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This is that one episode of the original Trek series which contained a
certain inspired, sublime quality, which transcended the limitations of
even the best episodes (translation: 10+ stars). We know there is
greatness here, but what exactly is this impression that staggers us?
Famed writer Harlan Ellison wrote the original teleplay, which was
re-written by other hands (causing some controversy that continues to
this day) to presumably make it fit better within the confines of
Roddenberry's and television's view of the Trek universe. Very briefly,
Ellison looked at human beings as more flawed (which, of course, they
are) and probably regarded Roddenberry's vision of near-perfect future
humanity as a bit too bland. This is television we're speaking about
here, when all is said and done, and blandness is de rigueur. But, even
the re-writes could not reduce this magnificent piece to anything less
than the masterpiece of its day.
The City that the title refers to, on the surface, appears to be the eerie setting we see in the first act, with ruins, as Kirk notes, stretching to the horizon. It is here that we first see the Guardian of Forever, a strange rock-like arch which actually functions as a time portal. We've all seen time travel stories before, with similar devices ("The Time Travelers" from '64, for example). But, it's what happens after we enter the portal that then defines the story and weaves a tale of bitter, even mind-numbing tragedy. There's a chill odor assaulting us even before all this happens, a foreboding, as the Guardian intones 'All that you knew...is gone' after a deranged McCoy leaps into Earth's past. Without having to show the audience anything - anything physical or expository - the story lets us know that the Federation has been wiped away. All that in the span of a few seconds - all gone... just gone. The cosmic hook is that a particular individual, just another citizen in the dim past, can have a profound effect on the course of events within the known galaxy, while others, such as a skid-row bum, would have no effect at all.
The City may also be the city of New York, in the 1930's, for this is where a piece of Kirk (or his heart) will always be - forever, as it were. During the week that Kirk and Spock are forced to live a brief out-of-time life there, the story now stirs in the most potent human elements with the most dire cosmic dilemma - it's a fantastic, unforgettable mix. Unfortunately for Kirk, this was the one scenario he was not trained for. You might note, watching any of the other episodes, no matter how outlandish the threat or problem, it's always something Kirk is able to take control of eventually, to grasp and handle in his own persuasive manner. Not here - gradually, he becomes helpless, caught in the undertow of that perhaps strongest of human emotions after he meets a social worker. As with everything in this episode, actors Shatner and Collins seem to transcend their normal limitations. It's amazing that this episode, at least while taking place in this timeless New York City, is only the length of about half-an-hour; it seems like we're with Kirk & Edith for a good week there, much as it was meant to be.
As I got older, I found it almost too painful to watch the final act of this episode. It's like a piece of music - so well done, you're compelled to listen, but the notes are heart rending and leave that dull ache, as if you're missing something in life. As a comparison, I would bring to your attention another episode, "Requiem For Methuselah" from the 3rd season; it's actually not that bad of an episode, not without interest. But, in that one, Kirk falls in love in the span of an hour and then Spock erases his pain with his Vulcan abilities. Nothing so trite here. By the look on Kirk's face and his words in the final scene, as he dismisses the incredible Guardian, we know he will have to live with this pain forever. 'All IS as it WAS before' the Guardian intones some more. I'm afraid not. Not ever.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For years Harlan Ellison has snarled about how Gene Roddenberry falsely
claimed his script for "City On The Edge Of Forever" had Scotty dealing
drugs. Well, maybe he did, and if so, then Ellison had reason to be
annoyed. But setting that issue aside, after reading his original
script it does seem that the changes that were made- in some respects
at least- were a definite improvement.
Ellison has a mercenary character aboard the Enterprise (not Scotty, of course) exploit another crewman's addiction to an illegal drug so he can get himself assigned to a landing party. That way he can beam down and illegally trade with any native inhabitants. As it works out, the dealer, Beckwith, kills the drug addicted crewman and then finds himself convicted of murder with a sentence of death to be carried out on the planet surface. Upon arrival however, he escapes into the past and screws up history.
Okay, the thing that doesn't seem to work so well about this aspect of Ellison's story is the large amount of time spent in the first act introducing these two new characters. Roddenberry's writers wisely turn the focus back on the regular cast with McCoy becoming the victim of an accidental narcotics overdose that renders him temporarily insane. McCoy becomes the unwitting catalyst for the altering of history, making Kirk and Spock's mission now about both repairing the damage to history- and rescuing a friend. This seems far more emotionally involving than had it remained a pursuit of a sleazy drug dealer through time.
Also, by dispensing with the villainous character, they were able to cut out the slightly uncomfortable fact that they were there for the business of executing a prisoner, and in the original script Kirk seems just a touch too eager to carry out that sentence.
Another flaw in Ellison's version is the introduction of a bunch of rather prosaic characters: long-robed ancients whose centuries old task is the servicing of the mechanisms that make time travel possible on their world. Of course this is just an opinion, but the pulsating Guardian Of Forever with it's booming voice speaking in enigmatic riddles (even insulting Spock by suggesting his intellect is too limited to grasp it's internal workings) trumps a bunch of old guys in robes any day. Making the now automated time portal a full-fledged character is a very good idea because it allows the Guardian to become it's own "device" for delivering exposition, and this seems a more direct method than leaving all the explanations to Ellison's original concept of a group of old men.
