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Khan Noonien Singh as he appears in
|Portrayed by||Ricardo Montalbán (1967, 1982)|
Benedict Cumberbatch (2013)
Khan Noonien Singh as he appears in
|Portrayed by||Ricardo Montalbán (1967, 1982)|
Benedict Cumberbatch (2013)
Khan Noonien Singh, commonly shortened to Khan, is a fictional villain in the American Star Trek science fiction franchise. The character first appeared in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Space Seed" (1967), and was portrayed by Ricardo Montalbán who reprised his role as the antagonist in the 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In the 2013 film Star Trek Into Darkness, he is played by Benedict Cumberbatch.
The character was originally conceived of as a Nordic superman by "Space Seed" scriptwriter Carey Wilber before his ancestry was changed in script revisions. According to the backstory provided in "Space Seed", Khan is a genetically engineered superhuman, "probably a Sikh" from northern India,[discuss] who once controlled more than a quarter of the Earth during the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s. After being revived from suspended animation in 2267 by the crew of the USS Enterprise, Khan attempts to capture the starship, but is thwarted by James T. Kirk and exiled on Ceti Alpha V to create a new society with his people. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, set fifteen years after "Space Seed", Khan escapes his exile and sets out to exact revenge upon Kirk.
Harve Bennett, executive producer for Star Trek II, chose Khan as the villain for the film. To reflect the time spent marooned on an inhospitable world, Khan was given a costume that looked as though it had been scavenged from different items and showed off Montalbán's physique. Montalbán's portrayal has been positively received by critics and fans; Khan was voted as one of the top ten greatest film villains of all time by the Online Film Critics Society.
Khan makes his introductory appearance in the episode, "Space Seed", first broadcast on February 16, 1967. According to the backstory revealed in the episode, Khan is one of a group of genetically engineered supermen, bred to be free of the usual human mental and physical limitations, who were removed from power after the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s. Khan had been both the most successful conqueror and the most benign ruler of the group, ruling more than a quarter of the world's area across Asia to the Middle East from 1992 to 1996 with a firm but generally peaceful hand until he was deposed. While most of the supermen were killed or sentenced to death, Khan and 84 others escaped Earth by way of the sleeper ship SS Botany Bay. Cryogenically frozen in suspended animation, the crew of the Botany Bay are discovered by the crew of the Enterprise in 2267.
When Khan's sleep chamber malfunctions, he is transported to Enterprise, where he reawakens and learns he is in the 23rd century. Given spacious quarters while the Botany Bay is towed to a starbase, Khan fascinates and charms the ship's historian, Marla McGivers (Madlyn Rhue), while using his access to the ship's technical manuals to learn how to take over and operate the Enterprise. McGivers agrees to help Khan revive the other supermen, allowing him to organize a mutiny. To coerce the Enterprise crew to cooperate with him, Khan places Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) in the ship's decompression chamber and threatens to kill Kirk unless the crew submits. McGivers cannot stand by as her Captain dies and frees Kirk, who neutralizes Khan's men by using a "neural gas." Khan heads to engineering and sets the ship's engines to self-destruct, whereupon he is incapacitated by Kirk. Captain Kirk conducts a hearing, sentencing Khan and his followers to exile on an uncolonized world, Ceti Alpha V. Khan accepts Kirk's challenge—invoking the fall of Lucifer in Milton's Paradise Lost—and McGivers joins Khan rather than face court-martial. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) wonders what the "seed" Kirk has planted will bear in a hundred years.
Khan returns in the 1982 feature film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and serves as the main antagonist. Clark Terrell and Pavel Chekov (Paul Winfield and Walter Koenig), commanding and first officers (respectively) of the USS Reliant, beam down to what they believe is Ceti Alpha VI, looking for an uninhabited world to test the Genesis device, a powerful terraforming tool. Khan's followers capture Terrell and Chekov, and Khan explains that the barren wasteland they now inhabit is Ceti Alpha V; the sixth planet of the system exploded shortly after Khan and his followers were marooned, causing massive climate disturbances. The planet was turned into a desert, and many of the survivors—including McGivers, who had become Khan's wife—were killed by the only surviving species of animal, the Ceti eel. By the time the Reliant arrives at Ceti Alpha, only twenty of Khan's followers are alive. Swearing vengeance on Kirk, Khan takes control of Chekov and Terrell using Ceti eels implanted in the officers' brains via the ear, rendering them vulnerable to suggestion. Khan then seizes control of the Reliant, intent on capturing the Genesis device and attaining revenge on Kirk for his exile.
