Star Trek TOS: “Space Seed” (1967) yields a greater crop than what is sown…


This column might get me in some trouble.  

While I certainly appreciate the legacy of the Star Trek’s Original Series episode “Space Seed,” which gave the Trek multiverse its power-mad villain Khan Noonien Singh, it is a clumsily-executed episode whose current reputation relies greatly on its legacy (namely 1982’s exceptional sequel, “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”).  Granted, the late Ricardo Montalban’s performance is still exceptional, and he gives the character of Khan a real power that he might’ve otherwise lacked. However, the story itself relies too heavily on Kirk and his crew making some really bad calls.  Not exactly Kirk or the Enterprise crew’s finest hour.

As a later version of Khan would say, “Shall we begin”?

“Space Seed” (1967)

Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), an unnamed Navigator (Billy Blackburn), Capt. Kirk (William Shatner) Mr. Leslie (Eddie Paskey) and “Lt. Spinelli” (Blaisdell Makee) find a derelict in space. Makee would later return in “The Changeling” to play a new character named “Lt. Singh.”

The USS Enterprise receives a signal coming from a derelict spaceship out of Earth’s troubled past, which Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) recognizes as Morse code.  The automated call is coming from a DY-100 class ship, later identified as the SS Botany Bay. While Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) speculate as to who or what may be piloting the 1990s-era spaceship, Dr.McCoy (DeForest Kelley) calls the bridge to report faint but regular life-signs emanating from the ship, supporting Spock’s theory that the antique vessel may have been commandeered by aliens.  

“Tough little ship…”
The SS Botany Bay was a design that actually predates Matt Jeffries’ work on the USS Enterprise

Note: The SS Botany Bay is a great design by the late great Matt Jeffries (1921-2003) that actually predates his final design for the USS Enterprise. Originally intended as an “old space freighter,” the Botany Bay’s visible fins on its tail section were presumably used for fission reactor heat distribution, which makes a lot of sense, design-wise (particularly for a 1960s TV show).  Originally, stock footage from this episode was re-used as an automated ore freighter in season 2’s “The Ultimate Computer.” That ‘ore freighter’ was later changed to its own unique design for the 2007 remastered versions of TOS.

Just McGiver it.
Lt. Marla McGivers (Madlyn Rhue); not exactly one of Starfleet’s best and brightest.

Ordering the Enterprise to come alongside the Botany Bay, Kirk decides to board the ship, organizing a landing party consisting of himself, McCoy, Chief Engineer Scott (James Doohan) and the ship’s rarely utilized historian, Lt. Marla McGivers (Madlyn Rhue), whose name Kirk can’t fully remember.  McGivers pauses work on one of her many paintings to answer the call…

Note: Kirk’s ongoing dismissiveness of McGivers isn’t exactly a great example of team-building.  Not that McGivers is an exemplary Starfleet officer, but a good commander should also know how to draw out the best in their people (see how Anson Mount’s Captain Christopher Pike almost effortlessly makes his junior officers feel like part of the team in any episode of “Strange New Worlds”). 

Devils in the Dark.
Scotty (James Doohan), Marla, Kirk and McCoy check out a deep space mausoleum…

After beaming aboard, Scotty turns on the lights inside the antique, atomic-powered vessel.  Life-support systems are still functioning, as well.  The landing party immediately sees what looks like a space-age mausoleum; ‘sleepers’ in cryogenic, glass-windowed chambers lining the ship’s bulkheads.  Reactivation of the lights triggers activation of one such crypt, containing a man (Ricardo Montalban) that McGivers estimates to be from “the Northern India area, probably a Sikh” (despite his lack of a traditional Sikh beard…). 

Lady Gaga, sporting the latest in sleepwear fashion…

Note: The scantily-clad ‘sleepers’ gold-mesh outfits appear to be some kind of ingenious sensor webbing, which presumably feeds the sleeping crew’s bio-signs directly to their ship’s computers. 

The man’s life-support chamber short-circuits, and he begins convulsing.  Unwilling to wait and revive him slowly, Kirk smashes the glass and pulls the dying man out into the freer atmosphere of the ship. Slowly coming to, the disoriented ‘sleeper’ asks Kirk in a breathy whisper, “Hooowww long?”  Kirk tells him “two centuries,” at least.  Calling the Enterprise, Kirk and the boarding party beam aboard the Enterprise to resuscitate him properly. 

