The City on the Edge of Forever

The City on the Edge of Forever
"The City on the Edge of Forever"
Star Trek: The Original Series episode
Tos city-on-the-edge.png
The Enterprise crew encounters the Guardian of Forever
Episode no. Episode 28
Directed by Joseph Pevney
Written by Harlan Ellison
Production code 028
Original air date April 6, 1967
Guest stars

Joan Collins
John Harmon
Hal Baylor
David L. Ross
John Winston
Bartell LaRue
Howard Culver
Eddie Paskey

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"The City on the Edge of Forever" is the penultimate episode of the first season of the television series Star Trek. It is episode #28, production #28, first broadcast on April 6, 1967. It was repeated on August 31, 1967 and marked the last time that NBC telecast an episode of the series on Thursday nights. It was one of the most critically acclaimed episodes of the series and was awarded the 1968 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. The only other episode with such an honor is the two-part episode "The Menagerie". The teleplay is credited to Harlan Ellison, but was also largely rewritten by several authors before filming. The filming was directed by Joseph Pevney. Joan Collins guest starred as Edith Keeler.

This episode involves the crew of the starship USS Enterprise discovering a portal through space and time, which leads to Dr. McCoy's accidentally altering history.



Stardate: Unknown; The Starship Enterprise investigates temporal disturbances centered on a nearby planet. Sulu is caught in a console explosion during the investigation and suffers a heart flutter. Doctor McCoy is summoned to his aid and decides on a cordrazine shot to awaken him. Moments later, a further temporal disturbance causes the ship to shake violently; as a result McCoy accidentally injects himself with an overdose of serum, causing him to become violently paranoid. Delusional, he flees from the bridge and beams down to the planet.

Captain Kirk forms a landing search party made up of two security guards, himself, Spock, Scotty, and Uhura. Once on the planet, Spock finds that the source of the time distortions is an ancient ring of glowing, stone-like material. The ring speaks and, identifying itself as the "Guardian of Forever", explains that it is a doorway to any time and place, and displays periods of Earth's history in its portal opening. The team soon locates McCoy, but he runs away and leaps through the portal before anyone can stop him. Suddenly the landing party loses contact with the Enterprise. The Guardian informs the landing party that history has just been altered and that, as a result, the Enterprise no longer exists.

It is clear to the landing crew that, after leaping through the portal, McCoy has somehow altered the past and erased the history that they knew. Kirk asks the Guardian to loop the history images again and he and Spock get ready to jump through to a time just before McCoy entered, in the hope that they can correct what he has changed. Kirk and Spock leap through at the correct moment and materialize in New York City during the 1930s Great Depression era. Their uniforms and Spock's ears shock a passerby, so Kirk steals some clothes he spots hanging on a fire escape and the two hide in the basement of a nearby building. There they meet a woman named Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), who identifies herself as a social worker of the 21st Street Mission. They apologize for trespassing and offer to work for her; she allows them to stay. In the meantime, Spock begins to construct a crude, barely-functional processor in order to interface with his tricorder (he had begun recording the historical images the Guardian was showing) in order to find out what part of history McCoy has altered.

Kirk soon begins to fall in love with Edith. He finds her a remarkable visionary with a positive outlook about what the future holds for mankind. McCoy materializes at this point, and, after an encounter with a homeless man, stumbles into the 21st Street Mission where Edith notices him and takes him to rest. Kirk and Spock are not aware of his arrival. Meanwhile, Spock finally finishes the interface and he and Kirk analyze the data. It reveals that Edith was supposed to have died shortly after in a traffic accident but that, having been spared this fate on account of McCoy's actions, she instead went on to form a pacifist movement whose influence delayed the entry of the United States into World War II; this delay in turn gave Nazi Germany time to develop an atomic bomb and ultimately conquer the world. Kirk must face the fact that if Edith does not die as she is supposed to, history will be altered forever.

Meanwhile, Edith nurses McCoy, who tells her who he is and where he is from. Edith does not believe his fantastic-sounding story, but tells him that he would fit in nicely with her eccentric new boyfriend who will later be taking her to a movie starring Clark Gable, an actor with whom (to Edith's great surprise) McCoy is not familiar.

