Star Trek: The Original Series

"Space Seed"


Air date: 2/16/1967
Teleplay by Gene L. Coon and Carey Wilber
Story by Carey Wilber
Directed by Marc Daniels

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

A good thriller requires a good villain, and "Space Seed" has Khan Noonian Singh (Ricardo Montalban), a 20th-century tyrannical leader from the era of the Eugenics War—a conflict fought over the dispute of genetically engineering human beings. Khan and his crew have been in suspended animation on the S.S. Botany Bay since 1996. Now awakened, Khan intends to reinitiate his old ways, beginning with taking over the Enterprise and (as they say) moving on to the rest of the universe.

Khan's quite a presence; his skill in manipulating historical officer Lt. Marla McGivers (Madlyn Rhue) demonstrates his great ability for balancing attractive charisma and frightening psychological terrorism—and Montalban is exceptional in the role. Khan's tactic in trying to force support from crew members (subjection to suffocation) is particularly treacherous.

The ending fight scene was a little typical in its way of "Kirk versus an adversary," but it was executed well. Oh, and there was great use of Bones' attitude in the early scenes ("Well, either choke me or cut my throat—make up your mind!"). But like much of classic Trek, the polemics linger: the argument and implications of "improving man"; the reflection upon a savage reign of tyranny; the savageness inherent in humanity. All interesting stuff.

Previous episode: The Return of the Archons
Next episode: A Taste of Armageddon

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24 comments on this review

Fri, Jun 1, 2012, 1:54am (UTC -5)
I loved that scene with Bones, too. And young Ricardo Montalban was HAWT. But I was pretty irritated with the whole McGiver-can't-resist-the-man-from-a-different-time plotline. I have no patience for fluctuating loyalties, and women often serve that function in TOS.
Sat, Sep 8, 2012, 2:06pm (UTC -5)
The best line of all Star Trek and one I have used in many scenarios, "Stay or go, but do it because it is what you wish to do."
Tue, Oct 9, 2012, 8:15am (UTC -5)
The fight scene was well executed? Not even by 60's standards. Mrs. Prickley's doubles got full-on face shots--very amateurish.
Fri, Apr 26, 2013, 7:15am (UTC -5)
The fight scene if pretty funny. As in other episodes they use stunt doubles who only look vaguely like the actors. In the fight scene in Mirror, Mirror Spock's double has curly hair.
And it stupid that Khan gets taken down by Kirk with a piece of plastic pipe.
Mon, Sep 16, 2013, 8:23am (UTC -5)
Oh my god how I hate that episode.

All that swooning over a "superior" man - and it's not just the females!

And then there is kind of woman that is characterized as "To Stupid To live" in fiction. "Swept off her feet" because deep down, women want a "real man" who is an arrogant domineering asshole. Yuck, yuck and YUCK on that whole concept.

Kirk made two really bad decisions in this episode. First, giving Khan access to all of the ship's library including the technical manuals (WTF?), then letting the bastard live.

And Khan hot?? Ok, we all have different ideas on what's hot.

Grr, why are women often portrayed so DUMB on Star Trek??

Zero stars.

Thu, Nov 7, 2013, 10:51am (UTC -5)
Having been a longtime fan of TWOK, it was interesting to see the TOS ep that preceded it, as well as to go back and look at the character of Khan again after seeing Into Darkness. After watching SS, it makes me wonder to what lengths Marcus went to in order to ensure that Khan didn't commandeer HIS ship and revive his crew after reviving him in the alternate timeline. He obviously was smart enough to ensure that Khan couldn't easily figure how to take control though, of course, Marcus eventually lost control of him thus leading into the plot of Into Darkness. I was dumbfounded by the seeming stupidity of Kirk giving Khan access to technical manuals of the ship. I would think that that sort of information would be considered highly classified but above and beyond that they knew almost nothing about him before giving him such unwarranted access to the information. As for their decision to allow him and his people to go into exile, I think that they probably had no real choice of what to do with him other than to exile him to a remote planet. Unlike the Jack Pack augments, Khan and his people were physically and mentally fit and would be a threat/menace to the Federation and couldn't simply be maintained in an institution. Short of killing him and the rest of his augments, there was almost nothing else they could do with a whole group of super-people stranded out of time. Of course, they probably should've kept tabs on what was going on in the Ceti Alpha system before accidentally stumbling them but then we wouldn't have gotten the excellent TWOK movie, would we?
Wed, Jan 1, 2014, 2:11pm (UTC -5)
"The Eugenics Wars of the 1990s were "your last World War"? Oops...
Thu, Mar 20, 2014, 1:08pm (UTC -5)
Just watched Space Seed for the first time. Thoughts:

