Star Trek: The Original Series Rewatch

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: “Space Seed”

“Space Seed”
Written by Carey Wilber and Gene L. Coon
Directed by Joseph Pevney
Season 1, Episode 24
Production episode 6149-24
Original air date: February 16, 1967
Stardate: 3141.9

Captain’s log. The Enterprise finds a derelict Earth ship from the 1990s. McCoy is detecting heartbeats at a very slow rate—four beats per minute—and Spock detects electrical activity. He also makes out a name on the hull: Botany Bay. There’s no record of such a ship, but that was a tumultuous era thanks to the Eugenics Wars, and records are fragmentary.

Kirk takes a team to the ship that includes McCoy, Scotty, and ship’s historian Lieutenant Marla McGivers. Once the Enterprise takes the Botany Bay in tow, the heat comes on and air starts being pumped in.

They beam over to find several people lying in bunks bathed in blue light. Scotty waxes nostalgic about the ship, which is definitely late-20th-century Earth design, and McGivers identifies it as a sleeper ship, with all passengers and crew in suspended animation for the then-very-long journey between the stars.

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch "Space Seed" Khan

Scotty turns the lights on, and that activates one of the pods—the occupant starts breathing faster and McCoy detects a quickening heartbeat. McGivers says the commander of the ship would often be revived first in order to make the decision as to whether or not it was safe to revive everyone else.

Said occupant is also quite handsome, and McGivers is distracted by his sexiness. This will become important later…

The passengers are from all over the Earth. McGivers identifies the leader as Indian, probably a Sikh, while Scotty says the others are a mix of races. The pod starts to malfunction and the man’s life signs fluctuate. It’ll take too long to dope out the controls, so Kirk breaks the pod open, which seems to do the trick, once the man is exposed to regular atmosphere. However, he’s still in bad shape. McCoy works on him in Enterprise‘s sickbay while engineering and medical teams pour over the Botany Bay. Scotty reports no log books or records of any kind, and he’s pretty sure the entire group of them were in stasis when the ship took off. Twelve of the units have malfunctioned, leaving 72 survivors. But Kirk won’t try to revive any of them until the leader is successfully saved. They take the Botany Bay in tow and head toward Starbase 12.

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch "Space Seed" Khan

The leader does survive, but McCoy refuses to take any credit, as he’s a most impressive specimen of humanity, and he pretty much healed himself.

Kirk rebukes McGivers for being distracted while on the boarding party, though she insists her interest is professional at seeing a person from a bygone era, not personal at seeing a hunka hunka burnin’ love. The gooey look in her eyes belies this assertion.

McCoy’s patient wakes up and does a series of physical stretches and breathing exercises. He is stunned to learn that he’s on a starship with people who speak English two hundred years in the future. He also instructs Kirk to revive the 72 survivors, which Kirk is not willing to do until they reach the starbase. Only then does he provide his name: Khan. He’s unwilling to provide any more information until he’s rested more, and he also wishes to study the ship’s technical specifications, as he was an engineer.

Spock speculates that Khan may have been one of the selectively bred folk who seized power in 1993. In-fighting led to their defeat, as superior strength and intellect also breeds superior ambition. Spock also reveals a fact that isn’t in the traditional histories: About 80-90 percent of the genetically enhanced people were unaccounted for.

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch "Space Seed" Khan

McGivers goes to talk to Khan. She wants to talk about history. He wants to know why she wears her hair in so unattractive a manner. She later suggests that Kirk have a formal dinner in his honor. Khan meets McGivers in her quarters (where she’s now wearing her hair down), admiring her paintings and drawings of powerful men from history, one of which is an unfinished drawing of Khan himself. He’s so flattered that he smooches her heavily.

At the dinner, Khan claims that he and his comrades shipped out on the Botany Bay for adventure, as there was nothing left on Earth, which was something of a mess after the war. Spock plays bad cop, referring to petty dictators and the like, and while Khan recognizes the tactic, he still falls for it, saying that “we” offered order in a chaotic world.

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch "Space Seed" Khan

Later McGivers comes to Khan’s quarters, and he plays her like a two-dollar banjo, pretending to grow weary of her alleged fickleness, which is just her acting like a person, and gets her to practically beg him to stay. It’s an impressive display of power, and he makes it more overt when he forces her to her knees declaring his intention to take the ship. She resists at first, but eventually says she’ll do anything he asks.

