The Wrath of Khan

Writer(s) :
Harve Bennet
Jack B. Sowards
Director :
Nicholas Meyer


The film opens with a young Vulcan woman sitting in the Big Chair on the Enterprise, commanding the ship on an apparently routine patrol near the Klingon Neutral Zone. The ship receives a distress call from the freighter Kobyashi Maru - the ship has hit a gravitic mine and is adrift in the neutral zone. The commander, whose name is Saavik, orders the Enterprise to violate the zone despite objections from Sulu.

Within minutes of their crossing the border, three Klingon battlecruisers arrive on the scene. As Saavik attempts to communicate with them the Klingons open fire, damaging the Enterprise. Nothing she tries has any effect and within moments the bridge crew are dropping like flies as explosions rock the ship. She orders all hands to abandon the Enterprise to its fate...

...only to have the view screen slide open and Admiral Kirk step through and order an end to the simulation. We learn that the whole thing has been a test of Saaviks command abilities. She objects that the test was not fair as there was no way to win, only to have Kirk inform her that this is the whole point of the Kobyashi Maru scenario. It is a character test, and Kirk declares that how a cadet faces death is at least as important as how she faces life.

The simulator is located on Earth, at Starfleet academy; Admiral Kirk is apparently in command of the facility after having given up the Captaincy of the Enterprise in favour of Spock. It is Kirks birthday, and he receives a gift from Spock - a copy of "A Tale of Two Cities". The two part, and Kirk heads home to meet with Bones. Despite the occasion Kirk feels depressed at the onset of old age, and Bones advises him that he should try to regain his command.

Meanwhile, the Miranda class USS Reliant is engaged in a mission for the mysterious "Genesis Project". The ship is attempting to find a planet which has absolutely no trace of life, apparently a difficult task. Their latest target, Ceti Alpha VI, looks promising except for a single localized reading. The ships Captain beams down with the Executive Officer, one Commander Pavel Chekov. They find a desolate windswept desert, but quickly locate a group of cargo containers. As they investigate they are captured by a group of mysterious robed figures.

As the leader reveals himself Chekov gasps in surprise - it is Khan, the genetically engineered tyrant left on Ceti Alpha V by Captain Kirk many years before. Khan reveals that this planet is in fact Ceti Alpha V - shortly after Kirk left Ceti Alpha VI exploded, laying waste to the planet. Many of Khans people died in the aftermath, and Khan has nurtured a fanatical hatred of Kirk ever since. Khan introduces the two to Ceti Alpha V's only remaining indigenous life form - a small slug like creature which burrows into the brain through the ear, rendering the victim extremely susceptible to suggestion before killing them. With Chekov and Terrell now under control, Khan captures the Reliant. He heads directly for the Genesis Project research centre.

Back at Earth Kirk is on an inspection tour of the Enterprise to asses its cadet crew on a training cruise. Saavik pilots the ship out of Spacedock, much to Kirks consternation, but things proceed smoothly and the ship is soon on its way. Kirk bumps into Saavik in a turbolift, and she questions how he performed when he took the Kobyashi Maru test - a question he refuses to answer. Shortly afterwards they receive an emergency call from Carol Marcus, leader of the Genesis Project. She is complaining that Reliant is on its way to confiscate the Genesis Project, apparently on Kirks authority, but her transmission is jammed by the Reliant and she can get no answer.

Kirk assumes command of the Enterprise and heads for Regula at warp speed. He shows Spock and McCoy a computer record of the application for funding for Genesis. The project is intended to create a small device called the Genesis torpedo which can be detonated on a planet, causing it to be almost instantly transformed into whatever type of world the designers care to create. But the weapon potential is terrible - the device will destroy and reform an inhabited planet just as easily as it would a lifeless surface. While the officers debate the morality of the technology, sensors detect the Reliant approaching.

Thinking that the ship is friendly, Kirk fails to raise his shields and Khan cripples the Enterprise with phaser and photon torpedo fire. Khan demands the secrets of the Genesis technology from Kirk but the Admiral manages to outwit him and land some heavy blows on the Reliant in turn, forcing Khan to retreat. Kirk proceeds to Regula and finds the stations entire crew dead, tortured by Khan for Genesis information. He locates Terrell and Chekov on board, claiming that they escaped from Khan while he was there. Kirk orders the Enterprise to wait a few hours then head back to get reinforcements. As they search the station they discover the transporter has beamed something down deep inside the planetoid Regula is orbiting. Kirk follows, and finds Carol Marcus and her son David in a cavern with the Genesis torpedo.

Unfortunately, Chekov and Terrell are still under Khans command and turn their phasers on Kirk. But as Khan orders them to kill Kirk via a comm. link, Terrell commits suicide and Chekovs parasite forces its way out of his ear. Khan beams the Genesis device up and leaves Kirk marooned, but when he goes to destroy the Enterprise he cannot find it.

