TenutoBlog: Making The Case For Identifying The Star Trek Into Darkness Villain

Even with the reveal of the villain’s name in Star Trek Into Darkness, the speculation continues, with some even growing openly frustrated. Today TrekMovie contributor and Star Trek history expert John Tenuto takes a look at all the talk along with a look at Trek history, and comes to his own conclusion. Read his detailed case below (with possible spoilers).


Who Is John Harrison?

Making predictions is a dangerous game because if you are right, people think you are a know it all when perhaps you just got lucky, and if you are wrong, then you have a difficult time speaking with assuredness about the next topic. However, it is too fun not to chime in on the “who is John Harrison” debate occurring with fellow fans, and I will make my prediction as to who I think Benedict Cumberbatch’s “John Harrison” really is in Star Trek Into Darkness.

Along with my wife and fellow sociology professor Maria Jose, I have been fortunate to have been researching the making of “Space Seed” and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan using library collections of original scripts, photos, memos, and the like for the last five years. We have collected and studied nearly 2000 photos and 5000 different papers. Our admiration for the creativity and talent of everyone who on the original episode and TWOK, especially writer/director Nicholas Meyer, worked with time constraints and budgetary limitation to create thoughtful entertainment is boundless.

While doing this research, we have come to know Khan, from his earliest days as Harold Ericsson in Carey Wilber and Gene Coon’s “Space Seed” drafts during the autumn of 1966, to his reintroduction in Wrath of Khan.

Star Trek II director Nicholas Meyer and Ricardo Montalban – one of the many rare photos we have uncovered in our research

And while these experiences give us no more authority to speak to who John Harrison is than any other fan, many who know Star Trek history better than us or actually worked on the shows, I am willing to proffer a guess considering all the clues and hints, presuming you allow me the ability to later say, “Sorry, I guessed wrong. You were right, it was someone else.” I am asking for a big window of error here because it is speculation, although I as I hope to demonstrate, an informed conjecture.

The guess: John Harrison is really Khan Noonien Singh.

They say “John Harrison” – I think “Khan”

Why I think John Harrison is Khan

While I don’t have any inside information from the Star Trek Into Darkness production, there are a number of reasons I have been lead to this conclusion.

1) John Harrison is obviously super-powered – just like Khan
Why would the STID team create a new character when there is a very famous (perhaps the most famous) villain in Khan who has the same abilities? This would open the creators to the inevitable criticism and comparison to Khan when they could just have used Khan in the first place.

Could it be Gary Mitchell, the next logical super powered choice? (as discussed on TrekMovie last week) Unlikely. Roberto Orci has confirmed to TrekMovie.com that the IDW comics are canon. The first two issues of the ongoing IDW Star Trek comics were inaugurated with the entire story of Gary Mitchell. Is it possible that the creators of a huge budget Hollywood film would allow their main baddie to be introduced in the pages of a monthly comic, especially a team of filmmakers known for their secrecy? Possibly, but those kind of reveals are usually reserved for specified prequel comics, of which issues 1 and 2 were not. And, why tell Mitchell’s entire story and then have to resurrect him for the film, leaving film audiences who do not read the comics out of the loop?

Could it be Robert April, the original Captain of the Enterprise in the prime universe (as postulated by at HitFix). A creative and out of the box idea that sounds like great fun, however, it is one that I doubt. Robert April wouldn’t be the first captain of the Enterprise in the new universe, at least not of the Enterprise we see in ST09. Pike clearly identifies it as the ship’s first real mission to save Vulcan, so he is the first. What would make April a good choice is precisely why he is probably not the bad guy: he would be a good villain if he had been the first captain of the Enterprise gone bad. But he isn’t the first captain. And, where did a normal human get those super powers?

I don’t think we will see April (or Mitchell) next May

2) A Khan by any other name
Some argue that the character is named John Harrison, not Khan, so it can’t be Khan (TrekMovie has reported that this name is used in the film and it isn’t just a marketing placeholder). And of course, there is indeed a character named Harrison in who appears in “Space Seed” and several other episodes of TOS. But, he is a regular crewman and perhaps his name was chosen for John Harrison as an homage, but I think it unlikely that the John Harrison of Star Trek Into Darkness is meant to be an obscure background character. There is too much riding on the film to do something that the majority of the audience just won’t get.

This leads to the spreading speculation that the name John Harrison is like Henri Ducard in Batman Begins (Liam Neeson’s character who late in the film was revealed to be the villain Ra’s al Gul). The same trick was used again in The Dark Knight Rises with Marion Cotillard’s character Miranda Tate (who in the film reveals herself to be Talia al Ghul). It is well known that JJ Abrams has used Nolan’s Batman series as a model for his reboot of Star Trek, which is even evident in the recently revealed poster for Into Darkness. It has also been established that Khan likes to mess with names. In “Space Seed” he reveals only his first name to hide his identity from Kirk and company. Maybe John Harrison is doing the same thing here as Ducard does.

