Star Trek

Season 1 Episode 28

The City on the Edge of Forever

Aired Unknown Apr 06, 1967 on NBC
out of 10
User Rating
286 votes

By Users

Episode Summary

Kirk and Spock must travel into the past in order to prevent a deranged McCoy from altering history... and eradicating their own past.

Who was the Episode MVP ?

No results found.
No results found.
No results found.
  • Kirk and Spock travel to 1930s Earth to save Dr. McCoy and the timeline.

    The Citizen Kane of the Star Trek universe, this deeply personal episode is almost universally accepted as the greatest of the Original Series and is often cited as the best installment of any Star Trek series. It's a reputation that's well earned.

    Like the fifth Star Trek feature film, the roots of the episode lie in a story that is compelling in its own right but has budget issues and doesn't quite fit into Star Trek. For "City on the Edge", however, several of the show's best "in house" writers, including Roddenberry, Coon, and Fontana, all took turns banging the teleplay into shape, dispelling the notion (along with TNG's "Yesterday's Enterprise") that too many cooks spoil the broth. (They even work in a scene that parallels their battles with the original writer, with Spock, like Ellison, coming up with expensive items he thinks could help, and Kirk, like the show's producers, trying to explain the concept of budget. "Mr. Spock, this bag does not contain platinum, silver, or gold, nor is it likely to in the near future").

    In the end, the part of the episode that suffers the most from cost and time saving measures is the beginning. A time traveling device known as the Guardian of Forever, originally meant to be part of a much more complex society, is reduced to a "magic gateway" the like of which is seen more often in juvenile fantasy. Coming out of left field, it seems contrived (which, of course, it is) and a bit superfluous. While it might be sacrilegious (and is certainly useless) to suggest improvements in the teleplay, it probably would be better if the Guardian was mute, taking away some of its "great and powerful" Oz like silliness and giving it more of a surreal feel shrouded in mystery. Mr. Spock could figure out what the entity is without help, and he and the Captain, after McCoy has entered, could deduce that the doctor has changed history and erased their present, thanks to a new "history" shown by the Guardian and a lack of communication with the Enterprise. (It might even be fun to see Kirk an company figure it all out for themselves).

    But the Guardian is only a means into the story. And with its beautiful design (thanks to Desilu's Roland Brooks, filling in for Star Trek designer Matt Jeffries, who had the flu) and a voice supplied by Bart LaRue (previously the voice of Trelane's father), it does the job, getting the "big three" to the streets of 1930s New York (a redress of the streets of Star Trek's sister show, The Andy Griffith Show).

    Seeing the Enterprise crew in the 20th Century is always a treat, with the fun of seeing them wearing period clothing, rubbing shoulders with the regular folk, and dealing with the local authority figures never getting old. Here, the core of the episode features Kirk and Spock, with Shatner and Nimoy having worked together just long enough to have their chemistry fine tuned. McCoy comes along in time (pardon the pun), but more important is a character the like of which few of Star Trek's time travel stories have had: a character from the past who is not only as kind, intelligent and forward thinking as our beloved Enterprise heroes, but in some ways surpasses them. Playing 20th Century social worker Edith Keeler, Joan Collins's first appearance in the episode instantly gives the story an added spark, elevating the drama and the performances of the regulars, making every scene that follows must see TV. It's uncanny to see how Keeler handles Kirk and Spock, with this 1930s woman so easily putting both men in their places. Her comments about Spock belonging at Kirk's side, "as if you've always been there and always will" reverberated throughout the 1970s and 1980s as Star Trek played in an endless loop of syndication and the feature films began coming out, turning Keeler into more of a visionary than the writer intended when the line was written in 1967.

    Meanwhile, William Shatner, who is always at his best when he's force to play up to the level of a woman rather than down to one, gets a rare chance to do just such. Normally, Kirk's way of handling a lady is to get a silly grin on his face, tell a few white lies, and try to get in her pants. But when Keeler catches him in a lie the instant they meet, his attitude suddenly changes. He tells the truth, he allows himself to be vulnerable, and he treats her with respect. As the scenes progress (including a night stroll where they walk by Floyd's Barbershop, familiar to any fan of Mayberry) we really do believe Kirk might be falling in love, setting up the focal point of the episode's drama: he can't have his cake and Edith too. It's all tied together by arguably Star Trek's finest combination of new and old music, with nostalgic cues from the past (most notably the romantic music from "Conscience of the King") mixed with new cues by Fred Steiner, including 1930s style music that blends with the 1931 song, "Goodnight, Sweetheart".