Khan, table for one…?
You can actually see poor De Kelley reaching to pick up Kirk’s fallen phaser pistol prop, his eyes darting back and forth, clearly wondering if the take was going to be used or not.

Note: Look carefully, and you’ll see a blooper that was left in. As Kirk smashes the glass to Khan’s chamber, his phaser falls from his velcro belt.  DeForest Kelley initially reaches to pick it up, and then looks back and forth, clearly unsure if the take was going to be used.  Only after Ricardo Montalban is pulled out from the case does the visibly distracted Kelley begin to focus on his ‘patient.’

Leaving Scotty aboard the Botany Bay to study the vessel, which is being towed to Starbase 12, McCoy and his medical team proceed to revive the stranger. In sickbay, the unknown man’s recuperative powers amaze McCoy.  An infatuated McGivers comes to sickbay to check on the mysterious stranger’s progress.  Kirk then takes the opportunity to openly criticize McGivers’ performance on the boarding mission, because she hesitated to answer one of his questions (?!). Noting her infatuation with their ‘guest,’ Kirk then asks (inappropriately) if McGivers finds men of the stranger’s era more bold and more colorful. She does.  Kirk appreciates her honesty, and dismisses her.

Kirk takes Marla aside to chew her out…in full view of the ship’s doctor. Take it behind closed doors, okay?

Note: Granted, McGivers was a bit starstruck during the mission, but this is hardly surprising, given how rarely she’s used—even Kirk can’t remember her name. Yet he openly dresses her down, right in front of the ship’s doctor.  This is poor leadership.  Issues between officers, no matter their ranks, should always be taken behind closed doors. Perhaps it’s not so impossible to imagine why McGivers is coerced into mutiny later on…?

“You’re in bed, holding a knife at your doctor’s throat!”
McCoy meets Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban, in the episode’s saving grace of a performance).

Alone in sickbay with a patient in the next room (where’s his staff?), McCoy sits at his desk going over reports.  Naturally, that’s when the patient awakens, and does some exotic breathing exercises before overhearing McCoy’s voice.  Noticing an array of surgical instruments placed openly on a wall (!), Khan quickly grabs a small scalpel and then rushing back to bed, closing his eyes before McCoy enters.  As McCoy reaches to examine him, the man immediately whips out the scalpel, and with the other one hand grabs the doctor’s throat. The stranger demands to know his location. Unruffled, McCoy quips, “You’re in bed, holding a knife at your doctor’s throat!” Admiring McCoy’s bravery, the man releases his grip, as McCoy calmly reclaims his scalpel.  McCoy tells him he’s aboard the starship Enterprise, and that his spaceship’s in tow.  Requiring more, the patient asks to meet with the captain, saying he has “many questions.” 

Note: Ignoring the fact that the stranger, later identified as “Khan Noonien Singh” lacks the traditional beard of a Sikh, he doesn’t exactly sound Northern Indian, either (the late Ricardo Montalban was Mexican-American).  Unfortunately, it was common practice in television and films of those days (and too often today) to cast actors who lack their characters’ proper ethnic backgrounds. “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013) compounded this mistake by casting white British actor Benedict Cumberbatch (“Sherlock” “Doctor Strange”) as the rebooted Khan—despite a rich pool of Indian acting talent.

“Oh, and if you plan to commandeer my ship later on, here are some useful technical manuals to assist you…”

Kirk arrives in sickbay, where the stranger is now sitting up in bed.  After Kirk introduces himself, the stranger asks him where the ship is headed.  Kirk answers, “Our heading is Starbase 12, a planet in the Gamma 400 star system.”  Clearly lacking a frame of reference, the man then asks about the status of his people aboard the Botany Bay. Kirk tells him that 72 of the life-support canisters were still functional.  The man insists that they be revived at once, but Kirk says they will be revived after reaching the Starbase. Their eyes challenge, as Kirk asks the man’s name.  Evasively, the man answers, “Khan is my name,” offering nothing else.  As Kirk asks Khan about his own destination, Khan clumsily feigns a headache, asking if they can continue this ‘questioning’ later.  Unable to sense the clear ruse, McCoy agrees that Khan needs more rest. Before Kirk leaves sickbay, Khan asks if he can study the technical manuals of the ship (!) to which Kirk foolishly agrees.

