It’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #24!!!!
This week’s episode is “Space Seed” and despite some iffy gender politics, it’s still thrilling and introduces one of the all-time great Trek villains.
We open with the Enterprise picking up a strange signal from a ship floating in space, which Spock cannot identify, other than noting that it seems to be a ship from the 1990s, during Earth’s Eugenics Wars. However, faint heart beats are detected onboard without any signs of respiration. Because of this, Kirk beams over with McCoy, Scotty and Lt. Marla McGivers (Madlyn Rhue), ship’s historian specializing in late 20th-century history, to investigate.
Once onboard, the landing party confirms that the ship–named the S.S. Botany Bay and filled with people in cryogenic slumber–is indeed of Earth origin. Because the historical records of the Eugenic Wars are few and far between, McGivers reckons that the ship is full of refugees who fled Earth.
McGivers also tells them that this is a sleeper ship, designed for long periods of interplanetary travel before the discovery of warp drive. One of the life support units begins waking the man inside it up. Concluding that he must be the leader, Kirk breaks him out of the unit. The man (Ricardo Montalban) asks how long he’s been asleep; Kirk can only estimate two centuries.
Kirk orders McCoy and the man beamed back to sickbay. Back onboard the Enterprise, Scotty informs the others that twelve of the life support units have failed, leaving 72 alive. Spock can find no record of the vessel in the ship’s library, but Kirk suspects that, with Botany Bay being the name of a historic Australian penal colony, that the ship might have been used to transport criminals. Spock rebuffs this and also notes the incredibly low probability that this ship could have survived so long and managed to leave Earth’s solar system. Kirk orders the ship put under tow and sets course for Starbase 12.
In sickbay, the man wakes up, steals a scalpel and grabs McCoy by the neck. “Where am I?” he asks.
“You’re in bed, holding a knife at your doctor’s throat,” McCoy replies coolly.
The man makes McCoy summon Kirk to sickbay; Kirk asks his name but the man ignores him, asking where they’re headed. Kirk tells him and the man identifies himself. His name, he says, is simply…
I don’t think I need to give anymore explanation, but yeah, Khan is one seriously bad dude. He’s best known, of course, for pursuing Kirk with fanatical vengeance in 1982’s The Wrath of Khan, but this episode is where it all began.
Of course, when playing such a menacing character, an actor needs to be, well, menacing and Montalban does just that, owning absolutely every scene he’s in with a mixture of an imposing frame, a warrior’s mindset and a quiet but threatening voice. This guest spot was some years before Montalban really endeared himself to American audiences with the show Fantasy Island, but with plum guest roles like this, he could have built up a great reputation just on that.
Our other big guest star of the episode, unfortunately, isn’t nearly as memorable. Rhue doesn’t have anything to do really as McGivers other than wax about how much nobler strong men like Khan are and ultimately, she winds up completely passive. It’s a shame, really; I would have liked more into her mindset.
The regular cast are all superb. As that above exchange notes, McCoy gets some excellent lines in this episode, and the standoff between him and Khan explains how DeForest Kelley wound up on so many Westerns during his career. Spock isn’t as wry or funny here as he has been, but he’s still central to the goings-on, expressing a bemusement that the crew could express admiration for such a brutal tyrant. Kirk gets a great fight scene, some nice meditations on the nature of tyrants and shows off why he’s captain.
The script, by Carey Wilber and Gene L. Coon, sets up an interesting conflict–how does one fight against someone who is superior to them in every way?–and follows through with it wonderfully. In the setup of the Eugenics Wars, it gives not only a glimpse into the darkness the Trek universe had to go through to reach utopia, but also offers up a setting fertile for examination; Greg Cox did just that with the trilogy of The Eugenics Wars novels.
Marc Daniels returns as director again and he is magnificent. His camera underscores the brutality of Khan’s actions, the romanticism he represents to McGivers and the threat he poses to the Enterprise.
If there’s one glaring flaw here, it’s that women are treated weirdly badly in this episode. Besides the aforementioned problems of McGivers, Uhura actually gets slapped in the face at one point. Troubling stuff, but ultimately, it’s a small blemish on an otherwise perfect hour of television. Recommended.
Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.