Also, when history is changed, Ellison has Kirk and company beaming up to the Enterprise and (as in the later episode "Mirror, Mirror") discovering that the vessel is now a pirate ship called "The Falcon". Kirk and Spock take over the transporter room, locking out the bloodthirsty crew, and then leave the rest of the landing party to fend off the pirates while they beam back down to the planet to try and right history.
Considering there's also the pursuit of Beckwith, as well as the love story set in the 1930's, doesn't it sound like there's just too much story here?
In the streamlined re-write, Kirk leaves the landing party on the planet surface as he ventures into the past of the 1930's to repair history, and this seems quite sufficient plot-wise without the addition of a pirate Enterprise.
One thing that would have been nice to see preserved from Ellison's script occurs in the scene where Edith Keeler has been allowed to die in order to correct history. This is not exactly word for word, but Spock comforts the shattered Kirk by telling him that "no woman was ever loved so much, for you were willing to give up the whole universe just for her." It's a very touching, romantic sentiment (coming from the Vulcan no less!) to end on, and represents one of the best aspects of Ellison's version that didn't survive the re-write.
While much of what did make it into the finished episode was undeniably Harlan Ellison's, the changes that were made to his script do seem to have been appropriate and helped to make this exceptionally well done episode, arguably, even better.
"City on the Edge of Forever" is usually considered one of the best (if
not the best) of the series. The praise is well-deserved.
During a meteor storm, McCoy accidentally injects himself with an overdose of cordrazine, which leads him to paranoid insanity. He beams himself down to the planet being orbited by the Enterprise, escapes through a time portal, resulting in the obliteration of the Enterprise's world. Kirk and Spock go back through the portal to try and intercept McCoy (who has interfered with the past), and land in the New York City of the 1930s. They are taken in by Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), a pacifistic social worker, and Kirk begins to fall in love.
As the summary indicates, this episode is the perfect confluence of superb science fiction writing (Harlan Ellison), well-honed directing (Joseph Pevney), and sensitive acting (Shatner and Nimoy in particular). The script is incredibly well-written by one of the best science fiction writers of all time, and uses modest humor (e.g., Spock's clueless insistence on securing platinum, Kirk's explanation of Spock's ears to a policeman, etc.) to keep the story from becoming overly maudlin. For those who believe that William Shatner could not act (i.e., those who had never seen him in his early TV days), his nuanced and sympathetic performance clearly shows how good of an actor he could be. Likewise, Joan Collins acquits herself quite well, and Nimoy is, as always, marvelous. Spock's final line in the 1930s world alone is worth the viewing.
After Bones accidentally injects himself with a shot that causes him to have dementia, he jumps into a time-travel gateway and lands in New York in the 1930's. Kirk and Spock must go in after him and prevent him from doing something in the past that could alter the future. Kirk finds a love interest, played by Joan Collins, but comes to find out that she will play a key role in determining the outcome of Earth's future. Without spoiling it, lets just say it appears Kirk will never have a steady love relationship as long as he is captain. Great job by Shatner and leaves you numb at the end. He even uses the word "hell', which was probably a big deal on television in the late 60's.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
ST:TOS:28 - "The City On The Edge Of Forever" (Stardate: 3134.0) is considered by many as one of the best if not the best episode of the Star Trek original series and perhaps in all of Star Trek. It introduces of the most remembered settings - that of the Guardian of Forever, which is the gatekeeper to a time portal. This episode provides the most dramatic (not to mention sad) elements in all of Star Trek - and one of Shatner's finer performances as he as to make an "emotional choice" at the end of the episode, literally a life and death situation. If you are to watch an episode of Star Trek, be sure to make it this one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This episode of Star Trek is the best one in its three year history. McCoy accidentally injects himself with medicine that makes him insane. Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock transport McCoy to a planet with a known time machine to transport him back in time and prevent the mistake from happening. McCoy goes through the machine without Spock and Kirk and lands in 1930's NYC. After Spock and Kirk join him in this time period ( they have no idea where McCoy is) they discover Edith Keeler, played superbly by Joan Collins. It appears that when McCoy entered this time period he prevents Keeler from perishing in a traffic accident. Because Keeler was a peace activist and survived instead of died as before she prevents the US entrance into WW II and the world as we know it is destroyed because Hitler is not defeated. Spock tells Kirk that Keeler must die for all of civilization on Earth to continue. Kirk ends up with a gut-wrenching choice to make; to follow his own heart or sacrifice for the good of mankind. The acting by the characters of Kirk, Spock, McCoy and especially Keeler is astounding. The best Star Trek ever. Don't miss it!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's somehow fitting that the best episode of 'Star Trek' should have taken longer, cost more, and had more controversy attached to it than any other regular season show. There are a number of things one can point to in 'The City on the Edge of Forever' as reasons it should be considered the best, primarily the quality of the writing. Harlan Ellison's original script was not used for several reasons and yet clearly much of what he wrote survived into the final version and it deservedly won a 1968 Hugo Award. The episode seems so much more than just that... it really feels at times as though you're watching a very good motion picture. The eerie beginning, the near-hopelessness of the situation, the interplay between the characters, and that heart-pounding next to last scene where Edith Keeler dies all combine to make 'City on the Edge of Forever' something very special, many times better than the average episode. And just as amazing, it is still 'Star Trek.' There is so much packed into the fifty-minute show and yet it doesn't seem rushed or forced. We actually sit through the opening and first act before Kirk and Spock even arrive in Earth's past. The pivotal character of Edith Keeler is played by Joan Collins (long before 'Dynasty') and it is a perfect bit of casting. The dialogue throughout is sharp and to the point. At one point in the 21st Street Mission where the two officers find themselves portraying homeless men, Spock says, "I'll finish with the furnace." And Keeler promptly adds, "Captain? Even when he doesn't say it, he does." There are many wonderful touches like that throughout the episode. I wouldn't want to take sides in any Ellison/Roddenberry dispute over 'City on the Edge of Forever,' because they both have good reason to feel proud of it. Ellison not only for the original concept and written version, but also for the literacy and magical sense of wonder he imbues the story with, and Roddenberry for bringing it to life within the constraints of a one-hour network television episode, and doing so with the rest of the 'Star Trek' cast and crew masterfully. 'The City on the Edge of Forever' stands apart from other installments in the series, and is a rare achievement.
