The Enterprise, ferrying Commodore Stocker to his new command at Starbase 10, makes a stop at the planet Gamma Hydra IV, to resupply the research station there. A landing party consisting of Captain Kirk, First Officer Spock, Chief Medical Officer Dr. McCoy, Chief Engineer Scott, navigator Ensign Chekov, and Lieutenant Arlene Galway beams down to the facility.
Once there, they find the station completely empty, and no personnel are seen. This is bizarre since Kirk spoke to the station's leader, Robert Johnson, an hour earlier. Exploring further, Ensign Chekov discovers the body of a man who apparently has died of old age, and panics.
Suddenly Johnson appears with his wife Elaine. Both are actually in their late 20s, yet appear to have aged 50 more years.[N 1] The landing team beams back to the Enterprise with Johnson and his wife. There are still no clues to what is going on, as the two soon die in sickbay. Dr. McCoy rules their cause of death as "extreme old age".
Commodore Stocker wants some answers. Kirk has Mr. Spock and civilian scientist Dr. Janet Wallace (an old flame of Kirk's) assist in the investigation. The only theory Spock can give at this time is a strange comet-like object passed by Gamma Hydra IV quite recently. It may have somehow caused the rapid aging effect, but how is not certain.
Soon the landing party begins to experience the rapid aging effect. Scotty turns up in sickbay with white hair, and claiming to feel unwell. Kirk begins to have memory loss and arthritis symptoms in his hands. His hair is turning grey and wrinkles are forming on his face. In fact, by McCoy's estimate, he's aging at the rate of 30 years per day. McCoy also has white hair and facial wrinkles. Soon almost all of the landing party, Spock, McCoy, Scotty and Lt. Galway are all showing signs of rapid aging. Ensign Chekov, however, remains unaffected. Lt. Galway ages more rapidly than the other members of the landing party, on account of her metabolism, and soon dies. By now they have learned that the comet-like object gave off radiation that apparently caused the effect, but standard radiation sickness treatments using the drug hyronalin prove useless.
As Kirk continues to age, he becomes increasingly forgetful, prompting Commodore Stocker to order Spock to commence a competency hearing in order to rule him unfit for command. With Spock also afflicted, and himself being the only flag officer on hand, Stocker takes over the ship. Stocker has no deep space training, but he believes he can command the ship nevertheless. He orders a fast, direct course to Starbase 10, ignoring the warnings that his short-cut will take the ship right through the Romulan neutral zone.
Meanwhile, Kirk, McCoy and Spock try to figure out why Chekov has not been affected. McCoy is forced to use Chekov as a guinea pig test subject, which Chekov doesn't particularly enjoy. Remembering that Chekov had displayed extreme fear during the unexpected discovery of the dead body, McCoy surmises that Chekov's increased adrenaline levels at the time may have protected him in some way. He recalls research that showed adrenaline was a promising treatment for radiation sickness, but the research was abandoned when hyronalin was discovered. Mr. Spock and Dr. Wallace, assisted by Nurse Chapel, begin work on an adrenalin-based drug to treat the landing party's symptoms.
In the meantime, several Romulan ships detect the Enterprise 's intrusion and immediately attack, quickly surrounding the Enterprise. Commodore Stocker tries to contact the Romulans and explain his reason for trespassing in the Neutral Zone, but they ignore him. Stocker, because of his non-experience with commanding a starship, is paralyzed with indecision and even considers surrendering, but is reminded that Romulans take no prisoners.
With the Enterprise 's shields rapidly failing, Spock announces that the drug is ready, although it may kill instead of cure. Kirk insists on taking the first injection so that he can resume command before the ship is destroyed. The drug successfully reverses the aging effect, and Kirk races to the bridge and relieves Stocker.
Kirk bluffs the Romulans by sending a fake message to Starfleet Command (intentionally using "Code 2", which was recently broken by the Romulans) announcing that the Enterprise will self-destruct using the Corbomite Device, which will destroy the Enterprise and any ship within a 200,000 kilometer diameter. The ruse works and the Romulans back off. Kirk then orders an immediate retreat at Warp 8 back to Federation space. With the help of the new drug, the rest of the landing party are reverted to their physically normal ages.
Errors and ExplanationsEdit
The Nitpicker's Guide for Classic TrekkersEdit
- Kirk orders Sulu to raise the orbit to 20,000 miles perigee, but at the end of the show Kirk talks about the destruction in a diameter of 200.000 kilometres. Wouldn't it be confusing to switch continually between the imperial and metric measuring systems? The rapid aging is affecting Kirk’s thought processes.
- Although Stocker had to be in charge to make the bonehead decision to run the Enterprise into the Neutral Zone, shouldn't Spock fight harder to see Sulu assumes command? The navigator has command and combat experience (“Arena”). Stocker would just use his higher rank to overturn the decision, while pointing out that, logically, Sulu’s expertise would be needed at the helm.
- Speaking of Stocker, if this guy is such a stickler for regulations — which the episode tends to assert — why would he violate the very important regulation ‘"Stay out of the Neutral Zone"? He is arrogant enough to think he can get away with it!
- After deciding that adrenaline must provide a cure, McCoy wants to admonish Spock and Wallace to get moving on a cure. He says “Well, don‘t just stand there jawin, Spawnck." Spawnck? The aging effect is giving McCoy trouble with his speech.
- Keith Alan Morgan on Saturday, April 17, 1999 - 5:51 am: Early on when Kirk started to make mistakes it seemed like the crew acted shocked. Is Kirk so infallible that he never makes mistakes? Mike Konczewski on Monday, April 19, 1999 - 7:17 am: The crew is shocked because Kirk's mistakes are blatant, plus he keeps repeating them. I'll bet they're also noticing them more because Kirk is getting wrinkled and grey.
- Why didn't a Federation patrol stop the Enterprise from entering the Neutral Zone? (If entering the Neutral Zone is an act of war it would just be common sense to have patrols on the Federation side to prevent Federation ships from entering. Don't you think?) Starfleet may have considered it unnecessary to have a patrol in that area, especially in light of the Enterprise's presence.
Internet Movie DatabaseEdit
- After the crew's experience with a similar viral outbreak in Miri, their lack of concern about beaming up the infected landing party seems odd. Not really - They probably decided to return to Enterprise in order to carry out a computer analysis, which they weren't able to do during the 'Miri' incident, using details of the earlier event as the basis of a comparison.
- ↑ Johnson was played by 85-year-old Felix Locher, making him the oldest actor ever to appear on Star Trek.