Also, I cannot rid myself of this feeling when I first learned of the name “John Harrison.” John is pretty close to Khan. Plus, in the original versions of the “Space Seed” scripts, one of the names for Khan was Harold Ericsson (sometimes Ericksen, sometimes Ericcson). Harold Ericsson…Har/son…Harrison. Hmmm….that kind of naming convention is a usual practice in the world of Star Wars, which is also a franchise admired by the filmmakers of STID.

Also of note is the new interview where Cumberbatch appears to be denying he plays Khan, but I find it interesting that his denial phrasing doesn’t actually use the name Khan but says “not that other name.”

Is JJ playing Nolan’s Name Con (Khan) Game

3) The clothes make the Khan
John Harrison appears to be a member of Starfleet, and Khan wasn’t. This seems to be the big thing that is still fueling the Gary Mitchell theorists (and the few Garth of Izar proponents). However, maybe John Harrison/Khan actually is a member of Starfleet in this universe. Or maybe, like Khan in “Space Seed,” he is just wearing a Starfleet shirt because that is all that is available after they unfreeze him in Into Darkness. Plus, in Star Trek II, Khan demonstrates a fondness for wearing Starfleet items, from the red coat he sports on the USS Reliant to the trophy Starfleet emblem around his chain. Maybe the STID outfit is a trophy costume he is wearing to provoke Kirk. Speaking of costumes, that collar that John Harrison sports in the trailer is awfully similar to the design of Khan’s collar in Wrath of Khan. Other characters may wear a similar jacket in the film, but that seems too much on the proverbial nose

Collars cant be coincidence

4) If Marcus, then Khan
It is also unlikely that in a Gary Mitchell or original villain John Harrison film, there would be both Carol Marcus and the hand gesture moment from the trailer. Why mix that all together? And TrekMovie.com reported that the new trailer has a cargo bay with tubes with windows. Sounds like the Botany Bay to me; the “family” that Harrison speaks about (in the trailer) could be his wife, or it could be his fellow augments, or both. Maybe in STID Kirk accidently affects Khan’s wife somehow, who in this universe does not have to be Marla McGivers, and Khan seeks his vengeance. Oh, and speaking of the word “Vengeance” that was one of the tested titles for the film being and is featured in the trailer so prevalently, that also happened to be one of the original titles of TWOK, The Vengeance of Khan.

And while some fans have believed that the blonde lab technician that Gary spoke about in the original “Where No Man Has Gone Before” episode was the inspiration for Carol Marcus and hence she could be in a Gary Mitchell movie…maybe. Yes. But, I have never thought that the retro conning of that was convincing…Gary could just as much be talking about other of Kirk’s romantic interests from TOS. Besides, would the strong and intelligent Carol Marcus have allowed herself to be a pawn in any game by Gary Mitchell?

Welcome Back Carol

5) Follow the money – to Khan
Thinking of Hollywood patterns, it is common to introduce the hero in the first film, accomplished in Star Trek 2009, and the best known bad guy in the second film. Again looking at the Nolan example, he used the Joker for his second Batman film. The Next Generation films also did this with The Borg. And of course the original Star Trek cast films followed this pattern. The best known single bad guy in Star Trek history is Khan. I would guess Khan is worth millions in marketing potential and additional revenue at the box office.

I am also thinking of previous comments by producers and creators of the new Star Trek films: that there was talk of adding the Botany Bay in space to “the after the credits sequence” of ST09 and that the bad guy was a canon character. So clearly Khan was the default position for the team. Despite Mr. Orci’s cute reply in a recent TrekMovie.com interview that he said he lied once about the film, he is too honest and respects fans too much to actually lie. Obfuscate, divert, yes. Lie, however? I don’t believe it. That makes me think John Harrison is not a new character. And if he is not a new character, Khan makes the most sense dramatically and from business wise.

Is this Trek’s ship of gold?

6) The Khan ethnicity factor isn’t a factor
One of the more popular argument against Harrison being Khan is that Cumberbatch is neither Hispanic like Ricardo Montalban, nor Indian like the character. I would reject this ethnicity based argument for several reasons.

Yes, according to the rules established by ST09, everything before Nero’s interference should be the same in the new universe as the prime. So, Jonathan Archer existed and had all the adventures we know of in Enterprise, etc. Khan should look like and have the voice of Montalban according to those rules as he is from the 1990s.

