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 begin to emerge: Spock must have been born around 2225, but all the other guesses 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 makes her a schoolgirl when she married, rather than a schoolteacher, by my 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.”

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.


Vulcan Calendar

by StrauchiusStrauchius on 23 Nov 2014 16:44, last updated on 25 Feb 2015 10:05