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Recap / Star Trek S1 E22 "Space Seed"

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Lt. McGivers: I don't know if you'll like living in our time.
Khan: Then I'll have to remold it to my liking.

Original air date: February 16, 1967

The episode which was the basis for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

It all begins when the Enterprise comes across the S.S. Botany Bay, an apparent derelict from the 1990s, which the characters handily remind each other was when Earth was nearly destroyed in a world-wide war which was not World War III. This war was caused by scientists creating genetically-superior humans. These superhumans decided to Take Over the World, but ultimately ended up fighting amongst themselves.

Kirk, Bones, Scotty and Lt. Marla McGivers (Madlyn Rhue, our Girl of the Week) beam onto the Botany Bay, finding it full of Human Popsicles. Ricardo Montalbán, who we're told is Indian, wakes up and McGivers falls in Love at First Sight. In Sickbay, he's discovered to be superhuman, holds a knife to McCoy's throat and says his name is "Khan", but refuses to answer any other question. Kirk decides it's a good idea to let Khan look at all the technical information on the Enterprise. Meanwhile, McGivers gets to have a rather lame love scene with Khan in which we learn she wears her hair in a 1960s updo (which looks uncannily like a wig) because it's "comfortable."

Kirk and Spock question Khan some more and he as good as admits that he was one of the superhuman Evil Overlords from the '90s. Since Evil Is Sexy, McGivers takes Khan's side and apologizes to him for how rude everyone else was. He then manipulates her into agreeing to help him hijack the ship. With her help, he unfreezes his Evil Minions and takes over Engineering. It turns out he actually learned a bit from those tech manuals and cuts off life-support systems to the bridge. After everyone has passed out, he treats them to Kirk's torture in a decompression chamber, offering to let him live if someone joins him.

At this point, McGivers has had enough and sets Kirk free, begging him to let Khan live. This leads to Kirk and Khan's Stunt Doubles having a big Professional Wrestling-style fight which ends in Khan's defeat despite his superior strength due to Kirk breaking off a mechanical lever from the ship as an Improvised Weapon. Kirk and Khan agree that he and his followers will be dumped on the savage planet Ceti Alpha V, providing Khan the opportunity to build his own empire. McGivers decides to go with Khan rather than face court-martial. Kirk and Spock speculate about what will become of them:

Spock: It would be interesting, Captain, to return to that world in a hundred years and learn what crop had sprung from the seed you planted today.
Kirk: Yes, Mr. Spock. It would indeed.

The Fan Nickname for this episode is, of course, "The One With… KHAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!".note 

Space Tropes:

  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: McGivers certainly does, which is how Khan is able to manipulate her.
  • All There in the Script: In the original script, the Botany Bay's log stated that the ship was originally headed for the Tau Ceti star system.note  Examination of the ship reveals a damaged steering system, which has sent the Botany Bay careening off-course into deep space.
  • Admiring the Abomination: This seems to be the reason Kirk keeps underestimating Khan. In fact, while discussing Khan in the briefing room, Kirk, Bones and Scotty give Spock a good shake when they admit a certain admiration for Khan, even if they still acknowledge he's evil. Spock is vocally uncomfortable romanticizing Khan's history, and he's got good reason to be, considering what Khan's planning that very moment.
  • Affably Evil: Khan. He's surprisingly charming and polite for being a former dictator. Or not, considering how many dictators have come to power through charm and charisma.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: Played with. When Scotty examines the Botany Bay's equipment, he mentions "bulky, solid...transistor units." While transistors were around for about a decade, they didn't fully replace vacuum tubes until the late 60's, after this episode first showed.
  • Ambition Is Evil: As Spock describes Khan and his fellow augments, "Superior ability breeds superior ambition."
  • Badass Bookworm: McCoy tells Khan to "make up [his] mind" how to kill him and even tells him the "most effective" way to do it. Even Khan is impressed.
    McCoy: It would be most effective if you would cut the carotid artery, just under the left ear.
    Khan: (releases him) I like a brave man.
    McCoy: (humbly) I was simply trying to avoid an argument.
  • Badass Normal:
    • Kirk. He beats the tar out of a supposed "superman" with nothing but his bare fists and a PVC pipe. Note that immediately before this, Khan tells Kirk he can't hope to win in a fistfight, "I have five times your physical strength." That makes Khan stronger than Spock, who we've seen hand Kirk his ass several times; Vulcans are about three times as strong as humans.
    • Scotty scores a one-punch knockdown of one of Khan's henchmen, before escaping the briefing room.
  • Beware the Superman/No Transhumanism Allowed: Khan is the reason why, as far forward as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Bio-Augmentation is forbidden.
  • Born in the Wrong Century: Marla feels this of herself, preferring to be in the more "adventurous" 1990's.
  • Catching Up on History: Khan does this by reading through the Enterprise's computer logs that contain the last 200 years of history that he missed.
  • Clash of Evolutionary Levels: The genetically-engineered supermen certainly consider it their right, and in Khan's case even duty, to rule over humanity. Because they are superior.
  • Death Glare: One of Khan's Mooks smacks Uhura when she hesitates to carry out Khan's order. Good thing Marla intervenes, because by the looks of Uhura's face, she was about to seriously beat that guy's ass.
  • "Die Hard" on the Enterprise: The Ur-Example of this as far as the Star Trek franchise goes (and there would be a lot more examples - we're looking at you, Enterprise). Kirk and his crew have to sneak through the Enterprise to undermine Khan and his followers.
  • Diagnosis from Dr. Badass: Dr. McCoy, with a newly-awakened Khan holding a scalpel to his throat, merely tells him that the recommended procedure for a quick kill would be to sever the carotid artery. After Khan praises McCoy for bravery, he simply states that it would be a quicker death than the jugular vein that was Khan's initial target.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • The 1990s are repeatedly described as being two hundred years ago, which would place the episode in the late 22nd century or possibly the early 23rd century. This is especially the case if you consider the original preview trailer, which uses the phrase "slightly over two centuries ago" (though that timeframe is in reference to the scientists who created the Supermen). Later canon places the events of "Space Seed" in 2267, at which point a figure of "nearly three centuries ago" would probably have been more accurate.
    • The 1990s-set Eugenics Wars are described by Spock as, "your last so-called world war." From this, we can presume that the Eugenics Wars is the conflict that's meant when Spock mentions World War III in "Bread and Circuses." Of course, this would be retconned by Star Trek: The Next Generation, which moved World War III to the mid-21st century.
    • The fact that sleeper ships became obsolete in 2018 would seem to imply that that's the year that Faster-Than-Light Travel was invented. James Blish's 1968 episode novelization outright states that, "they didn't have the warp drive until then," and as late as 1985, The Official Star Trek Quiz Book places the discovery of warp drive in 2018. This is, of course, at odds with current canon, in which the warp drive was invented in 2063. Michael Okuda's official Retcon is that sleeper ships were made obsolete by "advances in sublight propulsion technologies," which seems unlikely given the vast distances in space. It is possible Marla is only referring to Solar System planets, which do currently take multiple years for Earth spacecraft to visit.