-Ricardo Montalban definitely made this episode watchable. I think if someone else had played Khan, this episode would have been completely forgettable. This was a case where the actor was way better than the material he had to work with.

-Now that I've seen it, I'm surprised they decided to return to this topic for Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan. Don't get me long, I agree that TWOK was among the best of the ST movies. But, after watching Space Seed, I would not think this was a story that could be successfully returned to, because frankly it just wasn't that great of an episode to begin with. I guess they must have just decided that they needed a great villain, and Ricardo Montalban definitely delivers.

-That fight scene was laugh-out-loud funny. Multiple shots where you get full frontal shots of Shatner's stunt double's face. Maybe it was harder to tell them apart on the grainy 480i tiny tv screens of the 60's. But in glorious HD via Netflix, it is comical: The viewer is like: wait, who the hell is THAT, and why are we watching a fight between two completely different people?

What's more: why did they even use stunt double's for this in the first place? Interspersed in the fight are shots of Shatner doing seemingly equally strenuous things (holding onto a grid with his hands while trying to choke Khan with his legs). And in other episodes Shatner gets into the fighting a lot more than this one. *shrug*
Sat, Apr 12, 2014, 11:18pm (UTC -5)
Notice khan had "5 times" the strength of kirk yet couldnt take him.

Still one of the best. Imho TWOK saved the ST movie franchise.
John TY
Sat, Aug 30, 2014, 8:57am (UTC -5)
Entertaining in parts but some serious issues as others have mentioned.

Something else: As an Australian I find Kirk's comment about the British landing at Botany Bay - "Those men went on to tame a continent" - as dated at best. Such a western world mentality believing that a continent inhabited by a 40,000 year old culture needs taming. And then setting Kahn and his people on a world that hasn't asked for him tells us that colonialism is good; the locals are just savages that need to be taught how to live proper like.
Tue, Sep 2, 2014, 12:55pm (UTC -5)
I have an interesting experience in that I saw Into Darkness, The Wrath of Kahn, and read the tie-in Kahn comics before I saw Space Seed. So I basically got all the follow up Kahn stuff before I watched his first appearance.

Having seen it, I can totally see why he got so much attention in the series. Kahn is just a very interesting character and he's great in this episode. They gave a pretty deep history to Kahn in this episode for what was possibly one-shot character.

I kind of wish Montalban would have said his name more dramatically when he says his name is Kahn. He also seems oddly contented at the end with being stranded.

My preferred ending to this episode would have been Kahn defeating the enterprise crew and disappearing into space with his people. I'd like to see the guy with 5 times the strength of a man and vast intelligent outwit Kirk for a change.
Mon, Sep 8, 2014, 11:43pm (UTC -5)
Too bad Chris Pine's Kirk didn't have a PVC pipe handy or Into Darkness would have been over in thirty seconds ;)

Good episode, Montalban was definitely the one thing that elevated this episode into the classic range. Plus it set the stage for TWOK, my favorite Trek movie of all time, which in turn ultimately (albeit indirectly) made TNG possible. TNG, in turn set the stage for DS9, VOY and ENT to add their contributions to the Trek canvas.

