19-25 October 1996 

     She's been dubbed 'the granddaughter Kirk never knew he had'. He shot from the hip, she shoots from the lip, but when it comes to decision-making, the first woman to helm a Star Trek series goes with her gut instincts in much the same way her forerunner did in the original series.

     Like James T Kirk, Captain Kathryn Janeway of Star Trek: Voyager relies closely on the judgement of a Vulcan (Tuvok, played by Tim Russ), is fiercely loyal to her crew and gets stuck into the action. Janeway indulges her adventurous spirit by escaping into 'holo-novels', which enable her to play fantasy characters, such as a pioneer woman crossing the prairie. Incidentally she's also a dab hand with a pool cue, as she demonstrates in this week's episode, The Cloud (Sunday BBC2).

     The air of authority sits naturally on Kate Mulgrew, 41, who plays the spunky captain. Born in Dubuque, Iowa, she is the second oldest of eight children in an Irish-Catholic clan, "I was raised with all that macho, back-slapping, let's-have-a-drink-and-go-to-mass stuff - but I had power in that family and I exercised it. I'm really very bossy."

     She describes her character as 'the quintessential woman of the future', adding: "Beneath her extraordinary control runs a very deep vein of vulnerability and sensitivity that I look forward to exploring."

     Apart from a role in Throw Momma From The Train, she is not well known in Britain, although in America Mulgrew is famous for a short-lived TV series called Mrs Columbo. Her career was in the doldrums when she first auditioned for Janeway, a process that rivalled the search for Scarlett O'Hara. Actresses queuing for the part included former Bionic Woman Lindsay Wagner, Linda Hamilton (Terminator) and our Patsy Kensit.

     As it happened, Mulgrew's first tryout (on videotape in New York) was not impressive: "You can't run around screaming for taxis in the rain and then be an auspicious space captain. Besides, you have to see me and meet me. That's the kind of actress I am." Fortunately, the Californian producers granted her a face-to-face meeting - "It was pretty good but, by that time, I think it was probably a fait accompli that Genevieve Bujold had the part."

     Not for long. A few days into filming, the petite French-Canadian film star suddenly resigned and Mulgrew took over, although she says graciously, "This is all about destiny and luck and timing. God knows, there are hundreds of strong actresses."

     After years of struggling to support her kids doing TV movies and mini-series, Mulgrew is content. "I have two sons, I have a rich life and Voyager is most propitious. I'm a very happy cookie." Most of all, she enjoys her job, despite the frantic pace of filming. "This is the kind of work I do well. I'm pretty good under the gun. It suits me." A chip off the old block then... RT