The City on the Edge of Forever

Harlan Ellison

The City on the Edge of Forever‘ is the penultimate episode of the first season of the television series ‘Star Trek,’ first broadcast in 1967. 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. This episode involves the crew of the starship USS Enterprise discovering a portal through space and time, which leads to Dr. McCoy’s accidentally altering history.

The USS Enterprise investigates temporal disturbances centered on a nearby planet. Once on the planet, Spock finds that the source of the time distortions is an ancient ring of glowing, stone-like material. When a question is directed at the ring, it speaks identifying itself as the ‘Guardian of Forever,’ explains that it is a doorway to any time and place, and displays periods of Earth’s history in its portal opening. McCoy, driven mad by an accidental self overdose leaps through the portal. Suddenly the landing party loses contact with the Enterprise. The Guardian informs the landing party that history has just been altered and that, as a result, the Enterprise now no longer exists.

Kirk and Spock get ready to jump through to a time just before McCoy entered, in the hope that they can correct what he has changed. Before departing, Kirk tells the rest of the landing party that they are to go through the portal and make new lives for themselves in the past if he and Spock should fail to return. Kirk and Spock leap through at the correct moment and materialize in New York City during the 1930s Great Depression era. Their uniforms and Spock’s ears shock a passerby, so Kirk steals some clothes he spots hanging on a fire escape and the two hide in the basement of a nearby building. There they meet a woman named Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), who identifies herself as a social worker of the 21st Street Mission.

Kirk soon begins to fall in love with Edith. He finds her a remarkable visionary with a positive outlook about what the future holds for mankind. Meanwhile, Spock finishes analyzing the date he collected from the Guardians. 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 the world. Kirk must face the fact that if Edith does not die as she is supposed to, history will remain altered forever.

Later, as Edith is walking to a movie house she crosses the street to join Kirk and Spock, 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 hits her and she is killed. 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 and Kirk, Spock, and McCoy return to the Guardian’s planet to find the rest of the landing party where they had left them.

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