    The period touches enhance the feeling of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy being fish out of water, but with the Keeler issue none finds himself in a more unique situation than the captain. There is no opportunity to outwit a computer. No chance to do an end run around an authority figure. No battles with aliens. It's the Kobayashi Maru fifteen years before Star Trek II.

    Of course, if this type of episode had come along later in Star Trek's life, it likely would have been a two parter to allow it to dig deeper into the story and spread the out expense (which, at $245,000, was well above the normal $190,000). In fact, with the story seemingly only getting richer going into the last act, a first time viewer might expect to see "to be continued" as the ending approaches, only to be blindsided by the sudden climax; making it all the more dramatic.

    But the truth is that "City", directed by prolific television and film director Joe Pevney (who gives the episode a cinematic quality) brings together so many unique elements in an alchemy of near perfection, the episode essentially divides the original series in two: there's this episode and there's the other 78.

    Sadly, Keeler never appears in Star Trek again, despite the seventh Star Trek movie having the perfect spot for her. (They instead use the engimatic "Antonia" as Kirk's lost love). The Guardian, however, does return for the best Animated Series episode, "Yesteryear", where Spock goes back in time to help his younger self.

    Remastered: As Star Trek's signature episode, you can bet that CBS Digital was pouring over this one looking for anything they could improve. The truth, however, is that the episode is nearly as flawless technically as it is artistically. Taking place mostly in the past, there are few shots of the ship in orbit, and yet even these are rather good to begin with. CBS Digital replaces them, of course, with upgraded shots and fixes a "Twilight Zone ish" panning shot of Kirk looking up into the stars, originally a complicated bit of compositing that didn't come off quite right. (In the original, the live set bleeds into the Beyond these, there aren't any noticeable changes, at least for non eagle eyed viewers. They do re-matte in the newspaper clippings Spock looks at on his tricorder (enlarging them slightly in the process) so there are no black matte lines on the device's screen; the lines, however, always looked like part of the tricorder anyway and were never a real problem. CBS also redoes static lines Spock keeps getting in his equipment, changing the last bit of static (when the circuits burn out) to a more colorful effect. (I only wish I could have taken the money they spent on these effects and moved it into "Errand of Mercy" for a needed matte The moment where a stranger accidently eliminates himself with McCoy's phaser has also been subtly tweaked to improve the effect.

    But the best work in the episode might be the end: as the crew beams out, the scene lingers on a shot of the Guardian to allow some credits to appear. The problem for the original team is that the Guardian has some fog around it, and having something moving for a beam out shot and a credit sequence was tricky for them in 1967. As such, in the original, the fog periodically freezes. Fortunately, CBS Digital is all over it like Scotty at an all you can eat buffet. The new version features perfectly rolling fog all the way to the fade to black.

  • Shot on same backlot Set used as Mayberry

    If you watch closely when Kirk and the lady are walking down the street at night they pass in front of "Floyd's Barbershop" and it IS THE "Floyd's Barber Shop" from "The Andy Griffith Show" since they used part of the same set.
  • The best

    This is, in my opinion, THE best Star Trek TOS episode, and my favorite. This is one of four episodes (three if you don't count "The Naked Time") which feature time-travel, and the one which does it the best. Kirk and Spock go back in time via The Guardian Of Forever, after a very ill and very paranoid McCoy, who has somehow changed history, and attempt to fix it. Once in the 30s, Kirk falls in love with Edith Keeler, their "focal point in time".

    This episode is one of the best balanced episodes, as a perfect mixture of suspense, drama, romance and humor. The story is unforgettable and well-written, the acting spot-on, and Shatner's last line ("Let's get the hell out of here") is my single favorite line of the Original Series. Love it.moreless
  • The Star Trek franchise's greatest episode, bar none!

    There is no doubt in my mind that this is the best episode of the Star Trek franchise - that includes the other Star Trek series that followed in the 80s and beyond.

    "City on the Edge of Forever" combines so many wonderful and riveting elements - time travel; the fate of not only Earth on the line - but the universe; and a heart-wrenching love story involving a choice that no one should ever have to make, that between saving someone you love versus saving billions and billions of people.

