"'Let me help.' A hundred years or so from now, I believe, a famous novelist will write a classic using that theme. He'll recommend those three words even over 'I love you.'"
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Episode: Season 1, Episode 28
Title: The City On the Edge of Forever
Previous: The Alternative Factor
Next: Operation: Annihilate!
In the penultimate episode of the first season (based on a treatment by Harlan Ellison
), the crew of the Enterprise
finds itself exploring a "temporal disturbance"
near an unknown planet. Electromagnetic interference causes the ship's computer to explode, injuring Sulu. McCoy runs to prepare an injection of super-adrenaline for him, but turbulence causes him to accidentally inject himself
and become Brainwashed and Crazy
. McCoy escapes the bridge and beams down to the planet.
Following him, the landing party discovers a city of ancient ruins
that appears to be uninhabited and empty except for a mysterious glowing green archway, which McCoy runs through and disappears. The crew notices the archway, which appears to be sentient and exhibits strange telepathic abilities
, acts as a viewscreen displaying various scenes from Earth history. The archway, which calls itself the Guardian of Forever, explains that it is a portal to any place and period in history.
Upon losing contact with the Enterprise
, the crew realize that McCoy has somehow altered the course of history since entering the portal. In order to return to their ship and restore the original timeline, they must follow him and prevent him from doing whatever he did. Steeling themselves to find the correct moment in history, Kirk and Spock jump through the portal and arrive in New York City
during The Great Depression
, where the pair must disguise themselves while they search for McCoy. Unfortunately, their Starfleet uniforms (and Spock's Vulcan ears) attract unwanted attention
. When the pair attempt to steal clothes, they are chased by the police and end up hiding in the basement of a homeless shelter run by the kind, idealistic and smart
social worker Edith Keeler (Joan Collins
). Keeler offers to take in Kirk and Spock and find them work, although she is slightly suspicious of their military demeanour.
While Kirk and Spock do menial jobs, Spock is able to construct a rudimentary computer
using electronic parts he has assembled. Kirk and Edith begin to fall in love. While Spock is scanning new stories from their time period, he discovers a terrible truth: Soon after he entered the portal and arrived on Earth, McCoy saved Keeler from dying in an auto accident. Since she did not die as intended, she later became a peace activist
and successfully convinced Franklin D. Roosevelt
to keep America from entering World War II
until too late, allowing the Nazis to win
and preventing Starfleet from ever existing. Kirk and Spock realize that in order to prevent this from happening, Edith Keeler must die.
Meanwhile, McCoy has been running loose in the city, still affected by the drugs. After an altercation with a homeless man who steals his phaser and shoots himself with it
, he is found and taken in by Keeler, who believes he is merely drunk. As he recovers from the drug's effect, he befriends her, unbeknownst to Kirk and Spock.
The following night, Kirk takes Edith on a date to the movies — the night of her accident. An offhand comment by Edith reveals to Kirk that she knows McCoy. When Kirk and Spock run into McCoy on the street, Edith walks into traffic to find out what's going on. Kirk instinctively moves to push her out of the way, but Spock insists he not interfere. When McCoy moves to save her, Kirk restrains him, and Edith is struck by a car and dies, returning history to its original timeline.
McCoy angrily demands to know why Kirk stopped him from saving Edith. Spock assures him that Kirk knew fully what he was doing. With the timeline restored, the three are able to return to the planet through the portal, where the Enterprise
has reappeared. Scotty expresses surprise at the short time that's elapsed since they left.
The Guardian offers to show the crew more fantastic journeys, but an emotionally shaken Kirk simply states "Let's get the hell out of here" and prepares to have the crew beamed back aboard.
Presently, IDW is publishing a comic book adaptation of Harlan Ellison's original script of this story.
- Always Save the Girl: Played with, since saving Edith would doom the world.
- Animated Adaptation: The TAS episode "Yesteryear" is a sort of sequel to this episode.
- Bamboo Technology: Spock has create a massive crude circuit array for his tricorder to display its recordings from the Guardian and he complains that he has to work with the 1930s equivalent tech resources of "bear skins and stone knives."
- Big Applesauce
- Bittersweet Ending: Edith dies, but the future continues as normal.
- Crowning Moment Of Awesome: Considered the best episode from the Original Series ever made. coincidently the TAS sequel episode "Yesteryear" is considered the best animated episode and the only one Roddenberry considered making canon.
- Crowning Moment of Funny: Kirk's attempt to explain Spock's ears to a patrolman.
