Star Trek 1.22: Space Seed

Space SeedAh… “Space Seed“. A true classic. This is a very welcome sight after “The Return of the Archons“.

Everyone reading this probably knows that this episode forms the back story for the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Here, we meet Khan for the first time, a survivor adrift in an ancient Earth ship – a ship dating from the mid-1990s! This is so unimaginably old that it is transmitting a signal in Morse code(!!) rather than anything more modern. Uhura recognises the old “CQ” call sign by ear, showing once again how versatile she is – she could probably operate every system on the ship without the manuals. We also learn that the 1990s were a period of world war. Thankfully that part of the prediction didn’t come true.

Kirk sounds a red alert and various members of the bridge crew run about aimlessly, their random meanderings now with an increased sense of urgency. There’s a delicious bit of Spock versus McCoy banter, then they head for the transporter room, calling the ship’s historian Lieutenant McGivers in to assist. Why a military vessel has a specialist historian on board is something of a mystery. She’s shown as basically having no role on board except to paint pictures of classical warriors and to be on call in case the captain ever needs assistance with Earth history for some reason. I guess it pays to be prepared.

McCoy gives what might be his first rant against the evils of transporters, objecting to being split into component molecules and reassembled elsewhere. He maintains this antipathy to the device throughout his career, to the amusement of everyone else. My reaction is more to wonder why everyone else is so blasé about it. Anyway, they beam over to the drifting SS Botany Bay. The initials “SS” are mentioned, but not explained. One presumes they mean “steam ship”, as such a primitive ship is no doubt powered by steam. On board are people preserved in cryo-capsules of some sort. The first one we see looks suspiciously like a blue-skinned space babe, until we see that it’s just a blue light shining on her face.

One guy wakes up, and of course it’s Khan himself, who is taken to the Enterprise sickbay to recuperate from being asleep for over 200 years. He wakes up and holds a knife to McCoy’s throat, which prompts a moment of awesome from McCoy, who wins Khan over with his bravery. Kirk appears and chats for a minute, before showing Khan how to access all of the Enterprise‘s technical details on the sickbay computer. This is the second time Kirk has been friendly to a fault to someone he really should be more wary of. Who put this guy in charge of a military vessel?

At a formal meal, Khan starts to reveal more of his background and temperament:

Kirk: You have a tendency to express ideas in military terms, Mister Khan. This is a social occasion.

Right at this point in the episode, a huge crack of thunder occurred right outside my window, punctuating Kirk’s statement ominously. Even the weather gods like this episode.

Eventually – and without the help of McGivers, who is busy being seduced by Khan – they identify Khan as Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically engineered warlord from the turbulent time in Earth’s history known as the 1990s. This took some considerable digging through the library computer tapes, as they mention several times earlier that records from this time are sparse and incomplete, and nobody really knows much about the time. Despite this, Scotty confidently declares that Khan was “always my favourite of the 1990s dictators”. Either he has some exceedingly weird and esoteric interests or he’s lying through his teeth.

Using his new-found knowledge of the Enterprise, Khan succeeds in taking over the ship and reviving his followers, leading to the inevitable one-on-one fist fight between Kirk and Khan. This should, by all accounts, by a terrible mismatch, because Khan is genetically engineered to be superior in every way, and states that he has the strength of five men. Despite this, he doesn’t even manage to rip Kirk’s shirt – even a rubber-suited Gorn who can barely move managed to do that! Kirk eventually smacks Khan over the head with a bit of tubing that he pulls out of some vital engineering system or other.

And then what to do with Khan and his übermenschen followers? Kirk calls some sort of formal hearing, which apparently he has the authority to do without referring back to Starfleet, and delivers punitive justice. He banishes Khan and his cronies to the uninhabited Earth-like planet Ceti Alpha V, making a clever allusion to the name of the Botany Bay along the way. He also gives McGivers the choice of court martial for helping Khan, or joining him in exile; she chooses the latter. And then comes the most haunting line of the entire episode:

Spock: It would be interesting, captain, to return to that world in a hundred years and to learn what crop has sprung from the seed you planted today.

Of course that seed would burst into a roaring rampage of revenge a mere 15 years later, in a tale told in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. But that’s a story for another post. Hmm, yes.. I should follow up when I’m done with the TV series by doing the movies.

A fantastic episode. Total win across the board.

Tropes: Everyone Knows Morse, I Want My Jetpack, The Great Politics Mess Up, Human Popsicle, Popsicle Splat, Sealed Evil In A Can, Classic Villain, All Girls Want Bad Boys, Super Soldier, Improvised Weapon, Penal Colony, Rule of Symbolism, Wickedly Cultured, Foreshadowing.
Body count: 12 of Khan’s followers dead off-screen in failed hibernation capsules.
(Image © 1966 Paramount Studios, used under Fair Use.)

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