Star Trek

Season 1 Episode 22

Space Seed

Aired Unknown Feb 16, 1967 on NBC
out of 10
User Rating
221 votes

By Users

Episode Summary

The Enterprise picks up a crew of genetic supermen from the 20th century... and their leader, Khan, plans to create a new empire.

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  • The Enterprise discovers a ship full of genetically engineered criminals.

    As a prequel to Star Trek's most beloved movie, "Space Seed" has a lot to live up to. Originally just another of the original 79 episodes (and a cost saving bottle show at that), it was rarely considered a "top ten" episode for its first fifteen years. Even today, caught in The Wrath of Khan's shadow, the episode is considered an average offering with an incredible guest star. And that's a bit of a shame, because the script itself is actually rather good.

    Layering the plot with a science fiction story set in the 1990s (or the near future, as it was in the 1960s), Coon's teleplay (which includes a Roddenberry polish) is cleverly structured to tell its multi-century story without overwhelming the viewer. The ambitious backstory itself is, as a certain Vulcan would say, fascinating, combining genetic enhancement, World War III, and cryogenics. Director Marc Daniels doesn't rush a moment, letting the story unfold organically. (Fans of The Wrath of Khan can be frustrated by the slow establishment of a character they already know, but for an ignoramus, it works beautifully).

    Of course, none of it works if there's no believable guest star to fill the leader's role. And that's where the show hits a grand slam, with Ricardo Gonzalo Pedro Montalban playing Khan with such strength, intelligence, charisma, and leadership, it's as if the part was written for him.

    Star Trek, of course, is blessed to have three actors of movie star caliber at its core. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley could have all been valuable contract players in the film industry had that system not collapsed following World War II. (In fact, Kelley did get a contract in the system's waning days... for Paramount, the studio that decades later would invite Kelley to reprise McCoy in the Star Trek movies). Or, had the industry had time to reinvent itself in time, they could have skipped television altogether and jumped to the big screen much sooner than they did. But in the late 60s, with the film business still in flux, the "big three" were happy to do television, and Star Trek is all the richer for it. When it comes to the guest stars, however, the series often had to settle for lesser talent. There are some great character actors: Roger C. Carmel as Harry Mudd, William Campbell as Trelane, and Mark Leonard as Sarek come to mind. But only Montalban could bring enough presence to Khan to make him a believable character, and only he could hold stage with Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley, making the three even better than usual. (Kelley, in particular, shines, working with Montalbn for one of McCoy's most memorable scenes of the series).

    Unfortunately, the writers make Kirk look like an idiot by having the captain share all the Enterprise's technical information with Khan. In a way, it's a necessary evil; a plot contrivance required to tell the story. But it sure doesn't seem like Coon and Wilber are making much of an effort to hide it. They have Kirk basically say, "Our technical journals are available for everyone, and Khan probably just wants to catch up on his engineering But nobody's buying it. (At least the journals are on a computer, a bit of forward thinking in the 1960s that's easy to overlook What's interesting is that the true substance of the story lies in the relationship between Khan and crewman McGivers (played by Madlyn Rhue, who had already played Montalban's wife in an episode of Bonanza). Having a confused McGivers give Khan the information rather than Kirk would enhance the main storyline and be much more believable. As is, Montalban and Rhue give quite a demonstration of an abusive relationship, which is all the more interesting for being more psychological than physical.

    It all leads to a James Bond-like climax, with circumstances boiling the episode down to a fight between Kirk and Khan. (It proves to be a unique encounter, with Khan and Kirk never actually meeting in person in their feature film followup).

    As a bottle show, "Space Seed" is never going to be mistaken for a multi million dollar movie where Khan and Kirk can chase each other across the galaxy through space stations and nebulas; but as a small screen story it covers a lot of ground and features some compelling performances. Of course, back in 1967 nobody could have thought the Star Trek franchise would be alive and well in the 1990s (its most prolific decade), and the series has struggled with reconciling a piece of Earth history that didn't come to be. (For The Wrath of Khan, the writers are intentionally more vague about Khan's origins, and in The Next Generation, the wrtiers move World War III to the 21st Century). But having no hoverboards in 2015 makes Back to the Future no less fun, and viewed as a piece of 1960s science fiction, "Space Seed" is quite good.

