Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
Recommend this product?
The City on the Edge of Forever (1967) Directed by Joseph Pevney, written by Harlan Ellison (filtered extensively through D.C. Fontana) and created by Gene Roddenberry
Edith Keeler: If you can leave right away, I can get you 5 hours of work at 22 cents an hour.
[seeing Spock's arcing and sparking tricorder adapter]
Edith Keeler: What... what on earth is that?
Spock: I am endeavoring, ma'am, to construct a mnemonic memory circuit using stone knives and bearskins.
This is what Science Fiction is all about. Take an idea. Gather some science to support it. Look for Science to defeat it. Add the human element. See if a story worth hearing emerges. If it does, commit it to some medium.
The Enterprise is studying a planet that seems to be causing ripples in time. While orbiting, Sulu (George Takei) is shocked by a power overload at helm. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) is on hand to save the day, but in the turbulence of a time ripple, he is injected with a massive overdose of a very volatile drug. Maddened, McCoy escapes to the source of the Time disturbance.
On the Planet, following their disturbed friend, Kirk and Spock encounter the Guardian of Forever. An incalculably ancient device, it was built to observe the past, and offer a passage into it. While still under the effects of the Cordrazine overdose, McCoy leaps through the portal, and somehow, changes the past so that the Enterprise never existed. The rescue party on the surface (Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Scotty, and a pair of red shirts) are unaffected by the rewrite in history. Kirk and Spock determine to use the Guardian to try to go back and time and prevent McCoy from making the alteration to the time line.
That is a very cut and dry set up for what is arguably the best Star Trek episode, and indeed, the best Science Fiction Episode ever created. This is truly a case of lightning in a bottle. The episode was written by Harlan Ellison, who every serious scholar of Science Fiction will acknowledge as a genius in the field. Every Psych Major will acknowledge him as a major Narcissistic @$$hole, but his stories are undeniably innovative, well crafted, and damn good. Filtered through the Genius of D. C Fontana’s understanding of what will work as a 50 minute Sci Fi episode, we get something that is truly magical.
When Kirk and Spock (William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy) travel back in time to prevent McCoy’s interference, they land in 1930’s Earth. Star Trek has had the “parallel” time travel effect; the planet Miri and her childhood friends were on was an exact duplicate of Earth, and this fact weakened the impact of the overall message. The Return of the Archons was weakened by the use of old Western sets. But here, it IS Earth. It is 1930. And that strengthens the theme, not weakens it, or opens it to ridicule.
In the past, Kirk and Spock meet Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), a mission worker, a visionary with infinite compassion, and the work ethic to make that emotion a viable instrument of social change. While Spock searches for clues to when and where McCoy will emerge to disrupt the time-stream, Kirk find himself falling in love with a Slum Angel.
Why is this different from the other hundred times Kirk has fallen in love? Because in this instance, he actually has the time to get to know the woman he is lusting after. This time, her biggest asset is not what is hidden in her Jiffy-Pop Bra, but a very real, demonstrable compassion. Edith Keeler is different from every woman who has gone before because she is not a Psychologist capitalizing on a Memory Re-Writing Machine, she is not an Android exploring what Love might be, she is not some farm girl amped up on uber-feminine Viagra, nor his love-lorn Yeoman. Edith Keeler is a person, intelligent, charming, capable, who had an existence before Jim Kirk entered her life, and a purpose, and conceivably, greater worth than our starship captain. She is actually a love interest worthy of James T. Kirk the very complicated man, and not just the flavor of the week to satisfy his indefatigable libido.
Because of the currents of the stream of time, Captain Kirk had weeks, possibly even months to get to know Edith Keeler. Therefore his love seems more like genuine yearning for compatibility, rather than for one set of glands screaming out for another in the dark of space.
While Kirk explores the possibilities of dating beyond the realm of lust at first sight, Spock is along for the ride. Ever logical, he recognizes his captain’s infatuation for it’s most likely cause; Edith Keeler is the focal point in time they have been drawn to, the one McCoy will alter. Leonard Nimoy, while playing a completely sexless, and if not sexless, then heterosexual character, manages to reveal a hundred nuances and jealous tells of the homosexual pining after the forbidden non-fruit. Spock is in the unenviable position of telling his best friend (love interest) that the woman he loves is not only doomed but that saving her is perhaps the most singularly wrong thing that can be done.
It is a story with a hundred nuances and possibilities, and the actors, Shatner, Nimoy, and Collins, all rose to the occasion. It is an episode where Shatner’s hyper-expressiveness has no down side. It is all believable, appropriate, and understandable. Collins is every bit as much a woman as Shatner is a man, and Nimoy is both sidekick and jealous on looker. The question of course, is this; is Spock jealous of Kirk, or of Keeler? Wisely, that question has no answer. The richest soil is in the land of uncertainty.
Every aspect of this episode is almost flawless, right down to Uhura’s (Nichelle Nichols) reaction to the fact that they may all be trapped in the past.
Scotty: Good Luck, then.
Uhura: Or at least happiness.
Uhura is a pragmatist. It has been demonstrated a hundred times, but here it is crystal clear. Even in the face of the end of all we know, she recognizes the stakes, and puts the personal, the human spin on them.
When you compare a body of work, and select “the best episode” it is almost always an exercise in subjective evaluation. Not here. The vast majority of Trekkies, and Trekkers agree, it doesn’t get better than this. And if you think of every television show that has followed, every sit com, every police drama, I challenge you to name the episode of any show that was better.
To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before! Star Trek Season I
The Cage (episode 0, unaired pilot)
The Man Trap
Where No Man Has Gone Before (pilot 2)
The Naked Time
The Enemy Within
What Are Little Girls Made Of?
Dagger of the Mind
The Corbomite Manuever
The Menagerie Part I
The Menagerie Part II
The Conscience of the King
Balance of Terror
The Galileo Seven
The Squire of Gothos
Tomorrow is Yesterday
The Return of the Archons
A Taste of Armageddon
This Side of Paradise
The Devil in the Dark
Errand of Mercy
The Alternative Factor
The City on the Edge of Forever
Read all comments (6)
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children up Ages 8