become infected with the “Gallows” plague as well. Attempting to synthesize a cure for Dal and Huur’A, the Medusan Zero works with local Enterprizian doctor “Boons” (Fred Tatasciore), who speaks with something akin to the crusty manner of Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy. “Boons” tells Zero the story of how the famed “En-Son” first arrived on their planet, and changed their entire culture forever. The frayed red shirt and phaser pistol of En-Son are carefully enshrined together. Zero learns that the possible source of the contamination might be connected with the dreaded Gallows, in the forbidden zone where En-Son first arrived over 100 years earlier.
Note: The old phaser pistol, like the flip-top communicator used by James’T, are faithful renderings of the original series’ props. The bridge consoles and panels seen in the Enterprizians’ stage performance are also lovingly recreated from TOS-era Star Trek. However, The tattered redshirt left from En-Son looks a bit more in keeping with the newer collar and cut of Starfleet uniforms seen in the recent TOS-prequel “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.”
With Dal falling ill, he orders Rok-Tahk, Gwyn and Jankom-Pog to don environmental protection suits and investigate the jagged, dilithium-crystal lined formations in the area of “the Gallows”, in the hope of isolating the source of the infection. Given Zero’s shaky status as a fledgling medic, and this entire team’s relative inexperience, all of the Protostar’s current keepers must once again rise to the occasion…
Note: Modern computer-based animation allows for greater scope than would’ve been possible in a Star Trek series of even 20 years ago (see: “Star Trek: Enterprise”). Even current live-action Star Trek shows such as “Discovery” or “Strange New Worlds” routinely produce feature-film results on their more generous budgets, using new technology and production means that were still in their fledgling states only 10-15 years ago. Given the high-end production value afforded to this animated ‘kids’ series, I’d love to see “Star Trek: The Animated Series” (1973-1974) rendered with today’s CG quality, yet retaining the original cast’s vocal tracks.
Paramount+, if you’re reading this…?
With time running out, the away team finds the source of the ‘infection’; the “Gallows” is actually the long deserted shuttlecraft “Galileo” from the original Constitution-class USS Enterprise, which crashed on the planet over a century ago. The aged shuttle has sprung a leak in its radioactive warp core, and its proximity to nearby dilithium (a natural energy amplifier) has unleashed a nasty case of radiation poisoning–a condition easily remedied with Protostar’s advanced medicine. Getting word to Zero, the Medusan medic is able to cure both Dal and Huur’A with broad-spectrum anti-radiation meds. Engineer Jankom, who’s been studying different eras of Federation technology in his off-time, boards the derelict vessel in hopes of learning more. Unfortunately, Jankom’s curiosity (and uncharacteristic bravery) present a problem, as the ship is precariously perched atop a crystalline peak overlooking a steep cliff, and is in danger of falling…
Note: The dilapidated state of the long-deserted Galileo shuttlecraft (first created for the TOS episode “The Galileo Seven,” and later seen throughout the run of the series) brings to mind the recent restoration of the original Gene Winfield-designed prop, which was found rotting in a salvage yard after passing from various owners. It was then purchased in 2012, and restored to museum-quality mint. The beautifully refurbished prop, which was also used for an episode of the fan series “Star Trek Continues”, is now on display at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
A cured Dal and Zero return to the Protostar, where they realize they will need additional crew to help them rescue the away team, who are shrouded in subspace interference within their slowly tipping shuttlecraft. In a spark of command initiative, Dal decides to enlist the aid of the Enterprizians, who are intimately familiar with old Starfleet technology. Zero is skeptical, but realizes they have little choice with most of the Protostar’s crew (including the ailing Murf) currently unavailable. At the risk of further cultural contamination, Dal beams several of the Enterprizians aboard. It’s soon clear that the Protostar’s current level of technology is too advanced for his enlistees. Holo-Janeway quickly works to create holographic TOS-era interfaces and consoles overlaying the Protostar’s bridge for the benefit of its new ‘crew members.’
Note: This situation reminded me of when Picard beamed scientist “Mirasta Yale” (Carolyn Seymour) aboard the Enterprise-D in the Next Generation episode “First Contact” (not the feature film), which writer Marc Scott Zicree once personally described to me as “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in reverse.
Quickly recovering from the understandable shock and awe of beaming aboard a genuine Federation starship, the plucky Enterprizians immediately get to work on the familiar TOS-era helm/navigation controls. Piloting the ship into the planet’s atmosphere, they’re able to rescue the away team from the Galileo before it plunges into a pool of glowing liquid at the bottom of the cliff. Beaming Rok-Tahk, Gwyn and Jankom aboard in the nick of time, Dal allows the Enterprizians a good long look at the reality of what their culture has been worshiping for the past century.
Note: The Enterprizians getting a last look aboard the Protostar also reminded me of Captain John Christopher (Roger Perry), a USAF pilot and almost-astronaut, who also took a “good look” around Kirk’s original starship Enterprise in TOS’ “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” (written by the late Dorothy Fontana), before being beamed back aboard his fighter jet—just before his experiences were erased by time travel. Unlike poor Capt. Christopher, the Enterprizians are allowed to remember their tour aboard the ship, since this is technically a ‘second contact.’
