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Rewatching... Star Trek: The City At The Edge Of Forever

My continuing mission: to watch classic television exactly fifty years after original broadcast date...

By Nick BrownPublished 7 years ago 6 min read

"I see you've noticed the ears."

Thursday 6 April 1967

Straight into the action again this week, as the Enterprise is going through some turbulence. Suddenly there's a bang and a flash at Sulu's control panel and he ends up on the floor unconscious. This looks like it's going to be a Sulu episode.

Spock says poetically that they are passing though "ripples in time". That sort of thing only sounds normal to sci-fi fans.

McCoy uses a medical thing on Sulu which revives him. It's a sort of space hypodermic. There's more of that turbulence, giving the cast another chance to do falling-left-and-right acting, and Bones accidentally falls against his medical thing, injecting himself with a 'bonkers' drug. This unsurprisingly drives him bonkers, and he runs off ranting about assassins or something. And that's how we go into the opening credits this week. This looks as though it's not going to be a Sulu episode, but a McCoy episode.

So McCoy has given himself a drug overdose. Drugs make McCoy good at rendering people unconscious with single hand chop, as he proves before beaming himself down to the planet below.

The guy in charge of the transporter sounds English. It had never occurred to me how odd it would be hearing an English accent in Star Trek.

This week's beaming down party includes Spock, Kirk, Scotty and even Uhura gets a day out away from the desk job. How nice that Scotty and Uhura are going to get lots of lines and action this episode. This is a lovely green planet that they've landed on. There's no sign of McCoy (he's hiding behind a rock), but there's this weird pulsating round gateway thing. A gateway which, it turns out, can talk. In riddles. A talking, riddling gateway called the Guardian of Forever. That's a very grand name for a gate. I don't think Spock has much time for riddles and I don't blame him. I myself prefer a gate which gets to the point quickly. However this gate has more tricks to show off: it's also a sort of projection screen, and shows them clips of old historical epics.

Suddenly McCoy leaps out from behind his rock and jumps through the Guardian Of Forever. At this point things get complicated. The talking, riddling gate is also some sort of time / space portal, and McCoy has leaped into Earth's past, changed history and caused some of Spock's poetic ripples which mean the Enterprise no longer exists and so disappears, stranding the crew. Now you might wonder how the crew can be there if their ship has never existed. Yeah, me too. Perhaps they are in another of those situations that only sci-fi fans find acceptable and normal: outside of time.

Leaving their colleagues behind, Spock and Kirk follow Bones through the Guardian Of Forever. Luckily, having witnessed various dark periods in Earth history on the Guardian Of Forever, they end up somewhere cool. New York. Depression era. Spock calls it barbaric. Presumably he'd have preferred the crusades or plague-ridden London.

Kirk immediately spots and steals some clothes from a balcony washing line. The jolly comedy music tells us that this is ok, it's a lark, and theft of clothing is acceptable. A policeman thinks otherwise. "I see you've noticed the ears" Kirk says to the policeman, referring to his Vulcan colleague. He goes on to explain that Spock is Chinese and caught his ears in a mechanical rice picker as a child. Er, that is actually racist? Before the copper gets a chance to utter a single line he's assaulted by Spock and rendered unconscious.

They run off and hide in the basement of a soup kitchen, where they change into the stolen clothes. It's very odd seeing Spock in jeans!

A lady hears their voices and descends the stairs to investigate. Another English accent. It's Joan Collins! For some reason Kirk admits they stole the clothes. Joan, who is called Edith Keeler, offers them work. She runs the soup kitchen.

The two travelers eat at a table with the homeless guys. The food comes at a cost though. They have to listen as Edith preaches about how marvelous it'll all be in the future. She predicts that man will go to the stars in "some sort of spaceship". She predicts a sci-fi future in fact. I'm not sure where she's getting all this from, but she seems very sure of herself. Perhaps she has particularly accurate tea leaves.

The captain is quite taken with her, as I can tell by the music. "I find her most uncommon Mr Spock" he says. Well yes. Joan Collins is unlikely to be mistaken for "common".

The writers were clearly pleased with this phrase as it's used again in the very next scene: Edith is very impressed with Kirk and Spock's thorough basement scrubbing, describing it as "uncommon". She's so pleased she sorts them out a "flop" where they can sleep in the block where she lives.

A few days pass and Spock does some science. He's making a pneumonic memory circuit. I'm sure I don't need to explain what that is. He spots someone using 'fine tools', and later steals them from a safe. Edith finds out and is mildly miffed but not exactly outraged. She's a tolerant woman this Edith. She gets all mystical and says Kirk belongs in another place...she doesn't know where...

They go for a walk that night and she asks lots of questions. Meanwhile Spock gets his gadget working and just happens to see a newspaper article with a photo of Edith and the headline 'Social worker killed'. Kirk joins him and they read about her meeting the president, just before the gadget blows up. Spock ponders that if they sort things out time wise, then Edith must die. This is classic sci-fi now. I love a good time travel paradox story.

Elsewhere in a street McCoy jumps out of nowhere still ranting about assassins and murderers. He frightens a homeless guy, analyzing him, grabbing his head etc, but seems under the impression that all around him is fake. I imagine DeForest Kelley would have enjoyed this episode, getting some proper nutjob acting to do, rather different from his usual scripts. McCoy is actually quite scary running across the dark street, eyes blazing, blotchy red face.

It's all finally too much for him though and he collapses. The man steals his phaser, activates it, glows blue and vanishes. This is an odd moment, a random death not connected in any way to the plot, and never referred to again. Perhaps the episode was under-running, or they wanted a death to liven it up.

Bones turns up at the soup kitchen and is taken care of by the sympathetic Edith. Elsewhere, Spock says that Edith Keeler was supposed to get killed in a road accident, but because McCoy saves her life, she goes on to start a peace movement which influences the president and so America joins World War II too late and Germany develops the "A Bomb" first and wins the war. They have to put history straight; as Spock says dramatically: "Edith Keeler must die."

But wait...Kirk drops a pre-ad break bomb shell: he's in love with her! People fall in love SO quickly in these things!

In the final act, Edith is tending to the sick McCoy who has calmed down. He still thinks he's imagining it all. Kirk meets her on the stairs and she nearly falls, and then we get a series of near misses as she almost meets her destiny. As they step outside she mentions having spoken to McCoy, at which Kirk runs back to find him. Edith slowly follows him back as McCoy appears in the doorway. A truck approaches the unaware Edith who's acting like she's in a trance for some reason. Bones tries to save her but Kirk and Spock hold him back and they have to witness her death. Blimey.

I'm imagining how that must feel, having to let someone die like that, especially if you're in love with them, what a horrible thing to deal with. They head back to the gateway, everything is back on track, and Kirk's "Let's get the hell out of here" says it all. Wisely, there is no jokey epilogue this week.

Well despite my sarcasm, that was a great episode. A pretty intelligent script, and lovely to see the space people in a recognizable period of Earth history, with some great sets. The only slight criticism is that I'm still a bit baffled as to why the script included Edith getting all those spookily accurate intuitions. I can't see any relevance. Is she somehow able to 'remember' her alternate future?!

I now know all of the music cues as they are repeated most weeks, but there was some new period-appropriate music on this soundtrack which made a change.

Just one more episode to go in this series and from the trailer it looks like another great one...

fantasypop culturescience fictionscifi tvstar trektv reviewvintage

About the Creator

Nick Brown

I've embarked upon an open ended mission, pretending to travel back in time and watch classic television on (or close to) the fiftieth anniversary of original broadcast date; getting a sense of the context, the magic of that first viewing.

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