Stardate: 3478.2 (2267)
Original Air Date: December 8, 1967
Writer: David P. Harmon
Director: Joseph Pevney
“Well, gentleman, all in all an experience we’ll remember in our old age.”
The Enterprise is on a routine mission to re-supply the research station on the Gamma Hydra IV colony. A landing party (consisting of Kirk, Spock, Bones, Chekov, Scotty, and Elaine Galway) discovers a desolate facility, which is seemingly empty until Chekov spots the decaying corpse of an elderly man. Then the colony’s leader Robert Johnson (Felix Maurice Loche) and his wife Elaine (Laura Wood) appear though they have somehow grown aged and frail (despite being 29 and 27 years old respectively). As it turns out, of the six members at the colony (none of them over the age of 30) four of have died and two are now dying of old age.
Meanwhile, there is an anxious senior officer aboard, Commodore Stocker (Charles Drake). He is eager to be transported to Starbase 10, but Kirk orders the Enterprise to remain in orbit around Gamma Hydra IV to investigate this strange matter. However, every member of the landing party begins rapidly aging at a rate of 30 years per day! Senility begins setting in as does arthritis, and with time running out a cure is urgently needed. Galway suddenly, and Kirk grows forgetful and cantankerous. The only person curiously unaffected is Chekov.
Spock investigates the matter with a civilian scientist, Dr. Janet Wallace (Sarah Marshall), who just so happens to be Kirk’s former lover. She once left him and married an older scientist 26 years her senior, living with him alone on a remote space station. She falls deeper in love with Kirk the older he gets. At any rate, Spock and Dr. Wallace discover that a comet recently passed by Gamma Hydra IV leaving a low-level of radiation which likely caused the rapid aging.
While growing impatient and concerned about the deteriorating situation, Commodore Stocker uses legal recourse and assumes command of the ship, redirecting to Starbase 10. Despite his inexperience commanding a starship, he orders the Enterprise to cross the Neutral Zone at Warp 5 –a risky move. Predictably, the Romulans attack the Enterprise while Commodore Stocker is stricken with inaction. Meanwhile, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy posit a theory –perhaps the fear in Chekov when he initially spotted the dead body on Gamma Hydra IV caused a burst of adrenaline, and perhaps that adrenaline is what prevented him from experiencing this bout of aging. Spock and Nurse Chapel develop an experimental shot of adrenaline that might either “cure or kill” and it is administered on Kirk. He quickly recovers and reassumes command. By now, Romulans have surrounded the Enterprise and Kirk issues a repeat bluff of the Season 1 classic “The Corbomite Maneuver” in which he issues a false message to Starfleet that the “recently installed” corbomite device is set to immediately self-destruct killing all matter within a 200,000 kilometer radius. Accurately betting that the Romulans are listening to the Enterprise’s transmissions, the Romulans quickly flee the area and Kirk happily orders the Enterprise out of the Neutral Zone at Warp Factor 8.
Kirk finally receives praise from Commodore Stocker, and Spock is led away to receive his extra powerful dose of the aging antidote which will likely be terribly painful.
My Thoughts on “The Deadly Years”
In a reversal of events in Season 1’s “Miri,” the “rapid aging” science fiction trope reappears in this episode –not the last time Star Trek will explore this theme. It forces us to confront a variety of American cultural stereotypes –a ghastly fear of aging and perhaps even antipathy for elderly people who are often pushed aside and castigated as unproductive. In addition to the ever-present issue of age, we are also confronted with our widespread cultural distaste for hapless ineffectual bureaucrats like Commodore Stocker, a man who, when tested, is proven to be pitifully out of his element. But the real shining star of this episode comes through in the actors with their elderly special effects in my view (even though many Trekkies seem to brush aside these effects). DeForest Kelley later remarked on how it took him nearly a half-day to receive all the aging make-up for this episode, at least his long-suffering really pays off! Kelley offers a terrific performance as a grumpy old man.
However, there were some loose ends that are never really revisited in this episode. Why was an unresolved romance between Kirk and Janet introduced without purpose? Also, what are we to make of the fact that all the colonists on Gamma Hydra IV have died? Lastly, how has Commodore Stocker possibly survived this long as a senior Federation officer? Can he recover from this embarrassment? Should we assume that he will be stripped of his title for nearly reigniting war with the Romulans by crossing into the Neutral Zone.
In all, I would not say this episode is without flaw, it is probably not one I would soon revisit, but generally speaking, “The Deadly Years” is a great little adventure that allows the Enterprise and its leaders to shine despite a remarkably difficult situation.
Writer David P. Harmon (1918-2001) was a Hollywood writer and producer, this was one of two Star Trek episodes he wrote. In this episode he was hoping for a somewhat more philosophical examination. He was actually intending to contrast the American praise of youth with Eastern reverence for old age.
Director Joseph Pevney (1911-2008) is tied with Marc Daniels for most TOS episodes directed.
Star Trek Trivia:
- As he gets older, Dr. McCoy’s southern dialect becomes more apparent: “I’m not a magician, Spock, just an old country doctor.”
- Despite his rapid aging, Kirk claims his true age is 34 years old in this episode.
- The set for this episode is the same one used in Zefram Cochrane’s in “Metamorphosis.”
- Apparently, William Shatner requested that his aging make-up not appear quite as old as other actors in this episode, particularly that of Leonard Nimoy.
- There is also apparently an amusing gag reel clip from this episode featuring William Shatner in his aged make-up cursing producer Robert “Bob” Justman. Shatner had just spent most of the day having his painful make-up put in place only to leave minimal time for shooting.
- Carolyn Nelson makes a cameo as Yeoman Atkins in this wife, she was the wife of frequent Star Trek director Joseph Sargent.
- DeForest Kellley appears again in an aged state in The Next Generation two-part Season 1 opener “Encounter At Farpoint.”