Star Trek: The Deadly Years   Rewatch 
May 2, 2015 10:12 AM - Season 2, Episode 12 - Subscribe

On the way to Starbase 10, the U.S.S. Enterprise stops to deliver supplies to the colonists of Gamma Hydra IV. The crew encounters a strange radiation that rapidly ages them meanwhile creating fears that they will be unable to remain in command of the Enterprise.

"The Deadly Years" was first broadcast December 8, 1967 and repeated on August 16, 1968. It is episode #41, production #40, written by David P. Harmon, and directed by Joseph Pevney.

This episode explores the question of whether advancing age is a relevant reason to remove someone from a position of authority. It is shown that, while one's physical abilities may be hindered by aging, the mental faculties are often as sharp as they ever were; indeed, the experience of age often more than makes up for mental acuity.

Memory Alpha Link

The episode can be viewed on Netflix and YouTube.
posted by Benway (9 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Here's a little video comparing how Shatner was made up to look like an old man versus how William Shatner actually looks today (well, a couple of years ago) as an old man. Definitely highlights how much perceptions of age have changed since the 1960s.
posted by briank at 11:07 AM on May 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I always get this confused with the Next Gen episode that had the same thing. For some reason, I remember Data going to the Captain's hairbrush (because of course he had one!), examining it, and saying "A follicle. Live DNA."
posted by infinitewindow at 11:11 AM on May 2, 2015

One part of the portrayal is obvious overtones of what was generally termed "senility" as late as the 1960s. Terminology has changed, and understanding has changed. We now understand that dementia, in its various types, is not an inevitable consequence of aging and shouldn't be conflated with the common symptoms such as difficulty with word-finding and slowed reflexes.

There has also been an enormous change in the approach to senior health that has allowed vigorous, healthy lifestyles, an ageism issue that is also a class issue to some extent (because even then, an old farmer might just work until he keeled over).

It's interesting that one of Shatner's later roles was Denny Crane, a character with behaviors that eventually are revealed to be early-stage Alzheimer's.

One hates to medicalize fiction, but I do wonder how this same episode might be written today. It comes across as a Dylan Thomas 'rage-against-the-dying-of-the-light' polemic in some ways, and of course it's constrained by episodic-television requirements (for a rather improbable reversal of the condition, as well as protection of the characters' audience esteem).
posted by dhartung at 3:50 PM on May 2, 2015

It is shown that, while one's physical abilities may be hindered by aging, the mental faculties are often as sharp as they ever were; indeed, the experience of age often more than makes up for mental acuity.

Eh? It shows nothing of the kind.

They hold a competency hearing because Kirk is "suffering from a peculiar physical degeneration which strongly resembles aging" and his "mental capacity [is] degenerating even more rapidly".

Spock estimates that they have less than a week to live and that they "will be little better than mental vegetables in considerably lesser time."

Kirk: Total senility?
Spock: Yes, Captain. In a very short time.
Kirk: What a way to die.

McCoy provides the clue that leads to the cure, but it's not from the experience of his years. It's something he'd read once in "ancient history, just after the atomic age". Dramatically, that clue could've been provided by a Wesley Crusher. Once he comes up with it, he plays no part in developing the "sufficiently efficacious compound / beaker of death*."

Kirk once again bluffs his way to victory from a position of tactical weakness -- but not until after he's (instantly!) cured, i.e. is young again. What wins the day is the experience of a starship captain in his thirties, restored to the mind and body of a starship captain in his thirties.

If Star Trek wanted to show that the experience of age makes up for loss of mental acuity or that mental acuity is retained in old age, this story was not the way to do that.

* Sorry, that was Miri, not Deadly Years. I admit I'm getting a little confused. But radiation'll do that. Anyway , you don't run a snarkship with your memory, you run it with your . . . uh . . .
posted by Herodios at 7:50 PM on May 2, 2015

Oh, also, Robert Johnson died at the age of 27, not 29.
posted by Herodios at 7:54 PM on May 2, 2015

Yeah, the aging makeup on Shatner wasn't bad for the time, but it could hardly look less like how he ended up in real life. Shatner has aged in a truly peculiar way. He hardly resembles the man he used to be. He's gained a lot of weight, his voice has dropped and his nose has grown a lot, but it's more than all that. He's just... different. He doesn't even look like he could be his own dad. He's also a bizarrely vital old guy. He's finally started to look and act a bit older lately, but he's basically been a 50-something rascal since 1990 or so. When he was young he was like a superhero, but he aged into this guy who is like a shaved Santa, round and sly.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:01 AM on May 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

In the TNG aging episode, Unnatural Selection, it wasn't the captain, but Dr. Pulaski who began to age, while investigating why the people on a research station were aging super fast.

That episode also breaks with the line that the Federation has outlawed human genetic engineering since the Eugenics Wars of the 1990s. The research station in the episode is working on highly engineered human children, and it's apparently a legit Federation lab.
posted by zadcat at 2:05 PM on October 25, 2015

The whole emphasis of this episode was strange. Lieutenant Galway is the only one who treats it as something unusual, the rest of them get bogged down in a plot that hinges on a certain stubborness that can come with natural aging, but doesn't really make sense for what is, for all they know, some kind of alien plague affecting their thinking processes. TNG would have at least made up a specific type of magic radiation to have caused it.

It also reveals a curious cult of personality around Kirk, which I don't see happening with later Treks/captains.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 3:36 PM on October 31, 2015

This is a strange episode to be watching right now, in the middle of a pandemic which would certainly cause me to wear a mask before beaming down to an alien planet (although to be fair, the mask would have done no good since the problem was caused by "low radiation" from the tail of a comet. OH, OK). This is also a time when the top candidates for president were people over 70. When I first watched this, I was in my teens and perhaps nodded in agreement when poor old Kirk was relieved from duty. Now however, I'm old, and so are all the people in power. Surely if it were done today Old Kirk would be a little creaky, but still unerring in seeing the Big Picture, like Joe or Chuck or Nancy or Bernie.

At any rate, there were a high number of useless extra characters in this episode. The perky Lt. Galway, whose only purpose is to show how unfortunate aging is for women. The extra-useless Dr. Wallace, who seems to exist only to be sad at the failing powers of the aging Kirk, and Commodore Stocker, who has to show that a middle aged desk jockey is no match for restored 30-something Kirk. This episode would have been tighter with none of them. But still STUPID. Hair doesn't work that way.
posted by acrasis at 2:25 PM on February 20, 2021

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