Friday August 16
Art by Athew
The City on the Edge of Forever” is the penultimate episode of the first season of the science fiction television series Star Trek. It is episode #28, production #28, first broadcast on April 6, 1967. It was repeated on August 31, 1967 and marked the last time that NBC telecast an episode of the series on Thursday nights. It was one of the most critically acclaimed episodes of the series and was awarded the 1968 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. The only other episode with such an honor is the two-part episode “The Menagerie“. The teleplay is credited to Harlan Ellison, but was also largely rewritten by several authors before filming. The filming was directed by Joseph Pevney. Joan Collins guest starred as Edith Keeler.
Stardate: Unknown. While the Federation starship USS Enterprise is investigating temporal disturbances from a nearby planet, Lt. Sulu is injured in an explosion. Chief Medical Officer Dr. McCoy gives him a shot of cordrazine and accidentally injects himself with an overdose when the ship is shaken. Delusional, he flees from the Bridge and to the Transporter Room, beaming himself down to the planet.
Captain Kirk beams down with a landing party and finds the source of the time distortions, an ancient glowing ring with an aperture the height of a human. The “Guardian of Forever” explains that he is a doorway to any time and place. McCoy escapes through the portal. Suddenly the landing party loses contact with the Enterprise and is informed that the past has been altered and the Enterprise no longer exists.
Since the timeline must be repaired, the Guardian lets Kirk and Spock go after McCoy. Before the pair depart, Kirk tells the landing party to enter the portal and make new lives for themselves in the past if he and Spock fail to return. Kirk and Spock arrive in New York City during the 1930s Great Depression. After stealing some clothes to blend in, they meet a woman named Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), who runs the 21st Street Mission. They offer to work for her. Spock begins to construct a processor to interface with his tricorder to find out how McCoy altered history.
Kirk begins to fall in love with Edith, whom he finds remarkable. She is interested in man’s future and the stars. McCoy stumbles into the mission where Edith takes him in, unbeknownst to Kirk. Spock finishes his work and, reviewing the Guardian’s images of the original and altered timelines, discovers that Edith was supposed to have died in a traffic accident, which was prevented by McCoy. Instead, Edith lived on to start a pacifist movement which influenced the United States sufficiently to delay its entrance into World War II, thus allowing Nazi Germany time to develop an atomic bomb and win the war. Kirk knows that Edith must die in order for time to return to normal.
Meanwhile, Edith nurses McCoy who tells her his story. Though Edith does not believe him, she tells him that he would like her eccentric new boyfriend.
Later, as Kirk and Edith are walking to the movies, Edith mentions Dr. McCoy. Alarmed, Kirk tells Edith to stay there before running to find Spock. The three friends meet in front of the mission. As a curious Edith crosses the street to join them, she steps in front of a fast-moving truck. Instinctively, Kirk reacts, but freezes when Spock stops him. McCoy is restrained by Kirk as Edith is knocked down and killed. McCoy tells Kirk that he could have saved her. “Do you know what you just did?” he says. Spock adds quietly, “He knows, Doctor. He knows.”
With Edith’s death, history reverts to its original form and Kirk, Spock and McCoy return to the Guardian’s planet where, as far as the landing party are concerned, the three have only been away for a few minutes. The Guardian mentions that “Many such journeys are possible.” The Enterprise contacts the landing party and the traumatized Kirk responds with the instructions, “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
The production staff considered Ellison’s script to be excellent (though the director Joseph Pevney said, “Harlan had no sense of theater… in the original script’s dramatic moments, it missed badly”), but they had several concerns. As originally written, the episode would have been too long for a one-hour show, too expensive to stage, with too many speaking parts and elaborate special effects. Also, several plot elements—such as a member of the crew dealing drugs and Kirk preparing to sacrifice his crew to be with Edith—led the producers to decide that Ellison’s teleplay was simply “not Star Trek“. Ellison did a number of rewritings himself, delivering his Second Revised Final Draft in December 1966. Gene Roddenberry continued to claim the story was still considered to be too expensive to shoot as written, and instead it was rewritten internally, by a sequence of editors includingSteven W. Carabatsos, Gene L. Coon, D. C. Fontana, and Gene Roddenberry himself. Ellison was unhappy with the rewritings, and he considered disowning the script by putting his “Cordwainer Bird” pseudonym on it.
Part of the reason for this controversy was a subtle but important change in Edith Keeler’s character. In the original script she was a social worker with a vague hippie philosophical bent whereas, in the final version, she was changed into an all-out war protester. The version that was telecast in the end carried the implication that anti-war movements were harmful to the future of humanity. (Kirk: “She was right; peace was the way.” Spock: “She was right…but at the wrong time.”) When the associate producer Robert Justman was asked if the episode was intended “to have the contemporaneous anti-Vietnam-war movement as a subtext”, he replied, “Of course we did”. This new thematic element, which may be interpreted as critical of the anti-war movement, ran counter to Ellison’s strongly held anti-war views, established in many of his writings.