: Perhaps the unfortunate accident I had as a child. Kirk
: The unfortunate accident he had as a child. He caught his head in a mechanical... (Beat
glances at Spock knowing how ridiculous this next part sounds) ...rice picker.
- Dramatic Shattering: A random vagrant is so frightened by Bones' appearance that he drops a glass bottle of milk.
- Executive Meddling: The writer Harlan Ellison described later on how his original teleplay - which required massive and expensive sets, had a drug dealing yeoman as the villain, additional characters for comic relief, and had Spock and not Kirk make the decision to let Edith get killed - got shredded. To be fair, depicting a drug culture went against Roddenberry's Utopian ideals of Starfleet, and Kirk being The Kirk had to make the tough decisions.
- The original teleplay by Ellison went on to win the Writers Guild of America award for Best Script, while the revised script - rewritten by the two Genes (Coon and Roddenberry), story consultant Steven W. Carabatsos and D.C. Fontana - won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.
- Family-Unfriendly Aesop: The Reveal that Edith has to be killed, else her pacifist movement will keep America out of World War II and result in the Nazis developing atomic power first and winning, ultimately sums up as one of these. "Pacifism is an ideal to aspire to, but reality is more cynical, and sometimes people must be prepared to fight." It's not necessarily a bad aesop, but it's certainly more cynical than you'd expect of a 60s show, and in rather stark contrast to the pretty strong "Pacifism = Good" message sent by earlier episodes.
- Fanfic Fuel: The Guardian has appeared in dozens of Star Trek novels.
- Fish Out of Temporal Water
- For Want of a Nail
- Godwin's Law of Time Travel
- Home Version Soundtrack Replacement: Accidentally averted. The DVDs were originally going to have "Goodnight, Sweetheart" replaced by generic music for monetary reasons. Then the DVDs were made with the song still in so Paramount paid the money.
- If You Fight Him You Will Be Just Like Him: Edith Keeler's approach to Hitler.
- Informed Attribute: For a Guardian of Forever, he certainly doesn't do anything to stop a drug-addled crazy man run into the past and screw with human history, the sort of thing a Guardian would be expected to prevent.
- Kill the Cutie
- Leitmotif: "Goodnight, Sweetheart" is their song.
- Missed Him by That Much: McCoy is led out of the soup kitchen just as Spock shows up to serve.
- Necessary Tragedy
- Not That Kind of Doctor: Inverted when Bones tells Edith "I'm a surgeon not a psychiatrist."
- Precision F-Strike: "Let's get the hell out of here." The effect is obviously lost for modern viewers, but "hell" was pretty shocking for 1960s television.
- Recycled Set: 1930s New York City sure looks a lot like Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show (Kirk and Edith even walk past "Floyd's Barber Shop"). You can also see Mayberry in the episode "Miri".
- Reset Button: According to the Guardian, if they were successful in restoring the timeline, "It will be as though none of you had gone". Then, this would indicate that the bum who accidentally killed himself with McCoy's phaser is restored to life. And from Edith's point of view, she never met any of them before she died. However, Kirk still remembers.
- Save This Person, Save the World: Inverted.
- Sequel Hook: The Guardian's final words definitely give the impression that the writing staff intended to make further historical stories. Unfortunately, it never happened.
- Set Right What Once Went Wrong
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog
- Status Quo Is God: Neither Spock nor Kirk suggests the possibility of taking the forward thinking Edith Keeler back to the future with them instead of letting her get killed 'again'.
- Perhaps this is what the "Guardian" is guarding against.
- Strawman Has a Point: Gene Roddenbery is sometimes quoted as claiming that Ellison's original script had "Scotty as a drug dealer". Quite an exaggeration but the point is that drugs shouldn't be part of his future vision.
- Time Travel Romance
- The Needs of the Many
- Wham Line: "Edith Keeler must die."
- What Could Have Been: Harlan Ellison's script was heavily altered to fit the tone of the series. Rather than McCoy, the past was changed by an evil drug-dealing crewman who ends up in a particularly hellish And I Must Scream situation trapped inside a newborn star. Also, Kirk is frozen with indecision over whether to let Edith die, forcing Spock to step in. The general consensus from those who've read it is that it would make a great standalone story, but as an episode of Trek it just feels wrong.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Bones, after Kirk restrains him from saving Edith.
- You Can't Fight Fate
"Many such journeys are possible. Let me be your gateway."