Written by Harlan Ellison and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Joseph Pevney
Fifty four years ago, what is arguably one of the best stories ever in Star Trek was aired. The City on the Edge of Forever tells the story of personal sacrifice for the good of all humanity.
After accidentally being overdosed with a hallucinogenic drug, Dr. McCoy transports to a planet where the crew of the Enterprise have discovered a time portal. McCoy disappears through the portal, and suddenly all that Kirk, Spock and the rest of the crew that is on the planet are marooned in an alternate timeline.
To correct the future, Kirk and Spock enter the portal themselves to search for McCoy and stop him from changing history. They find themselves in the year 1930, about one month before McCoy’s arrival.
As the time goes by, Spock figures out what has been changed. Kirk learns that to keep the future as it should be, he must sacrifice the woman he has fallen in love with, Edith Keeler, a woman with a kind heart and genuinely good soul.
Written primarily by Harlan Ellison, this episode has been surrounded by controversy. Ellison published a book detailing his original script which won science-fiction writing awards. Depending on whether you believe Ellison or Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, the script was changed either because of Ellison’s conflicts with Star Trek history and possible time overrun, or because of egos and spitefulness.
Even with all the controversy, this is still the best episode of Star Trek that was ever aired. It is that way because Kirk’s mission becomes personal. Can he put aside his personal feelings for the good of all humanity?
William Shatner (Kirk) and Joan Collins (Edith Keeler) give the best acting performances of their careers. Kirk’s anguish and Keeler’s optimism during the Great Depression are at a perfect crossroads. Shatner makes us believe that Kirk would throw away everything to stay in this time with Edith.
Having read Ellison’s book, I wish the ending had been left as he originally wrote it – that Spock, not Kirk stopped McCoy from preventing Edith’s death. I think seeing Kirk unable to put his own feelings aside in this matter would have given the character more realism.
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – The Alternative Factor
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – Operation Annihilate!