Thursday, October 25, 2012

The City On The Edge Of Forever

Note: I apologize for the lack of posts lately. Life has gotten in the way over the last month, as well as Blogger's pesky new interface, which is much, much worse than the old way of writing, saving, and publishing blog posts. I hope to get back on the blogging horse on a regular basis soon.

Note 2: this post is one of a series of STAR TREK episode reviews originally written for the newsgroup. For more information, please read this post.

Episode 28 of 80
April 6, 1967
Writer: Harlan Ellison
Director: Joseph Pevney

The winner of a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, this stunning hour is not only most likely the best episode of the original STAR TREK series, it may well be the best STAR TREK episode ever.

Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) goes temporarily mad and uses a mysterious time portal called the Guardian of Forever to transport himself to the slums of New York City during the Great Depression. As a result of some action he undertook in the past, McCoy changed history, and the only way to fix the universe is for Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) to use the Guardian of Forever to return a few days before McCoy and stop him.

To survive in the 1930s, Kirk and Spock (who wears a watchcap to conceal his pointed ears) take jobs at a mission run by social worker Edith Keeler (Joan Collins). Kirk falls madly in love with Edith, which turns out to be one of science fiction’s most memorably doomed romances.

Ellison’s original script was radically rewritten by story editor Gene Coon, series creator Gene Roddenberry, and script polishers D.C. Fontana and Steven Carabatsos, as it was deemed too expensive to film and presented the Enterprise crew acting out of character. I like what they did with Ellison’s teleplay, and certainly the ending that was televised works much better than Ellison’s would have (you can read Harlan’s in his 1995 book THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER: THE ORIGINAL TELEPLAY THAT BECAME THE CLASSIC STAR TREK EPISODE).

His idea was for Kirk to contemplate letting Edith live by disregarding the facts that millions would die, the world would be dominated by fascism, and he, Spock, and McCoy would never get home. Kirk would have tried to rescue Edith from the speeding truck, only to have the logical Mr. Spock prevent it. While that would definitely have been dramatic, I think Roddenberry et al. was right in thinking that it would have tarnished our picture of the heroic Captain Kirk. While Kirk was by no means drawn in simple black-and-white, it would seem way out of character for him to act this way. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few...or the one.

Also, while Spock's comforting of Kirk on board the Enterprise sounds like it would have been a great scene, it's hard to beat the power of the televised coda: Kirk staring off in grief and saying simply, "Let's get the hell out of here." That says as much as anything Spock could have said in Ellison's original.

Was this really the first time the word "hell" was used in this context in a dramatic network TV series?

This episode doesn't seem to have had an effect on Joan Collins. When she mentioned this guest shot in her autobiography, she got many basic facts of the episode wrong, including the name of her character!

Did Kirk and Keeler sleep together? I think it's implied they did. After walking to her home, there are a couple of dissolves, then Kirk comes in to his room where Spock is working on his machinery. Jim seems in an awfully darn good mood, doesn't he?

Director Joseph Pevney and the crew seem to have known they had a terrific story here. The sets, cinematography, even the special effects planet shots seem to have been assembled with special care. It was worth it. And the finale is one of the most wrenching in TV history. Shatner's performance in portraying Kirk's grief proves he has often been unfairly maligned as an actor.

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