Written by Gene L. Coon, Carey Wilber, and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Marc Daniels
It’s pretty much a given among Star Trek fans that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is one of the better of the Star Trek movies, and most will say it was the best. The seeds for that film were sown back in the first season of the original Star Trek series with the episode Space Seed.
The Enterprise is traveling through space when it comes upon an Earth vessel from the 1990’s. This was the time of the last World War on Earth involving eugenics. Faint life signs are picked up and there are signs that the ship is still functioning to some degree. Captain Kirk (William Shatner) decides to send a landing party over. It consists of himself, Scotty (James Doohan), Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), and Lt. McGivers (portrayed by Madlyn Rhue) who is quite knowledgeable on matters of he late 20th and early 21st century on Earth.
Their presence on the Botany Bay triggers the ship to begin resuscitating its occupants. They appear to be humans kept in suspended animation over all those years. They are a mixture of various cultures, although the apparent leader appears to be a Sikh. When he finally comes to, he first asks “How long” and Kirk responds that he has been asleep for two centuries.
McCoy brings the leader over to the Enterprise and is amazed by his recuperative powers. Our of all of the occupants of the Botany Bay, seventy two remain alive in suspended animation. The leader nearly kills Dr. McCoy, but relents and demands to speak to the Captain.
Captan Kirk answer the man’s questions, but the man refuses to give Captain Kirk any other information except his name – Khan. Research soon shows that Khan Noonien Singh (portrayed by Ricardo Montalban) was one of the ruthless dictators of that period, and the last to be deposed. He was also a product of eugenics, having been genetically engineered in terms of physical strength and mental abilities. Khan begins making inroads with Lt. McGivers, who has become enamored with him, and gets her to help him plot his escape. They transport to the Botany Bay and revive his remaining surviving crew.
Khan’s plan is to take over the Enterprise, which he does. He cuts the air supply to the bridge after taking over Engineering. However, he still needs the crew to operate the vessel which prevents Khan from killing them outright.
Space Seed builds on the fear of the future and of mankind messing around in areas they shouldn’t. At the same time, it draws on the past. Eugenics was the basis for much of the policy in Nazi Germany steering the society toward the “master race” objective of Hitler. By showing that humans were capable of falling into repeating the same mistake, Space Seed showed how technology could lure us into a false sense of security that could ultimately destroy us.
What would seem to be a weakness in Space Seed involving a Starfleet Officer being so easily corrupted ends up being the basis for much of Khan’s motivation in the future. I didn’t particularly care for the character of McGivers throughout Space Seed, but it’s an important part of the future although it appears to be a weakness in this episode. Madlyn Rhue is uneven in the role; at times she is convincing while at others I felt she was horribly miscast.
The regular cast is excellent across the board. Both Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner are in-character as well as being convincing. Nimoy, in particular, manages to convey his difficulty in understanding the human reaction to the genetically engineered superman. Both actors play off of Montalban quite well. DeForest Kelley has perhaps some of his best moments as Dr. McCoy when he stands up to the scalpel-wielding Khan when he first awakens in the Enterprise’s sick bay.
With anyone else in the role of Khan, it could have quickly descended to camp. Montalban is excellent at making Khan larger than life and totally full of himself without the audience laughing at the character. That’s a hard balance to strike. And Montalban does it exceptionally well.
Fans of the series will need to view Space Seed if only because of how it factors into one of the best films of the franchise. However, it’s also a darn good episode in its own right. There are some weaknesses, but they are more indicative of the time period than anything else. The script, acting, and pacing are all above par. You can’t go wrong checking this one out.
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – The Return of the Archons
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – A Taste of Armageddon