Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Original Series

"The City on the Edge of Forever"

****

Air date: 4/6/1967
Written by Harlan Ellison
Directed by Joseph Pevney

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

What hasn't been said about "The City on the Edge of Forever"—considered by many as the all-time best episode of Trek? It's a true classic, with a poignant, tragic story and brilliant performances. The crew makes the great discovery of a time portal (the Guardian of Forever), but a demented McCoy—suffering from an inadvertent maddening-inducing medicinal-drug overdose—jumps into Earth of the 1930s and somehow radically alters history for the worse. Kirk and Spock follow McCoy through the portal to undo the damage.

In the past, Kirk and Spock are taken in by Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), whom Spock learns is destined to lead a pacifist movement delaying the United States' entry into WWII, thus allowing Germany to conquer the globe. The tragedy, as everyone knows, is that Kirk must let this warm, generous woman die in order to preserve history—even as he begins to fall in love with her.

Harlan Ellison's story, despite the controversy surrounding Roddenberry's alterations to it, makes a great hour of television with a social relevance and an emotional core that resonates. Shatner delivers one of his best performances, and Nimoy is terrific as the voice of reason while Kelley's manic raving is downright frightening. It's almost surprising that such a fully textured story fits within the confines of a single hour.

Previous episode: The Alternative Factor
Next episode: Operation—Annihilate!

Season Index

42 comments on this review

Jake - Thu, Dec 27, 2007 - 3:57pm (USA Central)
As much as I love TOS, I have to say that I find "The City on the Edge of Forever" to be its most overrated episode. Keep in mind, I say it's overrated, not bad(there are some who seem to think the two are synonymous). I loved the episodes Kirk/Spock scenes, DeForest Kelley's drug-crazed McCoy, and the way Shatner delivers the episode's final line("Let's get the hell out of here!").
However, the one thing about the episode that's always bothered me is that Kirk and Spock, once they find out that Kirk can't have his cake and Edith, too, simply didn't take Edith back to the future with them, thereby saving the world from Nazi rule and saving Kirk a lot of heartache.
After all, Kirk would later do this with Gillian Taylor in Star Trek IV as would Doc Brown with Mary Steenburgen in Back to the Future Part III.
I've heard some give the excuse that the Guardian wouldn't have permitted such action, but no where in the episode does it state that the Guardian would forbid this. Just one line of dialogue saying why Kirk couldn't take Edith back with him would've been enough to satisfy me.
Al P - Fri, Dec 28, 2007 - 10:50am (USA Central)
I love this episode, although it is not my favourite by any means. Although Jake (above) has a point me thinks he delves a little too deeply into the reasoning behind the decision to allow Edith to die. The whole reason Star Trek is so successful is because we can suspend belief and reasoning whilst watching. I suggest a chill pill to anyone who can find the time to get too concerned about the plot of TOS episodes.
Jake - Sat, Dec 29, 2007 - 4:39pm (USA Central)
Hey, I appreciate the need for tragedy in storytelling(humanity's fate depends on the death of one who champions it, in this case). I'm just saying there could've been a way to make that aspect more dramatically satisfying. I'm all for suspension of disbelief, but the line should be drawn somewhere(although I understand that where such a line should be drawn depends on the individual viewer).
Fred Blankenburg - Mon, Dec 31, 2007 - 8:56am (USA Central)
I loved this episode except the ending. Take another look at the sequence of events closely; both McCoy and Spock yell, "Jim" and McCoy grabs Kirk to hold him back from saving Joan Collins. I thought the whole premise was that McCoy had saved Joan Collins- so shouldn't Kirk be holding McCoy back and not the other way around?
Josh - Wed, Mar 19, 2008 - 7:08pm (USA Central)
Frank, watch again: Kirk stops McCoy from saving her, that's why McCoy says, "Jim, I could have saved her!"
Dave - Thu, May 28, 2009 - 7:27pm (USA Central)
Jake et al... In his research Spock finds that Edith had died as a result of some kind of a car crash... If she were to simply disappear into the future (regardless of the Guardian's approval) it might cause more of a stir among her "devotees" in the mission - and ultimately bring about the very thing Kirk et al were trying to prevent... A growing pacifist movement (possibly started instead by someone of her "followers").

