“From hell’s heart, I stab at thee… For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee…”
– Khan Noonien Singh
Actor Ricardo Montalbán, Fantasy Island‘s mysterious Mr Roarke and Captain Kirk’s deadliest foe Khan Noonien Singh in Star Trek, died this week at his home in Los Angeles, aged 88.
In a career spanning six decades, his most enduring success was undoubtedly his role on Fantasy Island, which ran for 158 episodes between 1977 and 1984.
His character, Mr Roarke, was the charming, suave, debonair host who each week, along with his diminutive assistant Tattoo (Hervé Villechaize), welcomed a new planeload of guests who came to his luxurious island to act out their fantasies.
Despite his initially pleasant demeanour, the Choob seems to recall that there was something disturbingly sinister, almost Faustian, about Roarke and this strange island that could create any scenario to grant a guest’s deepest desires.
As often as not, it seemed, the dream turned to a nightmare for the unsuspecting visitor, as flaws in their characters and secrets from their pasts were exposed, ultimately leading to a lecture from Roarke warning them to mend their ways – or even, in some cases, to the guest’s death as a result of their dubious morality. The moral of the story seemed to be a blend of “be careful what you wish for” and “you reap what you sow”.
There were hints that the island, and Roarke, were supernatural or spiritual in origin – though whether they were working for heavenly of hellish forces was left pleasingly ambiguous.
Popular though Fantasy Island was in its day, as far as the Choob is concerned, Montalbán’s defining role was that of Star Trek’s greatest villain, Khan Noonien Singh.
The character first appeared in the 1967 Star Trek episode Space Seed. Khan was a genetically-engineered superhuman, a benevolent dictator who ruled a quarter of the Earth until he was deposed in 1996(!) and escaped into space with his surviving followers, cryogenically frozen in suspended animation.
Thawed out by the Enterprise crew in 2267, Khan and his cronies were eventually left by Kirk on a hospitable but deserted planet, where they could build their own society.
It all goes horribly wrong, however, and in the 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, set 15 years after Space Seed, Khan resurfaced and went gunning for the man he blamed for his misfortune – Captain Kirk.
Twenty-six years after it was released, Wrath Of Khan is still by far the best Star Trek film – in fact the high point of the entire Star Trek franchise. Although Kirk eventually defeated Khan, he paid an exceptionally high price as, for the first time, he was unable to escape the jaws of death unscathed.
Montalbán was often dismissed as something of a campy, lightweight actor – not surprising given his Fantasy Island role.
Yet while his performance as Khan is undoubtedly over-the-top, and although both he and Shatner admittedly veer perilously close to pantomime throughout the film, the pair somehow perfectly complement each other and, as a result, he ranks up there as one of the greatest movie villains.
RIP Ricardo Montalbán.
“Ah, Kirk, my old friend, do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us revenge is a dish that is best served cold?
It is very cold in space!”