Critics and fans generally consider “The City on the Edge of Forever” to be the best episode the original series of Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry said it is among his favorites. So has William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley, all of whom get a nice showcase here. It has perhaps the best of the one-shot love interests, an intriguing premise, and an intelligent script.
So, yeah, here we are. The best episode of the original series. And it earned that distinction.
What makes it even more amazing is the story of how the episode was made may be as impressive as the actual episode. Roddenberry had to fight just to let Kirk say, “Let’s get the hell out of here.” The episode featured Nazi imagery. And the squabble between notoriously cranky sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison over his involvement in the episode lasted for years. I don’t really want to get into that stuff, but I did learn something. At one point during the feud, Shatner went to Ellison’s house to talk to the writer. Shatner claimed Ellison threw him out. Ellison claimed he didn’t, but Shatner counted all the lines in the original script. It seems Spock had more lines than Kirk, and that was Shatner’s only issue.
You know, I don’t know if either of those stories is true, but somehow I can see both of them being true.
But really, this feature of mine isn’t about the behind-the-scenes nuttiness. It’s about the actual episodes, and this is a damn good one. Do I personally think it’s the best? I don’t know, but I’d be hard-pressed to pick a better one. Quite frankly, I tend to prefer Next Generation to classic Trek, but as classic Trek goes, this episode is damn near perfect.
Does it have any flaws? I do have a bit of a hard time believing a woman running a mission where no one listens to her sermons can somehow become influential enough to delay American entry into World War II. True, there was a strong isolationist movement in the United States, but Pearl Harbor pretty much killed that. Plus, it doesn’t seem to mind the homeless guy that robbed McCoy vaporized himself. I guess that guy never amounted to anything.
And for some reason Scotty and Uhura were on the away mission to get McCoy. Plus, thinking about how the time travel works here probably would cause more problems than it solves.
I was tempted to say the homeless guy was some famous person like Spiro Agnew, but I don’t know how well I could make that joke work.
But what do we have here? We have a great showcase for all three of the series’ leads. Kirk gets to romance a lovely young woman only to lose her. The fact that he knows she has to die makes it all the more heartbreaking. Spock gets to be his voice of reason, and seeing Kirk and Spock bicker a bit is always fun. That Kirk basically punches all of Spock’s buttons to get the Vulcan to build a machine with 1930s technology is a delight. So is Spock’s general annoyance at having to work with “stone knives and bearskins”. As for McCoy, while he does spend most of the episode a raving madman after a first aid accident, Kelley rarely got to do that sort of thing, so why not? His madness gradually wanes too, showing the drug overdose wearing off well.
And as for Edith Keeler, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anything else Joan Collins has done, but she’s delightful. Sure, her more secular pep talk sounds a little weird, but that just puts her ahead of her time by decades. Possibly centuries. Just try to name another one of Kirk’s one-off love interests. I’ve watched 27 other episodes of this show so far and can’t recall any names. Faces? Sure, but not names.
So, since Star Trek always asks the big questions, what’s that question here? Well, it may be as simple as asking if one woman’s life is worth countless millions. Even Spock seems to get the tragedy here. McCoy, in the end, wants to know why Kirk didn’t let him save Edith’s life. Did Kirk know what he was doing? Spock assures the doctor that yes, Kirk did. You can sense the Vulcan discipline slipping a little for just a second.
I realize I am speaking of this episode in a very roundabout manner. But that comes from the simple idea that few if any episodes are better than this one. There’s too much to praise, and the few weird spots seem more like nitpicking.
One thing I do wonder a bit is why, aside from an episode of the animated series, the Guardian of Forever never came back. It’s a great sci-fi concept, and you’d think the Federation would want to know more about it. It’s not as if the Enterprise gave up time travel after this.
But really, if you want to know what the original Star Trek was like, I don’t think you can do any better than this one. It’s Star Trek at its best.
Of course, if you thought the show would end its first season on this strong a note, well, there was one more episode in season one after this one.