    "City" is crackerjack from the start, with the first quarter of the episode on the ship and a planet having a strange ancient, abandoned civilization - as well as the mysterious time portal called the Guardian of Forever.

    It has a terrifying and unique "Captain's Log" entry from Kirk, i.e., "Captain's log - NO star date - for us, time does not exist". All history has been changed by Dr McCoy, who has gone back in time to 1930s Earth.

    By the time Kirk and Spock miraculously track him down in the past, Kirk has fallen head over heels for a woman, Edith Keeler, and is ready to live his life in the past, with her, until Spock finds out that Edith must die to set the "future" straight.

    It all leads to a horrific traffic accident in which she dies - an accident that Kirk could have prevented if not for Spock's haunting words, earlier in the episode, "Do as your heart says, and millions of people..." who were never meant to die, will do so.

    Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley are top-notch, as is Joan Collins. Yes, THAT Joan Collins, from "Dynasty" and an assortment of B-movies. She's utterly wonderful, despite her British accent being out of place in 1930s New York City.

    Some Trek episodes come close to the greatness of "City", but fans of the original Trek know that "City" is an episode that they can watch and cry over, over and over.

    As Kirk says at the end of the episode, once "all time is restored" ... "let's get the hell out of here...".moreless
  • After being accidentally overdosed with a medical treatment, a hysterical Dr. McCoy beams down to a strange planet and leaps through a time portal. While back in time he inadvertently changes the course of history. Can Kirk and Spock set things right?moreless

    "The City on the Edge of Forever" is in my opinion the best episode of Star Trek. The story of Kirk, Spock and McCoy's journey to 20th century Earth is fascinating from the very beginning and keeps the viewer's interest hooked throughout. What's also very good in this episode is how it is shown how man's actions can effect the course of time and what events occur. Edith Keeler's hopes and dreams for peace are noble, but what impact will they have on the world? This is one of the fascinating ideas this episode presents. There are many great episodes of Star Trek but you will not find another better than this.moreless
John Harmon

John Harmon


Guest Star

Hal Baylor

Hal Baylor


Guest Star

Bart La Rue

Bart La Rue

Guardian Voice

Guest Star

James Doohan

James Doohan

Lt. Cmdr. Montgomery "Scotty" Scott

Recurring Role

George Takei

George Takei

Lt. Hikaru Sulu

Recurring Role

Nichelle Nichols

Nichelle Nichols

Lt. Nyota Uhura

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (15)

    • When McCoy leaves the bridge, and later when he beams down to the planet, he isn't wearing a belt. When the landing party catches up to him on the planet he is wearing the standard utility-type belt.

    • The Guardian responds when Jim asks the question, "Then what is it?" But Jim asked another question a little earlier, "What is this thing, Mr. Spock?" Both questions are clearly directed to Spock, even if the second one doesn't include his name. So why does the Guardian respond to one but not the other?

    • Although Spock and Kirk are both present when the Guardian says it will show them "their" history, it only shows Earth's history.

    • The Guardian says it can only display the passage of time at a fixed rate. Fair enough, most VCRs only fast forward at one speed. But why can't it start at any given point? Once they've determined the speed it displays at, why not just tell it, "Start at 1900" and time from there? Instead the implication is it can only start displaying at the same single point over and over. If its users wanted to view the last days of a million-year-old civilizaton, this must have been very inefficient for such an advanced race.

    • Spock and Kirk have to enter the Guardian once it starts its second playback at the same time that McCoy did during its first playback (it says it can only play back time at one speed). They don't - they wait about 25 seconds longer then McCoy did.

    • McCoy is knocked out on the planet, then wakes up a few minutes later and makes it into the Guardian...with a phaser. Assuming the landing party intelligently decided to disarm him after they captured him, where'd he grab the phaser?

    • Set in New York in 1930, but a shot of front of building shows a fallout shelter sign.

    • Why does Spock "borrow" the fine tools by picking the lock instead of just asking permission? Edith Keeler already knew that he was working on a "radio" on his off-hours, was there some reason he thought she wouldn't let him use them?

    • What happened to Spock's superior Vulcan hearing? He was only a few feet away when McCoy first enters the mission and talks to Edith.

