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Recap / Star Trek S2 E12 "The Deadly Years"

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It's funny looking back on this one, since William Shatner is now in his 90s and still doesn't look at all like this.

Original air date: December 8, 1967

It all starts when Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, Chekov and Lt. Arlene Galway (a Redshirt who knows how to rock a pixie cut and a blue mini dress) beam down to Gamma Hydra IV to check up on a colonization party. It looks as though everyone died of old age, though they haven't been there that long. They find a couple still alive who claim to be in their late twenties, but they look positively ancient. The couple is brought aboard the Enterprise for examination, but little can be done for them. It becomes even more imperative to learn how to halt this Rapid Aging when the landing party begins to do the same. Commodore George Stocker moves to have the rapidly aging Kirk relieved of duty- and command transferred to him, seeing as how all other senior officers are likewise suffering. He holds a hearing where the crew is forced to admit that, yes, Kirk's absent mindedness has been affecting his ability to command. Stocker takes command and drives the ship straight into the Romulan Neutral Zone. Fortunately, Bones has discovered the antidote just in time and Kirk is ready to save the day.

Fun fact: Felix Locher, who plays the prematurely aged Robert Johnson, is in fact the oldest person ever to appear in Star Trek, born in 1882. He had turned 85 years old a few weeks before his scenes were shot for the episode. (Robert's wife Elaine was played by the much younger Laura Wood, born in 1901 - though this was Wood's second appearance as a prematurely aged character on the show, following a brief but memorable scene in "Charlie X".)

The Deadly Tropes:

  • Afraid of Needles: There was a subplot where Chekov was reluctant to be poked and prodded in hopes of finding a cure. Unfortunately, these scenes are cut from the syndicated version of the remastered episode, though we do get a scene involving him griping to Sulu afterwards. They are intact on the DVD.
  • Attack Hello
    Stocker: Lieutenant Uhura, let me know if we contact any Romulan.
    Uhura: I think we just made contact, sir.
  • Bluff the Eavesdropper: Kirk orders Uhura to send the message about the Corbomite in a code already broken by the Romulans.
  • Break the Haughty: Kirk is the one who is most disgusted with turning senile while getting old, and so it's him that digs his heels in trying to ignore it, and consistently humiliates himself. He only starts doing well when he's young again, and hopes that growing old won't be for a while yet.
  • Brick Joke: While going senile, Kirk keeps repeating orders having forgotten that he's made them. At the end of the episode Sulu does a Repeat to Confirm, making Kirk wonder if he isn't going senile again. "I thought I said that."
  • Call-Back: To "The Corbomite Maneuver", Kirk convinces the Romulans that the Enterprise has a newly installed corbomite device that will take out all ships in the area. Chekov (who was not present for the original episode, so Sulu must have told him) can hardly contain his giggles.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Chekov's Freak Out upon discovering the dead body ends up providing the secret to countering the radiation.
    • Early in the episode Kirk discusses how the outpost is close to the Romulan Neutral Zone that they later violate.
    • One of the signs of Kirk's mental deterioration is forgetting that the Romulans have broken Code 2. After he recovers, he uses the fact to bluff the Romulans.
  • Comet of Doom: Not of the "supernatural harbinger" variant, but it turns out that radioactive particles from a comet's tail are responsible for the Rapid Aging.
  • *Crack!* "Oh, My Back!": After his gratuitous Shirtless Scene, Kirk realizes his back hurts and goes to see Bones about it. He's shocked to hear that it's advanced arthritis.
  • The Dilbert Principle: Stocker assumes command of the Enterprise because everyone else above the rank of Lieutenantnote  has been struck by the Rapid Aging disease. Spock recommends Sulu take command as the most experienced bridge officer but Stocker refuses, apparently his pride prevents him from standing idly by while a single-striper is at the conn.note  It should be noted that Stocker wears a Red Shirt, indicating that he works within the operations division of Starfleet, and it is explicitly mentioned that he has no command training or experience. He subsequently proves himself to be a living example of The Dilbert Principle some decades before that term was even coined, since the rookie mistakes he makes in command (crossing into the Romulan Neutral Zone in violation of treaty and against Starfleet regulationsnote , attempting to hail the Romulans who intercepted themnote , and then preparing to surrender to them once it's clear the Enterprise has been beatennote ) are called out by Sulu, Uhura, and even Chekov, an Ensign Newbie not even a year out of the academy. Stocker clearly hasn't been promoted above his level of competence so much as he's been promoted to the place he could do the least harm - at least until his Reassignment Backfire.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: An aging Kirk rejects Wallace's affections.
    Kirk: What are you offering me, Jan? Love, or a going away present?
  • Due to the Dead:
    • When Robert and Elaine arrive and see the landing party gathered around the corpse, Robert (too far gone in senility to understand the situation) remarks that they've "come to pay their respects to Alvin".
    • Bones doesn't have to say "He's dead, Jim" when Robert Johnson does it. He just pulls a sheet over his face.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: Not so much "dumb" as "increasingly senile", but the aging Kirk protests that Stocker shouldn't command the Enterprise because he's "a chair-bound paper-pusher". On that score, he's proven right when Stocker freezes up during the battle with the Romulans.
    • Also when he points out how much time is being wasted on the bureaucratic, tedious competency hearing, when they could and should be looking for a cure to the aging sickness.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Kirk feels personally betrayed over the competency hearing and his subsequent loss of command.
    Kirk: (to Spock) You stab me in the back the first chance you get?
  • Facial Dialogue:
    • We see the pained look on Spock's face as he's forced to hold a competency hearing to relieve his friend of command, and is later accused by the same friend of treachery.
    • The Bridge crew give Stocker an incredulous look when he wonders what to do (not just because he doesn't know what to do, but because he's expressing his doubts openly).
    • The same crew share a knowing grin when Kirk mentions "corbomite" in his fake signal.
  • First Gray Hair: Bones is not amused when Kirk points this out.
  • Formerly Fit: To imply this for Kirk as he gets older, they give Shatner a much baggier Command uniform.
  • Get Out!: Kirk says this to Spock upon learning that he's been relieved of command in favor of Stocker.
  • Girl of the Week: Dr. Janet Wallace is an Old Flame of Kirk's. She has since married. And been widowed (Kirk sent her a "star-gram" of condolence, his only communication with her since their breakup more than six years earlier). She's still in love with him, but he's not interested.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Bones becomes one. Of course, it helps that he started as a grumpy middle aged man. Kirk shows signs of this as his command was taken away. Spock becomes a mild one as he complains incessantly about being cold.
  • Hard-Work Montage: A brief one to show Spock, Dr. Wallace, and Nurse Chapel all hard at work trying to make an antidote.
