Sunday, July 8, 2012

"Space Seed" Khan

Since I drew the older version of Khan from Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan a while back, I figured I might as well draw the earlier younger version of him from the Star Trek episode Space Seed, so here he is in all his charismatic glory.

According to the Space Seed episode, in the unimaginably far off futuristic year of 1996, Khan Noonien Singh was a genetically engineered superman who conquered and ruled one quarter of the world. He was eventually overthrown at the end of the Eugenics Wars (I must have been asleep that day; I seem to have missed the headlines in the papers). Rather than execute Khan on the spot as you'd expect would happen, he and 80 of his followers were placed in cryogenic suspension, loaded into an multi-million dollar spaceship and shot into outer space, where they'd never cause any trouble or be heard from ever again. All in 1996, yet.

Flash forward to the 23rd century when Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise just happen to find Khan's ship. Naturally they can't leave well enough alone and beam aboard the vessel and end up thawing him out. Khan then proceeds to use his smoldering good looks and sexy accent to defrost his remaining followers and take over the Enterprise. Kirk eventually gets the upper hand and defeats Khan. Once again, instead of just cutting off his damned head as logic would dictate, Kirk decides to exile Khan and his followers on an uncolonized planet. Case closed!

Space Seed is one of the better episodes of the series, but as always there are a few glitches. For one thing I've never understood why the writer insisted on setting the Eugenics Wars and Khan's exploits in 1996. That was only 30 years from the date the episode first aired! It's beyond ridiculous to think we'd have the technology present in this episode by then.

Khan is described as being genetically engineered. He appears to be around 40 years old in the episode, and presumably was that age at the time of his exile in 1996. That means he was born (or created if you will) around the year 1956. I'm pretty sure scientists weren't sitting around splicing genes back then.

Then Khan and his followers are placed in cryogenic suspension. Again, pretty sure that technology didn't exist in 1996.

Then the frozen bodies of Khan and his posse were placed into the highly advanced Botany Bay spaceship and shot deep into interstellar space. Why would the authorities ever do such a thing? Each one of NASA's Saturn rockets cost hundreds of millions of dollars. What could possibly motivate any government to load a tyrannical despot and his followers onto such a vastly expensive piece of equipment and basically toss it away? Why wasn't simply placing them in prison sufficient punishment?

Also, the Botany Bay is far more advanced than any kind of spacecraft we have in the present, much less had in 1996. It contains a power supply and instrumentation that still function after 300 years, and even has artificial gravity inside (since Kirk and crew walk around the interior of the ship instead of floating). Again, artificial gravity is something we still don't have, and probably won't for a long, long time (if ever). To think we'd have it in the nineties was ridiculous at best.

This episode perfectly encapsulates one of the biggest pet peeves I have about speculative fiction: Don't set your sci-fi story too close to the present day or you'll look like an idiot when your predictions don't come to pass. Set your story well after the audience will be dead and buried. Would it have killed the Space Seed writer to have placed Khan's downfall in 2096?

Khan was of course played by actor Ricardo Montalban, who turned in a powerful performance (as always). Montalban was born in Mexico and starred in many movies there before eventually coming to Hollywood. When he first began acting in American movies, studio executives wanted to change his name to "Ricky Martin (!). Wisely, he declined.

He starred in many Western films, usually playing a Native American or Latino. In 1951, he suffered an accident while filming a movie in which he was thrown from a horse and trampled. The accident resulted in an injury to his back that never fully healed, causing him great pain throughout his life. In fact if you look closely in Space Seed as well as Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, you can see him limping slightly.

In 1993 he underwent surgery to reduce his back pain, which left him paralyzed below the waist. This is why he appeared in a jet-powered wheelchair in the Spy Kids sequels.

Montalban was married to his wife Georgina for a whopping 63 years, something that's more rare than gold these days, and an absolute miracle in Hollywood. He was never involved in any tabloid scandals and was active in many charities and foundations. Sadly, he died in 2009 at age 88.

Montalban was famous for his "Five Stages Of An Actor" anecdote:

1. Who is Ricardo Montalbán?
2. Get me Ricardo Montalbán.
3. Get me a Ricardo Montalbán type.
4. Get me a young Ricardo Montalbán.
5. Who is Ricardo Montalbán?

Young Khan is a vector drawing, drawn in InDesign.
Here's the original sketch I drew of young Khan.

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