    • Spock clearly determines earlier that Edith dies in a street accident. However, when Kirk saves Edith from a fall inside a house, Spock says that might have been the accident he foresaw. Even with the various unpredictable factors Spock mentions earlier, there doesn't seem to be any way he could confuse a street accident for a house accident.

    • In the scene a deranged McCoy confronts the homeless man just after arriving in 1930, DeForest Kelley is wearing a ring on his left pinky. It wasn't there before and afterward.

    • Edith Keeler says to McCoy, "My young man is taking me to see a Clark Gable movie." In 1930, Clark Gable was an unknown bit player -- he didn't become a star until he appeared opposite Jean Harlow in Red Dust (1932).

    • When Edith stumbles down the stairs she still has both shoes. Kirk catches her and they go on up, and suddenly one of the shoes vanishes.

    • Why can't Spock play back his tricorder data on the tricorder screen? Instead he has to rig a computer to see what the tricorder says - this doesn't make much sense.

    • Trivia: This is the first time we see a transporter beam up more than six people. As is later demonstrated in "Day of the Dove," the transporter can hold some people in transit and materialize them separately from the main party.

  • QUOTES (19)

    • McCoy: Better risk a few drops of cordrazine.
      Kirk: Tricky stuff. Are you sure you want to risk...?
      (Sulu revives)
      McCoy: You were about to make a medical comment, Jim?
      Kirk: Who, me, Doctor?

    • Kirk: Then what is it?
      The Guardian: A question. Since before your sun burned hot in space and before your race was born, I have awaited a question.
      Kirk: What are you?
      The Guardian: I am the Guardian of Forever.
      Kirk: Are you machine or being?
      The Guardian: I am both and neither. I am my own beginning, my own ending.
      Spock: I see no reason for answers to be couched in riddles.
      The Guardian: I answer as simply as your level of understanding makes possible.
      Spock: A time portal, Captain--a gateway to other times and dimensions, if I'm correct.
      The Guardian: As correct as possible for you. Your science knowledge is obviously primitive.
      Spock: Really?
      Kirk: Annoyed, Spock?

    • The Guardian: Your vessel, your beginning, all that you knew, is gone.

    • Kirk: I've seen old photographs of this period. An economic upheaval had occurred.
      Spock: It was called Depression. Circa 1930. Quite barbaric.
      Kirk: We seem to be costumed a little out of step with the time.
      Spock: I'm afraid I am going to be difficult to explain in any case, Captain.
      Kirk: Well, Mr. Spock, if we can't disguise you, we'll find some way of... explaining you.
      Spock: That should prove interesting.

    • Kirk: You're a police officer. I recognize the traditional accouterments.
      Spock: You were saying you'll have no trouble explaining it.
      Kirk: My friend is obviously Chinese. I see you've noticed the ears. They're actually easy to explain.
      Spock: Perhaps the unfortunate accident I had as a child?
      Kirk: The unfortunate accident he had as a child. He caught his head in a mechanical... rice picker. But fortunately, there was an American missionary living close by who was actually a, uh... skilled plastic surgeon in civilian life.

    • Kirk: You were actually enjoying my predicament back there. At times, you seem quite human.
      Spock: Captain, I hardly believe that insults are within your prerogative as my commanding officer.
      Kirk: Sorry.

    • Edith Keeler: Now, I don't pretend to tell you how to find happiness and love, when every day is a struggle to survive. But I do insist that you do survive, because the days and the years ahead are worth living for! One day soon, man is going to be able to harness incredible energy -- maybe even the atom. Energy that could ultimately hurl men to other worlds in some sort of spaceship. And the men that reach out into space will find ways to feed the hungry millions of the world, and to cure their diseases. They'll be able to find a way to give each man hope and a common future. And those are the days worth living for.

    • Edith Keeler: A lie is a very poor way to say hello.

    • Edith Keeler: Lots of people drink from the wrong bottle sometimes.

    • Edith Keeler: I still have a few questions I'd like to ask about you two. Oh, and don't give me that "questions about little old us?" look. You know how out of place you are around here.
      Spock: Interesting. Where would you estimate we belong, Miss Keeler?
      Edith Keeler: You? At his side, as if you've always been there and always will. (to Jim) And you... you belong... in another place. I don't know where or how. I'll figure it out eventually.
      Spock: I'm finished with the furnace.
      Edith Keeler: "Captain." Even when he doesn't say it, he does.

