The end of the year is a time for lists, and I found this 10 Best and 10 Worst Episodes of Star Trek – referring to the broadcast shows, even Deep Space Nine which I haven’t seen in ages. Any such list is fodder for endless conversations, but I want to discuss The City on the Edge of Forever from The Original Series.
If you haven’t seen it, stop now and go find the episode. Spoiler Alert: Links below lead to plot summaries and I discuss the episode’s pivotal event.
Refresh your memory of the plot here. You may not be surprised to learn that a “Best Of” episode came from a famous scifi writer, Harlan Ellison, or that it’s production ran over budget and over schedule, but did you know that Harlan Ellison hated the episode?
Various rewrites reduced production costs, and if some characters and scenes had not been cut, it would have been a movie instead of a TV episode. (Oh, the loss to humanity!) But the basic moral dilemma remained: if the death of a single, innocent, noble person would save millions, should that person die? Does your answer change if you love that person? It’s a Kobayashi Maru scenario where Kirk can’t cheat to win.
The biggest change was this: Roddenberry had Kirk make the heartbreaking decision. Ellison had Spock make it.
The question of which feels truer to Kirk, and to Trek, serves as a litmus test for fans of the show.
Is it believable that Kirk acted and allowed his lover to die? I can accept that. Kirk was a rather wild blend of traits.
What about the original story? My inner-Spock says, yes, Spock would have acted. So both versions could have been made.
Could Kirk and Spock have developed the relationship they had throughout TOS if Spock had acted instead of Kirk? Could Spock’s shadow have fallen across the Star Trek universe?
I think – No. TOS was made before season-long and series-long character arcs became popular, but even in that environment, characters grew and developed. I don’t believe friendship would have grown or that we would have seen more of Spock’s inner life if Ellison’s version had prevailed.
Star Trek TOS originally came to me as a pre-teen, science-loving, somewhat-awkward geek. Even back then, I could be critical. I cringed at some episodes, like Spocks’ Brain, but it’s all part of me today. So I haven’t read Ellison’s published version of his original script, but you can if you want. I understand the book includes a lot of Ellison’s rants over being badly treated and his negative opinions about nearly everyone involved.
In 1995, four years after Roddenberry’s death, Ellison published “The City on the Edge of Forever” again, this time as a standalone book titled The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay.
3.4 stars on Amazon – not overly impressive, but how could it be ranked higher when “this book insults Gene Roddenberry and the entire Star Trek franchise with no mercy. It also sometimes insults the fans.” While some reviewers were annoyed at half the book being an airing of grievances, at least one person thought Ellison’s famous temper was worth the price of the book.