The past changed and the future threatened on the episode that originally aired on April 6, 1967. This is The City on the Edge of Forever.
Captain’s Log Stardate undetermined.
After getting an accidental overdose, McCoy flees to a nearby planet forcing Kirk and team to track him down. There they find a stone portal that identifies itself as The Guardian of Forever, one that can access anywhere in time or space. As Spock and Kirk examine it, a crazed McCoy jumps into the portal causing the Enterprise and all of the Federation from ever existing. Spock and Kirk follow him through the Guardian but a few days prior to McCoy’s arrival to stop him. The Guardian warns them that anything they alter could further disrupt their future.
There they run into a woman named Edith Keeler who, it turns out, was meant to die but was inadvertently saved by McCoy. However, by the time Spock discovers this, Kirk has already fallen in love with her. We find that because of Edith’s survival, the United States entry into WW2 was delayed allowing Nazi Germany to take over the world. Although Spock is determined that Keeler must die, Kirk is determined to find a way to prevent her death AND save the future. Kirk struggles with the potential loss of his love or the damning of his own future time line and, in the end, allows Edith to die in the car accident she was meant to die in originally. McCoy is dumbfounded that Kirk stopped him from saving her, but Kirk knows that he just saved all of humanity and more.
Returning to their original time, the Guardian informs them all that time has returned to normal and Kirk takes the crew back to the Enterprise, intending to never return again…
Is this a ‘Good’ Episode:
This is one of my personal favorites. The episode on the surface is a great exploration of the dangers of time travel. If you are any kind of scifi fan, you probably already know all of the time travel tropes, from not meeting yourself to the butterfly effect. City on the Edge of Forever is essentially the latter as it pertains to history in general, but instead of stepping on a butterfly and altering time, everything hinges on the life of a single person. One single act, even an act of selflessness, cause such a ripple in time it completely altered the course of history hundreds of years into the future.
With that concept in mind, stories like this one force you to think how even your own small actions alter the future even slightly. Maybe your kind words stopped someone from making a poor choice that would have ultimately led to a war, or perhaps a decision you made in the past led to the downfall of a nation? Stories like City on the Edge of Forever can really make you ponder how time itself is in a complete flux bending and shifting based solely on the whims of every living being in existence, each of us altering the flow from minor ripples to complete changes in the direction itself. The interesting thing is, unlike that of Kirk and Spock in this adventure, we are only aware of what was and what is, not what will be.
The other thing this episode really hits hard on that of love and loss. Kirk himself becomes bitterly aware of this aspect when he falls in love with a woman of the past. The thing is, Kirk should be leery of falling for someone of the past as, any action he takes with her could effectively alter the timeline as well. In fact, if Edith were not the lynchpin in the story, if she had become pregnant or didnt meet a certain person due to Kirk’s involvement, those things could also irreparably alter history itself. The irony of all of this is that they have already dealt with a similar issue when Enterprise was sent back in time to the 1960’s and they had to recover data to prevent the past from being altered. So, Kirk was fully aware of the ramifications his love affair with Keeler would have, yet for some reason he pursued it. Sure, in the end he allowed history to continue as it was meant to but, he probably should not have put himself in such a position to start with. That being said, William Shatner’s portrayal of the love lost Kirk was truly tragic and heartfelt. If anything, this episode really shows just how great an actor he was in his youth, despite his rather punctual way of saying lines.
Interestingly, this particular episode was at the center of some difficulties concerning the original Harlan Ellison script. The original story involved drug dealing crew members, firing squads and more, only for the script to be rewritten to the point we see it now. I am fortunate to have a paperback copy that reprints the original script and is also signed by the late Harlan Ellison as well. It’s one of my prized possessions and one that I occasionally pull off the shelf while asking myself if there were any moments in time that I would change, and if I did, what ripples would have been created.
Overall, The City on the Edge of Forever remains a favorite of mine and will continue to be. It’s a wonderful story and one that really makes us think about what is, was and will be.
Gleanings and Cool Bits:
- We see the Guardian of Forever again in both the Animated Series and Discovery.
- We learn that Spock is quite the safe cracker….maybe that’s how he got into the Mission Impossible team further down the line…
- One interesting note. At one point a bum vaporizes himself with McCoy’s phaser. Apparently, he was unimportant to history, or maybe he was the original cause of Keeler’s death?
Thanks for reading the Retro TV Review, I look forward to discussing the rest of the series with you, one episode at a time every Monday, Wednesday and Friday! Next Review: Operation Annihilate!
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Late To The Game 2/2/2022
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