Arena was one of my faves as a kid also... chuckle chuckle.
Jake - Mon, Jun 8, 2009 - 10:20am (USA Central)
Dave,
Wouldn't Edith dying also potentially cause a stir to begin a pacifist movement among any followers she may have had?
Gretchen - Wed, Jun 10, 2009 - 11:30am (USA Central)
Agreed. It's not like Martin Luther King's death prevented others from fighting for civil rights.
karatasiospa - Fri, Jul 3, 2009 - 2:17am (USA Central)
Well now, the first season of TOS. With episodes like "the city on the edge of forever". "galileo seven", "space seed", "balance of terror" (i would give this episode 3 1/2 stars, i think jammer you underestimate it),"the menagerie","the devil in the dark", "tommorow is yesterday","the enemy within" it is,perhaps, one of the best seasons of science fiction ever made on tv. It was classic, pure, cerebral science fiction. I love it and i can't find anything similar to it on tv.
Paul - Mon, Jul 20, 2009 - 7:05pm (USA Central)
Interesting reading. I think Balance of Terror is much better than that.

And without getting into the logic of "we can't alter anything that happened in the past" that the episode is based on, City without Edith's death would take almost all of the punch out of the show. The scene of her death and the "let's get the hell out of here" are 2 of the pinnacle moments of the series.

It has always intrigued me to think that there is a Guardian of Forever out there somewhere, just waiting for someone to come along.

Dave - Tue, Jul 21, 2009 - 1:52pm (USA Central)
Jake and Grretchen - While I agree Edith's death might have eventually grown a pacifist movement with one of her followers - her disappearance definitely would... While her followers would have been saddened by her tragic death by truck - they may have waited years to begin building their own following - therefore NOT forestalling US entry into the war NOR delaying development of the Bomb - BOTH of which seemed imminent at the moment of McCoy's, Kirk's and Spock's foray into the past. Posit: If Dr King had died of the flu - would the Civil Rights movement have LEAPT ahead the way it did? The total unfairness, and complete unjustness of his and Bobby Kennedy's and many other deaths of the time are just what spurred those fighting for Justice to keep up and augment their efforts. While Keeler's death is tragic - the sense of injustice would not be there for her followers - it was simply a tragic happening. Lastly - The HISTORY Spock read - said nothing about any of her followers stepping into her shoes; taking up her mantle and continuing her fight... BUT - who's to say that if she disappeared - conceivably in an unjust manner - one of those "bums" in the soup kitchen wouldn't take up her cause and create the exact disturbance in time that Kirk and Spock were trying to prevent???
Mike - Wed, Aug 12, 2009 - 1:16am (USA Central)
City is a fantastic episode, and the best of the series. A lifetime trekker, this is the episode I use to introduce people who have never watched the show to Star Trek.

One thing that always bugged me. In the film "Generations", Kirk enters the Nexus, and according to the movie and novelization, the nexus takes the individual to a time and place they most desire, where they were the happiest. I feel the movie would have packed more of a punch, had Picard entered the nexus to find Kirk living with his "soul mate" Edith Keeler, rather than someone named Antonia that we had never heard of.Having to leave her again...that would have added some weight to Kirk's decision to leave the nexus.
-Mike
Jake - Wed, Aug 12, 2009 - 11:01am (USA Central)
I still don't see how history as Kirk knew it would have changed if he took Edith back to the future with him BEFORE she could start that pacifist movement. How can the manner of how someone dies determine whether or not he/she proved inspirational enough to inspire followers?
I guess "Yesterday's Enterprise" just did a slightly better job at showing how time can be difficult.
David - Tue, Mar 9, 2010 - 7:48am (USA Central)
I think that at the point of Edith's death there were no followers or pacifist movement -- this was years before WWII broke out or the USA wanted to enter. The time frame was about 1930. The point was that Edith would not live to start the movement. So the problem was solved by her death.
Jake - Wed, Mar 24, 2010 - 12:36pm (USA Central)
To which I ask again:
Why couldn't there at least have been one line of dialogue saying why Kirk couldn't take Edith back with him?
I certainly would've asked such a question if such an option hadn't been already addressed.