Spock finds sufficient records to learn who Khan is: Khan Noonien Singh, the last of the Eugenics Wars tyrants to be overthrown. Kirk orders a 24-hour security detail on him. Kirk reveals that he knows who Khan is. Khan himself is less than impressed with human evolution over the past two hundred years and expects that he and his comrades will do well in this time.

Khan manages to pry the door to his quarters open with feats of strength, and then render the security guard unconscious. With McGivers’ help, he takes over the transporter room and beams to the Botany Bay, reviving the rest of his people.

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch "Space Seed" Khan

Somehow, security doesn’t figure out that Khan had escaped until after he revives everyone, beams back to the ship, and takes over engineering, jamming communications, halting turbolifts, and cutting off life support to the bridge. After everyone falls unconscious, he brings Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Spinelli, and a few others to the briefing room, asking them to join him. He needs them to operate the ship. As incentive, he shows them Kirk in the medical decompression chamber, where the interior is being reduced to a vacuum. After Kirk, he’ll kill everyone else while the others watch—but if anyone joins him, he’ll save Kirk. They all, of course, refuse.

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch "Space Seed" Khan

McGivers asks to be excused, as she doesn’t want to watch. Khan agrees—”though I’d hoped you’d be stronger.” (He’s just a peach, isn’t he?) The viewscreen goes blank a minute later. It was McGivers performing sabotage. She hypos the guard on the chamber and then frees Kirk. Khan has sent Spock next, but Kirk is able to stop his guard, and now they’re both free to regain control of the ship. They flood the briefing room with gas. Khan is able to escape and get to engineering, where he has cut off the gas. Kirk chases him to engineering, where Khan crushes his phaser and announces that he’s overloaded the engines, and will destroy the ship.

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch "Space Seed" Khan

They then, of course, engage in fisticuffs. Kirk only wins because he manages to get a club and hit him repeatedly on the head and back.

Kirk holds a hearing on what to do with Khan and his people, as well as McGivers. He decides to exile Khan on Ceti Alpha V, a habitable, if harsh planet. Khan and his people can try to tame that world the way the prisoners sent to the original Botany Bay colony in Australia tamed that continent. McGivers chooses to go with him rather than face a court martial. Khan agrees, citing Milton’s famous line from Lucifer right before he went into the pit in Paradise Lost: “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.”

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch "Space Seed" Khan

Fascinating. Spock is disgusted by the admiration that Kirk, Scotty, and McCoy show for Khan’s tyrannical rule. In the end, he shakes his head and says, “Illogical,” to which Kirk quickly and happily replies, “Totally.”

I’m a doctor, not an escalator. McCoy’s disdain for the transporter is first seen here, as he complains that he signed on to practice medicine, not to have his atoms shot across space by “this gadget.”

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch "Space Seed" Khan

He also has one of his absolute finest moments when Khan wakes up and grabs his throat while putting a scalpel to his neck. McCoy very calmly tells him to either choke him or cut his throat, and to hurry up and make up his mind. When Khan asks where he is, McCoy’s bland response is, “In bed, holding a knife to your doctor’s throat,” adding blithely that it would be more efficient to slice open the carotid artery just under the ear. Khan is impressed by his bravery, but McCoy says he was just trying to avoid an argument. And that, boys and girls, is why Leonard McCoy is the best ever. 

I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty gets his domain taken over by Khan and doesn’t know the most famous Milton quote ever.

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch "Space Seed"

Hailing frequencies open. Khan orders Uhura to operate the viewscreen so they can see Kirk being tortured. She refuses, so Joaquin drags her forcibly to the console. She still refuses, so Joaquin belts her. She still refuses so Joaquin moves to belt her again, and she stands up to show that it won’t work a second time either. However, McGivers stops Joaquin and operates the screen herself.

Go put on a red shirt. Security doesn’t notice that the guard outside Khan’s quarters is unconscious until Khan has had time to beam over to the Botany Bay, revive 72 people, beam back, and take over engineering. McGivers’ sabotage can account for some of that, but seriously? Didn’t anybody notice the guy lying on the deck outside Khan’s door? 

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch "Space Seed" Khan

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. McGivers goes completely dewey-eyed for Khan, to the point where she’ll completely throw her career away and risk her crewmates’ life because he makes her toes curl.

