The script called for a sequence showing Kirk growing younger again as he ran from Sickbay to the bridge. However, with the episode running longer than expected it was cut for time.
This episode establishes that Kirk is 34 years old. From this and the presumptive date of the the original series episodes in the 2260s (chosen to be exactly 300 years after they were originally aired), Kirk's birth date of 2233 was established.
Walter Koenig felt that Chekov seemed to act much younger than normal in this episode, most notably reacting to finding a body by screaming and running in terror.
McCoy will, of course, appear in very aged form once more when he is seen in TNG's "Encounter at Farpoint".
Beaming back to the ship Kirk decides to remain in orbit until they have solved the mystery. Several guests are aboard, including Commodore Stocker, Doris Atkins, and Doctor Janet Wallace, who is an old girlfriend of Kirk's. Stocker is concerned about remaining at the planet as he needs to reach Starbase 10 as soon as possible. Kirk promises to get him there as soon as he can, but is determined to find out what happened on Gamma Hydra IV first.
Spock determines that a rogue comet passed near to the planet some time ago, but sees no reason how it could have caused the ageing effect. Commodore Stocker again presses for the ship to go to Starbase 10, where the research facilities are much more complete than those on the Enterprise. Kirk again declines, and as he leaves the bridge he repeats an earlier command to maintain their orbit, apparently forgetting that he had already said it. In his quarters he calls Spock and asks him about the comet that passed the planet recently, not remembering that they had already discussed the matter.
Kirk heads to sickbay with a pain in his shoulder. He finds Galway there complaining that she is suffering from an odd hearing loss. McCoy finds Kirk suffering from arthritis, a symptom usually associated with ageing - and a moment later Scotty walks in, grey haired and wrinkled and looking twenty years older. It is evident that whatever happened on the Enterprise is now striking the landing party.
Investigation shows that all of the landing party are suffering from rapid ageing, except for Chekov. McCoy estimates the rate of ageing at thirty years a day, but has no idea what could have caused it. Spock notes that although he is not suffering from obvious physical symptoms he is experiencing memory and vision loss, and is increasingly uncomfortable with the temperature on the ship. He reasons that since Vulcans life far longer than Humans, the effects are slower in his case. But even so, everyone on the landing party will likely be dead within a week or so.
Kirk and Wallace talk, flirting with one another until Kirk realises that her now deceased husband was much older than her and wonders if her attraction to him might be based on his increasingly elderly appearance, or worse, out of pity. She denies this.
Extensive tests on Chekov do little more than irritate him whilst providing no answers. Meanwhile the landing party to age at a tremendous rate, increasingly affecting their performance. Kirk constantly forgets that he has given orders, and even dozes off in the Captain's Chair whilst on duty. Spock is able to determine that the comet did indeed cause the problem; gamma Hydra IV passed through the tail of the comet, exposing it to low levels of radiation. Kirk orders a report to Starfleet in Code 2, since he doesn't want the Romulans to be able to read it - but Uhura notes that the Romulans already broke Code 2 according to a bulletin from Starfleet, something Kirk forgot. He orders her to use Code 3 instead. Kirk becomes agitated as the crew is forced to point out his mistakes again and again.
McCoy is able to confirm Spock's theory about the radiation from the comet. However, it seems that none of the usual treatments for radiation exposure will work in this case. For now, there remains no treatment.
Commodore Stocker meets with Spock, pointing out that Kirk is no longer in a fit state to command the ship. He asks that Spock take command, but Spock notes that whilst he is less affected than the others he is still half Human and thus prone to the effects. Stocker demands a competency hearing for Kirk, which according to regulations Spock must do when the Captain is physically or mentally unfit.
In sickbay the landing party suffers from the first casualty when Galway dies of old age. McCoy notes that she had an increased metabolism and this probably aged her even faster than the others, but nobody has a lot of time left.
Spock conducts the competency hearing. It is obvious to everybody present that Kirk is unable to perform his duties, and his attempts to defend himself come across as hopelessly inadequate and rather pathetic. He is removed from command and Commodore Stocker assumes command as the senior officer present. Kirk argues that although of high rank a Starbase commander is just a paper-pusher with no ability to command a ship. Unfortunately Spock must point out that Kirk no longer has a voice in what happens to the ship, much to Kirk's pain.
