Thursday, April 06, 2017

A Trip to the Edge of Forever

Business Insider proclaimed Star Trek "arguably the greatest science–fiction television series of all time" in an article last September that ranked the top 13 episodes of the original series.

"The City on the Edge of Forever," which premiered on this night in 1967, ranked No. 2 on that list.

Now, I am not a Star Trek fan — although I have several friends who are, and most of them would probably tell you that "The City on the Edge of Forever" was the best episode Star Trek ever aired.

It is one of the few Star Trek episodes I have seen from start to finish. Whether you rank it first or second, it was a remarkable episode — and certainly not the kind of thing one expects from a sci–fi series — although, perhaps, given the time travel angle of the episode, it is the kind of thing one would expect.

Either way, Star Trek did a beautiful job with that theme — and its co–theme of alternate reality.

Viewers probably didn't know what they were in for when the episode began. It started routinely enough, I suppose. Chief Medical Officer McCoy (DeForest Kelley) was treating a crew member (George Takei) who had been injured as the Enterprise passed through time distortions surrounding an unexplored planet when he accidentally injected himself with an overdose of a drug he had been using to revive the crew member. An overdose in a human could be lethal; in this case it caused delusions. McCoy fled to the ship's transporter room and beamed himself to the planet. Capt. Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and others followed him to the planet, where they found a glowing stone that was responsible for the time distortions.

A voice from the stone told the crew that it was the Guardian of Forever, a portal to any place and time. About that time McCoy dove into the portal — and the search party was suddenly cut off from the Enterprise. The Guardian informed the crew that McCoy's action had altered the past. The Enterprise and the Federation did not exist.

Kirk and Spock tried to follow McCoy into the past and attempt to repair the damage to the timeline, the extent of which they did not know. They found themselves in Depression–era New York City and encountered a woman (Joan Collins) who ran a mission there. Having arrived there shortly before McCoy, they worked for Collins while they waited for him — and Kirk began to fall in love with her.

Meanwhile, McCoy arrived and was taken in by Collins. Spock, who had been doing the best he could to build the computer aid to access the information in his tricorder, which he had been using to record the Guardian's data when McCoy made his escape, had discovered that Collins was supposed to have died in a traffic accident, but McCoy had prevented the accident, causing the rip in the fabric of time. Permitted to live, Collins began a pacifist movement that postponed the United States' entry into World War II. As a result, the Nazis were the first to acquire nuclear weapons and went on to win the war.

I guess you would call that unanticipated consequences.

To repair the timeline, it was necessary for Collins to die in an accident. How that comes to pass is something everyone should see for themselves.

I will, however, offer one observation.

When Keeler died — in an automobile accident, as had, ironically, been preordained — a now back to normal McCoy attempted to save her but was stopped by Kirk. He turned on Kirk and in exasperation said, "You deliberately stopped me! I could have saved her. Do you know what you just did?"

The grief–stricken Kirk could find no comfort in the knowledge that history had been restored.

"He knows, doctor," Spock said. "He knows."

It was a brilliantly written episode.