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Star Trek TOS - Season 1 - Episode 22

Star Trek TOS - 1x22 - Space Seed

Originally Aired: 1967-2-16

Kirk meets Khan, a leader of Earth's Eugenics War. [Blu-ray] [DVD]

My Rating - 9

Fan Rating Average - 5.89

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Filler Quotient: 0, not filler, do not skip this episode.
- The events of this episode have a number of long term consequences that are revisited later.

- It is stated during this episode that the 1990s dictator Khan is from "two centuries" ago. However he in fact would have been from three centuries ago seeing as how it has previously been established that Star Trek takes place in the 23rd century.
- Kirk's stunt double is clearly visible during the fight with Khan.

- This episode establishes that in the Star Trek universe, the mid 1990s was the era of Earth's "last world war" according to Spock: the Eugenics War. During this time, Earth possessed interplanetary spacecraft, but no warp drive. During this time vessels from Earth did occasionally attempt to travel to other stars in sleeper ships, but this practice ceased for unspecified reasons around 2018. It is unknown whether or not any of these sleeper ships ever successfully reached other stars, given the stated long odds of 10,000 to one for Khan's journey.

Remarkable Scenes
- McCoy expressing an aversion to using the transporter.
- McCoy, just after Khan grabs his neck and puts a knife to it: "Well either choke me or cut my throat, make up your mind!"
- McCoy: "It would be most effective if you would cut the carotid artery just under the left ear."
- Khan and Spock debating the morality of eugenics.
- Khan's behavior at the dinner.
- Khan manipulating McGivers.
- Kirk, Scotty, and McCoy briefly admiring Khan in his historical context.
- Khan's surprise at how little man has evolved since his century despite the technological improvements.
- Khan breaking out of his quarters.
- Khan conquering the Enterprise.
- Kirk and Spock ambushing one of Khan's men at the decompression chamber.
- Kirk's fight with Khan.
- Kirk dropping the charges on Khan and McGivers and offering to let them settle on Ceti Alpha V.
- Kirk: "A statement Lucifer made when he fell to the pit: 'It is better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven.'"

My Review
The dictator of more than a quarter of Earth from 1992 to 1996 in the Star Trek universe, Khan Noonien Singh ruled much of east Asia and the middle east until he was deposed in what is by the 23rd century referred to as the Eugenics War. In this episode the Enterprise discovers Khan and a number of his genetically engineered comrades frozen in cryogenic stasis and revives them, oblivious to their true place in history at first. We're treated to a number of fascinating tidbits about the Eugenics War throughout this episode as Khan's true place in history is slowly revealed. The Eugenics War apparently was a long lasting global conflict centered around the controversial practice of genetically engineering superior human beings who apparently had a tendency to seize power by force and establish authoritarian dictatorial regimes throughout the world until they were eventually defeated and exiled (or probably assassinated in some cases). Khan and his comrades were exiled only to be reborn by captain Kirk centuries later in this episode.

In a subsequent episode it would be a lot of fun to go into more depth about the exact events of the Eugenics War such as exactly how long it lasted, who the belligerents were, and what exactly the diverging point is between Earth's real history and the Star Trek universe's version of Earth. For the moment though, what exposition there is in this episode is more than adequate to tell a terrific story. As the episode states itself plainly enough, Khan is magnetically charming and charismatic despite his obviously terrifying lust for power. The move by the writers to include a scene where Kirk, Scotty, and McCoy briefly admire Khan in his historical context simply because he was one of the more benevolent dictators of the day was a smart choice and exactly the sort of detail that develops nuanced, interesting characters. Indeed at every stage of the story Khan continued to deliver as a well crafted antagonist while being ever so human despite his superhuman characteristics.

The one detail that didn't work dramatically speaking was the character of McGivers. Right from the moment her character was introduced when Kirk said that the discovery of an ancient Earth spacecraft would give her "something to do for a change" the episode was already beginning to falter with her characterization and we hadn't even seen her on screen yet. In the very next scene we see her whiling away her day dreamily painting the sexy men of the past she evidently spends her days fantasizing about. Throughout the episode McGivers struggles with reconciling her attraction to Khan and her duty as a Starfleet officer. Kirk was right to reprimand her for this behavior. Some might argue that this episode (like some others before it) has a streak of misogyny with regards to how Khan treats McGivers, but I would sooner argue that the true misogyny of the episode is McGivers' characterization itself rather than how she is treated. I simply do not find a woman this consumed by a masochistic attraction to abusive tyrants to be a very compelling character.