Later, as Kirk and Edith are walking to the movie house, Edith is startled that Kirk does not recognize Clark Gable. It prompts her to mention that "Doctor McCoy" does not either. Alarmed, Kirk emphatically tells Edith to "Stay right here" before dashing across the street to notify Spock. As he reaches Spock, McCoy emerges from the mission right in front of them. A surprised Edith crosses the street to join them, but fails to notice a fast-moving truck which is approaching. Instinctively, Kirk moves to pull Edith out of the way but freezes when Spock cries, "No, Jim!". McCoy then tries to save Edith but is held back by Kirk; the truck hits her and she is killed. A shocked McCoy exclaims to Kirk, "I could have saved you know what you just did?". Kirk pushes him away, speechless, and Spock says quietly, "He knows, Doctor. He knows."

With Edith's death, history reverts to its original timeline and Kirk, Spock, and McCoy return to the Guardian's planet to find the rest of the landing party where they had left them. Scotty remarks that the three had only been gone for a few moments. The Guardian says, "Time has resumed its shape. All is as it was before," and adds, "Many such journeys are possible. Let me be your gateway." However, Uhura indicates that the Enterprise is ready to beam them back up and the traumatized Kirk responds with the instruction, "Let's get the hell out of here." The landing party is beamed away and the Guardian is alone once again.

40th anniversary remastering

This episode was remastered in 2006 and was telecast October 7, 2006, as part of the 40th anniversary remastering of the Original Series. It was preceded a week earlier by "The Naked Time" and followed a week later by "I, Mudd". Aside from remastered video and audio, and the all-CGI animation of the USS Enterprise that is standard among the revisions, specific changes to this episode also include:

  • The time planet was updated to be more photo-realistic. Much of the episode's original effects were enhanced.
  • The display on Spock's Tricorder is re-matted and cleaned up, and when the rudimentary circuit he has created shorts out the display shows a full color effect rather than vertical black-and-white static.
  • When the episode was remastered in 2006, the scene of the homeless man vaporizing himself with McCoy's phaser was not shown in the new syndicated print. The scene abruptly cuts from McCoy collapsing with the man standing over him, to McCoy wandering into Edith's mission house. This scene was not cut from the version that is distributed in high definition using the Xbox 360's Xbox Live Video, the print sold on iTunes, or shown on Netflix, or the Blu-ray or HD DVD versions released by Paramount. The effect was slightly altered to where the man's figure is still visible in the blue ray light instead of the complete white-out in the original.
  • As the initial credits roll after the landing party beams up to the ship, the Guardian's visual fog effect continues uninterrupted rather than displaying a freeze-frame with each credit screen displayed.


Original treatments and scripts

In his book The City on the Edge of Forever,[1] Harlan Ellison gives us two treatments, a complete script and a revised first act.

Treatment of March 21, 1966

Lieutenant Richard Beckwith, a drug dealer selling the illegal "Jewels of Sound," kills Lieutenant LeBeque after he threatens to expose Beckwith's activities. This occurs after LeBeque realizes he almost caused a major accident while under the influence of the Jewels. Beckwith's crime is witnessed; he is court-martialled and sentenced to death. The rules also require that he be executed on an uninhabited planet.

The Enterprise locates what seems to be a dead world. Kirk takes Beckwith along with Spock, two other (unnamed) officers and a firing squad of twelve men to the planet's surface. But on the planet they find evidence that there may be inhabitants, which means they cannot dispose of Beckwith there.

Exploring, they encounter the Guardians of Forever, ancient-looking humanoids nine feet tall, who explain that they guard the Time Vortex, a link to the past that can only exist on this one planet. They show Kirk scenes from the past of Earth. They explain it is possible to go back but not wise, a visitor may change everything. Beckwith overhears and enters the Time Vortex to escape. The Guardians of Forever panic: everything has changed, but they do not know how. They vanish back to their city.

Kirk tries to return to his ship, but finds the effects of the time changes cause the Enterprise to become the Condor, a pirate vessel. They manage to get control of the Transporter Room, and Kirk and Spock return to see if time can be repaired.

Back on the surface, the Guardians tell him that the key change is a woman called Edith Koestler, who is scheduled to be run down and killed by a moving van at a specific time. Beckwith will prevent this. They must stop him doing so.

They go into the vortex and arrive in Chicago 1930. An old street-vendor sees them arrive and the sight of Spock gives him a heart attack. They are blamed and flee. They also have to adjust their translators - Kirk says he can almost understand 1930s English, but as difficult for him as Shakespearian English would be for them.

They adjust and find work. They encounter Edith Koestler and Kirk is drawn to her. In this version, she has an admirable character but is not described as preaching or doing good works, nor is she Sister Edith Koestler. There is no indication as to why her death matters to history.