Before you read any review of this, you should check out 'a l i e n's
review - it's the one with the highest vote count, and it's entitled
Ellison. This user does a very nice job of explaining Harlan Ellison's
various issues with the way the script was handled.
City on the Edge of Forever is a truly remarkable episode of Star Trek's original series. Written by now-veteran sci fi author Harlan Ellison (with help from Roddenberry and his writing team), and directed by one of the original series' most consistently excellent directors - Joseph Pevney - COEF begins with the Enterprise being bombarded by meteors and Sulu knocked unconscious. McCoy injects him with cordrazine and he is fine, but then McCoy falls on the needle and is injected with an overdose. Deranged, McCoy beams down to a nearby planet and the bridge crew follows shortly thereafter.
The rest of the story involves time travel, a bit of romance and some great acting and directing. Kelley, Shatner, Nimoy and guest star Joan Collins give remarkable performances, and bring this fine story to life in a touchingly dramatic and satisfyingly logical manner.
If you want to get somebody hooked on ST, this is a great place to start.
I have been re-watching the original Star Trek series from time to time
on DVD and I generally cannot remember which one I re-watched 3 months
ago on DVD. It has been so long since I have watched them on TV, many
of them are new again.
This episode though, is an outstanding exception. Not because I enjoyed it... I REMEMBERED IT from years ago because of the awful conflicts of ethics that still remain unresolved. Supposedly, if Kirk did not take action, life as he knew it would not exist.
Still, it could have been wrong or right. We just don't know. The story was softened so we would feel it was right.. but, what could have become of the bigger picture if time is expanded and we are not locked into our Star Trek box? Maybe it is because of my particular age that this is an indelible episode. Similar concepts have been indulged in other shows. The original Star Trek to me remains a life-time keeper, and this episode a stand out.
It offers an end to a particular evil in its box, so we are satisfied. But it still leaves questions. It makes XXXX travel a four-letter word, (even for a Dr. Who fan).
This episode has it all, a wonderfully written story, catchy title,
superb acting, and an unhappy but necessary ending. I recall this story
sticking with me through the end of the first season and into the
second. The hallmark of a great story is it's staying power, and "City"
certainly has it.
First, the writing. As much controversy there is after the fact as to what Roddenberry did or didn't do with Harlan Ellison's original storyline, the fact remains that it is a dynamite story and incredibly well-crafted for the depth of character development and the continuity of the storyline. What can you say about Ellison as a sci-fi writer that hasn't already been said? The guy is a genius, pure and simple. I simply can't imagine a greater contemporary writer. He is one of a Pantheon of great writers, Heinlein, Bradbury, Clarke. That a series like Star Trek would be able to tap his talents is a real feather in their cap.
Regular actors Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelly deliver perhaps their finest performances of the series in this episode. Shatner doesn't miss a beat in his movement from dispassionate mission achievement to a genuine love interest in the Joan Collins character. And Joan Collins demonstrates here her depth as a serious actress. Her portrayal of compassionate social worker Edith Keeler is spot-on. She isn't just another pretty face, another attractive female for Kirk to conquer. She draws him in with her passion for helping others and her gifted insight into the necessity of forging a better destiny for mankind, one individual at a time. Her tragic fate is a mirror for the seemingly senseless and avoidable tragedies of the 20th century. A person dedicated to the service and well-being of others must die prematurely to prevent a greater tragedy. Certainly the eternal question and mystery of our lifetime.
Anyway, "City" is probably my favorite of many favorite episodes of this classic series. Many thanks to Harlan Ellison and Gene Roddenberry for such a masterful presentation of a great story.
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