The decision at the end of the story to maroon Khan, his comrades, and McGivers on Ceti Alpha V was also a curious choice. It's well within the realm of realism that Kirk could have the authority to do something like this (or that he could have the ability to get away with it by faking documents or something), but Kirk should have been smart enough to realize that he was handing McGivers a probable death sentence by giving her the option to go with Khan to avoid her court martial. To be clear the danger to McGivers wasn't necessarily from the stated harsh conditions of the planet which she chose to accept, but from the dangers presented to her by Khan's personality which I have my doubts she was fully aware of. Kirk as captain should have realized that McGivers was not in a position to make a rational decision about whether or not living with Khan would be a smart choice and should have made that decision for her as his first duty is to protect the lives of all members of his crew. She would have been better off court martialed for sure.

Setting that aside though this episode is outstanding and easily the best episode since Balance of Terror. With better characterization of McGivers (or perhaps the omission of her character entirely), this episode too could have been worth a perfect score.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Abigail on 2010-06-02 at 12:01pm:
    It turns out that this rather important episode was amont the few remaining episodes of Star Trek that I had never seen! I watched it last night, and I did enjoy the plot. I suspect that I now need to rewatch "The Wrath of Khan", as I could more fully appreciate it.

    It was definitely a fun factoid that the Eugenics War took place during the 1990's. How'd I miss that one?! :)

    I have to say, though, that McGiver's role made me rather sick to my stomach. I know you have to remember the time period in which it was made and try not to judge it so harshly... But it was so painful when Khan made her beg to stay in the room with him and she gave in and did so! I had sat down with the plan of watching both this episode and the subsequent one, but this one was so hard for me to stomach that I had to move on to another activity.

    Luckily, I'm not totally dissuaded. "A Taste of Armageddon" is still in my immediate future!
  • From Rick on 2011-09-07 at 12:13am:
    I love this episode...but...another "problem" with the episode is the speed of Kahn's spaceship. He used a ship that would take years to travel from planet to planet. A ship that slow wouldn't get very far from Earth in 3 centuries.

    I read someplace, that if the Voyager spacecraft was headed to Gleise, which is 20 light years away from Earth, it would take 360 thousand years to get there.

    So, using that as a guide, Kahn's ship wouldn't be very far out of the solar system in 3 centuries. The Enterprise could have discovered it in space like in the episode. But it would have been a very quick trip back to Earth, instead of Kahn's sleeper ship making it all the way to ceti alpha.
  • From Old Fat Trekkie on 2011-12-19 at 5:18pm:
    The timing of this episode has always bothered me, even in the 60's when I first saw it. If the Eugenics War took place in the 90's, then judging from Khan's age, he would have had to have been born in the 1950s, maybe 60's. So, I take it this process was already in effect when the episode ran.

    Even further, wouldn't selective breeding require several generations before truly superior beings were the result? So, this process had to have been going on for several decades, and perhaps even in the 19th century?
  • From Kethinov on 2011-12-22 at 3:07pm:
    Rick, I agree that the facts surrounding the distance Khan's ship traveled are fuzzy, but I don't think they're necessarily a problem. We don't know 1. how fast the ship was moving or 2. where exactly the Gamma 400 star system where the ship was found is. Assuming the ship was moving at a significant fraction of the speed of light and that the Gamma 400 system is relatively close to Earth, the problem may be moot.

    Old Fat Trekkie, I always got the impression that the genetic engineering wasn't literally selective breeding which as you've stated would take too much time but instead actual artificially created super-embryos. Star Trek Enterprise later confirms this in their augments arc during the fourth season.
  • From Old Fat Trekkie on 2011-12-22 at 3:45pm:
    Kethinov, Ahh, that makes much more sense. I have just started Enterprise. I look forward to that fourth season. Contrary to much of what I read, I am actually enjoying Enterprise more that the other sequel series. TOS is still my favorite, however.
    Nostalgia, no doubt.
  • From Glenn239 on 2012-09-26 at 8:29am:
    An ‘8’. Ricardo Montalbán puts in what might be the strongest guest appearance in the whole series. He effortlessly makes Khan both believable and complex. Most enjoyable was the 'alpha dogs' scene at dinner; his sparring with Kirk and Spock. No wonder they brought him back for Star Trek II!
  • From Oz on 2012-12-15 at 11:11pm:
    The 23rd century starts at just after midnight, Jan 01, 2200. It has been said repeatedly that the 23rd century is 300 years from now. Not true, it's 200.
  • From Alan Feldman on 2013-05-27 at 11:19am:
    To Oz:

    Three hundred years from 1967 is 2267, which is in the 23rd century. Thus, even though the _beginning_ of the 23rd century isn't 300 years in the future, our heroes _are_.