Whether she dies or goes to the future BEFORE she starts this movement, the US's involvement in WWII would've still occurred & history as Kirk knows it would've been unaltered. I would think the more humane thing to do was to see if history could be the way it was without the need to kill off a kind soul.
PZ - Fri, May 21, 2010 - 9:53pm (USA Central)
All this talk about taking Edith to the future, although scientifically interesting, misses the whole point about why "City" is so popular. In the middle of an excellent science fiction series, with all its suspended disbelief, we have here a story that is essentially and intensely human, love, internal conflict, emotion. Most viewers, including me, are instinctively drawn to its friendship, drama, and ..... tragedy. To me, the final 5 minutes, starting when Kirk and Edith emerge onto the street, until Kirk says "Let's get the hell out of here", is as gripping as any 5 minutes of "literature" or movie scene anywhere. When you consider everything that is at stake in these crucial seconds: eternity, friendship, self-sacrifice, but most of all, LOVE, I still get choked up every time I see it. This may be wild hyperbole, but I think Shakespeare would have been impressed. It may take a sentimental fool to take the end of a TV show to these "heights", but I'm happy and proud to be so sentimental. And judging from "City"'s enduring popularity, many others are too.
Nic - Tue, May 25, 2010 - 8:18am (USA Central)
(sorry for multiple posts)

Although I enjoyed "City on the Edge" from an emotional point of view, there are things about the ending I find positively disturbing. I'm sure it wasn't intentional, but basically what this episode is saying is that:

- The influence of a single pacifist woman could have prevented the United States from entering the War.
AND
- If the U.S. hadn't entered the war and BOMBED HIROSHIMA, the Nazis would have CONQUERED THE WORLD!

This has to be the most pro-war episode of any Star Trek series (except Enterprise) ever filmed.
Matt - Wed, Jun 2, 2010 - 10:12pm (USA Central)
Despite "City"s big nit about not taking Edith to the future, the acting & emotion in the episode do make it worthwhile.
David - Tue, Jul 20, 2010 - 9:50am (USA Central)
Wasn't the Guardian in charge of time travel in that episode? I remember Kirk, Spock and McCoy only come forward when things are right. Didn't think they could bring anyone along without the Guardian's approval anyway. I mean, could they have let her die, then come back and slingshotted around the sun and all that? Sure, but that's just the usual can of worms easy time travel brings up on Trek, like why not go back in time after every mission to save lives/fix mistakes, etc.
Mike Meares - Sat, Jan 22, 2011 - 9:56pm (USA Central)
I know I am three years late but I will take a stab at answering Jake's first question about "City on the Edge of Forever". Even if Kirk wanted to return to his time with Edith by his side, how was the Captain going to tell the Guardian this? It is clear from the story that the Guardian doesn't control who comes and goes from the protal, the Guardian only shows the images of the past. The more interesting questions are why did the Creators of the Guardian give the Guardian the ablility to transport people in the past? And did the Creators not think someone could transport to the moment the Guardian was built and stop the creation of the Guardian?
Jake - Fri, Feb 4, 2011 - 3:31pm (USA Central)
Mike,
I don't see how Kirk could have trouble taking Edith back with him. For that matter, how were he, Spock, & Bones supposed to go back to their time. Was there an 'invisible portal' where they materialized in 1930? (a la "All Our Yesterdays")
Mira - Mon, Feb 14, 2011 - 7:21pm (USA Central)
SO glad to read this. It articulates for me why I love Star Trek and can forgive its many inconsistencies. For me, besides great characters and relationships between them, the idea behind it was to prove a point about the human condition. Even though it is sci-fi and Class M planets are a dime a dozen, we shouldn't forget that it was primarily a morality tale (as mentioned on the ST wiki) The starship/future theme was actually just a premise to avoid stepping on anyone's toes.