Interesting idea to ponder - every future incarnation of Trek, to a certain degree, probably owes its existence to this one episode. Fascinating.
Wed, Oct 29, 2014, 10:14pm (UTC -5)
Strangely, i had never seen this episode of TOS before although I have seen TWOK many times including years ago with my father at the cinema with I'm sure TMP first. Did they really do things like that? Show one movie then another? Or is my mind playing tricks? Anyway I'd heard about the episode and read about it here.

Bizarrely it turns up on some tv channel here in the UK yesterday, pretty strange!. Fascinating to watch.

One bit that I had to pause and watch again is when the gas gets released and Scotty sort of runs out the room but quickly turns round and floors one of Khans 'men' before running out. Rather bizarre but I thought pretty funny. I guess it was the same bloke that dropped Scotty earlier. Interesting that there's no Chekov in the Episode which kinda messes up TWOK a little though I guess that's already been mentioned.

Fabulous stuff that's got me watching quite a bit of TOS (loved the epsiode when they go back to the 1960's with the air force pilot!) even though 'my trek ' has and will always be TNG.
Thu, Oct 30, 2014, 10:50am (UTC -5)
Unless it ever outright states that Chekov joins the Enterprise after this he could have encountered Khan off screen.

And you are thinking of a double feature. They don't do that much anymore.
Thu, Oct 30, 2014, 1:26pm (UTC -5)
I nver bought the "Chekov" complaint... Khan had access to the ship's database...
Thu, Nov 13, 2014, 6:45pm (UTC -5)
I just watched this for the first time today and it's very interesting to see where the story of TWOK came from. I've known about the plot for ages since reading the Chronology back in 1993 but it's a whole over thing to see it play out.

It's a really interesting story and Khan is a pretty great character and villain. Ricardo Montalban really sells the part for the most and I love the whole background with them finding out bits and pieces of the Eugenics Wars. It's easy to make fun of that stuff now having passed those dates and noting the technology divide of their imagined future and our past but as a kid I would have loved that, same way I loved the future's of Back to the Future or Terminator or Days of Future Past.

But there are a few parts that really stick out and stop it from making it a great episode in my mind. There's things that you can excuse as products of the time, like the stunt guys getting too much exposure in the fight scenes, I don't think they were meant to stand-up to much scrutiny because the maybe the viewers were less discerning and they also didn't have replay function to confirm things at the time. But things like Kirk makes some really stupid decisions, like giving Khan access to the ship's database despite clearly recognising that Khan is hiding something. It stands out to me but civilians seem to get away with a bunch of stuff on these starships, David Marcus just wanders onto the bridge in middle of a battle in TWOK and another 1990s guy blunders into the Romulan encounter in TNG's The Neutral Zone.
There's something disturbing about the Khan/McGivers relationship, like some kind of spousal abuse going on. He basically threatens to break her arm and uses her confused attraction to him to get her to betray the crew, like some messed up space stockholm syndrome. And then at the end no one realises any of this and Kirk gives her a choice of court martial or going with Khan. It's like the lesser of two evils, but we'resupposed to think it's actual love that's won out? This whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I mean, maybe she grew to love him, maybe she already did, but from TWOK I got the impression it was this real love coming from a real connection between the two and I guess it just disappoints me.
Thu, Dec 4, 2014, 1:32am (UTC -5)
Ahh, Space Seed, the episode that launched a movie plot that saved a franchise...and Ricardo Montalban and his hot charisma that I wish had been played as Mexican, which he was, rather than "Sikh" (because they're such great warriors - uhhh okaay?). And yes, I AM on Team Montalban, and Team Montalban's Chest. :p

I would swoon a-la-McGivers at this episode, but there's far too many laughable and dumb things about this episode that left me giggling, facepalming, and sometimes cringing.