Lured by Khan to the space station Regula I, the Enterprise falls victim to Khan's surprise attack. With the Enterprise disabled, Kirk tricks Khan by using a special code to remotely lower the Reliant's shields and inflict significant damage. Khan is forced to withdraw and make repairs. Using the mind-controlled Terrell and Chekov as spies, Khan captures the Genesis device and leaves Kirk marooned on Regula I. However, Khan is deceived by Spock into thinking that the Enterprise is crippled, and is surprised when Kirk and the Enterprise escape to the nearby Mutara nebula. Goaded into following Kirk, Khan pilots the Reliant into the nebula, where shields and visuals are inoperable. Due to Khan's inexperience with three-dimensional space combat, the Enterprise defeats the Reliant and Khan is severely wounded. Refusing to accept defeat, Khan activates the Genesis device, intent on killing his foe along with himself. Khan quotes Ahab's words of vengeance from Moby Dick as he watches the Enterprise attempt to escape before the Genesis device destroys them. However, Spock, in an act of self-sacrifice, is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation while repairing the Enterprise's warp drive, allowing it to escape in time.
In the 2013 film Star Trek Into Darkness, which takes place in the alternate continuity established in Star Trek (2009), One of the main antagonists is rogue Starfleet agent Commander John Harrison, eventually revealed to be a cover identity for Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch). His backstory is parallel to what had been established in the original series and the original continuity; namely, that almost three centuries before the events of the film, the Eugenics Wars took place on Earth. Khan, the leader of the uprising, was frozen with his crew of genetically-enhanced supermen and banished on the early sublight Botany Bay starship.
Almost three hundred years later, the superhuman crew of a sleeper ship are located by Admiral Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller) and 73 of them are found to be alive. Khan is revived by Marcus to design weapons and starships for a predicted war with the Klingon Empire. However, Khan rebels against Starfleet and kills Rear Admiral Christopher Pike among others in a series of attacks. The crew of the Enterprise capture him on Kronos, the Klingon homeworld, forcing him to reveal the truth about his past and Marcus's plan to wipe out his people. Khan assists Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) in an attempt to arrest Marcus. Kirk assumes that Khan will try to take over the much more powerful ship operated by Admiral Marcus once they capture the Admiral, so Kirk betrays Khan. Kirk has Scott subdue Khan with a phaser stun once they arrive on the bridge and face off with Admiral Marcus and his crew. Quickly awakening from this attack, Khan responds by capturing Kirk, killing Marcus, and attempting to destroy the Enterprise and its crew.
Spock Prime (Nimoy) refers to his crew's battles with Khan in his own parallel timeframe, including his own death, to his young counterpart (Zachary Quinto), though both are aware that Spock's present cannot be determined by Spock Prime's past. However, Spock Prime warns the younger Spock that Khan is an adversary who should not be taken lightly. Heeding his older self's advice, Spock makes plans to defeat Khan based from the knowledge of the renegade's alternate history on his own terms.
After being tricked into thinking his cryogenically frozen cohorts were killed by Spock, Khan runs the massive Starfleet dreadnought Vengeance into Starfleet's headquarters and the surrounding city of San Francisco. Spock, enraged at Khan for causing the death of Kirk, beams to Earth and chases him down on foot and engages in a fistfight until the Enterprise has enough power for Uhura to beam to them and assist Spock. Once he is defeated in combat, Khan's blood and regenerative DNA are used to revive Kirk. Khan is put back into cryogenic sleep along with the 72 other super-humans, who were spared by Starfleet.
Author Greg Cox penned three Star Trek novels featuring Khan. The novels were published by licensee Pocket Books, though the subject matter falls outside of canon. In the two-volume The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh, Khan is depicted as a North Indian Sikh—"Khan" is a title; his parents are from Chandigarh, Punjab, India and are both eugenic scientists. In the books, Khan and his followers are placed aboard the Botany Bay by Gary Seven as part of a deal to stop Khan's machinations on Earth. The 2005 follow-up, To Reign in Hell: The Exile of Khan Noonien Singh, relates what happened to Khan and his fellow exiles between the events of "Space Seed" and The Wrath of Khan.