  • Evil Counterpart: One of the reasons Khan became so popular; he is a perfect match for Kirk in both fighting prowess and strategic capability.
  • Evil Overlord: Khan, with charisma to spare. You think this episode is bad, wait'll you see Wrath Of Khan!
  • "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner: When Khan wakes up in sickbay, he purloins a scalpel; when Dr. McCoy returns he grabs him by the throat and holds it to his neck. Bones remains calm enough to respond, "Well, either choke me or cut my throat. Make up your mind!" Khan is impressed by his courage.
  • Failed Future Forecast:
    • The establishment of the Eugenics Wars in the 1990s naturally caused the franchise some problems when it was still going strong when the decade actually came around.
      • One of the novels note  makes a truly heroic effort to fit it into real history, explaining how the wars could have happened with no one knowing about them (however that requires omitting a lot of the history the episode recounts on this).
      • The Star Trek: Khan comic miniseries goes the Alternate History route instead, depicting Khan and his followers nuking Washington DC and Moscow — in 1992!
      • Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, meanwhile, suggests that the Eugenics Wars have been moved forward in time to the mid-21st century, overlapping with World War III, as a result of the Temporal Cold War. In the episode, "Tomorrow And Tomorrow And Tomorrow", Khan is about 10 years old in 2022.
    • This episode establishes that slower-than-light ships like the Botany Bay will be obsolete in 2018. In the actual year 2018, humanity did not have sleeper ships or even leave the solar system.
  • Fangirl: McGivers is one for, as Khan puts it, "bold men from the past", such as Leif Erikson, Richard The Lion Heart, Napoléon Bonaparte, and Khan himself. She even draws Fan Art of them!
  • Forced to Watch: In one of Khan's nastier moments, he makes the crew watch Kirk suffocate in an effort to force them to follow him. And he plans to break the crew by continuing to do so.
    Khan: Each of you in turn will go in there! Die, while the others watch!
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The fact that Khan's people are in stasis in a ship called the Botany Bay would raise alarm bells, as Botany Bay was a prison colony in Australia.
    • Unintended at the time, but Spock's musing on what they would find upon returning to the planet on a later occasion essentially serves as a Sequel Hook leading into Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
  • Freudian Slip: Marla tells Khan how fascinated she is by men of...that is, the world of the past.
  • Godwin's Law: Conspicuously inverted. Khan is frequently compared to historical figures, but they're all pre-20th century figures with mixed historical reputations like Alexander and Napoleon. He is never compared to 20th century figures like Hitler and Stalin, whose reputations are more firmly negative. Presumably, that would have ruined the theme about Khan being somewhat romanticized.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: Khan, a superstrong megalomaniac, is being held in a room with one guard outside the door. He busts out and flattens the guard in short order. At least in the resulting trial, the Red Shirt bailiffs are too smart to allow that stunt again and have multiple ones holding him at phaser point to make sure he behaves himself.
  • High-Heel–Face Turn: McGivers, after a manner of speaking. She still loves Khan, but she is unwilling to watch him execute her captain and the other officers.
  • "I Can't Look!" Gesture: Uhura turns off the viewing screen on which Khan is showing them Kirk suffocating.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Hey Kirk, really think it's a good idea to let the superpowered stranger get complete access to the technical blueprints of the ship?
    • Hey Kirk, do you think the girl who is enamored with the ambitious superman who is able to manipulate people should be allowed to hang out with him that much?
    • Hey Kirk, why is only one guard watching a genetically-enhanced superhuman?
    • Hey Khan, what compelled you to let the only non-genetically superior member of your team, who explicitly expressed discontent in watching her former captain die, to roam freely within the ship at that precise moment?
  • Innocuously Important Episode: At first glance, "Space Seed" is just another example of episodic 60's-era TV: a bad guy named Khan tries to take over the Enterprise, but Kirk outwits Khan, exiles him and his followers to an uninhabited planet, and life goes on.