Recording in his captain’s log, Dal relates that he’s offering aid and technology to the primitive, though highly intelligent Enterprizians in recognition of their invaluable assistance. Contrary to Zero’s concerns, Dal isn’t technically violating the Prime Directive, since, as he points out, the rules for second contact are a little fuzzy. With the radioactive danger of the “Gallows” no longer a threat to their existence, the Enterprizians can begin to build a thriving civilization based on the values gleaned from their “Star-flight” heroes. Dal and his team are doing likewise, by using the Protostar to carry out the Federation’s original directives of peaceful exploration and cooperation–ignoring Protostar’s lethal weapon. Dal says that his crew hopes to continue exploring the universe together, even without the Protostar, if necessary…
Note: In a mere 13 episodes, this freshman Star Trek series is really racing through its arc, and I’m not complaining one bit. Its small group of core characters are already forming a close-knit family. PRO is also a perfect Star Trek series for an entire family to enjoy; never pandering to its younger audience members, while keeping adult Trekkies engaged as well.
During the Protostar’s aid mission to the Enterprizians, we hear the final recorded log entries of “En-Son,” the lone Starfleet survivor whose influence shaped the entire Enterprizian civilization. That officer is revealed to be Ensign David Garrovick (Fred Tatasciore again), who was seen in the live-action TOS episode, “Obsession”, where he was promoted to Chief of Security aboard the USS Enterprise, reporting directly to Captain James Kirk (William Shatner). Garrovick was rescued from the crashed shuttle by the natives of the planet, who nursed him to health and cared for him, until his eventual (natural) death. In his unplanned exile, Garrovick became the role model for an entire civilization…
Note: Ensign David Garrovick’s father was Kirk’s commanding officer aboard the USS Farragut, where he was killed by the infamous ‘vampire cloud creature’ that Kirk later resolved to hunt and destroy 11 years later in TOS’ “Obsession”, with the aid of Garrovick’s son, David. David Garrovick experienced guilt and self-doubt after hesitating to fire on the cloud creature earlier in the episode. The younger Garrovick’s guilt was later absolved when Kirk pointed out that their weapons were ineffective against the creature, and that his hesitation made “no difference.” This realization relieved Kirk of his own lingering guilt over the Farragut incident, as well. In a coincidence, “David” was also the name of Kirk’s own son (played by the late Merritt Butrick), from “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982), before he was killed off in “Star Trek III: The Search For Spock” (1984).
As Dal and the Protostar prepare to depart, we see Cadet Huur’A give a curious hand salute where she attempts to mimic the Vulcan splayed-fingered salute. The still-learning Dal shows her the correct gesture, and departs. The Enterprizians faith in the great Star-flight has been renewed, and with their culture moving forward again, they may soon begin space voyages of their own someday, now that the spark has been reignited…
Note: I love the message of this episode. Star Trek fans can help create that better future they dream of by choosing to live by the ideas of the series; the valuing of life’s infinite diversity, while gaining strength through mutual cooperation. We poor humans may never live to see a future quite like Star Trek’s, but perhaps our greatest gains will be made by living within the show’s positive, pro-humanist ideology.
A coda sees a returning Rok-Tahk entering the crew quarters to check in on her ailing friend, Murf. Not finding the gelatinous being in its bunk, Rok-Tahk peers around the bunks, until she sees Murf, cocooned in a chrysalis against the bulkhead. Murf’s mysterious ‘illness’ was only a part of its species’ natural life cycle.
Note: Another nice message for younger viewers who might have exotic pets that defy conventional understanding (fish, turtles, birds, frogs, etc).
Summing It Up.
While TOS-crossovers are not uncommon in the modern era of Star Trek (“Lower Decks” references TOS quite often, in fact), “All the World’s a Stage” serves up its TOS references with sincerity, good humor, and an utter lack of cynicism. The “Enterprizians” don’t just worship Star Trek trappings—they also come to understand what those trappings represent, just as Dal and his crew are learning themselves. At the risk of sounding overly-aggrandizing, the lesson in this delightful crossover is that Star Trek isn’t just a set of ritualized tropes, costumes and props. It’s a way of life.
Many of us fans, consciously or not, find ourselves trying to live by Star Trek’s ideals; its humanism, its philosophy of altruism for its own sake, and most importantly, the show’s celebration of diversity and inclusivity. I sometimes joke with my wife that one of the safest places to lose your wallet is at a Star Trek convention, because it’s almost guaranteed to come back to you later that day–with cash and cards intact. Star Trek fandom doesn’t just celebrate a TV series or movies; it celebrates a philosophy of living that you see put into practice throughout the fan community, with various charities and other nonprofit endeavors. In an increasingly confrontational (and often toxic) world, the true-north moral compass of Star Trek isn’t a bad one to follow…
While PRO’s target audience is primarily skewed younger, this is an adventure that is just as easy geared for longtime fans as well. In fact, I could very easily see all generations of Trek fans enjoying this one with their kids and/or grandkids, who might become curious about the “funny looking” TOS technology seen in this episode. It might even prompt a few new fans to seek out TOS Star Trek for curiosity’s sake. The best Star Trek crossovers don’t simply reference the older shows; they give newer fans a sense of what made us older folks fall in love with Star Trek in the first place.
Gracefully advancing its own current mythology while taking a sentimental look back at the 1960s, “All the World’s a Stage” is a sweet-natured celebration of Star Trek fandom, gently reminding us that being a “Star-flight” crew member is about putting the show’s high-minded ideals into practice whenever and wherever we can.
“Live logs and proper!”
Where to Watch
“Star Trek: Prodigy” can be seen on both Paramount+ streaming, and on the Nickelodeon network.