But there are several problems with that rule when butted against the reality of making films like this.
First, there is absolutely no way to duplicate Ricardo Montalban as a person or an actor. Khan was remarkable in large measure because of his performance, in addition to the writing and direction that created the character. I think Abrams and company are wise to avoid casting a Montalban imitator in the future if Cumberbatch is not Khan and Khan is going to be in the third movie instead of STID.

Second, we as an audience have already accepted ethnic and physical differences in the actors playing iconic roles. Chris Pine does not exactly look like William Shatner at the same age, nor do most of the other characters (except perhaps Karl Urban who is amazingly similar to DeForest Kelley). Additionally, George Takei and John Cho do not share the same ethnic heritage, yet there has been an acceptance of Cho as Sulu.

And ultimately, Star Trek fans are progressive thinkers, embracing diversity, and we know that no actor should be limited in the roles they play by their ethnicity, only by their talent. I think Ricardo Montalban would agree with that sentiment.

Does skin color trump talent?

In conclusion….

Please do not take this argument to mean that I want it be Khan. I just think if we believe the argument that John Harrison is a pseudonym, then Khan is the best contender. For all these reasons, if John Harrison is not an original character, then I believe him to be Khan. I could be wrong, but I khan’t help thinking I am right.


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Oh its Khan, for all the reasons you mention. Well done John!

Maybe Khan died in the sleep chamber & John Harrison took over as leader. ;-)

Regardless of whether or not he is really Khan or Mitchell in disguise, the description of him as a terrorist who plays psychological games and perhaps causes the death of someone close to Kirk shows just how closely these turkeys are emulating The Dark Knight.

That said, add my voice to those who will be seeing Luhrmann’s Gatsby instead of this ilm. Secrecy is fine but deliberate lies are not. Some Trekkies obvbiously have no pride at all, the way they are willing led by the nose around and around in circles. They won’t be taking my money. I’m out of here.

Interesting supposition.

Gary Mitchell Introduced kirk to carol marcus, and this movie is where we first see Kirk and Carol meet.
so please tell me why a Gary Mitchell story wouldnt involve Carol?

I dont believe its Mitchell anymore, but I stand my ground and say he definately NOT Khan.

At the end of the day I really hope we are not going to be getting Dark Knight on a space ship.

I am more excited for Pacific Rim now, after just seeing the trailer that was released on line a bit ago.


Well done, John!!!

what part of “MY character’s name is John Harrison” is hard to understand. He flat out says THAT is his name.
He says “Not that other name” cause you can tell he is tired of being asked if he is playing Khan.

But, the description on the film says that the villain comes from “within Starfleet,” it literally can not be Khan.

To be fair that is all pretty circumstantial evidence, and there are some pretty big leaps in your argument.

1. He’s Obviously super powered like Khan..

I never saw Khan jump 20 feet in the air. I’m not saying he wasn’t capable. But I would think if he had that kind of ability he really would not have been taken down by Jim Kirk and a Metal rod.

2. The whole name mangling argument. Why not simply call him Eriksen?

3. The Collars look vaguely similar, they are hardly carbon copies. One is velour, thin, rounded, the other, flat, latex and longer.
I agree that Harrison may not be in star fleet, and that he could just be wearing the black star fleet uniform as something to wear rather than something he has to wear. That doesn’t make him Khan.

4. Saying if it’s Marcus, it has to be Khan is like saying if it’s Pine it has to be the Talosians.

5. The money would lead to Khan? Possibly, but you could use the same argument to say that they are going back in time to save some Whales, or that The Borg are going to show up.

6. I agree with you on the whole ethnicity thing, Any Actor can play any character imo. I just don’t think it is Khan. It would be kind of cool if it was., I just think all the evidence is sketchy at best.

We will all just have to wait and see.

All we khan do is wait and see!

Screw this! I can’t wait for Django Unchained!!

I swear, Kroll, I posted my comment before I saw your post!! Amazing!

@5 @6 @7 @9

Maybe if you keep posting over and over here like this JJ might consider re-shooting the movie for you without Khan?


PS: No doubt though many will now convince themselves how BOTH Anthony and Tenuto are wrong. LOL

Its great saw it last week, QT did a nice little intro with Harvey Weinstein.
Harvey speculated the film might be trimmed a little, QT was instant it wouldnt be. lol

You will enjoy it though

A very strong and well-formed argument. Well just have to see.

Doug, a good movie is a good movie. If it’s akin to The Dark Knight, who cares? Your suggestion that those who participate in this speculation or don’t it as you do are somehow beneath you…well, don’t let it hit you on the way out, my friend.

