It’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #40!
This week’s episode is “The Deadly Years” and it takes a comedic premise and makes it deadly serious, in a good way.
We open with the Enterprise on a routine mission to resupply the experimental colony on Gamma Hydra IV. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Chekov, Scotty and a Lt. Galway beam down to the planet to deliver the supplies. They find no one around, which Kirk finds strange because he had spoken with colony scientist Robert Johnson not a half hour before. Chekov goes into a building to investigate it, finds a dead body and promptly flips out. Screaming, he leads the others back to the body.
This is even more confusing. McCoy says the man died of old age. Spock finds this impossible because there’s not a colony member over 30, according to the records. To complicate things even further, more old people show up and claim to be Robert Johnson–29–and his 27-year old wife, Elaine.
The party beams them up to the ship, where Elaine dies quickly and so does Robert. Kirk tries to get information out of him before then, but Robert is senile and unresponsive. In the briefing room, Kirk informs the two special guests on the Enterprise, Commodore Stocker (Charles Drake), who they’re transporting to his new command at Starbase 10 and Dr. Janet Wallace (Sarah Marshall), an expert endocrinologist.
Stocker is anxious to get to Starbase 10, but he agrees to Kirk’s suggestion that the ship remain in orbit around the planet until they’ve sorted out this problem. Wallace agrees and also turns out to be an old flame of Kirk’s. After everyone else leaves, they quietly recall their old life together.
On the bridge, Kirk orders Sulu to maintain orbit. Spock informs him that it turns out a rogue comet passed by the planet some time ago, but it’s uncertain whether it has had any effect. Kirk tells him to look into it anyway. Stocker tries again to convince Kirk to head for Starbase 10, as the instruments there would be more effective. Kirk replies that there’s nothing a starbase can do that a starship can’t and leaves the bridge, again telling Sulu to maintain orbit. Both Sulu and Spock are very confused by this.
Meanwhile, Lt. Galway (Beverly Washburn) visits sickbay complaining of hearing loss. McCoy tells her it’s nothing to worry about. In his quarters, Kirk calls Spock on the bridge and tells him to investigate the comet. Spock replies that he is doing so already per Kirk’s earlier orders, leaving the captain confused. Suddenly, his shoulder begins paining him, so he goes to sickbay.
McCoy examines him and finds that he has arthritis in his shoulder that’s rapidly advancing. Kirk doesn’t believe him and orders that he be examined again. “It would still come up the exact same thing,” McCoy replies. Scotty then calls in, asking if he can meet McCoy. “All you need is vitamins, Mr. Scott, but yes,” McCoy replies.
Scotty comes in and, to the shock of the others, he’s paled, wrinkled and gray-haired.
Further investigation reveals that every member of the landing party is aging rapidly, all except Chekov. Why? How did this happen? And how can they stop it before they’re all dead?
This is an episode that, very easily, could’ve been played for comedy (and no doubt it would’ve been on, say, Enterprise). But to episode writer David P. Harmon’s credit, he plays it completely straight. Let’s face it, aging before one’s time would be hurtful for anyone and Harmon sells that. While there’s the occasional melodramatic nod here and there, overall, he gives us a nice thriller that deals with a very existential enemy.
On top of that, while the whole “special lady officer on the Enterprise was of course involved with Kirk” thing can be a little silly, Wallace doesn’t feel that way. While her dress–reportedly made from drapes–is rather silly, the way the character is written hints at an intriguing and interesting backstory.
This is also the first time in a long time that the Romulans return. Unfortunately, it’s through stock footage of Birds of Prey. The main reason the Klingons became the more common TOS foe is that Romulan makeup was very time-consuming and expensive. Not so the Klingons; of curse, that would change following 1979’s The Motion Picture.
Joseph Pevney is in the director’s chair once again and no surprise, he’s great. This is a pretty confined episode, with the action set almost entirely aboard the ship. But Pevney gets great performances out of his actors as he bounces them off against each other.
The acting is top-notch. Every cast member who rapidly ages plays the whole thing through with dignity. They each take care to demonstrate the rigors of aging, from merely forgetting things to walking slower than normal. Combined with the makeup, it works wonders…even if Kirk’s old-man combover is a little severe.
Drake, a well-regarded character actor, is great as the impatient Commodore. When the time comes for him to step up, he really drives home what his character does. As Wallace, Marshall is, I’m fairly certain, the first guest star with a British accent. It adds a nice layer of intrigue to the character and more than makes up for that silly dress.
I should also add that there’re some really funny Chekov lines here. As the only landing party member not afflicted, he’s subjected to all sorts of tests. “If this keeps going on, I’ll run out of samples,” he grouses. It’s really fun.
This is a well-done episode that cogently examines a real fear that people have. On top of that, it’s a great dramatic showcase for all involved. Recommended.
Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next time and until then, live long and prosper.