Note:  Not exactly Kirk’s best call.  After nearly slicing McCoy’s throat, the evasive Khan won’t give his full name, and is clearly lying by omission, yet Kirk gives him full, unfettered access to the starship’s technical manuals.  I mean…what could possibly go wrong?  Why doesn’t Kirk just issue Khan a phaser, too, while he’s at it? 

“Um, Captain, about those technical manuals of our ship that you let Khan read? Yeah, not cool.”

On the bridge, Spock notes that Khan is making considerable use of the ship’s technical manuals.  Kirk says it was only a courtesy to help Khan acclimate to their century.  However, Spock has been doing his homework on the Eugenics Wars (despite fragmentary records), and concludes that the 80 or so genetically-engineered tyrants were never accounted for after the war. Spock contends that those war criminals may, in fact, be the very sleepers currently in stasis aboard the Botany Bay...

Note: Spock shares many of the same concerns that I had regarding Kirk’s judgment in letting Khan peruse the starship’s technical manuals—I mean, shouldn’t those be classified, anyway? I wonder what surgically-altered undercover Klingon spies (like Arne Darvin in “Trouble with Tribbles”) could’ve done with this kind of access.

“Hell-ooo? Can I get a keratin treatment kit over here, please?”
Khan Noonien Singh: Genetically-engineered tyrant, former ruler of more than one-quarter of Earth’s population, and hair stylist extraordinaire

Later, Marla McGivers goes to sickbay to visit Khan. Trying to gain some insight into the man and his century, the easily-intimidated historian finds Khan is more interested in undoing her beehive hairdo and sexually harassing her with his overpowering machismo.  Returning some portion of her obvious infatuation with him, Khan sincerely thanks her for visit. 

Note: Clearly, Khan left Earth before the MeToo movement, but this scene is powerfully cringeworthy; even when I watched it as a kid in the 1970s… 

Kirk and Bones put on their Sunday best for dinner with Darth and Boba.

Wearing dress uniforms, Kirk and McCoy meet with the senior staff in one of the ship’s conference rooms for a banquet held in Khan’s honor—McGiver’s idea to ‘welcome’ the evasive Khan into the 23rd century.  Concerned with McGivers infatuation with Khan, Kirk seeks McCoy’s opinion.  McCoy quips that there “aren’t any regulations against romance.” Both men agree that Khan has a powerful magnetism about him, as well.

“Do I really look like that?”
Marla clearly knows Khan’s true identity; something that might’ve been important to bring up earlier. Just saying.

Arriving at McGivers’ quarters, Khan is dressed in a golden Nehru jacket which barely fits over his brawny chest.  Hoping that Marla would be his escort to dinner, he notices her artwork and its theme—bold conquerors from Earth’s past; Napoleon, Leif Ericsson, et al.  He then uncovers a partially-completed watercolor painting of himself, wearing a traditional turban.  Khan is flattered, but warns her that such ‘bold men’ often take what they wish. They then fall into a passionate kiss… 

Note: I really liked the watercolor portrait of Khan in Marla’s quarters (wish I knew who really painted it; presumably a member of the show’s art department).  Since she clearly knows that that Khan was Khan Noonian Singh, one also wonders why she didn’t immediately report that information directly to her captain, who was still in the dark at this time. Crush or no, Marla McGivers is not exactly Starfleet’s best or brightest.

Just another uncomfortable Thanksgiving…
Marla, Khan, Kirk, Spock and Uhura talk politics at the table; never a good idea.

Later, at the banquet, Kirk and Spock press Khan for answers to basic questions, such as the reason for his daring spaceflight.  Clearly lying, Khan answers “Adventure…there was little else left on Earth.”  Spock responds that there was an ongoing war to end tyranny, which many considered a “noble effort.”  Khan retorts that what Spock calls ‘tyranny’ was an attempt to unify humanity.  Not blinking, Spock replies, “Unify, sir?  Like a team of animals under one whip?”  As the two debate the politics of the Eugenics War, Khan’s defenses begin to crack, as he angrily shouts (banging the table for emphasis), “We offered the world order!”  Falling into Spock’s clever trap, Khan’s feigned ‘fatigue’ conveniently returns, and he hurriedly excuses himself. 