  • He's Back!: It's all over everyone's faces when a cured Kirk takes back command of his ship.
  • He's Dead, Jim: Bones diagnoses this just by taking Galway's carotid pulse after she stumbles into Sickbay and collapses.
  • Hypocrite: To a degree — when Stocker assumes command of the Enterprise, Spock reminds him that he's never commanded a starship, to which Stocker responds "What would you have, a junior officer with far less experience than I have?" While Stocker may have at least a couple decades of experience in Starfleet, Spock has just pointed out that none of it includes command experience on a starship; Sulu, by contrast, is a junior officer who actually has commanded the Enterprise before, but this is never brought up.
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder:
    Bones: I'm not a magician, Spock, just an old country doctor.
    Spock: Yes, as I always suspected.
  • The Immune: Spock's comparatively mild afflictions are explained away by Vulcan physiology, but Chekov hasn't been affected at all.
  • Improbable Antidote: Good old-fashioned adrenaline!
  • Jerkass Has a Point : Even if Commodore Stocker is an incompetent captain, he's right about one thing: Kirk isn't in any condition to command the Enterprise. In fact his actions are only motivated by concern for their lives.
  • Kind Restraints: Old Kirk has to be restrained to a biobed to keep him from trying to shuffle up to the bridge during the battle. It becomes even more necessary with the convulsions caused by the adrenaline serum.
  • Hyperspeed Escape: Kirk bluffs the Romulans into backing off, then takes them out of the Neutral Zone at Warp 8.
  • Loving Details: Dr. Wallace knows (almost) exactly how long it's been since she last saw Captain Kirk: "Six years, four months, and an odd number of days. You mean you don't know?"
  • Magic Antidote: Spock's serum not only stops the disease, it reverses the effect almost instantly. Even worse because it's not the usual Fantastic Drug of the Future but one based on adrenaline!
  • Married to the Job: Implied as to why the Wallace/Kirk romance failed.
    Kirk: Things wouldn't change if it started all over again, would it? You have your job, I have my ship, and neither one of us will change.
  • May–December Romance: Dr. Wallace's deceased husband was 26 years her senior. When Wallace tries to rekindle her romance with Kirk, he implies that he's a Replacement Goldfish given that he too is now much older. It's an unfair accusation as Wallace makes it clear that their nobler qualities are what attracted her to both men.
  • Mirror Scare: An In-Universe version with Galway, who responds with anger when she sees her aged face in a mirror as she's leaving Sickbay.
  • Moment Killer: Alone in the briefing room with Wallace, Kirk looks like he's about to kiss her when Uhura buzzes him on the intercom to say Spock needs him on the Bridge.
  • Never Sleep Again: Galway is told to go rest in her quarters, but she's afraid to go to sleep because she knows she'll look far worse when she wakes up. Kirk tells her to go back on duty instead.
  • Oh, Crap!: When the Romulans attack the Enterprise, the look on Stocker's face plainly says this trope.
  • Obscured Special Effects: After taking the antidote, Kirk's lower half is shown convulsing on the bed while Dr. Wallace describes how his symptoms are reversing.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: The Captain forgets orders he's already given and viciously harangues Spock who is dying himself and is only trying to do the right thing.
  • One Head Taller: Particularly noticeable when Lieutenant Galway beams down with the others, looking like she's either a Space Cadet or Starfleet Academy has reduced their minimal height requirements.
  • Overnight Age-Up: The basis of the plot.
  • Perilous Old Fool: Kirk temporarily becomes this over the course of the episode as he begins to lose his mental faculties to the point that he has to be relieved of command.
  • The Plague: An unknown disease causes Rapid Aging.
  • Rapid Aging: Several of the Enterprise crew (including Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty) come down with a form of radiation poisoning that causes them to age rapidly (about ten years per day). It also hits the crew differently. While Kirk physically ages relatively slowly, his mental capabilities are almost immediately impaired. Bones is the opposite, physically aging quickly but keeping his intellect fully intact(aside from a Senior Sleep-Cycle). Spock is hit the least, but still loses confidence in his own abilities and refuses command. Red Shirt Lt. Galway is hit the worst, almost immediately aging into oblivion. Scotty just gets old and sleepy. Chekov isn't affected at all, so he is bombarded with tests to find out why.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Perhaps remarkably for this era of Trek, Commodore Stocker has no ulterior motives at all and his concerns with Kirk commanding are entirely correct (obviously). Stocker is grossly unqualified to assume command of the ship, but he is following regulations to the best of his abilities. He probably should have assigned command to one of the junior command officers, but he doesn't know the crew nor how to even evaluate them.
  • Red Shirt: Lt. Galway is a rare (at least, for TOS) female example of this trope. Technically she has a blue science uniform, but she otherwise fits this trope as standard.
  • Ridiculously Difficult Route: Stocker wants to get to Starbase Ten as quickly as possible so he can make use of their superior medical facilities to save Kirk and the others. Unfortunately he takes a shortcut through the Neutral Zone, patrolled by a xenophobic Proud Warrior Race.
  • Russian Guy Suffers Most: Double Subversion. Chekov isn't affected by the virus at all. Nevertheless, he becomes annoyed at the uncomfortable tests being performed to find out why he's immune.
    Chekov: "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 — if — I live long enough, I'm going to run out of samples!
    Sulu: You'll live.
    Chekov: Oh, yes, I'll live, but I won't enjoy it!

