Final Frontier Friday: 'Space Seed'

Welcome to this week’s ‘Final Frontier Friday’! Today we’re looking at one of the heavyweights of the original ‘Star Trek’, namely ‘Space Seed’.

Why do I do this to myself? Like last time, I’ve once again stuck myself with a “tricky” review, albeit for different reasons. The challenge of ‘The Trouble With Edward‘ was that I was still sorting out just how I felt about the show. With ‘Space Seed’, on the other hand? Well, the thing about ‘Space Seed’ is that since 1982 it has become ever more difficult to separate what was originally a one-off episode from the legend of ‘The Wrath of Khan’, which even after the better part of four decades and nearly a dozen subsequent films remains the high water mark of cinematic ‘Star Trek’.

That can be an especially tricky distinction to make given my own history with ‘Star Trek’. I grew up (to whatever extent I can be said to have done so) at a time when the most convenient way to watch old episodes of ‘Star Trek’ was in reruns, meaning watching whatever was on and that catching a specific episodes was often down to luck of the draw. The movies, though, were another matter altogether, and VHS copies could easily be found at every video rental store in the land. The bottom line here is that I saw ‘Wrath of Khan’ years before I finally managed to catch a rerun of ‘Space Seed’. That can make it a challenge to think of the two independently, since I first approached ‘Space Seed’ as, essentially, a prequel to the later film. But hey, challenge accepted!

Though even if ‘Wrath of Khan’ had never been made, it’s fair to say that Khan would still be the most memorable thing about ‘Space Seed’. But whether your talking about a pop icon or simply a fan-favorite guest star, there’s an x-factor at play, something about the combination of the right actor with the right part and the right script that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. It’s not the sort of thing you can predict or, for that matter, recreate (I’m looking at you, ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’), which makes us that much luckier that Khan became Khan at all.

In the earliest iterations of ‘Space Seed’, the antagonist was Harold Erricsen, a Scandinavian criminal whose deportation was to have been an overpopulated Earth’s way of reducing its prison population (a practice inspired, as the ship’s name suggests, by those of 18th century Britain). In the course of the rewrite process, Harold Erricsen became John Erricsen, an alias used by Ragnar Thorvald. The reason for the alias? Thorvald was the genetically engineered leader of the “First World Tyranny”. He was also, at this stage, a more brutal figure than was presented in the final teleplay draft. The character’s final evolution into Khan Noonien Singh was prompted by the casting of Ricardo Montalban, who despite his many talents would have been an odd choice to play a Swede. Thus, Erricsen/Thorvald became Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically engineerd superman of Sikh ancestry named in part for a wartime friend of Gene Roddenberry.

Like I said, x-factors. If there’s one thing we should have all learned from Bob Ross, it’s that happy little accidents can give way to wonderful things. Case in point…

The Enterprise picks up a distress signal, which Uhura identifies as Morse code. The trace the signal to its source, the SS Botany Bay, an Earth ship dating to the 1990s. Spock can find no record of the Botany Bay in the ship’s computer, but notes that records from the period are fragmentary, thanks to the destruction wrought by the Eugenics Wars. Life signs are detected, and Kirk orders a red alert as the Enterprise prepares to investigate.