Producer Gene Coon had issued “Space Seed” writer/creator Carey Wilber a challenge: “In other words Carey, build us a giant of a man” when referring to the episode’s villain Harold Ericcson (Note: the spelling of Ericcson changes many times, and to simplify, we will utilize one of the common variations).
An experienced and creative television writer of shows like The Virginian and Rawhide, Wilber utilizes all the notes of Coon, Gene Roddenberry and Robert Justman to move the story a step closer to its final version with his October 26, 1966 script. However, despite Wilber’s talent, the script still is not exactly what the creators had hoped. Of most concern is that the character of Ericcson has been rewritten into a former criminal whose followers call him The King -- his criminal empire had long ago controlled a large portion of the Earth. Much of the story revolves around Ericcson killing the only witness to his true identity, a Botany Bay crew member named Henderson.
Additionally, one of the features of Wilber’s original outline for “Space Seed” that everyone liked, and which survives into the final version, is that Captain James Kirk essentially forgives the villain and offers him and his people the chance of a new life with a world to settle and tame. Unfortunately, if Ericcson actually kills someone, as he does in Wilber’s October 26th script, then NBC would never allow that kind of ending. Television values of that time dictated that bad guy always gets punished for his or her actions.
It is now six weeks before filming and there is no workable script. The episode will require a good deal of new special effects and costumes (eventually Ricardo Montalban’s Khan character will have more costume changes than almost any other TOS male guest star) which need to be prepared.
Two events in preproduction change the direction of “Space Seed” and arguably (because “Space Seed” inspires Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan which saves the franchise) the future of Star Trek itself. The events are the casting of the villain and a last-minute rewrite.
Montalban as a person had everything that the character was meant to display: strength, intelligence, charisma, and leadership. He was a professional and reliable actor with years of experience, having started acting during the 1930s. He was, in short, the kind of actor who could be, to borrow a Wrath of Khan line, “more than a match for poor Enterprise.”
Interestingly, Ricardo Montalban and the talented Madlyn Rhue (whose performance as Marla McGivers help the sell a difficult role) had previously played husband and wife in “Day of Reckoning,” a 1960 episode of Bonanza. In the episode, Rhue’s character Hatoya is killed and Montalban’s character Matsou seeks vengeance against the hero of the story -- whom he blames for the death of his wife. Ironic, right?
It is Gene Coon who is now working on his own draft of the script. His December 7, 1966, version includes many of the familiar beats of the “Space Seed” we all know. In this version, John Ericcson is revealed to be Ragnar Thorwald, who hundreds of years before was leader of the First World Tyranny and genetically engineered. (Could you imagine Kirk yelling “Ragnaaarrr!” instead of “Khaaannn!” in TWOK?). There are still concerns, however, mostly about the relationship between Thorwald and McGivers, which just doesn’t ring true and yet is so important to selling the premise of the story. If the audience doesn’t believe that Marla would both help and then betray Thorwald, the episode would have failed (which is again a reason that the actors Montalban and Rhue deserve a great deal of credit).
Who can rescue this script and episode, now just 8 days from filming?
Next installment: Gene Roddenberry saves the day and Khan Noonien Singh finally arrives (although first, he will be Sibahl Khan Noonien, but more on that next time!). Click HERE to read part one and HERE to read part two.
Maria Jose and John Tenuto are both sociology professors at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois, specializing in popular culture and subculture studies. The Tenutos have conducted extensive research on the history of Star Trek, and have presented at venues such as Creation Conventions and the St. Louis Science Center. They have written for the official Star Trek Magazine and their extensive collection of Star Trek items has been featured in SFX Magazine. Their theory about the “20-Year Nostalgia Cycle” and research on Star Trek fans has been featured on WGN News, BBC Radio, and in the documentary The Force Among Us. They recently researched all known paperwork from the making of the classic episode "Space Seed" and are excited to be sharing some previously unreported information about Khan's first adventure with fellow fans. Contact the Tenutos at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com