Space seed is a thrilling episode. I got excited as soon as the name Botany Bay was revealed, of course, because I immediately made the connection with Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982)! The fantastic film directed by Nicholas Meyer is the direct sequel to this excellent episode of the first season of the original series of Star Trek!
Let me briefly resume the plot. The USS Enterprise finds a two-hundred-year-old terrestrial spacecraft registered as Botany Bay (launched around 1990). Once on board, the team formed by Kirk, Spock, Scott and historian McGivers (Madlyn Rhue) discovers the bodies of almost a hundred human beings in cryogenic stasis. As the lights come on, their leader (the charming Ricardo Montalbán) begins to awaken, and McCoy has to work hard to keep him alive as the cryogenic device malfunctions. McCoy succeeds, but says that he didn’t do much and that the extraordinary strength of the awakened person is responsible for keeping him alive.
And here the Star Trek mythology is enriched by another fact, the eugenics wars of the 1990s. In 40 countries, genetically superior individuals took the lead as dictators and tried to control the entire planet. Fortunately, due to their ambition, they began to fight among themselves and were eventually defeated. The Botany Bay carries the last survivors of that group of individuals and their leader is Khan Noonien Singh, who ruled for a few years on a quarter of planet Earth! Needless to say, Khan is not a docile little lamb and immediately starts to think on how to take control of the Enterprise, easily manipulating Miss McGivers who instantly fell in love with him (let’s face it: McGivers in the role of the conquered woman completely at the mercy of his man, is the weakest part of the episode, even if it’s justified by her being attracted to men powerful men of the past and even if she’s partially redeemed at the end when helping Kirk after witnessing Khan’s cruelty at work).
What about this episode? It’s splendid from beginning to end! Khan is exceptionally charismatic and steals every scene he’s in. His duel of intellects with Kirk is based on brilliant dialogues and thoughtful looks. This is perhaps the most formidable opponent met so far by James T. Kirk! Khan is a manipulator, he’s very intelligent and has also a superhuman strength, even if that proves to be useless in the inevitable final fistfight against our captain. Montalbán gives life to a threatening character who never lowers his guard, capable of extreme actions and who doesn’t hesitate to kill to reach his goals. Amazing!
And then, more in general, it’s clear that the series is now perfectly geared up. The dialogues between Kirk and Spock are now pitch-perfect, the dialogues of two different but inseparable friends. And McCoy, with his fear of teleportation, his (good-natured) contempt for the use of logic at all costs, and his friendship with Kirk, is also now a well-rounded character. In this episode, even the special effects works, with the Enterprise travelling side by side with the small Botany Bay in scenes that in the first episodes would have probably been left to the imagination of the viewer.
But I feel that it’s really important to highlight the rich mythology which grows with every episode! The Third World War caused by the genetically superior dictators is linked, among other things, to the character of Dr. Julian Bashir in Deep Space Nine (see Dr Bashir, I presume? in the fifth season). Roddenberry by now had in his hands a mature creature that he could develop in a thousand directions and at each episode he was demonstrating how each of those directions was worthy of being explored! As Mr. Spock would say: fascinating!
What else can I add about this episode? The ending is also brilliant, with Kirk deciding to let Khan and his people to make a new life on Ceti Alpha V. The only problem is that in six months Ceti Alpha VI would explode making the fifth planet inhospitable, something that Anton Chekov (who, curiously, still hasn’t appeared in this original series) would discover only fifteen years later… but that’s another story! Ciao!
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