In sickbay, they review the original landing once again. Spock notes that there was only one time when Chekov was not with them, when he went into the building and found the body. The experience was obviously quite shocking to him, and McCoy wonders if perhaps the extra adrenaline in his body may have protected him from the effects of the radiation. In the early days of the atomic age adrenaline was used as a radiation treatment, though it was replaced by hyronaline in time. It is their first solid lead on a potential treatment, and McCoy pursues it immediately.
Stocker sends the Enterprise to Starbase 10, as he has wanted to do all along. He decides to save some time by taking a short cut through the Romulan Neutral Zone, mistakenly thinking this is a minor risk. In fact a Romulan fleet quickly locates and attacks the Enterprise. Stocker, with no battle experience, is at a loss as to how to effectively counter the attack. He tries to contact the ships to signal his peaceful intentions, but the Romulans ignore the hails.
In sickbay Kirk insists that McCoy try his treatment out immediately, despite the potential danger. Given that they will all die soon anyway McCoy reluctantly agrees, and injects Kirk.
On the bridge Stocker decides that the ship has no choice but to surrender. Chekov claims that the Romulans will not be interested as they don't take prisoners. With disaster imminent a completely recovered Kirk strides onto the bridge and takes command. He orders Uhura to transmit a message to Starfleet in Code 2, ignoring her objections about the Romulans cracking the code. In the message he states that he feels he has no choice but to self destruct his ship using the new Corbomite device, which will destroy not only the Enterprise but all matter within 200,000 kilometers, leaving a dead zone in space which all ships must avoid for at least the next four solar years. Decoding this, the Romulan ships retreat in anticipation of the blast and the Enteprise is able to escape at high warp.
With everybody now being treated successfully the crisis is over. Stocker assures Kirk that he only acted in what he thought was the best interest of the ship and crew. When Kirk notes that there's very little a Starbase can do that a Starship can't, Stocker candidly admits that he realises now just what a Starship can do... with the right man in command.
Where it does fall down is in the various sci fi trappings and plot elements surrounding it. Radiation causing such a thing is, obviously, pretty absurd. Especially given that the only explanation of it, and of why it wasn't detected earlier, is that it's a very low level of radiation. Um, we're surrounded by low level radiation all the time. There's low level radiation in the room you are sitting in right now. It would have made a little more sense if they'd at least made it some new type of radiation with unpredictable effects or something. And the idea of adrenaline being an effective treatment for radiation is also kind of silly - and the silliness compounds greatly when the adrenaline repairs all the effects of the ageing too.
This is actually a common element in Trek - it's taken for granted that curing any condition will automatically reverse all of the effects of that condition. Of course that's nonsensical. We can suppose that adrenaline in some way neutralises the radioactive material everyone breathed in on the planet, I suppose. Silly, but okay. But the same adrenaline then causes their arthritis to completely reverse? Causes their hair to regain its colour, instantly? Causes their mental faculties to return to normal? It doesn't really bear thinking about.
And even if adrenaline could do all that, why isn't it an effective immortality drug for the Federation? McCoy effectively cures the ageing process in this episode! Why can't he just do that for people who aged normally?!
I suppose one can only explain this by saying that this wasn't normal ageing. The radiation just happened to produce effects that exactly mirrored ageing... and those effects were not damage to the body as such, but rather things that only remained in place because of the presence of the radiation. So once the radiation was removed, things went back to normal. Which... is all kind of contrived and stupid, frankly.
But in the end we can ignore that, because really the episode isn't about why they age so much as what the results of the ageing are.
Another silly trapping is Commodore Stocker. It's a staple of TOS that any official of the Federation or any command level officer who isn't Kirk is insane, incompetent, or at the very least unpleasant. Don't believe me? Take a look at Captain Garth, Captain Tracey, Ambassador Fox, Galactic High Commissioner Ferris, Federation Undersecretary of Agricultural Affairs Nilz Baris... the list goes on. In this case Stocker is, at least, not obviously evil or nasty. And he's actually right to be concerned with Kirk's performance, and right to insist that he be relieved of command. But the whole "let's go through the neutral zone" thing just pushes it too far. Sure, he's not got any experience with ship command, but how much experience do you really need for that decision? Can you imagine any person who happened to find themselves in charge of a NATO military unit during the cold war and decided "what the hell, we're in a hurry, let's take a short cut through Russia"? Even if that person was completely inexperienced? Hell, even a civilian would know better. It would have been nice to see them try and come up with a more plausible error he could have made for the climax of the episode.
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