    • Spock: Captain, I must have some platinum. A small block would be sufficient--5 or 6 pounds. By passing certain circuits through there to be used as a duodynetic field core...
      Kirk: Mr. Spock, I've brought you some assorted vegetables, baloney and a hard roll for myself, and I've spent the other 9/10ths of our combined salaries for the last three days on filling this order for you. This bag doesn't contain platinum, silver, or gold, nor is it likely to in the near future.
      Spock: Captain, you're asking me to work with equipment which is hardly very far ahead of stone knives and bearskins.

    • Spock: If only I could tie this tricorder in with the ship's computers for a few moments.
      Kirk: Couldn't you build some form of computer aid here?
      Spock: In this zinc-plated vacuum-tubed culture?
      Kirk: Yes, well, it would pose an extremely complex problem in logic, Mr. Spock. Excuse me. I sometimes expect too much of you.

    • Edith Keeler: What... what on earth is that?
      Spock: I am endeavoring, ma'am, to construct a mnemonic memory circuit using stone knives and bearskins.

    • McCoy: This looks like old Earth around 1920 or '25.
      Edith Keeler: Would you care to try for '30?
      McCoy: I am unconscious, or demented.
      Edith Keeler: I have a friend that talks about Earth the same way that you do. Would you like to meet him?
      McCoy: I'm a surgeon, not a psychiatrist.

    • Edith Keeler: I think they're going to take all this money that we spend now on war and death...
      Kirk: And make them spend it on life.

    • Kirk: A hundred years or so from now, a novelist will write a classic using that theme. He'll recommend those three words even over "I love you."

    • McCoy: Do you know what you just did?!
      Spock: He knows, Doctor...he knows.

    • Kirk: Let's get the hell out of here.

    • The Guardian: Time has resumed its shape. All is as it was before. Many such journeys are possible. Let me be your gateway.

  • NOTES (12)

    • Ellison's first draft was written in 1966 when only the first two pilots had been produced. In this version, a crewman called Beckwith, suffering from drug addiction, travels back in time. Kirk and crew pursue him, meeting Edith, an innocent who would kill herself if she knew her destiny. Spock prevents Edith's rescue. Ellison's story won the Writer's Guild of America award for Outstanding Dramatic Episode Teleplay in 1967-68. The Transmitted episode was a final rewrite by Gene Roddenberry, it won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1968.

    • In the 2008 Emmy Awards, history being changed due to the time travel, was in the list of the Most Memorable Drama TV Moments. However, it didn't make it to the top 5.

    • This episode is listed on the Star Trek: Captain's Log Fan Collective DVD box set as being William Shatner's favorite episode.

    • According to Ellison, the idea for this story came to him while reading a biography of evangelist Aime Semple McPherson and he began toying around with the idea of what would happen if Kirk fell in love with a woman like this.

    • This episode ranked #92 on TV Guide's 1997 list of the "100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time."

    • The lot where the NYC exteriors were filmed was the set for Mayberry on The Andy Griffith Show. Watch carefully as Kirk and Edith walk down the street, you will notice that Kirk and Edith walk right by the window sign which reads "Floyd's Barbershop."

    • The Star Trek: Voyager writers pay homage to this classic time travel episode in the Voyager episode "Futures End (Part 1)". Accidentally sent back in time to the 1990s, Captain Janeway at one point refers to 1990s technology as "stone knives and bearskins"--just as Spock and Kirk use that same term in this episode about 1930s technology.

    • In the 2006 digital remastering, the scene of the bum taking McCoy's phaser and destroying himself is edited out.

    • D.C. Fontana rewrote Ellison's script for the final screenplay.

    • Despite winning an Emmy, Ellison has pretty much disavowed the on-screen version of his story, writing various articles chastising Roddenberry for lying about the story about why his original script was rewritten, etc., as well as including his original script, which didn't have McCoy going nuts, featured a drug-dealing crewman and a different cube-shaped Guardian, and much more. Ellison's script has been republished in at least two different sources.

    • 1968 WGA Award (TV) Winner: This episode garnered Harlan Ellison a Writers Guild of America award for best writing for an episode of a Dramatic Series.

    • The only time on the original series that Kirk uses an expletive.


    • Kirk: Well... we'll steal from the rich and give back to the poor later.
      This paraphrases a line attributed to Robin Hood, a fictional folk hero from old England and the subject of numerous books, films and television shows.