Your reviews are very well written and spot on. I read every single one and agreed with all except City on the Edge of Forever being the best.
Flask - Thu, Apr 21, 2011 - 2:47pm (USA Central)
Nitpick anachronism: Edith talks about seeing a Clark Gable movie in 1930. Gable's first picture was "The Painted Desert", in 1931. But hey, maybe McCoy changed that too.
Mike Meares - Fri, Jul 8, 2011 - 8:52pm (USA Central)
I would agree with most of the reviews by Jammer on the first season of Star Trek TOS.

However, I totally agree with Jayson, Sci Fi Nerd and others about Balance of Terror. That was a great show that has held up well with time. And the criticism of the cheap set design of the Romulan ship and the helmets worn by the crew was really weak. Star Trek was running on a shoe string budget and I think it was very well done considering what they had to work with.

And I think too much has been made here of The City on the Edge of Forever. The Guardian even tells Kirk and Spock that when they repair what was changed by Doctor McCoy in the past then they will be returned to the future. And not before. Kirk could not bring Edith to the future. That was never a choice for Kirk. If Kirk wanted to save Edith and live in the past with her, then that would have been an option for him.

However, Flaskā€™s criticism of Edith mentioning Clark Gable is right on. Even though Clark Gable did make a few early silent films in 1925. Gable was an extra in those films and not the big name star he later became. Much is made in the ST episode of Edith being surprised that McCoy and Kirk both had never heard of Clark Gable, the fact is in 1930 most of the general public had never heard of him either.

In addition, I would have given Miri three stars. That was always one of my favorite episodes of the first year. I agree it has flaws, but it still holds my interest even after all this time.

All in all the reviews are spot on and I have enjoyed reading them over and over again.
tony - Fri, Aug 12, 2011 - 1:31pm (USA Central)
@Mike Meares

I just love how people like you bend over backwards insisting that Kirk taking Edith to the future with him just wasn't an option, even though NOTHING in the episode indicates that it wasn't. It's just like those people making excuses for why Janeway just didn't set a timer on the Caretaker and going home.
Mike Meares - Fri, Aug 12, 2011 - 4:22pm (USA Central)
@ tony

I guess we just have a difference of opinion on this issue tony. Because I think it is very clear from the episode, "The City On The Edge Of Forever," that the Guardian WOULD NOT return Kirk, Spock ( and McCoy )UNTIL they prevented McCoy from changing all of history the way he did. Before McCoy arrived in the past, Edith died in a car accident. So Kirk HAD to make sure that McCoy did not prevent that from happening.

Tony you are absolutely correct in that in the episode this fact is not stated "word for word" by any indivial.

However, I must point out that when Captain Kirk asked the Guardian if he and Spock were successful in stopping McCoy from changing history what would happen? The Guardian clearly says, "Then you will be returned. It will be as though none of you had gone."

Also, the portal for the Guardian is in the PRESENT time. There is no portal in earth's past. So now the question becomes how could Edith, or anyone in the past for that matter, travel to the future without a portal? I don't think it is possible.

If I am bending over backwards to prove that the 'City' story DOES make sense to me, then all I can say is forgive me for living. I think it is one of the finest Si-Fi Stories ever written.

I am not familiar with the Voyager series, so I can't speak on that matter.
tony - Mon, Sep 19, 2011 - 9:59am (USA Central)
I'll forgive you for living this time, but don't do it again!
Nick P. - Tue, Nov 8, 2011 - 10:10am (USA Central)
As one of Trek's exceedingly few conservative leaning fans, I have always felt a little satisfaction in the fact the the series greatest episode had the conceit that a protest movement destroys history!!

