Star Trek: The Original Series episode 28 review

Mark goes back to the 60s for his latest Star Trek look-back, hoping that the journey won’t create a time paradox...

Episode: 28Title: The City On The Edge Of ForeverStar Date: 3134.0Writer: D.C. Fontana and Harlan EllisonFirst Shown: 6th April 1967

I’ve looked at a dozen top ten original series episodes, and they all agree that this is the best story by a country mile. Being the penultimate episode of the first season the show had now entirely shed any perception that it was ‘Wagon Train to the stars’ and this is a full-on science fiction adventure. Here two of the giants of modern science fiction combined their writing abilities to deliver a milestone in fantasy TV production, and it won D.C. Fontana and Harlan Ellison a Hugo Award.

The Enterprise is investigating a temporal phenomenon emanating from a nearby planet, waves of which are impacting on the ship as they approach.

Sulu is hurt when his console explodes, and McCoy injects him with a cordrazine shot to stabilise his heartbeat. Unfortunately, this leaves Bones with a hypo-spray loaded with a powerful drug, which, at the next jolt, he accidentally injects into himself. The result is that he becomes completely irrational and beams himself down to the planet’s surface.

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Kirk, Spock, Scotty, Uhura and two security guards follow him to the ruins of an ancient civilisation and they discover the Guardian of Tomorrow. This appears to be a sentient machine that presents the fast-forward portal to the events of the past and future, and before anyone can stop him, the crazed Bones appears and leaps through it into the time vortex. At the very moment this happens the Enterprise disappears, as clearly something McCoy does in the past alters the timeline. Why all the other landing party doesn’t also cease to exist isn’t explained, but I’ll go with the First Contact excuse which is that they’re caught in a temporal wake.

Realising that their only chance of escaping the planet is to stop McCoy, Spock and Kirk wait for the same events to be portrayed in the time vortex and leap through into the nineteen-thirties New York of the Depression. Not knowing when McCoy will appear, they set about trying to work out what he might alter and how they can stop him. Having no money or food, they hide in the basement of a building, where they’re found by Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), and assuming they’re destitute, she offers them work and somewhere to stay.

Spock is able to construct a system from valves and other basic electronics to analyse the data he collected from the time vortex, and it reveals that before McCoy jumped through, Edith dies, but after he jumped, she survives and her anti-war protests alter the events of World War II. The knock-on effect of that is that the Enterprise no longer exists in that timeline, disturbingly.

Unbeknownst to Spock and Kirk, McCoy comes through the portal and is also befriended by Edith. It’s the ultimate meeting between them all, and Edith stepping into the path of a truck when she sees them across the street is the inescapable resolution for everyone. After that happens they are able to go back through the portal, and the timeline and Enterprise are duly restored.

My feelings about The City On The Edge Of Forever are that it demonstrates the deeper maturity of the Star Trek concept beyond what the studios thought it might become. It’s brave enough to present a tragedy without a convenient get out of jail card, and gives the proceedings an added edge by letting Kirk get involved with Edith.

This isn’t the typical Kirk soft-focus relationship that has the women swooning at his first signs of interest. It’s actually a more believable transit from friendship to something greater. When Edith dies, as she must, his reaction is therefore entirely believable. There is no moment of triumph – he just snaps “Let’s get the hell out of here!” In an era where most shows left the audience on an upbeat moment, the ability to contradict this ethos is what makes Star Trek stand proud from its contemporaries.

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Recently there has been an ongoing dispute between CBS Paramount TV and Harlan Ellison, who claims not to have received what he was due from the income made since the episode was made. This isn’t the only controversy surrounding this story; another details that Harlan’s original script wasn’t short enough to film, and as such, various Star Trek insiders contributed to the final form including Steven W. Carabatsos, Gene L. Coon, D. C. Fontana and the show’s creator Gene Roddenberry.

Whatever the truth about the process that created this story, many consider this to the pinnacle of Star Trek‘s creativity, and worthy of many of the accolades it’s generated over the years.

The next review is sadly the final one of the first season, a quiet and peace-loving story called Operation: Annihilate!