Channel open.

“Tyranny, sir? Or an attempt to unify humanity?”

“Unify, sir? Like a team of animals under one whip?”

Khan and Spock, arguing 1990s politics.

Welcome aboard. Madlyn Rhue plays McGivers, while two of Khan’s people are played by Mark Tobin (Joaquin) and Kathy Ahart (Kati). Tobin will return as two different Klingons, in the third season’s “Day of the Dove” and then three decades later in Voyager‘s “Barge of the Dead.”

Plus recurring regulars DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, and Nichelle Nichols are back, as well as John Winston returning as the transporter technician (eventually named Kyle), thus establishing himself as recurring as well. Blaisdell Makee rounds out the Enterprise crew as Spinelli; he’ll return in “The Changeling” as Singh.

Oh, and some obscure Latin actor—Ricardo somethingorother—plays Khan, but he never really amounted to anything…

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch "Space Seed" Khan

Trivial matters: As everyone reading this likely knows, the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was a sequel to this episode. A plot point of that movie is Chekov recognizing the name Botany Bay, even though the character of Chekov hadn’t been created when this episode aired. Some have cited this as a mistake, but it truly isn’t. There are 430 people on the ship, and we only saw a handful of them. Particularly as an ensign, Chekov could have been assigned to any number of areas of the ship before being rotated to bridge duty in the second season. Plenty of works of tie-in fiction have addressed this seeming discrepancy, including the comic Star Trek: Untold Voyages #4 by Glenn Greenberg, Michael Collins, & Keith Williams (which not only addresses it, but makes fun of the fan nitpicking about it at the same time), Greg Cox’s novel To Reign in Hell: The Exile of Khan Noonien Singh, and Vonda N. McIntyre’s novelization of The Wrath of Khan. (McIntyre also established Chekov as serving on the night shift when Kirk first took command in Enterprise: The First Adventure, thus allowing him to be around for this episode.)

Speaking of Cox, he wrote the definitive tale of the Eugenics Wars and Khan’s reign on Earth—including managing to reconcile it with actual 1990s history—in the magnificent two-book story The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh, which also incorporated several other 20th-century bits from various Trek stories (such as “Assignment: Earth,” TNG‘s “The Neutral Zone,” DS9‘s “Little Green Men,” Voyager‘s “Future’s End,” Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and several more).

Spock refers to the Eugenics Wars as being the same as World War III. WW3 was later retconned (once real history caught up to the 1990s) as taking place in the 2060s in the movie First Contact. Cox’s above-mentioned duology treats the Eugenics Wars as a covert war that the general public didn’t know much about at the time. Another First Contact retcon was to jump the discovery of faster-than-light travel from 2018 (the date McGivers gives in this episode) to 2063 (as seen by Zefram Cochrane’s warp flight in First Contact).

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch "Space Seed" Khan

Both Cox’s To Reign in Hell and the IDW comic book miniseries Khan: Ruling in Hell by Scott & David Tipton and Fabio Mantovani told tales that bridged the gap between “Space Seed” and The Wrath of Khan. One of the tasks Cox in particular set about was explaining how Khan’s people went from an ethnically diverse group of contemporaries to him leading a bunch of young people who were all blonde-haired and blue-eyed…

Khan’s being found and revived in the 23rd century will play out very differently in the alternate timeline established in the 2009 Star Trek, as seen in Star Trek Into Darkness, where the character was played by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Other genetically enhanced folk, referred to as “Augments,” who were involved in the Eugenics Wars will be seen in the 22nd century in Enterprise‘s “Borderlands,” “Cold Station 12,” and “The Augments.” That same show’s “Affliction”/”Divergence” two-parter will establish that smooth-headed Klingons came about due to a Klingon scientist attempting to combine human Augment DNA with Klingon DNA. Another refugee from the Eugenics Wars, Stavos Keniclius, will be seen in the animated episode “The Infinite Vulcan.”

Khan’s name went through several changes. In Carey Wilber’s original treatment, the character was named Harold Erricsen. In the first draft of the script, he used John Ericssen as a pseudonym before being revealed as the historical figure Ragnar Thorwald. In one draft, he was called Sibahl Khan Noonien, which is the name James Blish used in his adaptation in Star Trek 2.

