Director: Joseph Pevney
Writer: David P. Harmon
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Charles Drake, Sarah Marshall, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Majel Barrett, Walter Koenig, Felix Locher, Carolyn Nelson, Laura Wood, and Beverly Washburn
Composers: Fred Steiner and Sol Kaplan
Air Date: 12/8/1967
Production #: 60340
While on a routine mission to resupply the Gamma Hydra IV colony, a landing party is exposed to a type of radiation that causes rapid and premature aging. As Dr. McCoy examines an unaffected Chekov in search of a cure, Commodore Stocker (Charles Drake) grows increasingly concerned with Captain Kirk’s incompetence since being afflicted.
“The Deadly Years” struggles to maintain a somber tone thanks to many unintentionally humorous scenes. However, Star Trek fans should appreciate this effort for its insightful commentary on how the aging process can affect one’s ability to function.
William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy should be commended for their respective portrayals of Kirk and Spock in elderly form. By allowing Spock to age at a less substantial rate than his captain, writer David P. Harmon gave Nimoy’s character the chance to react to an awkward but fascinating situation. Initially, Spock refuses to take command for fear that his own judgment will be hampered as a result of his condition. In spite of this, the Vulcan scientist is forced to interrogate his comrades in a painful attempt to determine Kirk’s competency, thus resulting in a powerful conflict between captain and first officer.
Though Kirk’s loss of coherency should evoke strong feelings of sympathy from the audience, there are times when viewers will be left wondering whether to laugh or cry upon witnessing the captain bumble through his usual command routine. Also amusing are the quips and mannerisms of a decrepit McCoy, who adds an inappropriate sense of humor to an otherwise morbid situation.
Despite the seeming ability of the Enterprise crew to defeat no-win scenarios time and time again, McCoy’s sudden reversal of the aging process stretches the boundaries of realism, even for a science fiction based show such as Star Trek. Perhaps this problem could have been solved with an explanation that the comet’s radiation produces an effect similar but not identical to advanced aging in humans.
Like the Star Trek film series featuring the original cast, “The Deadly Years” draws attention to an unpleasant but unavoidable phase of the human experience. As this episode indicates, the geriatric stage of life often brings about a loss of dignity and function that can be difficult for both the afflicted and his or her loved ones to endure. What makes this case especially disturbing is the fact that Captain Kirk, who many admire for his sharp wit and unparalleled command experience, must undergo the gradual loss of his most defining attributes until his captaincy is finally stripped from him in a most humiliating fashion.
A study on coping with the inevitable, “The Deadly Years” will appeal to Star Trek enthusiasts for its resonating subject matter. Likewise, many fans will enjoy Kirk’s solution to yet another frightening encounter with the Romulans.
Overall Quality: 8/10
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