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Episode 28 – TOS 1×28: “The City on the Edge of Forever”

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I will confidently state that if you haven’t heard this episode, you’ve probably been living under a rock. And not a space-rock, but a decidedly ordinary, Earth-bound rock. City on the Edge of Forever is one of the most famous episodes of TOS, if not for its intensely bittersweet ending then for the controversy surrounding its many, many, many drafts. The first draft was written by Harlan Ellison, who later sued just about everyone involved. The final draft had had so many hands on it that it’s a wonder we ended up with even a semi-coherent episode.

We open with the Enterprise all a-tremble from some kind of space-turbulence caused by ripples in space-time, caused by something on a nearby planet. (Yeoman Tamura is there. Hi, Yeoman Tamura! *waves*) This all seems fairly minor and like it might blow over any minute, but then, well, everything goes wrong, very quickly. And very… uh, conveniently. You ready?

Okay. Bones sort of… trips and is accidentally dosed with a space-drug that sends him into paranoid, violent rage and might kill him, who knows? And I usually have a two-screencap-per-episode rule but I could not let this one pass without using the following image:

Dr. McCoy in Cordrazine rage
A++++ acting by DeForest Kelley

Because Enterprise security is, as always, top-notch, Bones manages to evade everyone trying to restrain him between bridge and transporter room and beams down to the surface of the planet, which is littered with impossibly ancient ruins and one unsettlingly glowy talking rock that apparently doubles as a time portal, or so it explains when it introduces itself as the Guardian of Forever. Pursuing away teams fail, once again, to capture him, and he dives through the time portal, somehow altering the past and erasing the course of history that led to, well, the rest of the away team’s existence. There is no Starfleet, their Earth is gone, and they’re stranded in the bubble of altered time created by the Guardian.

Why yes, that does sound a little bit insane and slightly contrived. But try to get past it, because the obvious next step (?!) is for Kirk and Spock to follow Bones into Earth’s past – specifically, Depression-Era New York City – and try to undo what he did in the hopes of restoring the timeline.

And on the other side, James Kirk first meets social worker Edith Keeler.

Edith Keeler
Yes, that is Joan Collins. No, she does not have time for your nonsense cover story.

Edith runs a mission-slash-soup kitchen and clues in right away to the fact that Kirk and Spock, who greet her in stolen clothes after breaking into the basement of her mission, are hilariously out of place. But she still offers them a meal, a job, and a place to sleep, because Edith Keeler, despite her somewhat confused motivations and sadly absent backstory, is a Good Person who just wants to help people. She’s also a futurist, predicting the advent of atomic power and space travel. She’s a woman out of time, just like our stranded away team. And because the universe, no matter the timeline, wants James Kirk to be forever alone, he falls head over heels for Edith Keeler.

Edith and Kirk on a date
So your romantic options are a) death or b) Nazis.

Yeah, you can guess where this is going.

Naturally, it turns out that Edith Keeler is the crucial focal point to which they’ve been drawn: in the new timeline, created by Bones’ interference, Edith sparks a peace movement that, uh, lets the Nazis win World War 2. In the original timeline, Edith dies in a traffic accident. Because it’s hard to argue with “okay but if she lives the Nazis win,” the obvious conclusion, as Spock says to Kirk, is that “Edith Keeler must die.”

…which, incidentally, is the best band name we have ever heard in our lives.

This is often hailed as the best episode of Star Trek. We don’t necessarily agree with that, though it does leave a powerful impression that is both sad and hopeful, and difficult to explain. In fact, it necessitated an after-hours two-hosts-of-three (sorry, Kim!) addendum, because we just couldn’t stop talking about it.

…or humming the Littlest Hobo theme song, embedded below for your edification if you’re not Canadian and have no idea what we’re talking about.

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