In Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, David reveals that he used "Protomatter" to build the genesis device in this exchange with Lt. Saavik:

DAVID: I used protomatter in the Genesis matrix.
SAAVIK: Protomatter. An unstable substance which every ethical scientist in the galaxy has denounced as dangerously unpredictable.
DAVID: But it was the only way to solve certain problems.
SAAVIK: So, like your father, you changed the rules.
DAVID: If I hadn't, it might have been years, ...or never!
SAAVIK: How many have paid the price for your impatience? How many have died? How much damage have you done? ...And what is yet to come?

My question concerns the line I've emphasized. If I recall correctly, the answer to the first three questions is an obvious "none." The fact that the planet was made with protomatter doesn't become relevant until it begins to disintegrate, which hasn't happened yet. All the drama and death surrounding the genesis arc doesn't seem to have anything to do with protomatter up to this point.

I understand why Saavik is concerned and critical of his methodology, but why does she jump straight to accusing him of being responsible for death and damage?

I used to interpret this line to mean that the only way David could have acquired or worked with protomatter was something so dangerous that some of his colleagues must have been killed during the process. But now I'm unsatisfied with this interpretation and would like to know if there is a better one.

3 Answers 3


The novelisation of the movie is very useful in providing a complete answer to this excellent question. I have added emphasis in bold which wasn't present in the source material.

"You did not tell your collaborators", Saavik said. "Even after detonation, you did not tell Carol—"

"If I had, it wouldn’t be just us stuck here! Mother would never have gone back to Earth, not if she’d known. She’d have taken the whole responsibility on herself ... when it was mine to accept."

"Just like your father...” Saavik said sadly. “You changed the rules.” She knew now that Genesis would never benefit anyone. It would never create new resources, it would never provide a new home for Frederic’s people, it would only, ever, cause grief and anguish and disaster.

"If I hadn’t, it might have been years—or never!"

All Saavik could think was that if Genesis had been delayed or abandoned, none of the recent events would have happened. Reliant would never have visited the world on which Khan Singh and his people were marooned. Khan would never have obtained a starship. He would never have led his people on his mission of vengeance. The scientists on Spacelab would not have been murdered. The Enterprise and its crew of children never would have been attacked. Peter Preston would still be alive. Genesis would not have existed to be used as a weapon, and Mr. Spock would not have had to sacrifice his existence to save his ship and his crewmates.

Spock would not have died.

Nor would he have been resurrected. The child possessed the substance of her teacher, but he lacked his mind, his experience, his individuality.

Saavik rose to her feet and stood looking down at David. A dangerous fury began to form.

"And how many have paid the price for your impatience?" Saavik said. "How many have died? How much damage have you caused—and what is yet to come?"

This exchange was part of a larger one where Saavik is gradually realising that they (stranded on the planet) have been put into danger by the Genesis device, but David is being less than forthcoming about exactly what he's worried about. Then after he reveals he used protomatter, Saavik starts chiding David for his irresponsibility. David continued to steadily infuriate her by coming up with specious defences of his conduct, including deflection of blame onto others for the way the Genesis device had been initially deployed as a weapon.

So Saavik was not in the calmest of emotional states when she made her accusations against David. But from the exact quote above, it is quite clear which specific deaths she is laying at David's doorstep.


It is not the protomatter itself that Saavik is referring to, it is the rush to complete Project Genesis:

How many have paid the price for your impatience?

The creation of Project Genesis led to the marooning of the USS Reliant crew and the death of, at least, Captain Terrell, the deaths of a significant portion of the Regula I crew, and the loss of the USS Grissom with all hands.

Additionally, there were several casualties aboard the Enterprise, among them, most significantly to Saavik, the deaths of Spock and Peter Preston. It is not surprising, in this context, that Saavik would not see David's urgency in finishing Genesis to justify the ethical lapse it required.

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    I would add to that, the contention that: if the necessity of using protomatter had been correctly revealed for peer review, the project would not only have been unrushed (ie completed in slower time which would merely have moved the problems on a couple of years), but it might have been simply abandoned as unethical/too dangerous in total. Dec 15, 2017 at 9:14
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    If memory serves correctly: the novelizations address this subject in a lot more detail.
    – JdeBP
    Dec 15, 2017 at 12:45
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    You know, it wasn't really David's fault, it was Starfleet's - for not recognizing (or at least not acknowledging) the weapon capability of Genesis, and posting a warship in charge of security. Dec 15, 2017 at 20:34
  • If the Genesis Project had been competed years later, maybe the search for a test planet would have begun years later, and maybe different star systems would have been searched. Maybe Ceti Alpha would never have been visited and khan Khan would never have escaped. Dec 16, 2017 at 3:28
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    This claim is absurd. David is not responsible for releasing Khan nor for the Klingons coming. But for their own deaths on the dying planet he might be.
    – Joshua
    Jul 23, 2018 at 15:40

I've always taken that as a rebuke of something very dire for David: apathy. If David hadn't been there, he certainly wouldn't have experienced (or possibly cared) about the fates of those he had ensnared. While you can't directly blame him for Khan or the USS Grissom, a lot of people died as an indirect result of his actions. It's only once David himself is ensnared as well that he is able to hear Saavik's chastisement.

There's also a broader implication here: the wasting of resources.

While money might not be a thing in the Federation, there's still finite resources. I'm willing to bet that David and his mother (who had pitched the idea to the Federation council) had to make sure it worked in some fashion for the pitch (i.e. "overcome certain problems"). Maybe they thought they could overcome the problems after they got support. It's the old problem of the ends justifying the means.

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