Khan’s tyranny is cited as a primary reason for the Federation ban on voluntary genetic engineering in DS9‘s “Dr. Bashir, I Presume?

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch "Space Seed" Khan

To boldly go. “He was the best of the tyrants, and the most dangerous.” Except for when I want to throw a shoe at the screen (every time McGivers is on camera staring into space muttering, “He’s so dreeeeeeeamy!”), I really love this episode. It truly is one of the greats, worthy of, in essence, two movie sequels (the first of which is regarded by many as the best of the Trek movies).

For all that, Ricardo Montalban’s charisma gets so much (deserved) credit, what particularly makes the episode shine is the brilliant scripting. Both Carey Wilber (who originally pitched the story) and executive producer Gene L. Coon are given teleplay credit, but it’s an “and” credit indicating that they worked separately on the script (collaborations are indicated with an ampersand). So I can’t say for sure who was responsible for the nuances of Khan’s dialogue, but it’s brilliantly done. Every word is geared toward his being superior to all those around him. When he meets Kirk he asks questions and gives orders before even providing his name. At the end of the scene, he thanks Kirk for giving him reading material: “You are very cooperative,” he says, like a person rewarding a dog for fetching a stick.

It goes into overdrive with McGivers. He starts with, “Please sit and entertain me.” He moves on to talking about her hair, and then when she rebuffs him, he encourages her to visit him again anyhow. When she doesn’t respond immediately to his embrace, he yells at her to leave or stay only as she wishes—and then he manipulates her into staying, snarking at her desire to stay a little longer (“How many minutes do you graciously offer?”), asking her to open her heart, and then trying to get her to betray her crewmates, and rejecting her when she hesitates.

Throughout, he talks down to her, to Kirk, to the crew in the briefing room: “Captain, although your abilities intrigue me, you are quite honestly inferior.” He assumes that the crew’s loyalty is because they all suffocated together on the bridge, not that the crew is actually loyal to Kirk. And in the end, he says that he’ll “take” McGivers, and accepts Kirk’s offer as if he’s won rather than lost.

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch "Space Seed" Khan

It all paints Khan as a worthy foe, but one done in by the very same arrogance that has been on display since the moment he woke up. He assumes that, because he crushed Kirk’s phaser, that he’ll win the fight. It never even occurs to him that Kirk would find another weapon and use it. (And points to the fight choreography, ’cause Kirk is totally getting his ass whupped prior to that.)

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch "Space Seed"

Even if it didn’t have so brilliantly written and acted an antagonist in Khan, this episode would be amazing for the sheer brilliance of DeForest Kelley and Nichelle Nichols, the former in his very calm, wholly unintimidated response to Khan threatening to kill him, the latter for her continued defiance. The look on Uhura’s face after the first slap is priceless, and just Nichols’s eyes alone tell you that the strike had the opposite of the desired effect. As for the McCoy scene, you gotta think they looked at that sequence in particular and realized that Kelley was good enough to be elevated to opening credits regular…

If only they’d done better by the female guest. Thankfully, Uhura gets a strong bit in this one, because it’s the only thing that leavens the awfulness of the Marla McGivers character. Even before she commits mutiny, she’s not exactly someone we’re eager to root for. She starts off with an awful first impression, as Spock’s summons to the transporter room is met with irritation that boarding party duty is interrupting her painting. And then the minute she sees Khan she turns into an unprofessional puddle of goo, who allows herself to be easily manipulated by him into betraying the ship and the service. It’s made worse by the constant and consistent defiance shown by everyone else. Khan’s interest in her isn’t even all that convincing, since she’s mostly just a pretty face, soft hair, and a nice figure. It’s hard to believe someone so interested in perfect specimens of humanity would give more than a thought or two to someone as weak-willed as McGivers proves to be, and it’s not even a surprise that she was among the first to die on Ceti Alpha V, as revealed in The Wrath of Khan.

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch "Space Seed" Khan

A great episode, an iconic episode, a fantastic villain, who’d continue to be well realized by two different great actors in two different (yet depressingly similar) movies, and two bravura performances by the supporting cast.


Warp factor rating: 9

Next week:This Side of Paradise

Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s latest work is the short story “Back in El Paso My Life Will be Worthless” in The X-Files: Trust No One, a new anthology of stories based on the hit TV show of the 1990s edited by Jonathan Maberry. The book is available in stores, as well as online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.


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