Rewatching... Star Trek: Space Seed

My continuing mission: to watch classic television exactly fifty years after original broadcast date...

Thursday 16 February 1967

The Enterprise encounters an old 1990s spaceship drifting and sending out a Morse code message. Apparently, in the mid 1990s we had our last World War, a “Eugenics War” where we tried to perfect our race with “selective breeding”. As Spock says, “a strange and violent period” in our history. Thank goodness those days are over, eh?

They detect life signs aboard this ship so the Enterprise goes to red alert. I’m not sure what the big panic is about but it leads into the credits nicely.

Kirk beams aboard the ship with a team including this episode’s woman of the week, the ships historian, the annoyingly spelt MacGivers. As if to reinforce this mis-spelling of ‘MacGuyvers’, Kirk has trouble remembering and pronouncing her name. Or is this just one of those boss/employee power games?

On the ship they find the crew asleep in cubicles – this is a ‘sleeper ship’ which, if you remember, was common in the 90s because it took literally years to travel from planet to planet, so the crew had to sleep through the journey. One of the crew in particular interests them: an Indian man in one of those slinky gold fishnet bodystockings that we all used to wear in the 90s. I say Indian, but actually this appears to be a white actor with a Mexican name who has been ‘blacked up’ to play an Indian. Later on we see the rest of this man’s crew (he’s called Khan), and discover that it’s actually only the women who wear those gold fishnet bodystockings, and all the men wear a red uniform. So Khan is clearly a cross-dresser. Perhaps he waited for the others to fall asleep before trying on the lady’s outfit, then fell asleep himself, caught in the act and waking up in shame.

I wasn’t really impressed with this episode to be honest. The plot is basically, strong man gets beamed aboard. Man tries to hijack ship. Captain overpowers him. The end. It’s certainly a terrible episode for female role models. The only woman who gets any lines is as usual only there to fall in love with a man. She gets a soft focus lens for her close-ups, and the usual Woman Music during her scenes. She falls in love within seconds of meeting the man, and gets told off by her hypocritical captain (Kirk would never flirt with a supporting character of course!). The guy she falls for grabs her and sticks his tongue down her throat as a form of introduction (this never works for me, I always end up with at least one black eye, and often a restraining order), then slaps her around to prove his prowess, plays power games with her, getting her to beg to spend time with him…and of course she goes along with all this like a good little lady. After all, which woman could resist an arrogant bullying cross-dressing sex pest eh ladies? Ah but he’s a genetically engineered ‘superman’ of course, so it’s not about his charm, it’s much more superficial than that. We will of course still judge by appearance in the far future.

Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by some of the other stuff I’ve watched recently. The Avengers‘ Emma Peel, Doctor Who‘s Polly (on occasion anyway), as well as Joan Fontaine in Hammer’s The Witches, and some of the stronger characters in The Saint (the ones that Simon Templar doesn’t feel the need to put across his knees and spank that is). In contrast Star Trek seems a little behind the times. Still, it makes up for it with a very forward thinking racial equality (barring the occasional blacked up white actor).

What really amused me about Khan was witnessing a man with the most ludicrous hairstyle telling his doting woman that her own hairstyle is unattractive! (Again, telling a woman I’ve just met that she’s unattractive never seems to work…what am I doing wrong?) Anyway, take a look in the mirror pal! I know we all had hair like that in the 90s but come on…get with the times man. Luckily MacGivers just loves being put down like that and is all over Khan minutes later.

So as I said, nothing much really happens so I found it a bit slow to be honest. And then it just ends after a bit of sixties fisticuffs. I wonder whether Kirk should have just agreed to keep quiet about the cross-dressing incident and it might have all ended more peacefully. Khan is put on ‘trial’ (though I’m not sure that’s the right word for it – he’s just sentenced to be sent to a penal colony or something, unless all the cross examination and witness statements occurred off camera). His feeble woman of course wants to go with him because as we all know it’s every woman’s duty to stand by her man, and get slapped around every so often. (We get Woman Music as she makes her mind up). Perhaps if the other superhuman crewmembers had got involved in the hijacking as well it might have felt more threatening and exciting, but in the end it just came down to the captain beating an irritating and overbearing bully by bashing him with a piece of loose plastic scenery.

Also I just really didn’t enjoy Khan as a character. We were told that he had a “magnetism” but it was very much of these times. In the sixties these arrogant controlling types were considered acceptable I presume, but to me he just seemed like a bit of a tit in a silly wig, especially with all the daft muscle flexing, prancing around and comical hand gestures as he uses his super-strength. But actually that was quite funny so I guess it had comedy value, especially when the other crewmen did it in unison.

It wasn’t all terrible though. McCoy was great in this one. I loved him standing his ground while Khan threatened him with one hand round his throat and the other preparing to slit it with a knife. “Make your mind up”, he quips! A new steely, confident side to his character, and a good judge of character clearly, or his goading could have got him killed. His reluctance to use the transporter also raised a smile, though it made me wonder why he’d bring this up now; does he complain about that every time?! I think Bones might have become my favourite character, though in other episodes his taunting of Spock just because he’s ‘foreign’ and has different ways bothers me a little at times. His wry, plain speaking grumpiness is delightful though.

Talking of the half-Vulcan, Spock had some good moments too. There’s a scene where Kirk and his gang are sitting around cheerfully discussing what great guys the old Earth dictators were. Spock’s reaction mirrored my own, outrage that they were romanticising ruthless dictators. “We can be against them and admire them at the same time” replies Kirk as if he’s talking to a naive child. Perhaps I am half Vulcan myself (or a naive child) because Spock’s “Illogical” response was exactly how I felt!. Thankfully the scene ended before they moved on to discuss how adorable they all thought Adolf Hitler was…

Nick Brown
Nick Brown

I've embarked upon an open ended mission, pretending to travel back in time and watch classic television on (or close to) the fiftieth anniversary of original broadcast date; getting a sense of the context, the magic of that first viewing.

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Rewatching... Star Trek: Space Seed