Star Trek: The Original Series

"The Deadly Years"

2 stars

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
Next episode: Obsession

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17 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 . . .
Fri, May 19, 2017, 2:18pm (UTC -5)
I thought this was a poignant episode - the aging was well acted. Kirk's aging reminded me of how Brando talked in the Godfather Part I. His mannerisms as an old man were great.
I agree with Cyaptain Kyirk's comments and must say Jammer's review and rating are off the mark.
The pacing is a bit slow at times and going over Kirk's incompetence in the hearing could have been sped up - but the counter-argument is to show (albeit in an exaggerated way) the challenges of dealing with the elderly.
The issue I have is Stocker taking command and going straight into the Neutral Zone. He should know better.
Kirks' corbomite maneuver is clever but shouldn't the ship have suffered heavy damage and had the warp engines affected? Instead they're able to reach warp 8 immediately.
Also - sort of like in "Operation -- Annihilate" - the crew miss the obvious for the cure until it's almost too late. Chekov's adrenalin ramping up because of his fright and the light from the Denevan sun killing the parasites - both should have been obvious.
But these are relatively minor nitpicks in what is a good episode. For me 3 stars out of 4.
Mon, May 22, 2017, 11:03pm (UTC -5)
I think 2.0 stars is a little low. I'd say 2.5 stars. Bottom line, this is an entertaining episode. However, there are some problems with it.

Everything in this episode indicates Commodore Stocker is a stickler for regulations. So why, toward the end of the episode, does he ignore the very important regulation "Stay out of the neutral zone"? As Rahul correctly points out, "he should know better".

Also, isn't rather insulting to Sulu that no one fights for him to be placed in command. (I once read that Nichelle Nichols said that Uhura was 4th in command, but everything I've seen in every episode indicates that Sulu is the 4th highest ranking officer.) We have, on several occasions, previously seen Sula in command of the bridge. (Two that come to mind right away are "The Man Trap", and "Errand of Mercy"). Granted, when Sulu previously had the con, it was usually for a brief period of time with a higher ranking officer close by (Spock and Kirk on the planet surface, Scotty down in engineering). Still, Sulu probably has more Starship bridge command experience than Commodore Stocker. (I say "probably" because we don't Commodore Stocker's exact history. However, Kirk refers to him as a "chair bound paper pusher" who's "never had a field command". This would indicate that Stocker does not have much actual field experience. )

In fairness to Stocker, I don't feel you can dislike him. He did what he thought was right (except for his decision to enter the Neutral Zone).
Roger W Norris
Fri, Jul 28, 2017, 1:52pm (UTC -5)
It's always interesting to look at old episodes from the standpoint of the present. But the obvious question is: how did Stocker get to be a Commodore (and one of the few around)? We know now that everyone in Starfleet has to go to the Academy, as far as I know. So Stocker would have gone through the security training, and possibly the Kobayashi Maru test. He may not have been in battle, but he should have known what Starfleet protocols are about conflict with their adversaries. He didn't, but he was still promoted.
By the way, is the appearance of Kirk in this episode what the 85 year old Shatner really looks like?
Sun, Aug 27, 2017, 6:12pm (UTC -5)
Roger - you seriously haven't seen what Shatner looks like the last 20 years? Bloated carcass comes to mind.
Trek fan
Sat, Oct 28, 2017, 7:30pm (UTC -5)
Star Trek does old age as only Star Trek can do, bringing home the fears and anxieties it entails by infecting our most virile young characters with a rapid aging disease. Good stuff to watch the crew grapple with the diminishment of aging in their own ways, but the subplots are also fairly engaging, and it's great to see the Romulans return albeit as something of an incidental threat. I give "Deadly Years" 3 or maybe even (on a REALLY good day) 3 1/2 stars.

The aging seems to hit Kirk hardest, as his youthful bravado and glibness are checked by a disease that threatens to wrest away his sense of command, hitting him where he's most vulnerable. Scotty just seems sad; Spock seems distracted as he struggles to hang onto his logic and McCoy just acts slightly more crotchety than usual as he strives to stay focused on a cure. It's really Kirk who ages most distressingly here, embarrassing himself by repeating things and feeling a loss of potency around the lady guest star. Kirk's clear dependence on his job for a sense of identity and his stubborn refusal to accept his growing limitations are both poignant (on one hand he's fighting to stay alive and potent) and saddening to watch; the show gets a bit "real" here in playing off Shatner's own ego to show up Kirk's limits.

The guest doctor and commodore are clearly just passengers, as the Enterprise is wont to carry. There's a line about the doctor assisting McCoy with research. It's refreshing to see the commodore presented realistically: Stocker wears red here, the color that most base commanders (see "Court Martial") wear in TOS, and it's an administrative/security branch of the service.