On the planetoid we discover that David is Kirks son, from a romance he had with Carol many years ago - although David doesn't know this. Kirk once again expresses his regret at how his life has gone, saying he feels old and tired. Carol shows Kirk the Genesis cave - a space miles across filled with plant life which took only a day to create - in an attempt to make him feel batter. While they are in the cave Saavik once again questions Kirk about the Kobyashi Maru test, and McCoy reveals that Kirk is the only Cadet in history to beat the no-win scenario - by cheating, reprogramming the simulator so it was possible to rescue the ship. Kirk tells a stunned Saavik that he doesn't believe there is such a thing as a no win scenario in real life, and to prove the point hails the Enterprise and asks to be beamed up. He explains to Saavik that they have been lying over the comm. channels to trick Khan into believing the ship is far more damaged that it really is. Instead of leaving, Spock has hidden the ship beneath Regula.

Even so, the Enterprise is still at a big disadvantage. Kirk heads to the nearby Mutara Nebula, provoking Khan into following him with some well chosen insults. In the nebula both ships are blinded and shields are useless, but the odds are at least even. The ships pound on each other as opportunity allows, until finally Spock points out that Khans inexperience is leading him to think two dimensionally. Kirk ducks under the Reliant and comes up behind it, damaging the ship badly with photon torpedoes.

Khan refuses to surrender, and instead activates the Genesis torpedo. The Enterprise attempts to flee, but with main power off-line and no way to get to the engine room because of radioactive contamination, they don't have the speed to escape. Spock leaves the bridge, and heads for the engine room in order to perform the necessary repairs. Bones attempts to stop him, but Spock neck pinches him - and before going into the room he mind melds with the doctor, saying the single word "remember...".

With only seconds to spare Spock repairs the engines, and the ship escapes the massive detonation. As a new planet forms behind them, Kirk races down to the engine room to find Spock dying of radiation sickness. The two exchange an emotional farewell, with Spock admitting that "you have been, and always shall be, my friend" as he dies.

The funeral is held in the ships torpedo bay. Kirk makes a speech in which he says that "of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most Human", and Spock is launched into space. As the Enterprise leaves orbit, Kirk says that he feels re-invigorated by recent events.


This film is a roller coaster ride, and is usually voted as the fans favourite film. Many of the mistakes of the original are corrected - most importantly the basic story is a very strong and relatively fast paced one. The cool colours of the first film are replaced by a much brighter look, and the pyjama uniforms are replaced with much more military looking outfits. Wrath of Khan also has something The Motion Picture lacked entirely - an excellent bad guy. V'Ger is mostly an unknown quantity with no apparent motivation, and while it is established as being extremely powerful its lack of any real hostility removes any real sense of threat. While Khan is a much more limited threat, he is at least a very positive and determined one. Ricardo Montelban puts in an excellent performance - he is truly convincing as the vengance-obsessed Khan, spitting hatred at Kirk right up until the end.

The film also neatly tackles a rather obvious pitfall. Even this early on in the series there was considerable comment about how "past it" the original crew were getting - jokes about expanding waistlines and wigs, that kind of thing. The Wrath of Khan hits this issue head on by making it an integral part of the story; we see the effects his advancing age is having on Kirk in several key scenes. Best is the one with McCoy on his birthday - the scene is well written and both Shatner and Kelley put in good performances here. One nice touch is the ticking clock you can just hear in the background throughout the scene, a subtle reminder of the passing of time which troubles Kirk so much.

Early drafts of the script featured a new kind of extremely powerful weapon - essentially the Genesis Device was the 24th century equivalent of the atomic bomb. Changing it from an agent of destruction to an agent of creation (albeit with the destructive possibilities still there) brought it much more in line with the Trek ethos, and was a very clever move.

The film is not without its occasional flaws, however. The worst of these is the Reliants mistaking Ceti Alpha V for Ceti Alpha VI. The excuse given for this is that when Ceti Alpha VI exploded, Ceti Alpha V was shifted into a new orbit. There are things that could make a planet "explode" - collision with a sufficiently large and high speed body would do it - but it beggars belief that this could cause a massive change in another worlds orbit, at least in the way the film depicts. For Reliant to mistake one planet for the other, the very least that would be required would be to have Ceti Alpha V shifted out into Ceti Alpha VI's orbit, a distance which is presumably at least a few million kilometres or so, arriving in the exact position at the exact time needed to be mistaken for the other planet. But even assuming that the orbits and explosion were such that this happened, it beggars belief that the two planets are exactly the same size, have exactly the same mass, exactly the same surface geography, etc. Not to mention that the destruction of Ceti Alpha VI should have left a new asteroid belt... Reliants crew should have known something was up before they ever even entered the system. Still, the error is not a film-killer since it only affects one point of the plot.

The most noticeable issue as far as effects are concerned is that many of the shots used are copied from the first film. Given the way that TMP's budget spiralled it's no surprise that Meyer kept a tight rein on this one, and the re-use of effects has no real negative impact on the film since it's limited to just a few scenes. Still, I always wonder what it would have been like it this film had been given the sort of budget that TMP had.

Overall then, The Wrath of Khan is an excellent film and certainly one of my favourites.

Last updated : 15th December 1999.
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