Note: One of the most uncomfortable Star Trek dinners ever. It makes Thanksgiving dinners with the crazy relatives look downright cozy.  While Kirk makes some terrible blunders in this story, Spock takes up the slack. Even Khan remarks how Kirk lets his second-in-command ‘attack’ while he sits and watches for weakness.  Khan also expresses zero surprise at meeting a Vulcan, which is curious, since meeting a genuine extraterrestrial would be quite an event to anyone from the 20th century—even a genetically engineered superman. 

I honestly hate this scene.
Marla’s entire identity in this episode reeks of battered spouse syndrome.

Marla comes to visit Khan in his quarters afterward, apologizing for her shipmates’ treatment of him.  Khan takes it in seeming stride, noting that he’s a ‘mystery’ to them.  Marla replies Khan’s identity is no longer a mystery to her.  Khan looks at her, with both concern and piqued interest.  Before long, Khan’s darker side comes out for another visit, and he violently takes her hand in a vise-like grip, courtesy of his genetically-engineered strength.  Khan tells Marla he intends to commandeer the Enterprise and demands her cooperation.  Marla begins to break down and sob, unwilling to betray her crew.  Khan, taking blatant advantage of her attraction to him, delivers an ultimatum—stay by his side, or get lost. Teary-eyed and overcome with infatuation, she promises to help the tyrant steal the Enterprise

Note: Seriously, Marla…who did you bribe to get posted on the Federation flagship??

Yep…that’s our guy.
Scotty, Spock, Kirk and McCoy get a positive ID on their mysterious Khan-man.

In the briefing room, Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty consult the ship’s computer, pulling up an old file photo of the 1990s dictator Khan Noonien Singh, and yep—that’s their guy.  Spock states that in 1992-1996, Khan and his genetically-engineered superman held power in over 40 nations simultaneously, from Asia through the Middle East.  Scotty, Kirk and McCoy all confess to having secret man-crushes on this brutal dictator, with Scotty adding “there were no massacres under his rule.”  McCoy also chimes in, noting the lack of wars until he was attacked.  A befuddled Spock then realizes he’s being punked, as Kirk and the others chuckle, saying they can be for Khan and against him at the same time.  Spock shakes his head. “Illogical.”  To reassure Spock that he’s not completely lost his cornfed mind, Kirk orders a guard posted on Khan’s locked cabin door, effective immediately. 

Note: Why didn’t they match Khan’s image a lot sooner?  They could’ve easily taken Khan’s image and run it through their 20th century database while he was still unconscious.  The entire crew seems really off their game in this story.

Can’t wait to see what happens when he finds out about the three seashells…

Kirk then pays Khan a long overdue visit in his guest quarters.  As Khan (wearing a non-ranked Starfleet uniform) notes the locked door and guard outside, Kirk takes the gloves off—identifying him point blank as Khan Noonien Singh.  No longer having to lie, Khan appreciates Kirk’s candor.  When asked once more about the purpose of his flight, Khan says he was seeking a new world, a fresh beginning, and ‘other things’ he doubts Kirk would understand. Kirk presses, and Khan tells the “inferior” captain that he’s disappointed in how little progress there’s been in human evolution.  He then tells Kirk that it appears he will do well in this new century.  Asking if Kirk has any more questions, Kirk—looking as if he’d just been kicked in his space nuts—says his questions have “all been answered.”  Shortly after Kirk leaves, Khan does some more breathing exercises to summon his superior strength, and then forces the sliding door to his cabin open. Immediately knocking the lone guard unconscious, Khan then steals his phaser and escapes…

Note: Once again, it seems that Kirk’s brain has been replaced with straw in this episode; he  only orders one guard for a man he knows to have (far) superior physical strength and mental agility. Gee, maybe the forcefield-protected brig might’ve been a better choice…? 

Marla and Khan are about to give Mr. Kyle (John Winston) a neck message he’ll never forget.
Mr. Kyle would face Khan’s wrath once again in 1982’s “The Wrath of Khan” as communications officer of the USS Reliant.

Marla then enters the transporter room, pointing a phaser at Chief Kyle (John Winston).  Ordering him to step away, Kyle walks backward towards the door, which opens to reveal Khan, who immediately knocks Kyle unconscious.  Khan is then beamed back aboard the Botany Bay, where he revives other key members of his genetically-engineered crew (male and female), who are doing breathing and stretching exercises, following their centuries’ long slumber. Khan pep-talks them for their next task of commandeering the Enterprise

A long-winded captain is out of breath.
Kirk manages to squeeze in one more log entry before being asphyxiated.

