Star Trek

Khan Noonien Singh


spaceseedCharacter: Khan Noonien Singh 

Source Text:  “Space Seed.” Star Trek: The Original Series. Writ. Gene L. Coon and Carey Wilber. Dir. Mark Daniels. NBC. 1967.

Entry Author: Emma Baker

Perhaps the most memorable or well-known villain of Star Trek: The Original Series, Khan Noonien Singh is a genetically engineered and selectively bred man intended to possess superhuman powers, both physical and mental. Also known as an “augment,” Khan results from an experiment enacted by several scientists on Earth during the 1990s. However, these scientists did not account for the idea that, “superior ability breeds superior ambition,” (“Space Seed”) and many of the augments began to seize control of over 40 different nations. Kirk says on the subject, “an improved breed of human. That’s what the Eugenics War was all about.” (“Space Seed”) Khan, who controlled one third of the earth, from Asia to the Middle East, was the “best of the tyrants,” under his rule there were no massacres, he did not initiate any fights. While Spock found him morally reprehensible and only deserving of scorn, many humans on board expressed an admiration of his strength and abilities while still disapproving of his actions. They consider Khan, “the best of the tyrants and the most dangerous.” (“Space Seed”) He attempts to take over the Enterprise with his augmented crew with the intention of finding a new planet to conquer and almost succeeds with the compliance of Lieutenant McGivers, a white woman, who falls in love with him.  In the end, instead of bringing him to Starfleet, James T. Kirk exiles him and his crew to a planet where they can begin to colonize themselves reflecting the penal colony on Australia, Botany Bay. Later, Khan goes on to be the antagonist of The Wrath of Khan, often considered the best Star Trek movie with the cast of the original series.These “augments” were created from a variety of Earth’s ethnic groups. In the episode, “Space Seed,” Scotty says, “they’re all mixed types–Western, Mid-European, Latin, Oriental.” (“Space Seed”) On the first sight of Khan, the historian Lieutenant McGivers suggests he hails, “From the Northern India area I’d guess, probably a Sikh,” perhaps in an expression of Orientalist anxieties. Though little textual evidence points toward these augments as of a mixture of several different ethnic groups within each individual, rumors among some fan understanding suggest that Khan himself is a mixture of several races, perhaps the end result if all races were mixed. The concept revolves around the beneficial combination of several different ethnic groups to create superhumans that share the best aspects of all races and culminates in the most prominent of the augments, a man who is not white.As such, Khan’s role both challenges and maintains the status quo. A non-white person presented as the superhuman product of the genetic engineering and selective breeding remains rare even in modern day media. In the 1960s, it was arguably revolutionary. The rumor of not only the inclusion many different ethnic groups in genetic engineering but perhaps the explicit mixing also challenges a status quo concerned with historical intents of eugenics movements. Instead of the preservation of a “pure” race revolving around white supremacy, this experiment produced superhumans of all races and the potential of mixed races. Interestingly, the seeds of constructing mixed race as a herald of modernity and a post-race society are recognizable in this interpretation.



Character: Spock

Source Text:  Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek (1966-1969)

  • Roddenberry, Gene. Star Trek. 1966-1969. Streaming media.
  • “Journey to Babel.” Star Trek CBS. 17 Nov. 1967. Television.
  • “Spectre of the Gun.” Star Trek. CBS. 25 Oct. 1968. Television.
  • “Amok Time.” Star Trek. CBS. 15 Sept. 1967. Television.

Entry Author:  Erin O’Kelly

Sometimes first officer, sometimes captain, but always Mister, the half-Vulcan, half-Human Spock is an iconic figure in science fiction television. For the majority of his televised life he holds the post of science officer and second-in-command of the USS Enterprise. His self-chosen role as largely Vulcan is relied on in the show: he’s the science officer, their logical person, the one who comes up with the plans and double-checks other peoples’ ideas. Sometimes he is directly involved in a given episode’s conflict, as when he and Kirk are forced to fight for the favor of a Vulcan woman (“Amok Time”, 1967). Sometimes he is part of an intergalactic object lesson, as in the episode where the crew grows suspicious and mistrustful of Spock because of his topical resemblance to a Romulan. More often than not, though, Spock is a fixed part of the crew, more notable for his Vulcanic displays of dependable, logical nature and his interactions with his crewmates than anything specifically involving his mixed heritage.

His heritage, however, dogs him throughout the series. In general he prefers to embrace his Vulcan appearance and heritage, with its logic and lack of emotion; a query exploring his feelings or probing the true motive of some decision – which may be based in emotion, eh Spock? – is most often met with a raised eyebrow and bland response. He’s sparing with details about his life before the Enterprise, but the series does draw out details of his heritage over time. It comes out in the 1967 episode “Journey to Babel” that Spock fits a traditional neither-here-nor-there mixed-race trope: as a child he was bullied and harassed because of his heritage, because the other children saw him as failing to measure up to the Vulcan ideal of emotionless logic. He was raised on the Vulcan homeworld in the Vulcan tradition and enrolled in Starfleet against his father’s wishes (“Journey to Babel”, 1967), causing a rift in the family even though his judgment and competence are highly respected in Starfleet. Brought up with constant reminders of what he is not on planet Vulcan, yet unable to pass for human (more emotionally than physically, since on more than one occasion he dons a hat to hide his ears and goes unremarked among humans), he’s found a home in Starfleet where he can be judged as he is, not as he should be.

One of the more interesting aspects of Spock’s mixed heritage in the relatively judgment-free environment that is the Enterprise is the flexibility with which he emphasizes each side of his heritage, and when, and for what reason. While he generally pretends that he is entirely Vulcan in body and mind, it is accepted that this is a pretense – nearly every episode, someone on the crew asks with a smile whether he’s absolutely positive that there’s no emotional reason for a piece of behavior. Captain Kirk in particular asks these questions with a twinkle in his eye, and often receives cryptic or quietly telling answers.

Yet Spock wields his emotional, human half with remarkable dexterity when necessary. In the episode “Spectre of the Gun”, when mysterious aliens create a powerful illusion that traps the away team and appears to kill Chekov, he reminds his grieving crewmates that he is, in fact, half human – a rare display of solidarity indeed, given that the majority of his emotional interaction with the crew is conducted via poker face and subtle allusion. Conversely, in the episode “The Immunity Syndrome” he has a bonding moment of concern for Kirk with Dr. McCoy by emphasizing that “even [he], a half-Vulcan”, can be deeply concerned about a friend. He emphasizes halves of his heritage depending on the situation, if he emphasizes any at all – by doing so, Mr. Spock has made himself a place where he can choose how to present his identity and have that decision respected by his colleagues.