Remember that little talk we had about not goading each other, and getting along MJ?

Are you really wanting to get me riled up again? just let me think what i want to think, and I wont say your wrong either.
If i am wrong fine, if I am right so what.

Harry Ballz thats ok, no one had posted when I started writing that.

Whatever happens folks, I trust them that they have done a good job and made an entertaining film.

“PS: No doubt though many will now convince themselves how BOTH Anthony and Tenuto are wrong. LOL”

You really have issues, don’t you?

oh… poor Doug got his feelings hurt.

i love this stuff! in the end… it is a MOVIE! this is about entertainment and these guys know how to play the game. the fact that we’re posting on here (and people are writing articles like this) prove that it’s working. so, whether it’s Khan (don’t know if it is, but i like your theories!) or Gary Mitchell or really a new guy named John Harrison who has no alter-ego doesn’t really matter because we’ve been sucked in to the speculation and anticipation now. for a movie that had no marketing momentum at all just a month ago, that’s pretty impressive.

so, Doug (and others like him)… chill out, remember that there are real life issues that are actually worth getting your panties in a wad about, and enjoy the ride. and, if we lose a Doug here or there, no worries. plenty more will be joining us. personally, i think the coming months are going to be pretty great!

It’s Khan.

Another important bit of evidence that he leaves out is that the original choice of actor to play the villain was Benicio del Toro. And when the studio couldn’t come to agreement on a contract with del Toro, they talked with a Venezuelan actor.

So, despite Cumberbatch’s differing ethnicity with that of Montalban, the studio was originally trying to cast an actor of more similar ethnicity to Montalban.

It’s Khan.

There’s just way too much evidence in support of Khan for it to be Gary Mitchell, which is the next most likely possibility, and there’s ALMOST NO evidence in support of Gary Mitchell.

oh yeah, almost forgot… the one thing that i never hear people bring up in this whole conversation is the fact that Benicio del Toro was originally supposed to be “John Harrison.” that DEFINITELY wouldn’t have been Gary Mitchell, but could easily have been Khan.

If Orci really didn’t want us to figure it out before the movie comes out, he shouldn’t have revealed that the villain is from canon. That really narrowed down the possibilities.

oh… come on! nobody brings that up anywhere i’ve looked all day and in the minute it took me to type that, Cygnus-X1 throws it out there!?!? oh well! ha ha ha!

6 more months.. it won’t kill you to wait that much longer

Don’t wallow in bitterness Doug. I think they have support groups for this type of stuff. You might want to stay off the next Star Wars director boards too.

25. acrobat – December 13, 2012

Cheers! :-)

I just don’t see it. The insistence that it’s Khan, without full consideration of opposing evidence, reminds me of Paul Is Dead logic. And since the 9 minutes fail to set up the Eugenics Wars, that leaves little screen time for a plot that both 1) appeals to a general audience who hasn’t heard of Khan, and 2) finds the screen time to portray him morphing into an Englishman with healing powers, a Starfleet uniform, and a different personality.

I definitely think it’s Khan and he has used his superior intellect to infiltrate starfleet and change his appearance (after all most familiar with history could spot who he is by face).

I find the argument that only Montalban can play him and the character is sacred to be proven invalid. The ONLY sacred characters in TOS are Kirk Spock and McCoy and they have been successfully recast and their story retold. Khan was a 2-story villain and not as sacrosanct as the big three.

I also find the Mitchell & Garth are fine, but Khan is wrong argument to be weak. So it’s fine if they’ve only been in one story but not two.

This is a whole different universe where probablilities have been displaced and will play out differently. To NOT show Khan or to have his activities take place off-screen would be a missed opportunity!

That was a pretty bad stretch, sorry.

John is like Khan lol.

Marcus and Khan are different characters. One does not suggest the other has to be in the film.

You could not replicate R Montalbans performance so go with a brit instead?

“Star Trek fans are progressive thinkers, ” if that were so there would not be those wanting Khan.

“6) The Khan ethnicity factor isn’t a factor”

Sure it is, if you don’t want people accusing you of racism for casting a white guy in an Indian role.

JJ Abrams is too smart for that. Isn’t he, boborci?

JJ Abrams isn’t ignorant about cultural sensitivity, right?

JJ Abrams isn’t racist, is he?

“Besides, would the strong and intelligent Carol Marcus have allowed herself to be a pawn in any game by Gary Mitchell?”
Carol Marcus is in Starfleet in this universe. She’s a pawn of Starfleet now.

“Additionally, George Takei and John Cho do not share the same ethnic heritage, yet there has been an acceptance of Cho as Sulu. ” They’re both Asian, hence the acceptance. Would anyone be accepting if Cho was playing Scotty and Pegg was playing Sulu? Not in the slightest.

