As a boy, it took ‘The Next Generation’s’ high-standard of quality to peak my interest enough to start exploring its forefather’s three Seasons. Minutes in to The Original Series, I was hooked! And as I soon discovered, ‘Classic Trek’ has some of the best writing ever produced for television with The City on the Edge of Forever the crowning-achievement of the entire run. First broadcast on April 6, 1967 (episode #28, production #28) this penultimate episode of the first Season is considered one of the most critically acclaimed shows aired; it was awarded the 1968 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. The only other episode with such an honor is the two-parter The Menagerie. The teleplay is credited to Harlan Ellison, yet was also rewritten by several others, including Gene L. Coons & D. C. Fontana, before filming began. Directed by film & television veteran Joseph Pevney, with pacifist & Kirk love-interest Edith Keeler, played by Joan Collins. This installment involves the crew of the Federation Starship Enterprise discovering a portal through time & space, which leads to Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy accidentally altering history.
This classic episode has it all, meteoric social commentary with all the best elements of ‘smart’ Science Fiction blended together & tethered with a tender love-story for our hero, concluding with terrible loss & regret. A high-water mark for the series. A grief-stricken Kirk’s final words, “Let’s get the hell out of here.” before beam-up, gets me every time. Truly heart-breaking…
‘City’s’ Synopsis reads as follows:
The Enterprise investigates temporal disturbances centered on a nearby planet. Helmsman Sulu is caught in a console explosion during the investigation & suffers a heart flutter. ‘Bones’ is summoned to the Bridge & decides on a risky ‘cordrazine’ shot to revive him. Moments after, a further temporal-disturbance-wave shakes the ship violently; as a result, McCoy accidentally injects himself with an overdose of serum; insanity-boardering paranoia quickly sets in. Delusional, ‘Bones’ flees the ship by beaming to the surface. Kirk forms a landing search party comprised of two ‘red shirts,’ Spock, Scotty, Uhura & himself. Once on the planet below, Spock discovers the time distortions’ source, an ancient gateway, with pulsing, stone-like properties. When a question is directed at this ‘portal,’ a booming voice identify’s itself as the ‘Guardian of Forever,’ a temporal doorway to ANY time & place; soon displaying fragmented periods of Earth’s history in its portal opening.
The search-party soon locates the demented Doctor, but he sprints, then leaps through the portal-mouth before he can be stopped. Suddenly the away-team loses contact with the Enterprise. ‘The Guardian’ informs them that history has just been altered & that, as a result, their once-orbitting vessel no longer exists. It’s clear to Kirk & Co. that after leaping through the portal, McCoy has somehow reshaped the past & erased THe United Federation of Planets from existence! Kirk asks the Guardian to loop the history images again and he & Spock prepare to jump through to a time just before ‘Bones’ penetrated, in the hope that they can correct the timeline. At the correct moment, Captain & First-Officer leap through in hot pursuit; materializing in New York City during the 1930′s Great Depression era. With both their uniforms & Spock’s ears a shock to pedestrians, Kirk steals clothes hanging over a fire escape & the two hide in an adjacent building basement. There they meet Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), who identifies herself as a social worker of the 21st Street Mission. They apologize for trespassing & offer to work for her; she allows them to stay. In the meantime, Mr. Spock begins to construct a crude, barely-functional processor in order to interface with his tricorder in order to find out what part of history McCoy has altered. The Captain soon begins to fall in love with Edith as he finds her to be a remarkable visionary with a positive outlook about what the future of mankind holds.
McCoy materializes, & after an encounter with a homeless man, stumbles into the 21st Street Mission where Edith notices him & takes him in. Kirk & Spock are not aware of his arrival. Meanwhile, Spock finally finishes the interface & he and Kirk analyze the data. It reveals that Edith was supposed to have died shortly after in a traffic accident but that, having been spared this fate on account of McCoy’s actions, she instead went on to form a pacifist movement whose influence delayed the entry of the United States into World War II; this delay in turn gave Nazi Germany time to develop an atomic bomb and ultimately conquer Earth. Kirk must face the fact that if Edith does not die as she is supposed to, history will be altered forever. Meanwhile, Edith nurses McCoy, who tells her who he is & where he’s from. Edith does not believe his fantastic-sounding story, but tells him that he would fit in nicely with her eccentric new boyfriend who will later be taking her to a movie starring Clark Gable, an actor with whom (to Edith’s great surprise) McCoy is not familiar.
Later, as Kirk & Edith are walking to the movie house, Edith is startled that Kirk does not recognize Clark Gable. It prompts her to mention that “Doctor McCoy” does not either. Alarmed, Kirk emphatically tells Edith to “Stay right here” before dashing across the street to notify Spock. As he reaches Spock, McCoy emerges from the mission right in front of them. A surprised Edith crosses the street to join them, but fails to notice a fast-moving truck which is approaching. Instinctively, Kirk moves to pull Edith out of the way but freezes when Spock cries, “No, Jim!”. McCoy then tries to save Edith but is held back by Kirk; the truck crushes & kills her. A shocked McCoy exclaims to Kirk, “I could have saved her…do you know what you just did?”. Kirk pushes him away, speechless, and Spock says quietly, “He knows, Doctor. He knows.”
With Edith’s death, history reverts to its original timeline & Kirk, Spock, & McCoy return to the ‘Guardian’s’ planet to find the rest of the landing party where they had left them. Scotty remarks that the trio had only been gone for a few moments. The Guardian says, “Time has resumed its shape. All is as it was before,” and adds, “Many such journeys are possible. Let me be your gateway.” However, Uhura indicates that the Enterprise is ready to beam them back up & a traumatized Kirk responds with the instruction, “Let’s get the hell out of here.” The landing party is beamed away & the Guardian is companionless once again.
Brilliant story arc…highly emotional & well-structured. Classic television at the height of creative integrity.