Beckwith arrives, but they fail to capture him. He in turn hunts them and nearly kills Spock. Finally it comes to the moment when Edith Koestler is due to die. But in this version, Beckwith attempts to save Edith, and Spock must tackle and stop him. Captain Kirk, knowing Edith must die, but wanting her to live, as he has fallen completely in love with her, is frozen in indecision and does nothing. Spock stops Beckwith, lets the woman die and then helps Kirk return with their prisoner.

With the timeline set right, Beckwith attempts to escape through the Time Vortex again, but the Guardians of Forever have set a trap for him: he finds himself in an exploding supernova, and just before he dies a fiery death, is pulled backwards in time and forced to relive his agonizing death again and again for all eternity.

The very last scene was a quiet one between Kirk and Spock, where Spock treats his captain compassionately, telling him that "no other woman was ever offered the universe for love." He also addresses him as "Jim": on all other occasions he remains formal and says "Captain."

Treatment of May 13, 1966

This begins with an explanation by Kirk about how one of the crew can go wrong, even though "we have continuous psych-probes." The initial crime is the same. But Beckwith immediately escapes to the planet's surface, with Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Yeoman Rand, and five "Enlisted Crewman" close on his heels.

The planet is the same, and the Guardians of Forever guard the Time Vortex. They still find the Enterprise has become the pirate-ship Condor, but leave Yeoman Rand and the five crew men to guard the transporter. Returning to the surface, Kirk and Spock are given no definite explanation of the key change. The Guardians made riddling statements -- "He will seek that which must die, and give it life. Stop him." And "Blue it will be. Blue as the sky of Old Earth and clear as truth. And the sun will burn on it, and there is the key."

They are taken to New York, 1930. A mob attacks them, identifying them as foreigners responsible for taking jobs from good Americans. They escape and hide in a cellar. The (male) custodian finds them and helps them get work. Spock then encounters Sister Edith Keeler at a street-corner revival, preaching love and hope. She is wearing a blue cape with a sunburst brooch, also her name links to key -- she is the one.

The rest of the plot proceeds as in the first treatment.

First Draft, June 3, 1966

The plot is the same as in the second Treatment, except that they already know the planet is odd, with clocks running backwards. The landing party consists of Kirk, Spock, Yeoman Rand, and six "Enlisted Crew." They arrive in two shifts, respecting the limit of six transporter pads. Beckwith's escape, the transformation of the Enterprise into the Condor and their return happen as before, and the Guardians give them the same clue.

Initial events in New York are also the same, except that Spock uses his tricorder to try to track down the exact change. It burns out. He then spots Sister Edith Keeler and understands the clue. He then manages to partly repair the tricorder. He also gives the first speculation as to why Sister Edith Keeler needs to die: his first suggestion is that she may give birth to a child who would become a dictator, his second is that perhaps she may keep America out of the coming war for two years longer, allowing Germany to perfect its atomic weapons.

We also encounter an additional character in the person of a legless World War I veteran known as Trooper. They hire him to find Beckwith, which he does. Kirk and Spock try to overpower Beckwith, who fires his phaser at them and kills Trooper. They feel sympathy, but also wonder if he mattered in the time-flow.

As before, Beckwith is about to save Edith, Kirk cannot act but Spock secures him and they return. The Guardian assures them that time has resumed its shape. Spock asks "What of the death of the cripple?" and is told "He was negligible."

As before, it ends with a conversation in which Spock addresses Kirk as Jim. This time he comments that Spock has never previously called him anything but Captain. Kirk also notes that Beckwith, though an amoral killer, was still willing to try to save the woman at the risk of his own life. He sees it as a sign of hope, "The worst among us does the great thing."

Second Revised Final Draft, December 1, 1966

Dr. McCoy is bitten by a toxic animal (that is inexplicably growing younger as they approach an unexplored planet), which causes him to go insane and beam down to the planet. He takes over Beckwith's role of changing the past by saving Edith Keeler. The Guardians are changed from humanoids to a single Guardian, described as "a globe of flickering light... like a shimmering handful of fog..." who guards the Time Vortex of the Ancients.

Later changes

In his adaptation of the story in the book Star Trek 2, James Blish explained to readers that he tried to preserve the best elements of both Ellison's original script and the final rewrite. In Blish's version, Kirk allows Edith to die, with the result that Spock tells him, "No other woman was ever almost offered the universe for love."

The closing credits of the episode that was ultimately telecast has Edith Keeler identified as "Sister Edith Keeler." She is running the 21st Street Mission, a name that in that time period would only be used of a religious mission. In one scene, before a speech that is more motivational than religious in nature, she was seen carrying a Bible.