“Khan should look like and have the voice of Montalban according to those rules as he is from the 1990s. ” No one is arguing they should ressurect Montalban for the role of Khan. The actor playing Khan should be Middle Eastern/Indian descent, not British, to align itself with established cannon in the alternate universe. It doesn’t have to be someone trying to mimic Montalban in their portrayal.

Does skin color trump talent?

If Cumberbach were the only talented actor in the world that wwould make sense.

I’m sure no one is suggesting there is no talented actors of ethnicity.

33. Star Trek Nemesis blows, is the point – December 13, 2012

“Additionally, George Takei and John Cho do not share the same ethnic heritage, yet there has been an acceptance of Cho as Sulu. ” They’re both Asian, hence the acceptance. Would anyone be accepting if Cho was playing Scotty and Pegg was playing Sulu? Not in the slightest.”


Luckily for John Cho, all Asians look alike. =)

“not that other name.”= maybe he just does not want to say “Khan” at all

Let it be April and the counter-clock incident!!!

Having said that the idea that any actor could play any character idea would hold if Cumberbach went with the appropriate accent. He would be talented enough.

But i don’t agree with the any actor any character idea. Have him audition for the part of baby jesus and see how you go.


Speak for yourself!! This wait us slowly killing me!!! Lol

I think we’re pulling strings here.

Ethnicity aside, there’s a certain exotic aura that Ricardo gave to Khan. Which so far Cumby doesn’t display: He comes off as cold, calculating Brit verses the slightly flamboyant and charming Ricardo.

I always saw Khan as a Napoleon type. He has to be the life of the party and he’ll convince you to be his friend before he kills you.

And I can’t even see Khan using an alias either, or sneaking around like a spy. He’s a leader and he’s rub it in your face. Also keep in mind that Khan has exited way before Space Seed. No matter in what reality this movie takes place in, Khan has not changed.

I think we’re understating of what Ricardo brought to the role, as if its completely interchangeable. I mean, Heath Ledger’s Joker was different from Jack’s Joker but there’s still some familiarity between the two that you can accept them as the same character. Two different interpretations but they both hit the right marks, with slight differing characteristic.

I just don’t see it here with Cumby as Khan.

@18 You are right, Mark. Sorry!

MJ, Thank you .

I think those Khanesque things like the collar, Carol Marcus, vengeance etc. are deliberate deception to make us expect Khan, only to be surprised in the film that he’s not.
How can a genetically enhanced human cure a child that doctors cannot help?
How would they reference the wars – having hapened in 1996?
Did Khan rule over Europe instead of Asia?

I find it interesting people keep ignoring Lord Garth. There is a lot of evidence it could be him..

And I’m sure John Harrison is close friends with Richard Brook…

@20. Excuse me racoco, but just as I predicted with that statement where you said “I have issues,” look at the wave of people posting above here in self denial who now think that BOTH Anthony and Tenuto are wrong — just as I said they wood.

I may “have issues,” but I also have common sense and objectivity.


I would love to Garth in this movie”

“Wayne’s World! Wayne’s World! Party time! Excellent!”

It’s not an option of who the character might be if it’s not Khan.

It’s not Khan or anyone else other that John Harrison.

I think its Khan as well. Does anyone know if Nimoy has a cameo?

Also, a bit off topic, but has anyone seen the awesome trailer for the Dr Who Xmas Special. Check it out here:

@47 MJ

So would I, and I’m not saying it is Garth, but I am saying that he fits what we have seen and heard just as much as Khan or Mitchell (or, even, better than either of them, imo). I do think Khan, Mitchell and Garth are all possibilities IF the name of John Harrison is a distraction.

However, if the name John Harrison isn’t, Garth still fits because of how he is willing to take over the identity of someone else to execute his plan. Thus, Benedict could be playing John Harrison AND Garth both.

Bringing in the Klingons makes the most sense with Garth. I don’t see Khan caring about them, though Mitchell might.

And if I am guessing correctly, the intrigue in the movie, why the villain is right and wrong at once, I think connects with the Klingons. (My theory of a Klingon infiltration of the Federation, and it was a Klingon-spy who took charge and put Garth in an asylum). The illusion of safety and all that is because people don’t know who runs the Federation (Klingons). But Garth’s answer is to take over, to be the benevolent tyrant-savior…

Yeah, it’s a lot of speculation, and yes I’m probably not right. I understand that. But the thing is, I think it is good to let people have it for any figure they want and not take things at face value.

Heck, the trailer told us that. Don’t believe the illusion (of John Harrison/Richard Brook)