28 "The City on the Edge of Forever"

(airdate: April 6, 1967)

Writer: Harlan Ellison
Director: Joseph Pevney

Sister Edith Keeler: Joan Collins

Guardian of Forever: Bartell La Rue

Rodent: John Harmon

Stardate: No stardate [At least not while McCoy has altered history. The VHS release went with 3134.0; this derives from the Star Trek Concordance, which adapted it from Ellison's original screenplay (which gave the first stardate as 3134.6).]

Captain's Log: The Enterprise is investigating some heavy space turbulence caused by time disturbances originating from a planet. During one of the disturbances, McCoy accidentally injects himself with a high dose of the drug cordrazine, which makes him incredibly paranoid; thus he beams down to the planet's surface in an effort to escape his perceived persecution. Kirk forms a landing party to follow, which discovers a strange structure, called the Guardian of Forever, which can allow viewers to observe history and to interact with it if they pass through the portal in the center of the Guardian. While observing Earth's history, McCoy charges through the portal, thus changing history such that the Federation and the Enterprise no longer exist. Kirk and Spock thus go after him, to stop him from changing history. They arrive in 1930 New York City, where they encounter a young woman named Edith Keeler who runs a local mission. While Spock tries to access the recordings on his tricorder, to work out when history changed, Kirk finds himself falling in love with Edith. Spock eventually succeeds in accessing the tricorder, and learns that history changed when McCoy prevented Edith from being killed in a traffic accident; she went on to become an anti-war activist and delayed the United States' entry into World War II; this gave Nazi Germany enough time to develop atomic weapons and thus win the war. Kirk doesn't know if he'll be able to let Edith die, but when the moment comes he's able to stop McCoy and so put history back on track.

Whoops!: It's difficult to say with certainty how much the United States' entry into the war affected Nazi Germany's nuclear program, but it's not really likely that they would have developed the atomic bomb if the US had waited to enter. The German nuclear program was significantly more fragmented than the Manhattan Project was, and some of the decisions made (such as using heavy water as a neutron moderator, which was readily available in occupied Norway but less efficient than graphite) meant that their efforts would have been hindered regardless. But the biggest problem was that Nazi leadership didn't think making an atomic weapon was feasible, so they never provided the governmental support that the Manhattan Project received. It's also hard to believe that the United States would have delayed entering World War II after Pearl Harbor, no matter how convincing Edith Keeler was. (Unless she changed things so much that Japan didn't consider the US any sort of problem whatsoever and thus didn't attack Pearl Harbor, but that also doesn't seem particularly likely.)
     It's a little weird that the tricorder can't display the recordings Spock made of the Guardian of Forever's time portal; it doesn't seem particularly useful to have a device that can record but not play back. And it even has a screen, so what's the problem here? This seems like a pretty major design flaw. [One might suspect that the problem is that the sheer amount of information recorded means that it would take far too long to access without help from the ship's computer - except the script seems to assume that the problem is more about accessing the data at all, not the volume of it. So we're back where we started.]
     As has been pointed out before by others, Clark Gable wasn't a movie star in 1930 - in fact, his first major role wasn't until the following year. He was making a name for himself as a stage actor, however, so it's not completely implausible for Edith to have heard of him - but again, he wouldn't have been in any movies for her to go see (beyond working as an extra). [D.C. Fontana's draft originally referenced Richard Dix, future star of movies such as Cimarron and The Whistler, but even by 1967 it was believed no one would know who that was.] And if we're nitpicking about anachronisms, the song "Goodnight Sweetheart" wasn't recorded until 1931, while the calendar seen in the background of the main room of the Mission doesn't match any months in 1930. [It does match November 1928, so it's possible it's an old calendar that's been left hanging for some reason. But the next 30-day month that started on a Thursday wasn't until September 1932.]
     Contrary to what Gene Roddenberry frequently said, there's no version of the script where Scotty is selling drugs. (There is a version where a hitherto unknown crewman is selling drugs, but it's not clear why Roddenberry started substituting Scotty in for the character of Beckwith.)

Classic Lines: Edith, describing where Spock and Kirk belong: "You? At his side, as if you've always been there and always will. And you? You belong in another place. I don't know where or how. I'll figure it out eventually."
     Kirk: "You were actually enjoying my predicament back there. At times, you seem quite human." Spock: "Captain, I hardly believe that insults are within your prerogative as my commanding officer."
     McCoy: "You deliberately stopped me, Jim. I could have saved her. Do you know what you just did?" Spock: "He knows, Doctor. He knows."

Cringe Lines: Kirk describing Spock's appearance to a policeman: "He caught his head in a mechanical rice picker. But fortunately, there was an American missionary living close by who was actually a skilled plastic surgeon in civilian life..."

Don't Wear a Red Shirt: A bum (Rodent, according to the credits) accidentally vaporizes himself with McCoy's phaser.

Alien Love: Kirk falls deeply in love with Edith Keeler.