On the bridge, security reports to Kirk that Khan’s escaped.  Going to red alert, Kirk finds the turbolift doors locked down.  Calling down to engineering, Kirk learns that Khan and his group have seized engineering, cutting off life-support to the bridge and blocking off any escape routes.  Spock twists the knife to his captain when he (correctly) points out that Khan made thorough use of the ship’s technical manuals. Khan tells Kirk he is willing to negotiate, but Kirk refuses.  As the air thins on the bridge, most of the command crew begin to lose consciousness.  With his last breaths, Kirk records a final log commending his valiant bridge crew, before he too, succumbs

Note: I’d imagine that Spock, who’s seen struggling for breath, would’ve been able to hold out a lot longer than Kirk and the others, given Vulcan’s thinner atmosphere (a fact not yet revealed at this point in the series).

Joaquin (Mark Tobin) backhanding Uhura in the briefing room is one of the hardest-to-watch moments in TOS Star Trek ever.
Khan’s henchmen in “The Wrath of Khan” is later named Joachim (Judson Scott) and seems to be a different character, despite the similar name–or it might’ve been the same character, but with an unnoticed script typo (?).

The bridge crew awaken in the briefing room, along with Scotty, as Khan and his goon squad guard them. Asking Uhura to engage the viewscreen, Uhura refuses.  Khan’s henchman Joaquin (Mark Tobin) then strikes her hard, until she is forced to comply (one of the hardest-scenes-to-watch in all of Star Trek TOS).  With the screen on, they learn that Khan is holding Kirk in the sickbay’s medical decompression chamber, and—once again—Khan threatens to asphyxiate the captain unless Spock and the others comply with his demand; to deliver the Botany Bay crew to a colony planet with a population willing to accede to their rule.  Spock stares at Khan, stoically remaining silent, which drives Khan into a fury.  As the air begins to thin in Kirk’s chamber, Marla pretends to be repulsed by the sight, and asks to leave the room.  Khan, disappointed by her apparent squeamishness, grants her wish.  Minutes later, the sickbay image is cut off, and Joaquin is about to force Uhura to regain the channel.  Unconcerned, Khan says Kirk is already dead by now, and orders them to take Spock next…

Marla learns that Khan’s genetically-engineered supermen aren’t terribly bright (or observant) sometimes…

In sickbay, Marla tells one of Khan’s guards she’s been asked to observe Kirk closely, in case he decides to cooperate.  With the guard’s attention turned, Marla plunges a hypospray into his arm, rendering him unconscious with a powerful sedative.  She then hurriedly raises the atmosphere in the chamber, and frees her captain.  Kirk, quickly recovering, is asked by Marla not to kill Khan when he retakes the ship.  Kirk promises nothing. 

“Here I come to save the daaayyyyy…”
Spock is about the only one with his head screwed on right in this episode.

They hear the doors to sickbay open, and they hide.  In walks Spock with a single guard behind him.  Kirk distracts the guard, as Spock fells him with a Vulcan nerve pinch. Reunited, Kirk and Spock plan on flooding the ship with anesthesia gas, save for their own deck.  As the gas flows throughout the ship and into the  briefing room’s vents, Khan hurriedly covers his nose and mouth to escape, as his men collapse around him—but not before Scotty can deck one of Khan’s brutes, and escape himself.

“That’s for what ye did to Uhura, you bloody bampot!”
Scotty gives one of Khan’s henchmen a Hebrides haymaker.

Note: Nice moment for Scotty, who decides to get one good punch in before leaving.  It’s a small bit, but very much in character for the easily-riled engineer (see: “The Trouble with Tribbles”).

Kirk finds Scotty in a corridor and asks where’s Khan. A coughing Scotty says he only knows that Khan escaped.  Spock reports via intercom that the anesthetic is working throughout the ship, save for the engineering section, where someone (big guess who that is) just closed off that line.  Kirk hurries down to the engine room, phaser in hand. 

