40 "The Deadly Years"

(airdate: December 8, 1967)

Writer: David P. Harmon
Director: Joseph Pevney

Commodore Stocker: Charles Drake
Robert Johnson: Felix Locher
Elaine Johnson: Laura Wood

Janet Wallace: Sarah Marshall
Yeoman Atkins: Carolyn Nelson
Lt. Arlene Galway: Beverly Washburn

Stardate: 3478.2

Captain's Log: The Enterprise heads to the planet Gamma Hydra IV to perform an annual check on a scientific expedition stationed there, but when they arrive they find that every member of the expedition - all under 30 years old - are suffering from extreme old age. Soon the entire expedition has died, and the entire landing party - with the exception of Chekov - is suffering from the same unknown affliction. While McCoy looks for a cure, the rest of the party becomes increasingly incapacitated, with Kirk forgetting critical information and prior conversations. This leads to a competency hearing, where Kirk is relieved of command, replaced by Commodore Stocker, who's on board on his way to Starbase 10. In an effort to cure the landing party, Stocker orders the Enterprise to head directly to Starbase 10, even though that means entering the Romulan Neutral Zone. Meanwhile, McCoy discovers that adrenaline is the cure to the condition: Chekov wasn't affected because he experienced an adrenaline surge on the planet surface. McCoy is able to create a cure, which allows Kirk to reclaim control of the ships, just as it's surrounded by Romulan ships inside the Neutral Zone. Kirk is able to bluff his way out of the situation, allowing the Enterprise to escape the Neutral Zone.

Whoops!: As in "Balance of Terror", there are a number of blurry shots of the underside of the Enterprise while it's under attack by Romulans. As Shatner is "aged", his hairline recedes - until he reaches the most advanced stage of aging, at which point it's back to its normal position, only white.
     We realize they wanted to add some external pressure to events, but how monumentally dumb must Commodore Stocker be to enter the Romulan Neutral Zone? Can he really be so clueless as to think that the Romulans will be OK with this? We know they're trying to contrast his lack of shipboard experience with Kirk's, but that seems like overegging the pudding by a considerable margin.

Classic Lines: Chekov: "'Give us 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."
      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!"

Don't Wear a Red Shirt: The entire Johnson expedition dies of old age as a result of an unusual type of radiation from a passing comet; Robert Johnson is the last to die. Lt. Galway also dies as a result of exposure to this radiation. (Thus making her by broadcast the first female crewmember to die on the series; by production it's Lt. Tracy in "Wolf in the Fold".)

Alien Love: Several years ago, Kirk and Janet Wallace had a relationship, but it ended when neither of them were willing to give up their careers for the other. Janet still had feelings for Kirk, although the prematurely aged Kirk somewhat angrily (and probably unfairly) dismissed those feelings as Janet pitying Kirk (and implying that she's into older men).

