Review – Star Trek S01E22 Space Seed
Space Seed is the story that introduces Khan Noonien Singh. The Enterprise finds a pre-warp human ship adrift and goes aboard to discover cryogenically frozen humans from 200 years ago, the late 1990s. When the away team comes aboard and starts looking around, they activate a system that revives the crew's captain. The old pod struggles to do its job, and McCoy beams the unconscious Khan to the medbay to finish the job.
The story introduces Lt. Marla McGivers, the ship's historian. Marla loves the late 20th century time period and is immediately fascinated by the chance to talk to people who lived through such a turbulent time. The story explains that the Third World War in the 1990s happened when a class of genetically engineered superhumans took control over much of the world. The largest conquer of that time was Khan. Eventually sheer numbers overwhelmed the conquers, but much of the world was devastated. It becomes clear that Khan and 71 other superhumans left on the SS Botany Bay, because the war was lost, to try and make a new home on another planet.
When Khan wakes he plays dumb. He begins coercing Marla through some heavy handed behaviours which show that The Original Series was definitely a product of its time. With access to the computer Khan learns much of the technology of the future. He then begins reviving other members of his crew, and tries to take over the Enterprise.
Khan uses the Enterprise's environmental system to knock out the bridge crew. With Kirk in a decompression chamber, Khan tries to extort the rest of the crew to help him run the Enterprise in exchange for Kirk's life. No one agrees to help. Marla, seeing that things have gone way further than she thought, rescues Kirk, and they begin taking back the ship.
The climax ends in a fist fight between Kirk and Khan, because it was 1967 and a fist fight between a genetically enhanced superhuman and James T. Kirk is for some reason an even fight.
After retaking the ship, Kirk convenes a military trial to decide what to do with Khan and his cohort, and what to do with Marla McGivers, who should be court martialled. He decides to drop all of them off at Ceti Alpha V, an uninhabited but Class M world.
In comparison to my review of Wrath of Khan, Space Seed is no where near as refined. Admittedly, a 50 minute TV show with a paper thin budget, made while filming a 29 episode first season, shouldn't really be compered with a 113 minute movie that had almost three years to iron out all the bugs. It would be unfair to compare them on production value, but just as unfair to compare them at a story level without acknowledging the limitations placed on Space Seed.
Space Seed does do a remarkable job of adding to the lore of Star Trek. Khan would not be seen again on screen until Wrath of Khan, and by then the characters of The Original Series are much more fleshed out. I think this is why the crucial battle of Wrath of Khan is a mental battle rather than a fist fight. Kirk shouldn't be able to physically go toe to toe with Khan, and even mentally, Kirk only has the advantage because he's been captaining a starship for his entire adult life. The battle between a superman and a regular person shouldn't be a fist fight, and I think that is where Space Seed falls a bit flat.
Still, the idea of the eugenics wars is planted in this story. And it would go on to make some fantastic stories in Star Trek exploring the line between fixing medical conditions and making 'improvements' on the human genome.
Space Seed has all the hallmarks of late 60's television. The raw 'wagon train in space' idea that began the franchise is on display. But watching old movies and shows shouldn't be about their exact portrayal of 50 year old morals or societal standards. The social standards of the 60s shade the show, but it's also worth noticing where it deviated from them too. The audience of the day wanted to see a fist fight between the handsome captain and the evil conqueror. But did they want to see women working equally with men?
Marla is a lieutenant. So is Uhura. In the first pilot Number One was the ship's first officer. The inclusion of women and ethnicities in equal roles was a deviation from the social norms of the time. I think Star Trek TOS does this better than most TV shows of today. They put people in equal roles and then acted as if it was perfectly natural. They didn't try to bring attention to it, but tried to make it a normal part of the future.
Star Trek TOS, and many of its daughter franchises, realised that they should ask questions about the aliens they discovered, but not about the humans. The human society should try to be the best it can, and the aliens should be the lens in which the story explores a topic. Star Trek discovery and Picard have forgotten this, they have churned up Star Trek lore to the point where I cannot reconcile them as canon. They need to stop focusing on telling the audience how to think and learn from these old episodes. Star Trek should be an exploration of ideas, not a preaching platform.
As a review of an episode of TOS, this one got away from me.