Star Trek: The Original Series

"The Deadly Years"


Air date: 12/8/1967
Written by David P. Harmon
Directed by Joseph Pevney

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

While investigating a colony along the Romulan neutral zone, a strange disease infects Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, and Lt. Galway (Gee, who's gonna die?), causing them to rapidly age. Now the race is on to find a cure before the aforementioned crew members all grow old and die.

Despite some great makeup effects to make the characters look old, and some standout performances to go along with it, "The Deadly Years" suffers from a total lack of direction and urgency. The episode's main thrust becomes an analysis on Kirk's unwillingness to give up command of his ship when his mental capacity is challenged. But why on Earth, with time to solve the problem so scarce, would Spock allow Commodore Stocker (George Drake) to conduct a competency hearing for Kirk when Spock could simply assume command as an alternative? This competency hearing idea is a sorely misguided attempt at providing "courtroom drama" a la "Court Martial," forcing us to sit through an interminable scene where Kirk is proven incapable of commanding the Enterprise, as characters rehash examples that we witnessed in earlier scenes.

Meanwhile, the race to find a cure is curiously suspended until the hearing is over. This subsequently puts Stocker, the most inept commander of all time, in charge of the Enterprise, which he quickly and ineptly pilots into the middle of a Romulan attack. After Bones comes up with a cure (with an all-too-obvious realization), Kirk saves the day in a nice command sequence. But just how is it curing the disease also reverses the permanent effects of aging?

Previous episode: Friday's Child
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7 comments on this review

Cyaptain Kyirk
Tue, Jan 19, 2010, 4:48pm (UTC -5)
Well I must commend you on making such an effort.
Your website is great! Good work!
But 22 years old is still not, in my humble opinion, "grown up" enough to see all the things that ST has to offer, or the full range of issues it addresses.
For example, your review of "The Deadly Years" completely seems to miss the episode's point on the tragedy of aging, and losing one's abilities and faculties; being helpless and vulnerable, and having to depend on others who may be younger, but not necessarily wiser, experienced or caring, etc.

Mike Meares
Mon, Jul 11, 2011, 12:49pm (UTC -5)
Three stars for Wplf in the Fold, but only two stars for The Deadly Years? If WIYF is 3 stars then TDY is 3 and a half!

The Deadly Years still is a great story. I agree with some of Jammer's criticisms, but not the thurst of it. The story was about Kirk giving up command because of his age and ablility. And it was a good one.

Jammer even says why didn't Spock just take command instead of the competency hearing? In fact, Commodore Stocker ask Spock to do just that and Spock refuses! Why? As Spock says, " I remind you, sir, that I too have contracted the same affliction? " Spock could not take over for Kirk when he was afflicted as the Captain. This wasn't logical for Spock to take command under those conditions. The competency hearing was neccessary.

Just as our older Americans refuse and fight to give up their driving liciense because of their failing health, so Kirk fought to keep control of his command. I thought it was a very strong statement.

Were there weaknesses to the story? Sure! Another love interest for Kirk, which I felt was totally unneccessary for the story. The pain Kirk felt when he thought Spock betray him would have been stronger without the ex-girlfriend thrown in.

But all in all a very good episode.
Tue, Apr 17, 2012, 11:00am (UTC -5)
Three big problems:

1) Kirk and McCoy are very annoying as old people.

2) The love interest for Kirk is extraneous.

3) Why no fallout from the Romulans after this episode? Didn't Stocker, in essence, declare war?
Sun, Mar 3, 2013, 10:18am (UTC -5)
The love interest was not only unnecessary it was just plain mysterious. At no point did they explain why she on the ship in the first place. Of course we know the cure to the aging disease is inevitable, but we still get to see the clever way Kirk bluffs his way out of the hopeless Kobiyashi Maru-like mess Commodore Stocker places the Enterprise. My nitpick issue is that again the writers show how little they understand rank. Commodore Stocker outranked Capt Kirk but kept calling him sir.
Wed, Apr 9, 2014, 10:06pm (UTC -5)
The reason I see for the love interest was to provide contrast. Without it the story would just be enterprise old folks home. She also represented kirks youth and vibrancy, something that was still there inside him yet you couldnt see it.

Of course stocker represents any of us who has had a boss that knows much less than we do. Familiar?

I always enjoyed this ep very much. 3.5 stars.
William B
Tue, Aug 5, 2014, 11:40am (UTC -5)
I used to think this episode was terrible, but it did grow on me on this past viewing. I'm not an old man, but I have a slightly better conception of the way work is important to a person's self-image than in my teen years, and so the pain of Kirk having to come face to face with his inability to do his job resonates with me a little more strongly. My grandmother's deterioration and death over the last few years also provide an emotional context I was intellectually aware of but hadn't experienced, so, that primed me to see the episode better.

In general, I'm not sure if this is a great idea. The TOS movies dealt with aging in something like real-time, starting with TWOK, to great effect; TNG used TOS characters to comment on aging quite well, in "Relics" and especially "Sarek." The artificiality of the extreme aging is necessary for plot purposes, but on some level we "know" throughout the episode that this will all be undone at the episode's end, and the extreme time constraints on finding a cure, etc., make the time spent on the captaincy hearing in-universe, and on us having to sit through so many iterations of Kirk giving an order twice and then the fact of him having given said order twice being reported back to us seems like a waste of a large portion of the episode. I think there is just no way they should have wasted time with that captaincy hearing -- McCoy should have relieved Kirk of command for medical reasons and they could have installed Sulu or Uhura or whoever in command, telling Stocker that if Stocker wishes to take command they will have a formal hearing but otherwise the ranking line officer would take over. It is possible that this would not have worked, and Stocker would have insisted on following through on the hearing like an idiot, and maybe Kirk would have refused to accept McCoy's medical command because McCoy himself is unfit or some such, but that no one seems to consider just telling Kirk that he's medically unfit until a cure is found, and telling Kirk and Stocker that the focus should be on finding a cure rather than whiling away the day at a hearing, seems wrong to me.

Still, in spite of the artificiality, there is something real in this: aging doesn't normally happen over the course of a day, but it may seem that way to people to whom it's happening, and one of the tragedies of dementia is that it becomes difficult for the person to be able to recognize and remember the signs of their own deterioration.

As redshirt28 says, I think the presence of the endocrinologist was to show what Kirk was gradually losing -- the youth and vibrancy of his past, personified. That she *apparently* has a habit of pity-marrying much older men means that even if Kirk can connect to her, it will still make him feel alienated.

I mean, I dunno, talking about this episode makes it sound better than while I was watching it. I think the flaws Jammer mentions are pretty devastating in terms of the episode's overall functioning, at least for me. Still, when it works it kinda sorta works. High end of 2 stars.
Thu, Sep 29, 2016, 4:47am (UTC -5)
Found it disturbing that old age is automatically associated with dementia. Uncomfortable watching . . .

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