Library Computer: Gamma Hydra IV is a reddish-brown class M planet, with a conventional oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere (which screens out the normal amount of cosmic rays), normal mass, and a reddish-orange sky, located close to the Romulan Neutral Zone. The area where the Johnson expedition has set up looks dry, with blowing dust, sparse yellow patches of tall grass, and spindly trees with small blue-purple leaves. [The overall effect is of an arid, desert-like climate.]
     Gamma Hydra IV was the site of a scientific expedition. The expedition had erected some structures, including a couple tall, sixteen-sided, roughly cylindrical buildings. The experimental colony consisted of six members, none of them over the age of 30. These members included the head of the colony, Robert Johnson (age 29); his wife Elaine (age 27), and a man named Alvin.
     Shortly before stardate 3478.2, a rogue comet passed through the Gamma Hydra system. Gamma Hydra IV's orbit took it directly in the path of the comet's trail; shortly after these events, the comet was in quadrant 448. The comet (which had not been investigated prior to the events of this episode) emitted radiation at the extreme lower end of the scale. This radiation caused rapid aging in humanoids [and possibly other living tissue - we never actually discover what happens to the plants], at the rate of approximately thirty years a day - although mental faculties were degrading even more rapidly than that. As a result, the entire Johnson expedition was wiped out, while the entire Enterprise landing party, with the exception of Chekov, was also affected. This radiation was unaffected by standard radiation treatments.
     Chekov was unaffected because he saw a dead body on Gamma Hydra IV, which terrified him and led to a surge of adrenaline; this therefore counteracted the effects of the radiation. Dr. McCoy hadn't considered adrenaline as a possible treatment because it hadn't been used since the early days of radiation treatment; the discovery of hyronalin as an effective anti-radiation drug superceded the use of adrenaline. Once McCoy made the connection between Chekov's adrenaline surge and the early use of adrenaline, he was able to devise a drug that reversed the effects of the radiation, restoring those affected to their normal age - although not before Lt. Arlene Galway, a 24-year-old Caucasian woman with short brown hair and blue eyes, dressed in sciences blue, succumbed to the effects of the radiation. This serum did lead to fairly intense convulsions and feelings of pain as it rapidly reversed the aging.
     Commodore Stocker was an older Caucasian male, with wavy, slighty receding light brown hair and blue-grey eyes. He was dressed in operations red, with a starburst assignment patch [the Starfleet Command patch]. He was aboard the Enterprise on his way to take command of Starbase 10; consequently, Gamma Hydra IV falls within his administrative area. He'd never been in command of a ship; his prior assignments had been bureaucratic in nature. As a result, after taking command of the Enterprise (as the highest ranking officer not incapacitated), he seemed somewhat uncertain as a captain, and seemed unprepared for the consequences of taking the Enterprise inside the Neutral Zone.
     Dr. Janet Wallace was a fairly young Caucasian female, with long blonde hair swept up into a bun and blue eyes. Wallace was an expert in endocrinology. [It's not explicit why she's aboard, but she's probably also going to Starbase 10. Given that we see her in a variety of colorful dresses instead of a uniform, she's probably not a member of Starfleet.] Wallace was once romantically involved with Kirk, but they broke it off when neither of them were willing to sacrifice their careers for each other. Wallace subsequently married Theodore Wallace, a "brilliant man" who worked in the same field as Janet; he was twenty-six years her senior, however. They were stationed together on a "lonely outpost". A few years prior to stardate 3478.2, the Wallaces had experimented with various carbohydrate compounds to slow down the degeneration of plant life on Aldebaran III. [It's not clear if this was the "lonely outpost" in question.] Theodore Wallace subsequently died, and Kirk sent Janet a "stargram" as a result - this was the only time he had written to her since they'd ended their relationship. Wallace hadn't seen Kirk for "six years, four months, and an odd number of days".
     According to Starfleet regulations, when a captain is either physically or mentally unfit, a competency hearing must be convened; this is mandatory. During such a hearing, a board is convened, which calls witnesses as it sees fit. The accused is allowed to cross-examine the witnesses once the board has completed their questioning. Once the board has finished calling its witnesses, the defense may call its own witnesses. Once this is concluded, the board votes on whether the accused is competent or not; if not, the accused is relieved of their command and replaced either by a senior officer or (if the senior officers are similarly incapacitated) a flag officer.
     The Romulans have recently broken Starfleet's Code 2, thus requiring the use of Code 3. The Romulans are apparently notorious for not listening to explanations as to why Federation ships have entered the Neutral Zone. They also don't take captives, and the ones surrounding the Enterprise shortly after stardate 3579.4 are unfamiliar with Kirk's "corbomite" bluff ("The Corbomite Maneuver").
     Vulcans have a longer lifespan than humans.
     Every Federation scientific expedition is routinely checked annually.
     Hypersonic treatment is used to combat hearing loss.
     As of this episode, Kirk is 34 years old.
     Sulu has served with Kirk for two years.

Final Analysis: "Captain, I'm watching four very valuable and one almost irreplaceable members of the Starfleet failing before my eyes." The aging idea isn't terrible, but they don't focus enough on the characters for it to really land the way it should. While Kirk's failing memory is seeded well through the episode, and the competency hearing is appropriately uncomfortable to watch, none of the others affected really go through anything similar. (Compare with McCoy, for instance, who still seems largely in command of his faculties.) And making Commodore Stocker a buffoon at the end doesn't work, as it looks like they're artificially trying to add drama to the situation, rather than as a natural result of what's gone before. The performances are good enough to save this from being a disaster, but that just means that the final result feels largely superfluous. A bit of a sense of wasted potential.

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