In "Space Seed" writer Carey Wilber's original plot treatment, the character of Khan was a Nordic superman named Harold Erricsen. The first draft of the script introduced the character as John Ericssen—who is revealed to be a man involved in "the First World Tyranny", named Ragnar Thorwald. The character of Thorwald was more brutal than Khan in the final version, killing guards using a phaser. By the final draft, a character guesses that Khan is from North India, and "probably a Sikh". The character's Latino accent and superhuman appearance strongly differentiate him from most Star Trek characters. In "Space Seed", Khan is presented as having several positive characteristics: he is gracious, smiling, fearless, and generous. He is not threatened by the success of others, and encourages their self-esteem. He is also ambitious, desiring a challenge commensurate with his abilities, but this ambition is not tempered by any consideration of the rights of others. Author Paul Cantor asserts that Khan is a mirror image of Kirk, sharing his aggressiveness, ambition, and even his womanizing tendencies, but possessing them in far greater degree. During the episode, several of the characters express their admiration for the man even as they oppose him, with Kirk referring to him as "the best of the tyrants, and the most dangerous".
After the disappointing response to the first Star Trek feature film, The Motion Picture, Paramount executives appointed Harve Bennett, a television producer who had never watched Star Trek, to be executive producer for the sequel. Bennett watched all the original series episodes and chose Khan from "Space Seed" as a possible villain for the film. Early drafts of the script had Khan as a shadowy tyrant leading a planet in revolt; later drafts added the "Genesis device" which Khan would steal.
Costume designer Robert Fletcher wanted to emphasize the effects of their harsh environment on Khan and his followers. "My intention with Khan was to express the fact that they had been marooned on that planet with no technical infrastructure, so they had to cannibalize from the spaceship whatever they used or wore. Therefore, I tried to make it look as if they had dressed themselves out of pieces of upholstery and electrical equipment that composed the ship," he said. Director Nicholas Meyer told Montalbán to keep Khan's right glove on at all times, in order to give viewers a puzzle they could form their own opinions about and add mystery to the character. Meyer has been repeatedly asked if Montalbán wore a prosthetic chest for his scenes, as his uniform was purposefully designed with an open front. Meyer replied in audio commentary for the film that Montalbán (who was 61 during filming) is "one strong cookie", and that no prosthetics were applied to the actor's sizeable frame.
At no point during The Wrath of Khan are Khan and Kirk face to face; they speak to each other only over communication links such as view screens. This was due in part to the fact that the set of the Reliant was a redress of the Enterprise bridge, and the two actors' scenes were filmed four months apart. Montalbán recited his lines with a script girl instead of to William Shatner.
Montalbán said in promotional interviews for the film he realized early on in his career that a good villain does not see himself as villainous. The villain may do villainous things, but he feels that he is doing them for righteous reasons. Montalbán further stated he always tried to find a flaw in the character, as no one is completely good or completely evil; while Khan had a rather distorted view of reality and therefore performed acts of evil, he still felt that his vengeance was a noble cause because of the death of his wife. Khan quotes the character of Ahab from Moby-Dick throughout the film, driving home his lust to make Kirk pay for the wrongs he has inflicted upon him.
Following the box office success of J. J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot and the announcement that actors Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto had tentatively agreed to appear in two sequels, Internet rumors began circulating about the plot of the second film. Abrams hinted that because of the alternate timeline created in the first film, reintroducing Khan into Star Trek lore remained a possibility. Abrams told MTV, "[Khan and Kirk] exist—and while their history may not be exactly as people are familiar with, I would argue that a person's character is what it is," Abrams said of the notion that his Khan could be just as evil, even if Kirk never stranded him on Ceti Alpha V. "Certain people are destined to cross paths and come together, and Khan is out there... even if he doesn't have the same issues."
Khan's full name was based on that of Kim Noonien Singh, a pilot Gene Roddenbery served with in the South Pacific during the Second World War. Roddenbery lost touch with his friend and had hoped that by creating a character with a similar name he might attract his attention and renew his old acquaintance.