So Commodore Stocker is not a command officer wearing gold (like "Menagerie" guy, Bob Wesley, and Matt Decker) and it's consistent that such a person would not be trained to command a flagship. The man is an administrator/base commander, not a ship captain. Only in TNG do we start getting the "perfect human being" syndrome where every Starfleet officer seems trained in every single thing on the ship: Crusher can take command, Troi can run the helm, etc. Excuse me, but even the future isn't so perfect. When Commodore Stocker takes over the Enterprise in "Deadly Years," it's more by necessity of rank than anything else, since the top command officers -- Kirk, Spock, Scotty, and McCoy -- are out of operation and the young lieutenants seem unable to command.

Other stuff I like: Chekov's griping about the checkups, the "Corbomite Maneuver" callback (although it's a bit pat), the doomed science division lieutenant from the landing party seeing herself in the mirror, and the menacing Romulan armada attack where the Romulans remain true to sneaky form by refusing visual or audio communications. It's good to see the Romulans again even if we never see them onscreen; they pack a stronger punch at this point in the series than the Klingons, who were strong in "Errand" and a bit weaker in "Friday's Child." In any event, "Balance of Terror" was probably a better debut for the Romulans than the Klingons in "Errand," and I always thought the Romulans were a little cooler/more complex in TOS than the Klingons.

I will admit the competency hearing goes on a bit too long without advancing the plot or characters very strongly; there's not much drama here since so little seems to be at stake. I'm not sure this scene really "interrupts" the search for a cure and puts the crew at risk as some people suggest. Nurse Chapel and the medical staff are undoubtedly still working on it during the hearing. But it's a bit anti-dramatic and the show only really picks up some energy when Stocker takes over and totally freezes up as the Romulan armada starts blasting the hell out of the NCC-1701: It's a moment when we really wonder how the heck they are going to get out of it. There's just a bit of saggy pacing to endure before we get to this more exciting climax.
Trek fan
Fri, Nov 3, 2017, 11:29pm (UTC -5)
Okay, I have to take back one thing from my last post: There's no way I can give "Deadly Years" 3 1/2 stars even on a good day. The pacing is just too leaden when everything stops for the competency hearing; the whole thing feels like filler. While I sometimes think 2 1/2 stars for this one, it's probably best for me to stick with a low 3 stars for it, representing how I most often feel about it. I do like the examination of aging and mortality through the lens of Our Heroes, but a realistic episode like TNG's "Relics" or even the final TAS episode with Captain Robert April and his wife do a better job of looking at these diminishment issues. Unlike "Relics," where Scotty proves that wisdom makes old people more useful than we think, "Deadly Years" lands on "old people are useless" and leaves us there by having YOUNG Kirk return to save the day at the end. And despite the clever bit with Kirk appearing to make a mistake in broadcasting over code two, it's not a very satisfying way to end on the whole question of elder rights and value. Here in "Deadly Years," we mostly get superficial entertainments in watching Kirk-McCoy-Spock deteriorate into crotechy old men without any redemptive purpose on the ship. And Kirk's dilemma of losing his ability to command his beloved ship -- while reinforcing a theme that will recur all the way up to his speech to Picard in "Generations" about never giving up the cpatain's chair -- suffers a bit as we watch him humiliate himself in the competency hearing to no purpose. While it's good to see Kirk vulnerable, "Deadly Years" does very little with it, and it's an average-to-good entry rather than a great episode.
Sun, Dec 31, 2017, 4:02pm (UTC -5)
good premise wasted by being slow and pointless
Sun, Dec 31, 2017, 4:10pm (UTC -5)
one positive thing: the make up used to make the ill crew members look old were quite good
Ozal Ventura
Fri, Feb 9, 2018, 10:59am (UTC -5)

One HUGE problem with this episode: The characters behaved like they had a month, not a day or two, to figure everything out

Fri, Mar 16, 2018, 10:36pm (UTC -5)
Spock declining command on the grounds that he had the same affliction as Kirk was silly, because Vulcans have twice the lifespan humans do, and there was nothing in the dialogue that indicated that the disease was progressing at twice the rate it was in humans, as evidenced by Lieutenant Galway shriveling up completely before the end of Act II. Even if you split the difference on Spock's life expectancy given his human half - which isn't how genetics works - Spock was still in possession of all his mental faculties and had no reason not to take command at least through the resolution of the immediate crisis. Certainly Commodore Stocker commanded the ship as if he'd been lobotomized. Exit question: Did Kirk have Irrumodic Syndrome (24th century Altzheimers)? Because if he did, Starfleet Medical must have lost McCoy's cure for it by a century later.

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