But it also makes me wonder how liberal Gene Roddenberry actually was? Socially, he is obviously quite liberal, but these days, who is going to argue against equal prtoections, etc.. but as for war and what not, I always wonder if he sold himself more than what was actually there?
Paul - Tue, Nov 29, 2011 - 5:37pm (USA Central)
Wonderful reviews, I am up till 2am reading them on my mobile phone. Just to add to the "why didnt Kirk bring Edith back?" When Kirk and Spock went through the portal, they had no way of knowing who or what happened to distort time...but once in the 1930s I dont think there was a way to ask the Guardian if it would be Ok to bring her back to the future. But without contact...how did the Guardian know when to bring Kirk, Spock and McCoy back? They could have been brought back immediately, but waited till they were all back in Starfleet uniforms!
Lewis - Sun, Mar 11, 2012 - 10:55pm (USA Central)
One obvious historical problem about City is that the US entered the war after being attacked by Japan and having Germany declare war on them. The US did have various pacifist and isolationist movements in the pre-war years, but it is hard to see how any of them (including Keeler's) could have delayed US entry into the war - the war started for the US at a time chosen by Japan and Germany.

Of course, you could always argue that the Star Trek timeline branched off from ours sometime before 1941.
Cappo - Tue, Mar 13, 2012 - 4:23pm (USA Central)
@Lewis

I suppose one could argue that Keeler's movement had some effect on the US government which resulted in no 1941 oil embargo on Japan (or something of the sort.) Presumably, the Japanese would not have been in such a rush to attack the US under those differing conditions.
Lewis - Tue, Mar 13, 2012 - 5:23pm (USA Central)
@Cappo,

Good idea. That certainly seems plausible. The Germans never really made much progress in developing atomic weapons during the war. The Keeler-influenced US policy towards Japan might have convinced the Japanese to attack the Soviet Union instead of the US first. In that case, the Russians might have been knocked out of the war, and the Germans then would be free to put more effort into preparing for war with the US, perhaps with a better-resourced and more effective atomic weapons program. Apparently the Japanese had a small research program going. Maybe!



Cail Corishev - Wed, Nov 28, 2012 - 7:10am (USA Central)
There was a stronger anti-war movement than we remember. Especially during the Nazi-Soviet Pact, Hollywood with its Communist leanings was very anti-war. That changed as soon as the Nazis broke the pact and attacked the USSR, and now all we remember is Bugs Bunny making fun of Hitler. The victors write the history books.

FDR wanted into the war much earlier, but there was considerable public resistance. There's evidence that our blockade and other activities in the Pacific were intended to provoke an attack by the Japanese. Some conspiracy theorists think FDR was even forewarned of the attack on Pearl Harbor and allowed it to happen to ensure public support for retaliation. Even if that's not true, it's clear from communications of the time that FDR wanted the USA to get into the war, and despite his strong popularity was unable to get public support for it until Pearl Harbor. (Back then presidents had to get Congress to declare war before attacking other countries, because we still had that pesky Constitution thing.)
Mike M - Sat, Jun 29, 2013 - 2:53am (USA Central)
I actually posted on this thread almost 5 years ago!
Anyway, great to see that this fantastic episode has so many fans. It is truly one of the finest hours of Trek, long with TNG's "The Inner Light" and DS9's "The Visitor". All three pack an emotional punch.

Now for those of you who would like to read more in depth into this story, I heartily recommend the ST novel "Provenance of Shadows" by David R. George III. In this wonderful story, the author explores the alternate timeline where Kirk and Spock do not stop McCoy, and he saves Edith, leading to a heartbreaking tale of the doctor's lonely life trapped in Earth's past, trying to find a way to contact his friends while not tampering even more with the timeline. The story captured my imagination with it's tale of what might have happened had the US not entered the war until it was too late. You really feel for what McCoy has lost. I cannot say enough about what has become one of my favorite Star Trek novels. Read it today!
Ray - Sun, Jul 7, 2013 - 12:56am (USA Central)
As Someone who going through his first viewing of TOS, I feel kind of disappointed thus far. I initially started my Trek adventure by watching the first four seasons of TNG (of which i immensely enjoyed), then decided to switch to TOS to see how the original fared to the supposedly inferior TNG.