Shatner is disappointed to learn that he wasn’t carrying the hero-phaser prop…

Upon entry, Khan immediately grabs the captain’s phaser and crushes it with his bare hands.  An alarm then goes off, as Khan informs Kirk he’s set the engines to overload—the ship will explode in minutes.  With a nice wide area for a fight, Kirk then lunges at the genetically-engineered superman and gives his all.  Kirk manages to get in a few decent punches, but is clearly outmatched in strength (which Khan reminds him).  Luckily, Kirk manages to pull out a hidden wrench under a control panel (convenient) and beats the living snot out of the 20th century tyrant.  With Kirk unconscious, Kirk then stops the overload and saves the ship…

Meanwhile, two total strangers fight for control of the engine room…

Note: The fight in the engine room lacks the scope and imagination to take advantage of Khan’s reportedly superior strength. Not to mention that the stunt doubles are too brightly lit, with their faces clearly visible.  Kirk’s stunt double is particularly distracting, as he looks nothing like William Shatner.  Despite its reputation, this is not one of Star Trek’s finer examples of fisticuffs.

Scotty, Spock, Kirk and Bones send Khan and his people into exile on Ceti Alpha 5–what could possibly go wrong?

With control of the Enterprise regained, Kirk needs to decide what to do with Khan and his people, lamenting that throwing them into a penal colony would be a great waste of talent.  He also has to decide what to with the traitorous, lovestruck Marla McGivers.  At a ship’s hearing, Kirk decides to exile Khan and his followers to a rough, untamed world in the Ceti Alpha star system; Ceti Alpha 5.  Khan accepts the offer, asking Kirk if he’s ever read John Milton (“Paradise Lost”).  Kirk understands.  Khan also agrees to take Marla with him, as he’s fallen in love with her as well.  In the end, Khan proudly states that he still got what he wanted; a new world to build.  Taking Marla’s hand, Khan is escorted out of the briefing room.  Scotty is ashamed to admit that he missed Khan’s Milton reference.  Kirk quotes that line of Lucifer’s as he fell into the pit; “It is better to rule in Hell then serve in Heaven.”  Spock wonders aloud what will become of this ‘seed’ that Kirk has planted today, in a hundred years or so…

Other than future motivation for Khan’s wrath in the sequel, it makes no sense whatsoever for Marla to go with Khan into exile after the way he abused her.

Note: Turns out, we’d get that answer in only 15 years, with 1982’s “The Wrath of Khan”…

The End.

“What crop has sprung from the seed you planted today…”

Khan, Joaquin and a superwoman named “Kati” (I think?) do their morning calisthenics before the day’s conquering.

Though “Space Seed” is not exactly Star Trek at its best, it does lay the foundation for more interesting followups, which may be its greatest contribution to Star Trek lore, instead of being a great episode in its own right. This dark, though still vaguely-defined chapter of Star Trek history has become a cornerstone of the franchise’s mythology. 

“You are healed, Tiny Spock!” Supersized-Spock does a single-finger mind-meld with himself in “The Infinite Vulcan.” This was the first post-“Space Seed” mention of the Eugenics Wars. Not the best of the Animated Series, though it was written by TOS alum Walter Koenig.

The Eugenics Wars were followed up in The Animated Series episode “The Infinite Vulcan”, written by former TOS costar Walter Koenig (who was neither in “Space Seed” nor the Animated Series).  The “The Infinite Vulcan” sees a giant cloned survivor of the Eugenics Wars trying to clone a massive Spock to rule the galaxy with him. One of the worst episodes of TAS. 

Khan you dig it?
Ricardo Montalban’s Khan Noonien Singh returns in a far better-remembered theatrical sequel.

1982’s “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” is the theatrical followup to “Space Seed” that changed everything, for better and for worse. Yes, the amped up energy of Nicholas Meyer’s more nautically-styled, military-themed movie gave the stalled Trek movie franchise a much needed shot in the arm, but it also unwittingly set a precedent for more simplistic ‘black hat heavies seeking revenge/super-weapon’ stories (see: “Search For Spock,” “Generations,” “Nemesis,” “Star Trek 2009,” etc). Nevertheless, this leaner, harder-edged sequel puts Starfleet crew members in mortal jeopardy, while gracefully weaving the mortality of its aging cast into the story itself. Ricardo Montalban chews the hell out of the scenery as the returning Khan, and the crew’s farewell to Spock left me devastated. 

Unlimited Data.
Dr. Arik Soong (Brent Spiner) unleashes vicious 20th century “Augments” into the 22nd century in “Cold Station 12.” Guest star Alec Newman plays the ruthlessly ambitious Malik. I enjoyed this mini-arc far more than “Space Seed,” to be honest.