The script was commissioned in early 1966 from Harlan Ellison. Justman and Solow's book Inside Star Trek recalls that the script was delivered late.[2][3]

The production staff considered Ellison's script to be excellent (though the director Joseph Pevney said, "Harlan had no sense of theater... in the original script's dramatic moments, it missed badly"),[4] but they had several concerns. As originally written, the episode would have been too long for a one-hour show, too expensive to stage, with too many speaking parts and elaborate special effects. Also, several plot elements—such as a member of the crew dealing drugs and Kirk preparing to sacrifice his crew to be with Edith—led the producers to decide that Ellison's teleplay was simply "not Star Trek." Ellison did a number of rewritings himself, delivering his Second Revised Final Draft in December 1966. The story was still considered to be too expensive to shoot as written, and instead it was rewritten internally, by a sequence of editors including Steven W. Carabatsos, Gene L. Coon, D. C. Fontana, and Gene Roddenberry himself. Ellison was unhappy with the rewritings, and he considered disowning the script by putting his "Cordwainer Bird" pseudonym on it.[3][2]

Part of the reason for this controversy was a subtle but important change in Edith Keeler's character. In the original script she was a social worker with a vague hippie philosophical bent whereas, in the final version, she was changed into an all-out war protester. The version that was telecast in the end carried the implication that anti-war movements were harmful to the future of humanity. (Kirk: "She was right; peace was the way." Spock: "She was right...but at the wrong time.") When the associate producer Robert Justman was asked if the episode was intended "to have the contemporaneous anti-Vietnam-war movement as a subtext," he replied, "Of course we did."[5] This new thematic element, which may be interpreted as critical of the anti-war movement, ran counter to Ellison's strongly held anti-war views, established in many of his writings.

According to Ellison, Roddenberry later claimed that Ellison's original script had Scotty dealing drugs, but Scotty did not appear at all in that script. Roddenberry later admitted that when he made the comment, he had not read Ellison's draft in years. Ellison set out his side of the story in a 1995 book, The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay that Became the Classic Star Trek Episode, containing two drafts of his story outline, his first draft teleplay, with the teaser, and first act of his second revised draft (the latter dated December 1966).[3]

Filming of this episode began on February 3, 1967, and it finished on February 14, 1967. This episode took seven and one-half days to film, more than was typical for an episode, and according to Inside Star Trek, the overall cost totaled $250,000, compared to the weekly average of around $185,000.[2]

The ancient ruins allegedly were the result of someone's misreading Harlan Ellison's description in the script of the city as "covered with runes".[3]

Before being reprinted in Ellison's book in 1996, the original script of "The City on the Edge of Forever" had been published in 1976 in "Six Science Fiction Plays", edited by Roger Elwood (ISBN 0-671-48766-3).

On March 13, 2009, Harlan Ellison filed a lawsuit[6] against CBS Paramount Television, seeking payment of 25% of net receipts from merchandising, publishing, and other income from the episode since 1967; the suit also names the Writers Guild of America for allegedly failing repeatedly to act on Ellison's behalf in the matter. On October 22, 2009, the lawsuit was settled with Ellison claiming he was satisfied with the outcome.[7]

Filming of the episode

With the exception of some stock footage of New York City used on this episode (in which the Brooklyn Bridge can be seen as well as a street in front of the apartment Kirk and Spock live in), all the exterior shots were filmed on "the back forty", Desilu Studios' film backlot in Culver City, California. Previous episodes that were filmed there were "Miri" and "The Return of the Archons". The 21st Street Mission was part of the Back Forty film set known as "Main Street", and it was referred to originally on The Andy Griffith Show as the Grand Theater. In addition, during the scene in which Kirk and Edith are strolling down the street and discussing the stars, the words "Floyd's Barber Shop" are clearly visible in the window of one of the shops.


In addition to the standard Star Trek themes used in many episodes, this episode has some original music by Fred Steiner, including a use of music from the popular song "Goodnight, Sweetheart". This music was used in the first home video release, in both Beta and VHS, but when the complete series was released on VHS, the original music was replaced by generic music, because of copyright issues. When the first DVD of the episode was released, the plan was to avoid copyrighted music, and the box has the disclaimer "Some music has been changed for this DVD", but somehow the original music was used on the DVD, and Paramount reportedly had to pay royalties. Since the royalties were paid, all subsequent DVD and Blu-ray releases have included the original music.[8]

