Pon Farr

“It is the pon farr. The time of mating.”

TOS “Amok Time.”

“The seven-year cycle is biologically inherent in all Vulcans. At that time, the mating drive outweighs all other motivations.”

TOS “The Cloud Minders.”

On the face of it, Vulcans are a very calendar-minded people. A nice, regular mating urge, and a whole life determined in multiples of seven years. Take Mr. Spock, for example: Desert survival test and marriage at the age of seven (TAS “Yesteryear” and TOS “Amok Time”), followed by regular bouts of mating fever, some that he resists, and one he doesn’t. After all, in TAS “Yesteryear” Spock travels back thirty years to when he is seven, making him thirty-seven years old. If we assume TOS “Amok Time” happens two years earlier, then he would have been thirty-five, an exact multiple of seven. All we have to do is balance the various dates, and Bob’s your uncle: a wonderfully fixed schedule of dates that we can use to make accurate-ish predictions about a whole Vulcan’s life!

Not So Fast!

“At no time did we say a pon farr overcomes a Vulcan at any specific age or at any specific interval.”

D.C. Fontana, quoted in Spockanalia #2

“The specific time interval between these occurrences varies from male to male and by other circumstances. The average is about once every seven Earth years when a Vulcan is separated from his people as is Spock, more often if living among his own kind.”

S.E. Whitfield and G. Roddenberry, The Making of Star Trek.

I have tried to get the deterministic approach to Vulcan lives to work, using Tuvok’s established year of birth, his nearly-hundredth birthday and his pon farr to get a Vucan year, that can then be retroactively applied to other Vulcans. Niggling problems began to emerge: Spock must have been born around 2225 according to this model, but all the other guesses and the definite information in “Star Trek Beyond” put his date of birth some time later, in 2230. Looking at The Making of Star Trek again:

“Sarek is 102 years old … Amanda, Spock’s mother, was a schoolteacher when she met and married Sarek. She is 58…”

Which unfortunately would make her a schoolgirl when she married, rather than a schoolteacher, by these calculations. Also, I found that since we can determine Sarek’s date of birth with some precision, Spock’s birth doesn’t fall any plausible time after pon farr. Perhaps that’s not a complete show-stopper, but it strikes me as an unacceptable “fudge” if I’m insisting that the whole structure of Vulcan lives is regulated by a completely regular biological cycle. Especially since real-life biological cycles are never so completely predictable.

Whilst some of the information in The Making of Star Trek has been overtaken by later information, since we now know that Vulcan women also experience the pon farr cycle (so what did T’Pring do until Spock was ready?) the intent is very clear: Pon farr is not an absolutely regular and predictable event.

“If I remember correctly, the last time you came down with the Tarkalean ’flu was seven years ago.”

said Captain Janeway in VOY “Body and Soul”.

The clear information that we have is that pon farr hits Vulcans away from home every seven Earth years, not Vulcan ones. It’s possible that Vulcan and Earth years are the same length, but that’s an unlikely coincidence, and an extremely unlikely one if Vulcan orbits 40 Eridani. We also have the fact that T’Pol appears to experience pon farr whilst she’s on Enterprise in the mirror universe, but not in the “prime” one. All of which goes to suggest that whilst the pon farr cycle can occasionally inform some decisions about chronology, it cannot be used to make detailed predictions about a Vulcan’s whole life. I’ve fixed it so that six Vulcan years is almost exactly the same as seven Earth years, to provide some reason for that particular time interval, but making predictions other than in very specific circumstances seems to me impossible. Pon farr happens when it happens.

Romulans and Their Private Lives

It’s not really relevant to the Vulcan calendar, but I’ve been thinking about Romulans quite a bit just lately. Pon farr seems to me to be something that wouldn’t be “bred out” in only a couple of thousand years, especially since it seems to lie at the heart of Vulcan identity. Surely the logical Vulcans would have disposed of these messy emotions and moved onto something involving test-tubes and genetic profiling long ago if it were easy, so I have to think that pon farr is very deeply embedded in the make-up of both Vulcans and Romulans. If we further assume that Romulus doesn’t have the unusually high concentrations of kironide that Vulcan must, then Romulans will have the biological urge without the psychic bonding. How that affects the Romulans in their relationships and reproduction is something that I suspect a family show like “Star Trek” is better leaving unexplored.

Spock Must Die! (Unless He Gets His Oats!)

Whilst re-reading the “Star Trek” novels, it’s become a recurring theme that Mister Spock is doomed after TOS “Amok Time”, because his next pon farr will finish him off.

This topic was touched on in “Star Trek: Voyager” when both Tuvok and Vorik ran into problems with the lack of suitable mates. As I mentioned earlier, T’Pol in the mirror universe of ENT “In A Mirror, Darkly” required the assistance of the alternate Commander Tucker during pon farr. So what happens? Do all Vulcans face death if they don’t find that special person and settle down? Are there Vulcan healthcare professionals who provide the relevant services?

My own guess is just a guess, nothing more. I’m dubious about the long-term survival of Vulcans if their own mating urge is likely to kill them before they reproduce. I also think that the “oldest profession” is going to be difficult to pursue in a society where your regular customers will only be calling once every seven years. So what happens? More to the point, why is it so hugely embarrassing to Spock in TOS “Amok Time”? Especially when it isn’t that embarrassing; it did get broadcast in the early evening on American network television in the 1960s, after all.

I can’t help thinking that “unbonded” Vulcans experience pon farr as exactly what Spock says it is: a mating season. The cycles must coincide to a certain degree, for the system to have any chance of working. The koon-ut-kal-if-fee isn’t just the equivalent of the parish church, it’s exactly what it looks like: an arena. At the appointed time, Vulcans will gather there, and pon farr will do the rest. They’ll fight and mate. If someone is killed, there’s no crime. The resulting children presumably take their place in Vulcan society. To logical people, the whole thing is pretty sordid, but unavoidable. It is exactly the sort of thing the Vulcans won’t want those stupid Earth people to find out about. They’ll want to watch, or even think they could join in without getting killed.

What it does mean is that Vulcans in Starfleet will need to take regular vacations in places there are plenty of other Vulcans. Tuvok presumably pops home to visit his wife. Spock and Vorik will be gathering with other broad-minded adult Vulcans to do things that televised “Star Trek” wouldn’t dream of showing, even today, not even on CBS All Access.

Vulcan Calendar

by StrauchiusStrauchius on 23 Nov 2014 16:44, last updated on 04 Dec 2017 14:54