Much of these dumb things have been mentioned already. Kirk must have had quite the brain-fart to just let Khan access all the ship's technical manuals. DURRR. And the way that McGivers just collapses into a submissive, controlled woman who "loves" Khan - that's a real cringer there. But thankfully, the giggles and facepalms far outweigh the cringes in this episode. From the laugh-out-loud obvious stunt doubles (in an otherwise ridiculous fight, that Kirk wins via "heavy" plastic thingamajig) to the very start of the episode where they just turn on the ship and try to revive Khan right then and there, instead of towing the ship to the Starbase first - but then we wouldn't have this episode. We'd have Khan trying to conquer a Starbase - AND THEN, THE UNIVERSE! And possibly succeeding in such an endeavour. And, of course, we wouldn't have the stage properly set for The Wrath of Khan, my favourite Star Trek film. :)

I'll give the episode credit for the terror and abuse that Uhura and the crew go through at the hands of the Ubermenschen (which was well played by all), plus the Death-By-Decompression that nearly killed Kirk. And of course, Montalban as Khan pretty well steals the show with his charm and calculated cruelty.

Oh, and the biggest cringer of all: How this whole episode is basically an unconscious love letter to Colonialism. The whole idea that the British criminals on the original Botany Bay "tamed a continent".... yeahhh, no. Plus all the side-praise for conquering figures of the past like Alexander and Napoleon. And why the admiration for Khan? Oh sure, the episode says that we can admire a person while also despising them. But conveniently for the episode, no one in the 24th Century remembers Stalin or Mao in such a light.
Wed, Aug 19, 2015, 3:19am (UTC -5)
So I'm wondering if there's any significance to the similarity between Khan's name (Khan Noonien Singh) and the name of Data's creator (Dr. Noonien Soong), or if that was just supposed to be a tribute to the episode/character. I get it: Eugenics and building super--or even perfect--humans; what I want to know is if they're actually related within the mythology of the show.

Otherwise, I'm not a fan of the episode. The rampant misogyny, stupidity, and bad acting turned me off almost completely. Bones's sanguine quips to Khan while having a knife pressed to his throat were about the only bright spots.
Wed, Aug 19, 2015, 9:52am (UTC -5)
@Pam re: Noonien

There may be no in-universe connection (although ENT's "The Augments" teases one), but the real-world explanation is that it was a shout-out by Roddenberry. As the story goes, Gene used the name as a signal to his wartime friend, Kim Noonien Singh, with whom he had lost contact.
Thu, Aug 20, 2015, 7:07am (UTC -5)
Thanks Grumpy. I never heard that before.
Frances Yozawitz
Fri, Sep 25, 2015, 2:15pm (UTC -5)
I Love Star Trek.
Wed, Feb 17, 2016, 2:34am (UTC -5)
Totally agree with Pam, the overacting is laughable and the gender stereotyping is beyond insulting for a "progressive" TV series. But then I'm probably totally spoiled now with Benedict Cumberbatch's take on the Khan Noonien Singh character in the latest movie. Madlyn Rue was such a feisty person in real life I'm amazed she didn't scream and kick in protest at how she was directed to play McGiver (spelling?). She asserts herself with Kirk but is lik mome overcooked playdough in Khan's hands, literally.
Tue, Mar 1, 2016, 4:14pm (UTC -5)
@ Beth "But conveniently for the episode, no one in the 24th Century remembers Stalin or Mao in such a light. "

I really don't understand what that has to do with anything? They specifically say that Khan was a benevolent dictator, better than such figures.
Fri, May 27, 2016, 5:23pm (UTC -5)

"So I'm wondering if there's any significance to the similarity between Khan's name (Khan Noonien Singh) and the name of Data's creator (Dr. Noonien Soong)"

A connection between the two men is canonically retconned by the character of Arik Soong on "Enterprise." He knew who Khan was and his world kinda sorta intersected with Khan's. Perhaps noting the similarity between "Singh" and "Soong" and as a tribute, he decided to name one of his children Noonien Soong and the name was passed down the family line. We don't know that Data's creator was the *first* Noonien Soong; he could have been Noonien Soong IV. (Nit: When did Arik Soong father children if he'd been sent up the river for life? Maybe he had the kids before he went to prison.)

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