    Remastered: Just as the script is kind to the casting department, needing only one good superman to speak his dozens of followers, the script is also kind to the special effects people, giving them some memorable work to do early before the episode becomes character-based with no effects needed. As such, the original work is actually quite good, with a gorgeous ship for Khan and his people and some nice shots of it interacting with the Enterprise before it's cut loose. (The episode even throws in a shot of the bridge's viewscreen from far enough back to see most of the crew, a more difficult compositing trick than than the standard viewscreen shot where it fills most of the

    For CBS Digital, the episode presents the ideal scenario: a chance to recreate a great looking spacecraft for a memorable episode with only a few shots to do and nothing else to eat up the budget. Pouring themselves into the task, they recreate the original physical model as a digital model, adding "1990s" details such a docking hatch designed to be compatible with international space station and tiles identical to those on space shuttles. Employing some new dynamic camera angles, they bring the new ship to life in a way that honors the original but looks closer to the quality of the effects in The Wrath of Khan.

  • Enterprise discovers a ship adrift through space for two centuries containing a group of genetically engineered tyrants.

    "Space Seed" is a well known episode primarily because of the popular movie "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn" as any "Star Trek" fan would know. That aside, this is actually a very good episode. It does have it's flaws but it's quite entertaining and the late Ricardo Montelban gives a very good performance (As he did in the aforementioned . He is the main reason why Khan is such an iconic character in the Star Trek universe. As mentioned in other reviews posted here, the climactic fight between Kirk and Kahn in engineering is a liability. Kahn was easily overpowered despite being ten times stronger than Kirk. I did not care much for the character of Marla McGyvers. She seemed more like eye candy than a character. Still I believe it is easy to see why this episode is so popular. Despite some glitches it is actually quite entertaining.moreless
  • McCoy offers up his ear to a man who does not exactly appreciate Vincent Van Gogh’s work

    Now I'm guessing the only reason this episode got rated this high is because Star Trek II, the Wrath of Khan" was such a hit. I'm not knocking the episode. But I find it highly questionable it is in the same category as "Mirror, Mirror" or "Balance of Terror". Ricardo Montelban's performance was wonderful, I must say. If only I could get a woman to unconditionally devote herself to me like that. Wasn't too thrilled with the end fight Khan and Kirk had. After all, Khan had "10 times Kirk's strength"moreless
  • A good but not great episode....

    "Space Seed" is an enjoyable episode but it has its problems (including a lame storyline regarding the ship's curvy Historian and a ridiculous idea of a 1990s Eugenics War) and just plain doesn't match up to other Star Trek episode heavyweights (way out of league with the likes of The City On The Edge Of Forever, Mirror Mirror, and The Trouble With Tribbles). Richardo Montalban is perfect in the unforgettable role of Khan. The character of Khan is the episode's real highlight but I am confused as to why the character is considered one of the Cpt. Kirk's ultimate enemies since the two hardly share any screen time together. In fact the best scene of the episode involves a showdown not between Khan & Kirk but between Khan & Dr. McCoy. "Space Seed" is not as good an episode of Star Trek as everyone seems to think it is - obviously hyped up because of the popularity of the film Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan.moreless
  • The Enterprise comes across a freighter that has been drifting in space for 200 years, and houses a frozen race of 'super humans'. But their leader, dictator Khan, plans to create a new empire. A quite good episode, although I'd say not a complete classicmoreless

    This review contains minor spoilers.

    This is one of Original 'Star Trek's most well-known episodes, much due to its big screen sequel 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan' (1982), which is often regarded as the best of the big-screen outings; certainly for the original crew at least.

    The story is a reasonable one, and undoubtedly the best thing about the episode is Richard Montalban as Khan. He gives a mesmerising performance, and ranks as one of Original 'Trek's best guest performers.

    If the episode has any flaws, it is that the middle section is rather dragged out and over-talky. The opening scenes when Khan and his people are discovered are good, and the ending (which I'll get on to in a moment) certainly picks up, but the middle section falls between the two.

    The later sections of the episode, as Khan and his people take over the Enterprise, prove to be the best moments of the episode. We have seen aliens and various other super-beings take over the ship, but with the human (albeit genetically enhanced) Khan it is something different, and feels more like a genuine threat.

    The final, inevitable showdown between Kirk and Khan takes place in engineering. Again. How many 'final fights' take place in engineering?! There are loads – including the previous-but-one broadcast episode, "Court Martial'. And again, I did find the obvious stunt-double work to be distracting - they didn't even seem to try and hide their faces on this one.

