Now in its second season on the CW, Pandora is a passion project for creator and producer Mark A. Altman. A veteran entertainment journalist, a longtime TV writer/producer for such shows as The Librarians, Agent X, Castle, and the co-author of several bestselling pop culture oral histories — from Star Trek to James Bond to Battlestar Galactica — Altman is first and foremost a genre fan.
In the '80s and '90s, Altman wrote for genre-focused magazines like Cinefantastique, breaking stories about Star Trek: The Next Generation before anyone else. He also ran his own magazine, Sci-Fi Universe, which offered an honest view of the geek landscape. For sci-fi fans who grew up reading internet articles instead of magazine pieces, imagine your favorite genre critic or journalist making their own sci-fi show in a few years. That's what Pandora represents.
Pandora could get lost in the shuffle if you didn't already know why it's so darn great — it's a sci-fi series that's refreshingly without cynicism and a potentially thrilling gateway to the harder stuff. Inverse caught up with Altman to get the inside story on the series that balances a deep love of the genre with the distinct desire to blaze its own trail.
Light spoilers for Pandora ahead.
"It’s a great season to be a sci-fi fan right now," Altman says. "You've got the debut of Pandora and, of course, The Mandalorian and The Expanse and Discovery all within weeks of each other. Ultimately though, our show really captures the spirit of original Star Trek’s optimism and hope for the future, looking at social issues through metaphor. There’s also a lot of soapy fun in the relationships, as well as humor, which makes it a really fun show to make and unlike any other space series that has preceded it."
Basically, if you're a fan of some of the CW's Arrowverse shows, with their frenetic plots and high-octane relationship arcs, Pandora has a similar flavor. There's a snappiness to the characters that feels bright and accessible.
Because Pandora focuses on the character Jax (Priscilla Quintana) searching for secrets about herself, and whether or not she'll destroy the universe, you might assume the series has a Battlestar Galactica vibe. But it's actually closer to Babylon 5.
"Babylon 5 is a very apt analogy in many ways," Altman explains. "It had big, expansive ideas even when it didn’t necessarily have the budget to match and [it] had a very dense and complex mythology. We’re in much the same situation where we’re making a season of Pandora for what [a Star Trek series] is spending on catering."
If history is any indication, a smaller-budget sci-fi series airing around the same time as similar big-budget shows has a greater chance of finding a loyal audience. Altman says a new fandom – "Boxers" as they call themselves — is already forming around Pandora. While the first season focused on what Jax is up to at Earth Space Training Academy, Season 2 takes a broader view, complete with a new kickass starship, the Dauntless — designed by Chris LeDoux — which takes the characters on adventures that depart from the tone of Season 1.
"I very anxiously await the toy or model kit of the Dauntless, which I think is a truly beautiful ship, inside and out," Altman says. "Some of the most fun we had this year was designing the bridge and the ship and making sure it was different than what came before. This is one reason we don’t have a captain’s chair, but a command station which we jokingly refer to on-set as the Treadmill."
Altman hopes that Pandora can complete a six-year arc, like Babylon 5. He says the "plan is to reinvent the show each season," because each change can "spin the show on its ear in a very exciting way."
For sci-fi viewers who are perhaps a little sick of trying to parse out complicated backstories and premises, the slightly retro and upbeat cocktail of Pandora might do the trick. Plus, the spaceships all look amazing. Pandora isn't exactly an indie space opera, but it's pretty damn close.