    • However, fifteen years later, Khan returns as the villain in the second Trek feature film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Not only do the events in that film greatly influence the rest of the TOS-era movies, but the second, third, and fourth films are popular enough to convince Paramount to launch the TNG era, which continue today in the Nu-Trek era. "Space Seed" and TWoK also set up several plot points for both the subsequent TV installments and the reboot movies.
    • Taken together, all of this makes "Space Seed" possibly the most important episode in Trek history, elevating Star Trek itself from a popular 1960's science-fiction series, to a multi-billion dollar, global franchise.
    • Khan as a dictator during the Eugenics Wars mentioned in this episode was initially treated as a Cryptic Background Reference in the distant past, with later parts of the franchise having to shuffle around the continuity due to handily lasting the 30 years needed to reach Khan's stated time period. Eventually it conflated the Eugenics Wars as one aspect of World War III that nearly destroyed Earth but set the stage for First Contact, with Star Trek: Strange New Worlds stating that Khan was at the center of it all (while also saying various Time Travel adventures has altered the details).
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: When the Enterprise first approaches the Botany Bay, Spock says that the mysterious vessel couldn't be from Earth... until Uhura picks up an Earth Distress Call.
    Kirk: I thought you said it couldn't possibly be an Earth vessel.
    Spock: I fail to understand why it always gives you pleasure to see me proven wrong.
    Kirk: An emotional Earth weakness of mine.
  • Instant Sedation: Of the Knockout Gas variety. Khan escapes the briefing room before it can affect him. Scotty also escapes, but clearly got a mouthful and is noticeably weakened. And of course, Starfleet hyposprays can put even a genetically-engineered superman under before they're done hissing.
  • Kick the Dog: One of Khan's men slaps Uhura after she refuses to follow one of Khan's orders. She shoots him a Death Glare in response.
  • Large Ham:
    • Kirk, as usual. Not even a silly little thing like suffocation can stop Jimmy-boy from serving up the ham.
    • Khan has all the pomposity and charisma you'd expect from an Evil Overlord. Especially when you upset him.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Marla does this for Khan after he criticizes her updo.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: While still an Evil Overlord, Khan is said to have been the most benevolent of all the genetic supermen, ordering no massacres and never waging wars until he was attacked.
  • Meaningful Name: The Botany Bay is named after Great Britain's first penal colony in Australia.
  • Meditation Powerup: Khan performs some brief breathing exercises when he first regains enough strength to stand up and just before he prepares to forcibly pull the door of the quarters he's confined in open.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Come on, Kirk, his name is Khan. Why Don't Ya Just Shoot Him?
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The ending becomes this in retrospect, as it sets up the events of The Wrath of Khan.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Kirk takes in Khan and his men after he finds them floating in space and on the verge of dying when their ship systems fail. Khan returns the favor by attempting to kill Kirk and take over his ship. Much, much later, in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Chekov calls out Khan for this, pointing out that Khan and his people were marooned precisely because of this.
  • Nostalgia Filter:
    • Pointed out by Spock In-Universe. The human command crew view Khan through distant centuries, remembering him from their history classes fondly as the least evil of the Eugenics Wars' genetic supermen and they have the impression he was 'firm but fair'. Spock has a different and, it turns out, more accurate perspective that Khan was still a ruthless tyrant. This is probably meant to reflect how people romanticize historical figures like Napoleon and, indeed, Genghis Khan, as well as the old saying that Mussolini 'made the trains run on time' (in fact, McGivers lovingly lists Napoleon as one of the figures whom Khan reminds her of).
    • That said, Kirk argues that they may admire him on some level but are still aware of who he is. Given that episode ends with Kirk exiling him on a uncivilized planet, preventing him from harming anyone but still giving him a chance to create civilization on his terms, the story arguably supports his view of Khan more than Spock's (this also echoes what happened to Napoleon-he was exiled twice to different islands).
  • Obvious Stunt Double: The fight between Ricardo Montalbán's stuntman and whoever was doubling for William Shatner (possibly Gary Combs).
  • Obviously Evil: Khan might as well have "Supervillain" stamped on his forehead.
  • Opponent Instruction: McCoy gets his turn at this when he first meets Khan:
    McCoy: Well, either choke me or cut my throat. Make up your mind.
    Khan: English. I thought I dreamed hearing it. Where am I?
    McCoy: You're in bed, holding a knife at your doctor's throat.
    Khan: Answer my question.
    McCoy: It would be most effective if you would cut the carotid artery, just under the left ear.
    Khan: I like a brave man. [lowers the scalpel]
  • Planet Baron: Khan becomes this after he is defeated but given a planet to colonize and rule, though we learn in The Wrath of Khan that the planet later died, prompting Khan to seek revenge on Kirk for marooning him there.
  • Pride: Khan's Fatal Flaw.
  • Prison Ship: Khan and his followers were put on the Botany Bay and launched out of the solar system. The ship is named after an Australian penal colony.
  • Put on a Bus: Khan and his followers. It came back, though.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: The creation of this episode evidently reused a lot of music from earlier episodes. For instance, most of the music used in this installment was taken from "Charlie X", composed by Fred Steiner. Some of Alexander Courage's cues from "The Cage" were reused too, most notably the "Talosian illusion" theme. One piece of music from "Where No Man Has Gone Before" was reused in the climactic fight scene in Engineering between Kirk and Khan.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Khan tramples all over it.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Khan Noonien Singh and his cryogenically frozen followers.
  • Sleeper Starship: Khan and his crew were kept in stasis aboard the Botany Bay due to it being launched before the warp drive was invented.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Within this episode Khan is a Villain of the Week, if quite a bit more complex and charismatic than most and concludes the story with a Worthy Opponent relationship with Kirk. This made him deemed viable to return as the Big Bad in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which in turn has made him referenced in various forms across the rest of the franchise.
  • Smug Super: Khan, full stop. He has no problem telling Kirk and Co. to their faces that they are "honestly inferior."
  • The Social Darwinist: This is Khan full stop—and a large part of the reason he is so horrible.
  • Stealth Pun: The Morse code signal that the Botany Bay is transmitting is "CQ" or "seek you." note 
  • Super-Speed Reading: One of Khan's powers, which he demonstrates by reading through over 200 years of history in the Enterprise's computer files in a matter of minutes.
  • Super-Strength: To a minor degree. Khan brags that he has five times the strength of Kirk, a fit but average-sized man, and Bones says that in his professional medical opinion, Khan "can lift both of us with one arm." We see him pry knock out a guard in one punch, crush a phaser in his hands, pull open the door to his quarters on the Enterprise unaided, and effortlessly throw Kirk across the room.
  • Sure, Let's Go with That: McGivers tells Khan, "I know exactly who you are," and Khan looks pretty worried until she continues, "Leif Ericsson, Richard the Lion-Heart, Napoleon..." and her other romanticized heroes, to Khan's immense relief.
  • Take Over the World: Seemingly Khan's raison d'etre; in fact, he mentioned to his awakened followers that the entire universe could be theirs, once they have the Enterprise.
  • Taking You with Me: With Khan's plan to take the Enterprise going south, he activates the Self-Destruct Mechanism, forcing Kirk to take him out and shut the sequence down.
  • Temporary Substitute: Sulu doesn't appear in this episode. He was replaced by Makee K. Blaisdell as Lt. Spinelli.
  • Übermensch: Khan and his followers are physically and mentally superior to ordinary humans.
  • Virtue Is Weakness: When Marla McGivers asks to be excused from seeing her captain and the other officers executed, Khan comments "I had hoped you would be stronger."
  • Would Hit a Girl: Khan and his underlings.
  • Wrestler in All of Us: Kirk uses several wrestling moves against Khan in their climactic fight. A piece of Fridge Brilliance; Khan is superhumanly strong and tough and is able to No-Sell direct strikes, but he still only weighs as much as a normal human and can still be grappled and thrown. Then again, his bone and muscle tissues might be more dense, to account for his being "five times" as strong, and thus he might weigh more as well. . . but it's still the best option Kirk's got at dealing with being so thoroughly outclassed.
    • The depiction is obviously cheesy, but the idea was that Kirk knew 23rd century fighting techniques far more advanced than anything Khan has ever seen. He's much stronger, but inexperienced.


Video Example(s):


S.S. Botany Bay

Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Scotty, and Lt. McGivers investigate an old sleeper ship from the year 1996.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / SleeperStarship

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