I must admit I don't get what all the fuss is about, although this is a pretty good episode and there are several episodes from TOS that are really good as well, there is just too much of a fantasy/magical nature to most the TOS episodes that rubs me the wrong way and causes me to loose interest in a lot of the episodes. Not that TNG is the pinnacle for "hard" science fiction, it does however provide much better explanations for certain phenomena in the universe, such as time travel, with better science/physics (can anyone on here explain what the hell happened at the end of "tomorrow is yesterday?"). also I know its unfair to say because of TNG being newer having the better special effects but TNG just feels more real and provides an immersive quality unmatched by any TOS episode i'v seen thus far.

I don't think this episode(city on the edge of forever) can be considered the best trek episode ever if only because thw beginning of this episode was really slow and boring with the talking-timewarp-computer-portal-thing. I feel "yesterday's enterprise" is the superior time travel episode. It had me engaged the whole ride, with also a vastly superior ending.

One more complaint, i realy dislike TOS 50 minute episode format. it's weird me saying this i know, but i feel as if a lot of these episodes should be edited down a bit. I mean the really good episodes don't need it because they have great stories with exceptional pacing, but most of them feel like their dragging a lot and repeatedly banging that particular episode's ideas with rock to the point of powder.
Ren C - Fri, Aug 30, 2013 - 12:02am (USA Central)
I haven't had a chance to read all of the comments so I don't know if this has been mentioned.

When I first watched this episode I thought that Kirk would find a way to save Edith & prevent a change in the timeline too. He is Kirk after all. So I was surprised (and sad) when she dies at the end.

Thinking about it though, there have been many "love" interests for Kirk yet above all his true love is the Enterprise. How can you have a mere woman messing with that?
Chris - Wed, Sep 11, 2013 - 8:14am (USA Central)
Ray, I agree with your comments completely. Regarding this episode "City" I personally didn't buy into the love story between Kirk and Edith. Kirk seemed to be infatuated, and Edith kissed him back, but otherwise she seemed more interested in her work than in Kirk. I also agree the pacing on the episode is poor - it drags a lot at the beginning, and with 4 minutes left I was wondering "how in the world can they wrap this up in 4 minutes?". While I appreciate Kirk's sentiment "Let's get the hell out of here", the Guardian remained in place after the episode. What's to prevent a future explorer from finding it, and going into the past and therefore destroying the present? Isn't this the ultimate doomsday weapon? Shouldn't the Enterprise have come back on a future mission to destroy it?
Zane - Sat, Sep 21, 2013 - 9:00pm (USA Central)
I must agree with Chris and Ray. What is the big deal about "city" anyway?
Moonie - Sun, Oct 13, 2013 - 7:23am (USA Central)
I don't know if this is the best episode of TOS - first, I haven't seen them all yet and second, while I like time travel plots (like Tomorrow is Yesterday), I don't like time travel plots that are all set in the more primitive time and surroundings. As a Kirk-fan, I think this was so far one of his strongest episodes, and I liked the Kirk/Spock scenes. The episode also made me cry just a little bit - so far The Menagerie was the only other one where *that* happened. Good one. One to revisit sometime :-)
Moonie - Sun, Oct 13, 2013 - 7:44am (USA Central)
PS, it definitely has one of my favorite ever quotes.... Edith about Spock:

"You? - At his side, as if you've always been there, and always will."

:-D
Glen - Wed, Jan 1, 2014 - 9:20pm (USA Central)
I know this conversation is ancient history, but you guys are idiots. The guardian controls their return trip through time. They were returned once they corrected the past. There was no way for Kirk to bring her with him because he could not return until she died.
redshirt28 - Thu, Apr 3, 2014 - 11:35pm (USA Central)
Solid 4 banger yup.

Submit a comment

Above, type the last name of the captain on Star Trek: TNG
Notify me about new comments on this page
Hide my e-mail on my post

Season Index

Copyright © 1994-2014, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of any review or article on this site is prohibited. Star Trek (in all its myriad forms), Battlestar Galactica, and Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda are trademarks of CBS Studios Inc., NBC Universal, and Tribune Entertainment, respectively. This site is in no way affiliated with or authorized by any of those companies. | Copyright & Disclaimer