Library Computer: Approximately a million years ago, on what's now a dark brown-grey, rocky, desolate planet, was an advanced civilization. This civilization had an object in the midst of a vast city which called itself the Guardian of Forever. [They probably built it, but it's not made explicit - and in fact some of the timings involved may suggest it predates the civilization here.] The Guardian looked like a slightly lopsided doughnut on its side, and it glows in time with its speech. It describes itself as both a machine and a being as well as being neither of these things, and that it is its own beginning and ending - this riddle-like explanation is apparently the best the Guardian can do to explain itself to the Enterprise crew. The Guardian of Forever is a time portal, capable of not only showing other times and dimensions to the viewer, but also of allowing the viewer to enter those other places and times - although the Guardian can't alter the speed at which it projects the timeline in its portal, and it can't guarantee that people who travel through it will arrive at the same place. However, "currents" in time appear to bring people to similar locations. The Guardian can also bring the travelers who use it back to virtually the moment they left, regardless of how long they spent in another time. This time portal creates massive waves of space and time displacement that emanate from the planet for millions of miles, causing hazards for passing ships. The Guardian states that it has been waiting for a question to be asked, and that it's been waiting "since before your sun burned hot in space and before your race was born". ["Before your race was born" fits with Spock's analysis of the ruins being 10,000 centuries old, as modern humanity is said to be about 200,000 years old. But the sun's been a main sequence star (which, we're guessing, is what the Guardian means by "before your sun burned hot in space") for at least 3.5 billion years, which is a massively different time-frame from what the ruins suggest. So either Spock's readings are off, or the civilization built itself around the Guardian without ever stating a question in its vicinity (or they cordoned off the Guardian and forbid anyone to go near it). Or maybe the Guardian is simply capable of hyperbole.]
     Cordrazine is a highly potent drug, red in color, used in cases of potential heart trouble. A couple drops can save a person's life, but a large dose induces intense paranoia: those affected fail to recognize acquaintances and become convinced that they're in mortal danger and thus try to escape at any cost. Physical symptoms of those affected include pale skin with large red blotches all over, and intense sweating. Dr. McCoy accidentally injected himself with a large dose and, under its influence, escaped to the surface of the Guardian's planet and dove through the Guardian's time portal while the Guardian was showing Earth's history. McCoy traveled back to 1930 New York, where he changed history in such a way that the Federation (and, by extension, the Enterprise) never existed. However, the Guardian "protected" the people near it, such that their memories and existence remained unchanged; this allowed Kirk and Spock to also travel to 1930 New York to stop McCoy from changing history.
     Edith Keeler was a young social worker who ran the 21st Street Mission. She was a rather forward-thinking woman, describing a future where everyone works together to explore space using atomic power as a way to convince people not to give up. [Although she's in fact describing the Star Trek universe, this speech, delivered to the homeless and needy in 1930, frankly makes her sound crazy.] She says she's not a "do-gooder", and she expects people to work for their keep. She ended up being a focal point for history; in the "real" timeline, she was killed in 1930 in a traffic accident, but when McCoy saved her life, she became the leader of an influential peace movement. This pacifist movement gained prominence in the United States, with Keeler even meeting with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (on February 23, 1936), with the effect of delaying US entry into World War II. This delay allowed Nazi Germany to develop the atomic bomb and thus win the war. Keeler's survival therefore led to a future without the Federation [or at least a future where the Enterprise wasn't orbiting the planet at that time].
     When Kirk and Spock went after McCoy in the past, they arrived a while before him [at least a couple weeks, probably more like a month (or maybe even longer)]. They got jobs doing menial labor for Edith Keeler at the 21st Street Mission; their wages were fifteen cents an hour for ten hours a day. Most of their wages were spent on equipment for Spock to access the records he'd made on the tricorder of the altered history the Guardian displayed; normally he would use the ship's computer to access the records, but obviously that option wasn't available. The tools and materials available in 1930 were very crude by Spock's standards, and so it took a good deal of time. If Spock had had a five or six pound block of platinum, he could have passed certain circuits through it to be used as a duodynetic field core, but unfortunately this was beyond Kirk's ability to obtain. During their stay in the past, Kirk found himself falling in love with Edith, which made the decision to let her die all the more difficult for him - but in the end he made the choice to restore the proper timeline.
     Around 2030 or so, a famous novelist from a planet orbiting the far left star of Orion's Belt [Alnitak, or Zeta Orionus, which is actually a triple star system] wrote a classic work around the theme "let me help", which he argued was a more meaningful three word phrase than even "I love you".
     Kirk knows what a 1930s NYC policeman looks like.
     At some point in 1930, Kid McCook fought Mike Mason as the heavyweight main event in a boxing match in Madison Square Garden. Also fighting as the heavyweight semi-main event were Manuel Prado and Will Bailey, while Gus Lloyd and Killer Kidd, Charley Mulaney and Gus Barnes, and Buddy Sencio and Ricky Mason all fought preliminary fights there as well.
     The tricorder is capable of recording large amounts of data, even when that data is moving at very high speeds.
     Neither Kirk nor McCoy knows who Clark Gable is.

Final Analysis: "Spock, I believe I'm in love with Edith Keeler." "Jim, Edith Keeler must die." Frequently ranked one of the best episodes of all of Star Trek, and it's not difficult to see why. The script is gorgeous, the characterization is fantastic, and the length of time we're told Kirk and Spock are in the past, combined with the chemistry between Shatner and Joan Collins, makes the tragic romance at the center of the story feel realistic and natural in a way that Kirk's romances very rarely do. Lyrical and bittersweet, this is Trek at its finest.

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