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Star Trek: The Deadly Years

Kirk: "Tell me. Am I getting old?"

This episode was innovative when it first aired, and fortunately, it has aged well. (Pun very much intended.) The extreme make-up effects still work, and the cast did a fine job turning into grumpy old men.

Growing old is hard enough when you do it in the natural course of time. Becoming senile in the space of a few days is genuine horror. Kirk's aging manifested itself in memory loss, which made him look foolish and garrulous; it was a real loss of dignity and a much bigger hit to his ego than physical degeneration. Spock barely aged at all, which of course made plot sense since Vulcans have a much longer life span. I just wish we'd seen him wrapped up in a huge, ratty old sweater. I especially liked McCoy's crabby old doctor: I think DeForest Kelley did the best acting job with the physical mannerisms and body language, although the best moment in the episode had to be Kirk falling asleep in the captain's chair.

For once, Kirk's love life held my interest. I thought it was rather fun that his old flame Dr. Wallace had soundly rejected him when he was young but came on to him partway through his accelerated aging process because she preferred older men. Kirk may have had memory problems, but he was still sharp enough to realize she was patronizing him.

It was very Spock-like to carry out a competency hearing when he desperately didn't want to do so. It would have been more logical (but less dramatic, of course) for McCoy to examine Kirk and simply declare that he wasn't competent to command. If Commodore Stocker and his obsession with Starbase 10 weren't there to enhance the conflict, Sulu or Uhura would have done just fine. They certainly wouldn't have taken them into the Neutral Zone. Whatever possessed a Starfleet officer — any Starfleet officer — to take a starship into the Neutral Zone? Yes, Stocker was a paper-pusher, but you'd think that even the lowliest greenhorn ensign would know better than that.

And of course, the big question is why everyone who went down to the planet wasn't immediately quarantined; there wasn't a single word discussing the possibility that the rest of the crew might catch it, too. Oops.

Ben says...

I had mostly forgotten this episode, maybe it's my age... wait a second, those damn kids are on my lawn again!

Okay, I got that out of my system. Two things stand out for me here: just how stupid/annoying/useless we thought old people were a few decades ago and just how stupid/annoying/useless anyone promoted to Starfleet Commodore is. Seriously, does a Commodore ever appear through the course of the whole series that isn't insane, incompetent or both?

The whole old coot thing requires some thought. I would say that it's another Star Trek trip into stereotypes except that I noticed that Shatner is still playing the same character on the &#!* My Father Says as he is in this episode. If you watch the episode, you see that all the actors basically play old (even slightly old) as infirm, irrational, and generally impossible to deal with. I think this may reflect the cultural moment in which Star Trek was created, this isn't a leftover of past prejudice but a reflection of the youth culture of the period where you shouldn't trust anyone over 30. The old folks need to just get out of the way.

Now the Commodore thing, on the other hand, I just don't get. Seriously, how about some kind of performance/competency/annoyingness review or something?

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

— Stardate 3478.2. An experimental colony on a class M planet, Gamma Hydra 4. That Gamma Hydra thing sounded familiar to me, and for good reason; it's the setting of the Kobayashi Maru no-win test scenario in the second Star Trek movie.

— Kirk is 34 years old. The star dates on the tombstone in "Where No Man Has Gone Before" suggested he was 36 then, making him 38 now. I would have found that a bit more believable. Then again, maybe he forgot how old he really was.

— Apparently, the Romulans have broken code two. :)

— Poor Lt. Galway wore blue, but she was obviously a redshirt.

— There was an object on the table in Sick Bay that I didn't remember from before. It looked like a very long turkey baster set upright and stuffed with crumpled tin foil. Jury-rigged futuristic doo-dad that someone probably looked at later and said, "What were we thinking?"

— Dr. Wallace's pink and gold floor-length culottes were definitely something special, in a shuddery "isn't that hideous" sort of way.

— This must have been the transition episode, because Chekov was seen both with a wig and without one. I vote for without.


Kirk: "Total senility."
Spock: "Yes, Captain. In a very short time."
Kirk: "What a way to die."

Kirk: "What are you offering me, Jan? Love, or a going away present?"
Best line in the episode.

Spock: "Doctor, the ship's temperature is increasingly uncomfortable for me. I've adjusted the environment in my quarters to one hundred twenty five degrees, which is at least tolerable. However, I..."
McCoy: "Well, I see I'm not going to be making any house calls on you."

McCoy: "I'm not a magician, Spock. Just an old country doctor."
Spock: "Yes. As I always suspected."

McCoy: "She's dead."
A great opportunity for a "She's dead, Jim," but sadly, no.

The idiotic Commodore Stocker: "We have no alternative but to surrender."
Chekov: (disdainfully) "Sir, the Romulans do not take captives."

A strong episode, although it's not one I enjoyed watching over and over. Three out of four pink and gold culottes (or should that be gray toupees?),

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. To be fair, the characters mention that as fast as they are aging physically, the mental aging was even faster. So the senility and dementia were not just a part of their "age".

  2. There've been a few Commodores who came across reasonably well - Commodore Wesley in "The Ultimate Computer", for instance, and (despite his willingness to sacrifice Kirk's career to "save the service") Commodore Stone in "Court Martial".

    But yes, it does seem like the commodores, admirals, and other captains (Tracy? Harriman? Styles? Esteban?) don't come off well, at least not when compared with JTK.

  3. I loved this episode as a kid and I love it now. I never got half the references back then (especially between Kirk and his old flame) but I admire the acting and really felt for their predicament. One of my top 10 I would think.

  4. So... Are we just supposed to not ask why McCoy has a gigantic aluminum foil dildo on his table in sickbay?

  5. It's a sculpture of a silver Washington Monument, of course.

  6. The makeup effects are indeed great here, something that classic Who got well in The Leisure Hive with Tom's makeup too. Interesting that shows with special effects that don't generally age well did such great jobs on the aging makeup when some modern shows can't get it right.

    It is a product of its time, but it's also something we deal with today in a general sense as well. McCoy is the best here for sure, but I feel that he's been partway to grumpy old man for the entire time in the first place!

  7. I know opinions and knowledge of aging have come a long ways since this episode aired, but I can say Kirk's behaviour was 100% accurate based on the gut punch this episode gave me on the rewatch. I recently had to remove my father from the family farm because of accelerating dementia, for his safety, my mom's safety (he was getting violent), and the farm's safety (meaning he was doing things like hitting buildings with the tractors). Everything Kirk said reminded me of my father, from don't question my decisions, to ask me more questions to prove I'm competent, to everyone is just out to get me. And the scene where he accused Spock of being a traitor is exactly the scene my father played towards myself during the transition from the farm to a loving care home that specializes in extreme dementia. There were plot holes for sure, but this episode gets 5 stars from me for making me feel. And isn't that the mark of great TV?

    1. Dr. Johnny, I found your comment quite moving. I lost my favorite aunt to dementia a couple of years ago, particularly sad because she was so brilliant, one of my favorite people. One of the last times I saw her, she spit at me.

      This episode is a strong one, a well done story that makes us feel, as you said.


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