Reaction to this episode

The filmed version of "The City on the Edge of Forever" is considered the best episode of the original series by many critics such as Entertainment Weekly.[9] TV Guide ranked it #68 in their 100 Most Memorable Moments in TV History feature in its July 1, 1995 edition, featured ranked it #92 on the 100 greatest TV episodes of all time[10], and ranked it #80 on its list of "TV's Top 100 Episodes of All Time."[11] IGN ranked it as number one out of their "Top 10 Classic Star Trek Episodes".[12] It is one of the most widely acclaimed episodes of the original series of Star Trek. It was awarded the Hugo Award in 1968 for the "Best Dramatic Presentation" at that year's World Science Fiction Convention. It was twenty-five years before another television program received that honor again, and the next recipient became the episode "The Inner Light" from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Harlan Ellison's original version of the teleplay won the annual Writers Guild of America Award for best dramatic hour-long script. Gene L. Coon reportedly said at the time: "If Harlan wins, I'm going to die," and that "there are two scripts up tonight for the Writers' Guild Award, and I wrote them both."[13] This quotation is of dubious merit, however, since the WGA rules do not allow production companies to submit scripts, but rather only the credited writers, who may submit whichever draft of their scripts that they may choose.[14] Ellison submitted his original first draft for WGA award consideration, and not any version that had been edited by the Star Trek production staff, so Coon's supposed version of the script was ineligible and never submitted.[15] Gene Roddenberry noted that "many people would get prizes if they wrote scripts that budgeted out to three times the show's cost."[16] In the documentary To Boldly Go... included in the Season 1 DVD set, Leonard Nimoy characterizes the episode as a high-water mark in the series, calling it "good tragedy". William Shatner considered it one of his favorite episodes, and it appeared as his "Captain's Pick" in the "Star Trek Fan Collective—Captain's Log (2001)."


The Guardian of Forever has featured in other Star Trek stories:

  • The 1973 episode "Yesteryear" (Star Trek: The Animated Series) featured the Guardian of Forever.
  • A 1978 story in an issue of the Gold Key Star Trek comic, entitled “No Time Like the Past”, features the Guardian of Forever.[1]
  • The 1983 novel Yesterday's Son and its 1988 sequel Time For Yesterday (both by A.C. Crispin) involved the use of the Guardian of Forever to retrieve Spock's long-lost son from his liaison with Zarabeth in the episode All Our Yesterdays.
  • DC Comics Star Trek Volume 2, #53 (October 1993) begins a five part time travel story involving the Guardian of Forever.
  • The 2006 Pocket Books novel Star Trek - Crucible: McCoy - Provenance of Shadows, written by David R. George III, focuses on the life of McCoy in the alternate history before it was corrected, in which the doctor is never rescued and has to adapt to 20th century life.
  • Star Trek (DC Comics)#Vol. 2 Also, in Star Trek: Engines of Destiny, the Guardian of Forever shows Guinan, a member of the Enterprise-D crew, how to restore an alternate timeline in which the Borg control most of the Alpha Quadrant.


  1. ^ Ellison, Harlan. The City on the Edge of Forever, Edgeworth Abbey 2009.
  2. ^ a b c Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman (1996). Inside Star Trek: The Real Story. Pocket Books. ISBN 0-671-00974-5. 
  3. ^ a b c d Ellison, Harlan (1996). The City on the Edge of Forever: The original teleplay. White Wolf. ISBN 1-56504-964-0. 
  4. ^ E. Goss & M. Altman, "Captain's Logs: The Unauthorised Complete Trek Voyages, Litte, Brown & Company, Canada, 1995
  5. ^ Weil, Ellen; Wolfe, Gary K. (2002). Harlan Ellison: The Edge of Forever. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press. pp. 114–115. ISBN 0-8142-0892-4. 
  6. ^ "ELLISON SUES STAR TREK" (Press release). 2009-03-13. Retrieved 2009-03-15. 
  7. ^ Dave McNary (2009-10-22). "Ellison, Paramount settle lawsuit". Variety. Retrieved 2009-10-22. 
  8. ^ retrieved 27 JULY 2010
  9. ^ Entertainment Weekly Special Edition Jan. 18, 1995
  10. ^ The 100 Greatest TV episodes of all time
  11. ^ "TV's Top 100 Episodes of All Time" TV Guide; June 15, 2009; Pages 34-49
  12. ^ "IGN's Top 10 Classic Star Trek Episodes". [IGN]. Retrieved 2009-06-06. 
  13. ^ Captain's Logs, p.42
  14. ^ Inside Star Trek, p. 289
  15. ^ "Harlan Ellison's The City On the Edge of Forever", 1996 edition, p. 72
  16. ^ "Harlan Ellison's The City On the Edge of Forever", 1996 edition, p. 41

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