    AEF, aka betaneptune
  • From Arthur in Trinidad on 2013-08-30 at 8:33pm:
    I've never liked Ricardo Montalban, but the reasons I dislike him are what made him perfect for the role of Khan. The man oozes ego and narcissism. But he was never able to convince me that he was of Indian/Sikh origin. For me, he will always be Mr. Roarke from "Fantasy Island". Anyway, one aspect of this episode that never washed with me was that Khan and his followers were of different races. My take on eugenics (and I freely admit that I may be wrong) is that, most likely, the scientists who embarked on it would have concentrated on one race, i.e., the one they would have considered the "best" and then worked from there. I imagine that Khan's makers would have been "Social Darwinists", subscribing to the kinds of ideas Hitler would have found appealing. The fact that Khan and co. are so "cosmopolitan" runs counter to that sort of thinking. But I can easily overlook that as this is such a fine episode, made moreso by the fact that Sr. Montalban is undoubtedly Mr. Shatner's equal, if not superior, in the realm of hammy overacting.
  • From Ian Smith Adventures on 2013-10-25 at 6:20pm:
    An amazing episode. Definitely my favorite so far. Not just for its story and concept but the direction and acting were first rate and really sold this as a suspenseful battle with a superhuman genius.
  • From Scott Hearon on 2014-03-26 at 11:15pm:
    Great episode, despite McGivers.

    Digging into the past mythology of Star Trek is great. And the fact that a "Eugenics War" is still a relevant concept in 2014 (and will be for a while) speaks to some strong speculative fiction writing.

    Khan really has been the most interesting guest character so far. A perfect way to represent humans' repulsion from and fascination with people of great power, ability, and megalomaniacal ambition.

    I'm already looking forward to when I get up to watching Wrath of Khan again. It's been ages since I last saw it, and now that I've seen Space Seed, it will have much more meaning. I also can't help but wonder if it will alter my opinion of Star Trek: Into Darkness.
  • From Alan Feldman on 2014-06-18 at 10:03pm:

    Pretty good, but as usual, there are problems.

    I must say it was idiotic of Kirk to give Khan unfettered access to his ship's manuals. You'd think they'd be top secret. Spock was quite right to be concerned. Khan could have gotten caught up on new technology without them. It's like when the guy in "The Naked Time" takes off his glove and thereby gets himself infected. Do something dumb to get yourself in trouble, and then get an exciting episode out of it by trying to save yourself. I believe this to be one of two strong contenders for the weakest part of the story.

    I doubt that the Botany Bay could go at significant fraction of the speed of light in the 1990s, even in the Star Trek universe. Not until 2018 did ships get reasonably fast, according to Marla. So it must have been close to our solar system when Kirk and company came upon it. Still, they most likely traveled at warp speeds once it was in tow, making it easy to get far from our solar system. Regardless, Gamma 400 was their "heading", not the place where they encountered the Botany Bay.

    Breeding superior human beings in less than 3 decades? I don't see how that's possible.

    SPOCK: Of course. Your attempt to improve the race through selective breeding.

    It's pretty explicit: selective breeding, not creating artificial embryos. Even if it were, it's rather unlikely you'd strike gold on the first try, in which case you're back to a somewhat large number of decades, if not centuries. The fact that Star Trek Enterprise says it was embryos just creates an inconsistency. Who's to say which is "right"? And by what criteria? Still, it doesn't matter.

    How could Khan be Napoleon, Leif Ericson, and Richard the Lionheart? These are not four men who look alike. Assuming somehow he was, how did Marla figure this out? (That must have made a big impression on Khan, of course.) And how does this jive with the eugenics bit?

    Again, I don't see how Star Trek was established to be 300 years in the future (from 1967). In "Miri" it was _Miri's_ civilization whose 1960 was approx. 300 years in the past, not Earth's. This means you have to go with "Tomorrow Is Yesterday"'s figure of approx. 200 years, which is consistent with this episode. (Well, perhaps approx. 230 years, to account for the time between the 1960s and 1990s. But this is still several decades short of 300.) To give another "data point," consider for a moment just Wrath of Khan:

    At the beginning of the movie we find Romulan Ale from 2283.

    Kahn: "These people have sworn to live and die at my command two hundred years before you were born." Say about 1990. (Well, certainly before 1992.) 1990+200+43=2233.

    A few breaths later he says:

    "On Earth . . . 200 years ago . . . I was a prince." So that puts the movie at about 1996+200=2196 or earlier.

    That's three rather different numbers _in the same movie_!

    Face it: Star Trek has just not been consistent on its own timeline, and I don't see how you can justify one timeline over another.

    No regulations about romance? Really? Hell, where I work we have rules for that. You can get some serious conflict-of-interest issues!

    At the dinner, Khan appears to be no match for Kirk and Spock questioning him. Perhaps he thinks that his drink was spiked. He _does_ pause to look at it in brief contemplation just before he gets up to leave. Who knows? Maybe it _was_ spiked. I'd give it a 35% probability.