The Eugenics Wars were also played a key role in the excellent Star Trek: Enterprise trilogy of episodes, “Borderland,” “Cold Station 12” and “The Augments,” which were far more effective at conveying the danger and sociopathy of the genetically-engineered augments.  To be honest, I enjoy that story far more than I enjoyed “Space Seed.”  

Benedict Cumberbatch, a fine actor, is fatally miscast as Khan in 2013’s “Star Trek Into Darkness”; a movie that slaps the Khan Noonien Singh name over a character who could’ve just as easily remained John Harrison.

Less successful was “Star Trek Into Darkness” (2013), which, in its alternate-reality Kelvinverse timeline, sees Khan and the Botany Bay ‘rescued’ by Starfleet’s infamous “Section 31,” which attempts to harness Khan’s intellect and penchant for violence in preparation for an “inevitable” war with the Klingons. Sounds interesting on paper, but in execution, it’s a mess; with the whitewash-casting of the otherwise excellent Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan being just one of the movie’s many blunders.

Captain Pike (Anson Mount) shows a warring planet a glimpse of what happened to Earth during its own dark 21st century. Star Trek finally gives a clearer picture of how America’s “second Civil War” and the Eugenics Wars led to World War 3.

More recently, the pilot of Strange New Worlds, titled—er, “Strange New Worlds,” did a bit of retconning on the Eugenics Wars as well, but in a way that makes it better align with Star Trek’s greater mythology.  The Eugenics Wars are now but one phase of World War 3, with its ‘post-atomic horror.’ These dark chapters of human history ultimately saw humanity emerge like a phoenix from the ashes, by creating warp drive and reaching for the stars, where it ultimately became part of a greater family of planets. 

Note: Though not canonical to Star Trek, I highly recommend Greg Cox’s excellent trilogy of books on the Eugenics Wars, titled “The Eugenics Wars Vol I: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh,” “The Eugenics Wars, Vol. 2: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh,” and the slightly less-enthralling “To Reign in Hell: The Exile of Khan Noonien Singh.” Cox smartly fills in many gaps and ties together a lot of prior Star Trek lore, including “Assignment: Earth” hero Gary Seven’s brief mentorship of a young Khan Noonien Singh.

Summing It Up

The SS Botany Bay is one of Star Trek’s more successful spaceship designs, appearing both primitive and vaguely menacing at the same time.

Writer Carey Wilbur’s story for this episode was heavily rewritten by TOS’s staff writers (presumably story editor Dorothy Fontana and producer Gene Roddenberry). “Khan” was originally an exiled, Nordic superman-convict named “Harold Erricsen” which was later changed to “John Ericssen.” The earlier notion of penal deportation spaceships was meant to parallel with the old British custom of mass-deporting ‘undesirables’ to far-off shores. Given the great expense and innovation needed for space travel, this was changed to a self-exile by Khan and his people, who were fleeing world prosecution after their defeat.  Despite its intriguing premise, and the introduction of a vital missing chapter in Earth’s future-past, this is a very flawed story in its final version.

Yeah, Khan really studied the hell out of those ‘harmless’ technical manuals, didn’t he?

It’s inexcusable that Kirk gives the ship’s detailed technical manuals to an evasive and clearly lying stranger who avoids answering even the most basic questions, such as his full name or destination.  This severe lapse in judgment should’ve been grounds for a court-martial, in my opinion.  Even McCoy, who had a knife held at this throat earlier, gives Khan a pass with his obviously faked ‘fatigue’ (and what the hell are surgical instruments doing on a wall display in open view of patients, anyway?).  The character of Marla McGivers is a whimpering, weak-willed mess of a character who has no business being on the Federation’s flagship.  She’s a lieutenant, by the way, not some fresh-faced ensign or non-commissioned specialist. I can’t see how this lily-livered jellyfish of a person graduated from Starfleet Academy, let alone got her current posting aboard the Enterprise

The only character who really has their act together in this story is Spock, who distrusts Khan and his motives almost from the moment he’s awakened.  Spock acts as the sole voice of reason in this episode, quietly rebuking Kirk’s questionable moves whenever possible, and pressing Khan directly at his ‘banquet’ later on. 

Khan would finally bite the dust in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”; the far-superior progeny of an otherwise so-so story.

