The setup, such as it is, has Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Chekov and some female red shirt beam down to Gamma Hydra IV to perform routine physicals on a colony of typical victims. They find all but two of the colonists dead of old age and the two remaining ones already extremely elderly, this despite the fact that chronologically, they were all under thirty years of age.
When they get back to the ship the last two colonists expire and the landing party, except for Chekov begin aging at the rate of thirty years per day. This is discovered when Kirk feels a back ache and instead of it being a muscle pull McCoy diagnoses advanced arthritis. Next, we see Scotty walk into the sick bay completely gray haired and covered in wrinkles. Kirk’s hairline starts receding and McCoy is soon sporting an enormous gray-haired wig that’s obviously plastered on top of his real hair. At first, they barely give Spock a few gray hairs because Vulcans are more long-lived but by the end Spock gets a good set of facial wrinkles and some decent gray coverage. And all of this make-up is hilarious but it’s the acting that makes this episode so great. There is another of a long series of Commodores who is being transported to Star Base blah blah blah and is impatient to get there. And once he witnesses Kirk forgetting the password for the bridge screen Twitter feed Commodore Busybody convinces Spock that it’s his duty to convene a competency hearing. Of course, Kirk embarrasses himself and is packed off to assisted living or sick bay anyway. The Commodore takes command and decides to cut across the Romulan neutral zone in order to get Kirk and the others to medical attention as quickly as possible. He assumed the Romulans would be impressed with the humanitarian aspects of the mission. Hah! Now while the ship is being attacked by a dozen Romulan birds of prey, Kirk is berating Spock and calling him a traitor. But in order to save the ship they pool their dementia-riddled brains and try to figure out how to reverse the aging disease. They remember that Chekov was frightened down on the planet and McCoy remembers that adrenaline is present in the bloodstream during an acute fear reaction and that it is effective against certain radiation sicknesses which was the cause of the disease they are suffering from. Miraculously they formulate a medicine and use it to reverse Kirk’s condition in time for him to boot the Commodore out of the Captain’s Chair and use the corbomite bluff (again!) to escape the Romulans.
I love this episode. The titanic awfulness of the acting, the cheesy plot devices and the emotional interactions are highly entertaining. Kirk and McCoy are just so wonderfully bad and they are at the very maximum of Kirkness and McCoyness so that a true fan of Star Trek could not ask for better. At one point when Spock goes to the Kirk’s cabin to tell him he’s been relieved of duty Kirk calls him a traitor and accuses him of stabbing him in the back the first chance he got. His whiny geriatric petulance is truly a Star Trek high point. Shatner embodies in that scene the full limited emotional range that the series affords. This is his “you broke my heart Fredo” moment. It’s wondrous to behold.
At another point when Spock goes to McCoy complaining of hypersensitivity to cold and asks for a treatment, McCoy says, “I’m not a magician Spock, I’m just an old country doctor.” And Spock says, “Indeed, as I always suspected.” This is the essence of the Spock/McCoy relationship. And finally, when McCoy drags up the word adrenaline from his failing memory, as the name of the sought-after cure, he sounds like he might have expectorated in the face of anyone within range. At each of these moments you know that this is the most fully realized that Star Trek ever was.
There are other touches. Chekov gripes to Sulu about all the testing and blood samples they subject him to. Kirk somehow has an old girlfriend on the ship who by some amazing coincidence is an endocrinologist and still has the hots even for geriatric Kirk. I will say that even old Kirk looks like he could have done better. Sulu questions a couple of Kirk’s repeated helm commands which sets Kirk off on a rant about questioning his orders. And even the cute blonde yeoman (played by Carolyn Nelson) lets Kirk know he is asking to review a report he already signed a few minutes before. Uhura has a larger than usual part. She gets to testify against Kirk that he forgot that the Romulans had cracked the Federation Message Encryption Code 2. And later on, while the Romulans are pummeling the ship with photon torpedoes, and the Commodore questions her why the Romulans aren’t answering his message to them she reminds the Commodore that Romulans are notorious for ignoring explanations.
Ah, it’s a fabulously ripe second season episode. Kirk’s angry, confused portrayal falls perfectly into Shatner’s wheelhouse. There isn’t any Shatner physicality but his angry blustering attacks on Spock gives this a very high Shatner mockery score. Highly recommended for the connoisseur. 9 // 8