    I find this to be a mostly good episode, but maybe not a complete classic; and I do agree to an extent with another reviewer that this episode may have got a high rating only due to its connection with its popular big screen sequel. It's good, but certainly not in the same league of some of the other first season classics (in my opinion). But not bad either.moreless
John Arndt

John Arndt

Crewman #1 (uncredited)

Guest Star

Jan Reddin

Jan Reddin

Crewman #2 (uncredited)

Guest Star

Joan Johnson

Joan Johnson

Female Guard (uncredited)

Guest Star

Bobby Bass

Bobby Bass

Guard (uncredited)

Recurring Role

DeForest Kelley

DeForest Kelley

Dr. Leonard Horatio "Bones" McCoy

Recurring Role

James Doohan

James Doohan

Lt. Cmdr. Montgomery "Scotty" Scott

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (19)

    • Trivia: The ship that Khan stole was of the DY-100 class. The S.S. Botany Bay's number was DY-103.

    • Despite the fact they say that McGivers is knowledgeable about the late 20th century, she seems to know almost nothing about the Eugenics Wars, and there is no indication of any 20th century paintings, statuary, etc., in her quarters.

    • When Khan first asks McCoy to speak to the captain, the doctor depresses the button on the com panel, and without him saying a word, the bridge answers. The com isn't a "hotline" to the bridge, so it wouldn't have connected there unless he called for it specifically.

    • After the Enterprise determines the ship they find doesn't have life signs or charged weapons, they are still at Red Alert for no apparent reason.

    • The reception for Khan is said by Kirk to be an official dinner, yet only he, Spock, McCoy, and Scotty wear dress uniforms. Everyone else, including Uhura, wears standard uniforms.

    • As ship's historian, McGivers should have a blue sciences uniform, but wears the red of Engineering and Security.

    • It is constantly said that Khan had been in stasis two centuries (200 years). But the show takes place in the mid to late 23rd century, so it is actually closer to three centuries.

    • When Khan states that he will save Kirk if any of the officers join him, it seems that it would make more sense for someone to say "Sure, I'll join you" and then betray Khan later on (as McGivers does), instead of just sitting there watching the Captain die.

    • Why do they announce over the comm system that Kirk is on his way to Engineering to go after Khan...where Khan is, listening in on the comms? Can't they figure he might hear them say Kirk's heading his way?

    • Both Scotty and Kirk say they knew about Khan - Scotty says he had a sneaking admiration for Khan, and Kirk says he was the "best of the tyrants." So why the heck don't they recognize him, or at least figure out that the guy in their ship named Khan from the year 1996 might just be related to the guy they're admiring named Khan from 1996? And why aren't there any pictures of Khan in 1996 they could check their passenger against?

    • When McGivers recompresses Kirk, the "inches of mercury" on the gauge (the measure of vacuum) move to a higher number, which indicates a higher vacuum reading: 30" HG being a perfect vacuum.

    • When the landing party beams over at the beginning, the transporting officer is wearing a blue jumpsuit, but when they go to the closeup of his hands, they have a red uniform, two braid stripes, and are the standard shot they use when Scotty does the transporting.

    • As Khan decompresses Kirk, the gauge on the wall says 10 HG and then drops. But in a camera shot a couple of seconds later it says 20 HG.

    • The Eugenics Wars occurred beginning in 1993 and seem to have been a World War. yet in the Next Generation we find out that World War III doesn't occur until the 21st century. The Eugenics Wars sure seem like they would be considered a World War.

    • While he's suffocating Kirk recommends that five of his bridge officers receive commendations but there's seven crew on the bridge. Did the other two not suffocate heroically enough for him?

    • This is the first but not the last time that Kirk turns over the ship's library to a possible dangerous visitor who, sure enough, uses the information to take over the ship.

    • Lt. McGivers didn't have the gold braid to be a lieutenant, she was an ensign but was always called "lieutenant".

    • In the scene where they discover Khan in his sleep chamber still alive, Kirk loses his phaser. It falls off of his belt onto the floor as he bends down, Dr. McCoy notices it, and reaches down and shoves it aside as they finish the scene.

    • In the engine room fight scenes between Kirk and Khan, the use of stunt doubles is very obvious.

