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The Trek Nation - The Deadly Years

The Deadly Years

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at March 10, 2006 - 7:44 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Deadly Years' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: When the Enterprise delivers supplies to the colony of Gamma Hydra IV on the way to a starbase to drop off Commodore Stocker, a landing party consisting of most of the senior officers finds that the colonists have aged at an unnatural pace and all are dead or dying. When the crew returns to the ship, all members of the group discover that they are aging at an accelerated rate...all except Chekov, who screamed when he discovered the first body on the planet. Kirk wants to stay near enough to the planet to test its atmosphere and try to discover whether the Romulans may have meddled with the colonists, but Stocker insists that Kirk is not in his right mind and the ship should take him to his starbase, where they can obtain better medical treatment. The Commodore demands a hearing at which Kirk is temporarily stripped of command, but when Stocker tries to take the ship through the Romulan Neutral Zone to reach the starbase more quickly, it is attacked. Meanwhile Kirk has guessed that Chekov's terror may be linked to his failure to age like the rest of the landing party, allowing McCoy to guess that adrenaline prevented the pathogen's effects and to concoct an antidote. Kirk takes command just in time to bluff his way past the Romulans and get the ship to safety.


Analysis: "The Deadly Years" isn't a deep episode and its miracle scientific cure is preposterous, but that doesn't stop it from being one of the most fun around. It's yet another example of why Starfleet needs to pass an immediate rule that no visiting evil admirals or incompetent commodores can take command of ships even from disabled captains whom they outrank, and it's a testament to the fact that makeup artists aren't very good at guessing how people will actually look when they get older (Kirk and Scotty both remain trim, Kirk keeps all his hair, McCoy acquires the worst whitish-blond hippie look ever). And it establishes Chekov for all time as a screamer.

But the real heart of the story is the captain, faced with his own failing memory and Spock conceding to the inevitability of having him replaced. "You traitorous, disloyal...you stab me in the back the first chance you get? Spock! Get out! I never want to look at you again," rants Kirk. It's one of Shatner's finest moments. Oh, the angst!

What's entertaining to watch here is not Kirk's sad decline, but his crew's reactions to it. There's no secret glee at seeing the captain make a fool of himself; Sulu and Uhura are both uncomfortable and unhappy having to point out his errors, and Spock seems as gravely concerned at how Kirk will react to being contradicted as he does about the danger to the ship from Kirk's mistakes. It is, perhaps, foolish (all right, idiotic) of Spock to choose to let an incompetent commodore take command when his own faculties are still intact, but it seems more important to Spock to be able to look Kirk in the eye and announce that he has not taken command of Kirk's ship.

Of course this only enrages Kirk further, for he realizes that it means Stocker is sitting on his bridge, but it salvages the underlying threat to the friendship and makes the senior officer the adversary, just like in "The Doomsday Machine" and "A Taste of Armageddon." Though McCoy and Scotty age more visibly, they appear less affected in terms of their cognitive functions than Kirk - but then, the youngest member of the landing party is the only one to die, her metabolism having been faster than the others.

The hearing drags a bit onscreen because viewers have already witnessed the events used as testimony against Kirk, but what's truly astonishing is that Spock does not demand that McCoy and himself be excused to continue research into the pathogen. And there's another subplot involving a more annoying than usual love interest for Kirk, a doctor, though we don't see her doing anything to indicate competence in her field, just hear a sob story about how Kirk abandoned her so she married someone else and is now a widow.

Fortunately, there is humor to balance it in the subplot involving Chekov's apparent immunity. From the time Chapel informs him, "This won't hurt...much," the healthy member of the landing party is as miserable as the sick ones. "Give us some more blood, Chekov. The needle won't hurt, Chekov. Take off your shirt, Chekov. Roll over, Chekov. Breathe deeply, Chekov. Blood sample, Chekov. Marrow sample, Chekov. Skin sample, Chekov. If I live long enough, I'm going to run out of samples." When Sulu points out that he'll live, Chekov concedes that he will, but he won't enjoy it.

Despite the silliness of having Stocker in command, it's necessary to pick up the pace; Kirk would never have been so stupid as to fly across the Neutral Zone, so the ship is having an external crisis just at the moment that McCoy is solving the scientific problem with an insanely simply solution that somehow miraculously reverses the effects of aging they've already experienced as well as stopping its progression. It's worth it, though, to see Kirk stride onto the bridge, ask Uhura for Code Two - the very code that first revealed his developing forgetfulness, since, as Uhura reminded him, the Romulans had already broken that code - and then use his legendary Corbomite maneuver, threatening to blow up the ship and poison everything around it for four solar years. The Romulans back off, the Enterprise escapes, and everything's back to normal.

Part of the appeal of Star Trek the television series (as opposed to Star Trek the movies) is that we always know they're going to find a way out of every crisis relatively unscathed. Unlike in the films, where characters die and ships get blown up on a fairly regular basis, we know all these characters will be restored to their youthful appearances and escape the Romulans before the episode is over, so it's very rare that drama can be generated just from a ship-in-peril storyline. There has to be some important character crisis going on as well.

In this case, it's Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty all facing up to aging and mortality, and there's no denying that this storyline takes on much greater poignancy now, when two of the actors who played these characters have passed away and one of the others can be seen every week on a new TV show playing a man in the early stages of Alzheimer's. There isn't any profound social message about the treatment of the elderly in "The Deadly Years" - in fact the episode reinforces stereotypes about women regretting their lost looks more than their hearing, onetime heroes becoming grumpy old men and seniors not being willing to accept that there are some tasks better left to younger colleagues. Kirk could easily have kept his command had he been willing to delegate just a bit more; Uhura, Sulu and Chekov were ready and able to compensate for his lapses. It's very touching, all the more so now because of the nostalgia factor. Who could have anticipated when this series was being made that we would eventually get to see the senior officers as elderly, and eventually see the franchise long after their deaths?


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.