    Bones: Now, this isn't going to hurt a bit.
    Chekov: That's what you said last time.
    Bones: Did it hurt?
    Chekov: Yes!
  • Scare Chord: Played when Chekov first sees a dead and shriveled body on Gamma Hydra. Later, it's revealed that he's lucky that he was scared. The adrenaline rush protected him from rapid aging.
  • Senior Sleep-Cycle: Kirk falls asleep in his command chair. Bones needs to be prodded awake to give testimony during Kirk's competency hearing.
  • Screaming Woman: Gender-inverted; it's Chekov not The Squadette who discovers the corpse and freaks out. Ironically this saves his life and later everyone else's (except The Squadette).
  • Shirtless Scene: For some reason, Kirk just likes answering the intercom in his quarters with no shirt on. Fortunately, it's just before he starts having signs of aging, so he's still Mr. Fanservice.
  • Stock Footage:
    • The Romulan attack is edited together from footage taken from "Balance of Terror" and "Errand of Mercy".
    • The last shot of the episode, with Sulu and Chekov glancing at each other is recycled from "Amok Time". Chekov's longer hairstyle is clearly noticeable.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Commodore Stocker, who nearly gets the Enterprise destroyed by the Romulans. He is suicidally stupid and incompetent, including blindly charging the Enterprise right into the Neutral Zone without a plan or strategy, not ordering the Enterprise to fire back at a Romulan Bird of Prey that opens up on them without warning, and attempting to contact and negotiate with the Romulans, who show zero interest in doing so, and finally wants to contact them to surrender, despite the fact Romulans don't take prisoners and already aren't picking up any of the contact attempts.
  • Undying Loyalty: Despite how obvious it is that Kirk is no longer fit for command, all of his officers are notably reluctant to say anything against him.
  • Unfinished, Untested, Used Anyway: The adrenaline serum. With the Romulans attacking the ship, they really couldn't wait to test it properly.
  • Wham Line: Kirk goes to Sickbay with what he thinks is a muscle twinge until McCoy tells him what it really is.
    McCoy: It's advanced arthritis, and it's spreading.
  • Wham Shot: Scotty walking into Sickbay with very gray hair and wrinkles.
  • Women Are Delicate: Dr. Wallace spends the entire episode acting as if speaking loudly enough to be heard and displaying more strength than an orchid against a typhoon will literally cause her to fall to pieces.
  • You Are in Command Now: It's obvious The Captain is not up to the job, so Commander Stocker asks Spock to take command, as given his longer lifespan he still has command of his mental faculties. Spock refuses because he no longer has confidence in his own abilities, so Stocker forces a competency hearing, then chooses to take command of the Enterprise himself rather than hand over to a junior officer like Sulu who does not have his extensive experience. Unfortunately Stocker's experience does not include commanding a starship, especially in combat conditions.
  • Younger Than They Look: Robert and Elaine Johnson, and soon the bulk of the landing party.
  • You Won't Feel a Thing!:
    • Dr. McCoy tells Nurse Chapel to prepare Ensign Chekov for another physical. She tells Chekov, "This won't hurt... much."
    • Later on, Chekov complains about the multiple medical exams by repeating what he's been told during them.
      Chekov: "Give us some more blood, Chekov. The needle won't hurt, Chekov."
    • Dr. McCoy continues to test Chekov.
      McCoy: Now this isn't going to hurt a bit.
      Chekov: That's what you said the last time.
      McCoy: Did it hurt?
      Chekov: Yes!