  • QUOTES (20)

    • McCoy: The Eugenics Wars of the 1990s.
      Spock: Your attempt to improve the race by selective breeding.
      McCoy: Oh no not our attempt, Mr. Spock. A group of ambitious scientists.

    • Kirk: Those men went out to tame a continent, Khan. Can you tame a world?
      Khan: Have you ever read Milton, Captain?
      Kirk: Yes, of course.

    • Kirk: (to McGivers, referring to Khan) Given the choice between court martial, and accompanying him there, which do you choose?
      McGivers: I'll go with him, Sir.
      Khan: A superior woman. I will take her.

    • Scotty: It's a shame for a good Scotsman to admit it, but I'm not up on Milton.
      Kirk: The statement made when Lucifer fell into the pit. "It's better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven."

    • Khan: I should have realized that suffocating together on the bridge would create heroic camaraderie among you.

    • Khan: Improve a mechanical device and you may double productivity. But improve man, you gain a thousandfold.

    • Kirk: If I can have honesty, it's easier to overlook mistakes.

    • Spock: Insufficient facts always invite danger.

    • Spock: Superior ability breeds superior ambition.

    • Khan: Go! Or stay! But do it because it is what you wish to do!

    • 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.
      Kirk: Yes, Mr. Spock, it would indeed.

    • Spock: Gentlemen, this romanticism about a ruthless dictator is...
      Kirk: Mr. Spock, we humans have a streak of barbarism in us.

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

    • Khan: You are an excellent tactician, Captain. You let your second-in-command attack while you sit and watch for weakness.
      Kirk: You have a tendency to express ideas in military terms, Mr. Khan. This is a social occasion.
      Khan: It has been said that social occasions are only warfare concealed.

    • Khan: [to McGivers] My name is Khan. Please sit and entertain me.

    • Kirk: Very interesting. You ready (to transport), Bones?
      McCoy: No. I signed aboard this ship to practice medicine, not to have my atoms scattered across space by this gadget.
      Kirk: You're an old-fashioned man, Bones.

    • McCoy: A pity you wasted your life on command, Jim. You'd have made a fair psychologist.
      Kirk: Fair?

    • Kirk: So much for my theory. I'm still waiting to hear yours.
      Spock: Even a theory requires some facts, Captain. So far... I have none.
      Kirk: And that irritates you, Mr. Spock.
      Spock: Irritation?
      Kirk: Yes.
      Spock: I am not capable of that emotion.
      Kirk: My apologies, Mr. Spock.

    • Kirk: I thought you said it couldn't possibly be an Earth vessel?
      Spock: I fail to understand why it gives you pleasure to see me proven wrong.
      Kirk: An emotional Earth weakness of mine.

    • 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.

  • NOTES (5)

    • Although Chekov was not on the show when this episode aired, Khan still recognizes him in Star Trek II. It is a general fan consensus that Chekov was on the ship during "Space Seed," but was not assigned to the bridge yet. Walter Koenig jokes that he believes Chekov accidentally made Khan wait an uncomfortably long period of time to use the bathroom.

    • The SS Botany Bay DY100 model shown in this episode was reworked and featured in the second season episode "The Ultimate Computer" as the Woden (NCC-325), an old-style automated Federation Antares-type ore freighter and is used as target drone.

    • Ceti Alpha V, where Kirk exiles Khan, McGivers and the rest of the Eugenics Wars' augments from the S.S. Botany Bay, is featured in the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Twilight", as the planet where the remnants of humanity gathered after Earth's destruction by the Xindi weapon.

    • This is the first episode to mention the Eugenics Wars. This final World War, in the mid-1990's, is referred to many times in the Star Trek spinoffs, most recently in Star Trek: Enterprise episodes: "Borderlands (1)", "Cold Station 12 (2)", and "The Augments (3)." Dr. Arik Soong (Brent Spiner) starts out as a believer in eugenic science raising a group of Eugenics War era augments from embryos placed in artifical wombs.

    • This story is the basis of the 1982 movie sequel Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.


    • Khan: Have you ever read Milton, Captain?
      Kirk: Yes. I understand. ...
      The statement Lucifer made when he fell into the pit: "It is better to rule in hell than serve in heaven." Actual quote is "Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven." John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I, line 263
      Khan preferred a rough world, such as Ceti Alpha V, to the heaven of Kirk's world.