    It sure took a long time for our heroes to notice Khan had escaped! He had to knock out the guard, leave him lying on the floor, coordinate with McGivers, walk all the way to the transporter (and he's rather easy to spot!), disable the operator, beam over to his ship, revive his crew, beam them and himself back to the Enterprise, make it to Engineering, kick out anyone who was there, and finally take over the ship -- all unnoticed by anyone. Additionally, it would have taken a considerable amount of time! How could the crew have possibly missed all of this? This is the other strong contender for the weakest part of the story.

    Why didn't the crew on the bridge die from lack of oxygen or at least suffer some brain damage?

    You'd think Kirk would get the bends in the decompression chamber, no?

    Spock is "pleased" to see Kirk alive after that. Still yet another emotion from the "emotionless" one.

    At about 44m01s, Kirk runs from the intercom station to Engineering. What a great tense exciting moment! If only they could have made it last!

    Why are our heroes' voices broadcast to Engineering so that Khan can hear them? And with them mentioning Engineering as to where Khan most likely is, no less! OK, perhaps an error on their part. Or maybe Khan found a way to monitor it! I'll go with the latter.

    Maybe it's just me, but it looks like not much is happening to the phaser while Khan is "crushing" it. I think it was already mangled before Khan started crushing it (replaced between shots, i.e.). As a result I find that shot rather annoying.

    Another remarkable scene to add to your list, or more accurately, shot: Khan looking nasty at Kirk after he crushes Kirk's phaser. Good music for this shot, too. Awesome.

    How could Kirk not lose his fight with Khan, given that Khan has five times Kirk's strength and can crush a hand phaser with his bare hands? -- Khan comes off as an unexpectedly lousy fighter. Regardless, Kirk had to, and did, pull off a clever, effective way to end it. But what _is_ that white (hard plastic?) thing he pulls out of the control board to hit Khan with?

    Why does it take pressing so many buttons to abort the overload?

    Why does Kirk drop all charges against Khan and then strand him on the planet? And how can he do this given the charges are dropped?! Obviously this is just job protection on Shatner's part, with a movie sequel to star in! :-D (Yeah, but I just had to say it.)

    What's with the bell at the hearing? We see that in "Court Martial," too. Maybe that's a good thing -- to clearly mark the beginning of a trial.

    About Marla McGivers and her relationship with Khan: Yes, she was infatuated with him, but he must have been infatuated he with her, since he forgave her rescuing Kirk. Interesting. So love is illogical, as Spock would say. On the other hand we must keep in mind that he was impressed that she figured out "who he is." She also said "No" to him when he told her to go. As for as McGivers herself: Yeah, not the most admirable figure.

    On the positive side, Montalban is awesome as Khan, obviously. Some great action at the end, too. And it's still a pretty good episode, despite all of the above.

    I wouldn't give it a 9, primarily because of the two major weak points. But Montalban is so much fun to watch, as well as our heroes. Maybe an 8.

    AEF, a.k.a. betaneptune
  • From Rob UK on 2014-06-20 at 10:58am:
    @ Alan, if that is what you say about an episode that you like i'd hate to read a review of an episode you hated with a passion.
  • From Alan Feldman on 2014-06-26 at 9:18pm:
    To Rob UK

    Well, I suggest you not read my review of "The Empath." I'm also not terribly fond of "The Corbomite Maneuver," so you might want to skip my review of that one, too. (But the latter episode _does_ have a few fun scenes worth watching.)

    Sorry, but I call 'em as I see 'em. But I do love the show.

    Remember that the plot is just one element of an episode. So even if it has some plot holes, other facets of the episode may make up for it.

    Since you pointed this out, I just might lower my rating of Space Seed from 8 to 7. I mean, c'mon. You see the crew suffocate on the bridge. Then you see them sitting around fully alive as if nothing had happened. How can you not notice things like that?

    Maybe it's just not possible, or at least very difficult, to write a good story without plot holes, at least for some genres. Also, you get some constraints if you want to see your heroes again next week. But again, you still get many episodes well worth watching because of other things about the show.


    While I'm composing this post this anyway, please allow me to make a correction. When I wrote above, "...make it to Engineering, kick out anyone who was there, ...", I should have written "...make it to Engineering, _capture_ everyone who was there, ..."

    AEF, a.k.a. betaneptune
  • From Rob UK on 2014-06-27 at 3:33pm:
    You can tell you love the show, it is only when we watch them se intently that we can pull them apart so much, i seriously doubt when this was made they ever thought anyone would watch any episode more than once in a decade due to tv broadcasting practices back then, never did they dream (even GR) that we would all own every episode in HD and watch them until we fried out hard drives or whatever other futuristic viewing devices we have they never dreamed of. i find myself watching them and loving the bad just as much as the good, like Kirk's fighting and womanising (if she's green he's keen)or the Vulcan Neck Pinch (i cringe with pleasure every time they use it).

    I am strangely looking forward to reading how much you tarred and feathered the above mentioned episodes.

    Quality patter all around


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