Superficially, Khan is believed by some to have similarities with Friedrich Nietzsche's concept of the "Übermensch" (superman or overman). Khan is mentally and physically superior to any normal human. In the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Borderland", Malik, the leader of a group of "supermen" created from the same genetic engineering project as Khan, actually quotes Nietzsche, telling Archer that "Mankind is something to be surpassed". Professor William J. Devlin and coauthor Shai Biderman examined Khan's character compared to the Übermensch and found that Khan's blind pursuit of revenge is against Nietzsche's ideals of transcendence and self-creation of a meaningful life. Instead, the authors offer Spock's self-sacrifice in The Wrath of Khan as a better example of the Übermensch.
Khan was favorably received by critics. Discussing the Star Trek motion pictures, the Associated Press noted that Star Trek films were measured by how menacing their foe was, and that Khan was among the best in the series; a 2002 review of the Star Trek films ranked Khan as the greatest enemy seen in any of the films. Reviewers of The Wrath of Khan, such as Roger Ebert, rated Khan as one of the strongest aspects of the film. New Yorker critic Pauline Kael said Montalbán's performance as Khan "was the only validation he has ever had of his power to command the big screen."
Critic Christopher Null notes that "it is nearly gospel now among Trekkies that... Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the undisputed best of the series, and will likely never meet its equal," and calls Khan the "greatest role of [Montalbán's] career". Though he felt that the villain of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, V'ger, was more cerebral and interesting, author James Iaccino notes that most fans and moviegoers preferred the archetypical good-versus-evil fight the struggle between Khan and Kirk represents. Villains in subsequent Star Trek films have been measured by the standard of Khan, with Paramount promising fans that the villain of Star Trek Generations would be equal to the genetic superman. IGN ranked Khan as the best Star Trek villain, noting that he set the pattern for revenge-seeking villains in the series; in the decades since the film's release, "even those with a passing interest [in Trek] know the name". Star Trek producer Rick Berman called the villain "threatening and memorable".
Khan is also recognized as a great villain outside of the Star Trek series. The Associated Press called the character "one of sci-fi's great villains". In 2002, the Online Film Critics Society's 132 members voted Khan as the 10th Greatest Screen Villain of all time, the only Star Trek character to appear in the listing. In 2006, Emmy Magazine voted Khan "TV's Most Out-of-This-World Character", beating out other science-fiction characters such as The Doctor and Commander Adama. Editors wrote that "Khan was so cool we would've bought a Chrysler Cordoba if he'd told us to," referring to an ad campaign Montalbán appeared in for Chrysler. The character also had a cultural impact outside of Star Trek fandom; a clip from The Wrath of Khan featuring Kirk screaming "Khaaan!" was one pop culture appropriation that became a "popular fad" driving the success of the website YTMND.
In 2004, the Star Trek franchise returned to Khan's backstory in a three-episode story arc on Star Trek: Enterprise. In "Borderland", "Cold Station 12" and "The Augments", a 22nd century scientist is portrayed as having revived genetically engineered embryos from Khan's time and raised them as "Augments". Enterprise producer Manny Coto described these characters as "mini Khan Noonien Singhs".
Benedict Cumberbatch's performance in Star Trek Into Darkness drew praise from critics with Peter Travers of Rolling Stone magazine calling it a "tour-de-force to be reckoned with" and his character "a villain for the ages". Joe Neumaier of NY Daily News wrote that Cumberbatch delivered "one of the best blockbuster villains in recent memory". Jonathan Romney of The Independent specifically noted Cumberbatch's voice saying it was "So sepulchrally resonant that it could have been synthesised from the combined timbres of Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and Alan Rickman holding an elocution contest down a well". The New York Times on the other hand praised his screen presence saying “He fuses Byronic charisma with an impatient, imperious intelligence that seems to raise the ambient I.Q. whenever he’s on screen.”
Despite an acclaimed performance from Cumberbatch, Christian Blauvelt from website Hollywood.com criticized the casting of Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness as being "whitewashed into oblivion". There have been similar accusations of "whitewashing" by fans and American Sikhs with  Star Trek: Voyager actor Garrett Wang tweeting "The casting of Cumberbatch was a mistake on the part of the producers. I am not being critical of the actor or his talent, just the casting." Through a comment on Trekmovie.com, co-producer and co-screenwriter Bob Orci addressed the casting issue saying, "Basically, as we went (through) the casting process and we began honing in on the themes of the movie, it became uncomfortable for me to support demonizing anyone of color, particularly any one of Middle Eastern descent or anyone evoking that. One of the points of the movie is that we must be careful about the villain within (the) US, not some other race."
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