To his great credit, he late Ricardo Montalban does indeed offer a very powerful performance, though he is not exactly the galactic menace his character is reputed to be in later Star Treks.  Khan is not Kirk’s Darth Vader, because Star Trek doesn’t have Darth Vaders.  Star Trek’s best villains aren’t just black hat heavies; more often they were simply misunderstood protagonists of their own stories.  Khan, however, is an irredeemably egotistical, sexist, fascist pig.  His reputation for menace feels more earned in the episode’s theatrical sequel, “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” which is a far superior outing for the character that manages to make us forget the many nagging issues with its parent story.  

As an episode, “Space Seed” relies too often on its core characters exercising bad judgment (save for Spock) to really work.  While this episode may not represent Star Trek at its finest, in context to later Star Trek lore, it’s the humble ‘seed’ from which sprang a greater mythological crop…

Where To Watch

All three seasons of Star Trek TOS are available to stream on Paramount+. The series is also available to own on physical media (DVD/BluRay) and can be purchased on (prices vary by seller).

Images:, Paramount+

20 Comments Add yours

  1. Christopher Heckman says:

    “Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols)” Uh, that’s Spock, not McCoy … The ears kinda give it away …

    1. Thanks!
      And….fixed. 😉

  2. David says:

    Space Seed is among my top favourite episodes of Star Trek TOS

    1. It’s not exactly a favorite of mine, but I certainly appreciate its place in Star Trek lore.

      1. scifimike70 says:

        Richard Montalban as Khan achieved a specific stature of SF villainy that’s particularly hard to match. Even by Darth Vader and Davros which says a lot. The dynamic of Star Trek’s universe made that possible. Whatever the drawbacks for Space Seed, it helped set a tone for many Trek episodes and movies to follow. Thank you for this article.

      2. scifimike70 says:

        That’s Ricardo of course. Darn spell check.

      3. Once again, your readership and thoughtful comments are always welcome, Mike!

        And yes, no matter what issues I have with the episode, Ricardo Montalban’s terrific performance was never one of them.

      4. scifimike70 says:

        You may want to check out a review of Space Seed on The View From The Junkyard, run by two pen-pals of mine.

      5. Thanks! Sounds interesting.

      6. scifimike70 says:

        You’re welcome. The Junkyard has done a lot of sci-fi reviews over the years, starting with Doctor Who, and then others like Star Trek, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Babylon 5, Space: 1999, The Prisoner, A For Andromeda, Girls’ Last Tour, and now Buck Rogers In The 25th Century and Love, Death & Robots.

      7. scifimike70 says:

        In retrospect, it’s certainly appreciable how some troubled SF show episodes can be inspirational for greater things down line. Because, just as Space Seed inspired The Wrath of Khan, Whom Gods Destroy has inspired Axanar. Fascinating as Mr. Spock would say.

      8. Quite logical… 😉

  3. Tony Vaughan says:

    Whilst it’s one of my favourite episodes of TOS, it does have some irritating contrivances.

    The behaviour of Marla McGivers is nothing more than a soppy and clumsy love interest. She is supposed to be a Starfleet officer and have the required discipline and experience, and the way she just fawns over Khan is deeply annoying.

    The other thing that gets me is the fight between Khan and Kirk (or Kirk and Khan, if you prefer). Just after boasting he has 5x the strength of a normal man Kirk manages to knock him down without much effort at all. This deflates the scene and totally undermines Khan’s supposed superiority.

    Having said all of that, Ricardo Montalban does a great job as the charmingly evil Khan and the dinner scene is one of the highlights of the episode.

    Thanks for your insightful analysis as always.

    1. Thank you, Tony, much appreciated.

    2. scifimike70 says:

      Fight scenes in classic Trek may not be so positively reflected on as fight scenes in Bonanza. In all agreeability, several classic Trek fight scenes can be anachronistic as with most things that viewing expectations of the times had imposed upon most SF classics set in a space-age future.

      1. Even when I was little, and we watched Star Trek on our 25″ Zenith, the “Space Seed” fight always stood out like a sore thumb. They could’ve cut the lights juuuust a bit (as they did with Kirk and his ‘double’ in “The Enemy Within”).

  4. Just a minor point of clarification, the Enterprise was never stated to be the “flagship” of anything until the -D on ST:TNG. On the original show it was just another ship of the same class. And Star Trek in general doesn’t seem to understand what a flagship actually is in naval parlance, that being a ship with a flag officer on board.

    1. Good point.

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