TOS: S1 – E28: The City on the Edge of Forever

The City on the Edge of Forever
The City on the Edge of Forever

Some people say that The City on the Edge of Forever is the most significant episode from The Original Series. I disagree. To me, it’s a decent one, but I am not from the original “Trek” fan generation. I saw “Back to the Future” before I saw this, so the twists of time were not so profound.

That being said, the introduction of the Guardian of Forever was huge. The machine served as a fantastic way to tell new stories, both on TOS and on The Animated Series.


We join the crew right as the red alert was signaled, and the ship was rocked by “turbulence.” Eventually, a spark blew up on Sulu’s console. Spock reported that the ship was passing through ripples in time. 

Kirk ordered Uhura to send Starfleet a message that someone on a nearby planet was causing turbulent waves of “space displacement.” Dr. McCoy resuscitated Sulu, and Scotty announced that the ship was now avoiding the ripples. All but one ripple crashed into the ship, causing McCoy to hit the floor of the bridge. 

Dr. McCoy is shown here, full of cordrazene. The stuff makes you crazy and sweaty. Courtesy of CBS / Paramount
Dr. McCoy is shown here, full of cordrazene. The stuff makes you crazy and sweaty. Courtesy of CBS / Paramount

When he rose, his face was drenched with sweat, and he was yelling. The cordrazene, which he used to save Sulu, pumped through his veins after he had fallen on the hypospray. 

“You won’t get me, murderers! Killers!” he screamed as he ran onto the turbolift. 

He reappeared in the transporter room, disabled the transporter chief, ad beamed himself to the planet’s surface. 

NOTE: Since we saw that Lazarus could run the transporter by himself in The Alternative Factor, why not McCoy?

Spock looked upon the memory tapes that people who had been injected with high doses of cordrazene displayed unusual behavior, including failure to recognize acquaintances. 

They realized that McCoy was gone, and had beamed himself to the spot where the time disturbance was coming from. Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Scotty, and two redshirts beamed to the surface to find the doctor. 

When they arrived, they found Greek-like ruins. At its center was a giant stone donut, standing on its side. Spock said the site was 10,000 centuries old. 

Spock determined that the donut was the cause of the time displacement. It was also pulsating with power, which Spock said should be impossible. Spock noted that it could not be a machine, as they understood mechanics. Kirk asked aloud what it was.

The crew encounters The Guardian of Forever. Courtesy of CBS / Paramount
The crew encounters The Guardian of Forever. Courtesy of CBS / Paramount

“A question,” the object responded. “Since before your sun burned hot in space, and before your race was born, I have awaited a question.” As it spoke, the stone glowed.

“What are you?” asked the captain.

 “I am the Guardian of Forever,” it said. 

“Are you machine or being?” Kirk asked.

“I am both and neither,” said the Guardian. “I am my own beginning, my own ending.”

As Kirk and Spock talked with the Guardian, McCoy skulked around the site, avoiding Uhura and Scotty.

Spock realized that the Guardian was a “time portal.” The Guardian confirmed this and began showing them scenes from Earth’s history. First Ancient Egyptians, then Rome. But as they watched, McCoy bounded into view screaming. The security men trapped him, and Spock used a neck-pinch.

Kirk asked if they could go back in time to avoid the hypospray accident that could be avoided. Spock said he didn’t know if they could step through at the time they needed. Kirk asked the Guardian if it could slow down so they could do control where they stepped into time. The Guardian said that it could not. 

Spock cursed himself when he realized that he could be using the tricorder to record the scenes of history. Just then, McCoy woke and ran into the Guardian’s center, passing out of their time. 

Uhura then said that she could not raise the Enterprise. Spock and Scotty could not either. The Guardian noted that everything they knew was “gone.” 

“McCoy has somehow changed history,” said Kirk. Spock said that he had been recording before McCoy jumped, making it to the same era in which McCoy jumped. The Guardian said if they are successful, they would be returned to the present, and it would be as if nothing happened. 

Before they left, Kirk told Uhura, Scotty, and the two security crewmen that if they felt that Kirk ad Spock failed, then they would have to try to jump as well. At least they’d be on Earth’s past where they could survive. 

Kirk and Spock jumped through the Guardian and appeared in New York City in the Great Depression (1930). They wandered for a while in the city and found clothes hanging on a fire escape to wear. As Kirk walked back with a bundle of clothes, a police officer blocked their exit. 

The captain explained that Spock was Chinese and got his ears caught in a rice picker as a child. An American missionary took Spock in, and he actually a plastic surgeon … the cop finally told them to put their hands against the wall. As he began to pat them down for weapons, and Spock used a neck pinch. 

They escaped and ran into an alley and found an open door into a building. They changed into 1930s clothes, and Spock said that they had about one week before McCoy arrived. Spock said that if he had the computers aboard the Enterprise, he could better determine where McCoy would reappear. Kirk asked if he could fashion something in that era. Spock said it was impossible, and Kirk responded, saying that it sounded like an “extreme problem in logic.”

Sister Edith Keeler, played by Joan Collins. Courtesy of CBS / Paramount
Sister Edith Keeler, played by Joan Collins. Courtesy of CBS / Paramount

As they bickered, a woman entered, asking who was in the room. Kirk responded and said they were inside due to the cold. 

“A lie is a very poor way to say hello,” she said. “It isn’t that cold.”

Kirk then fessed up, saying that they ducked into the place because they were being chased by the police. 

The woman, Sister Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), said that she could use some help. Spock asked for pay, as his hobby required money. That hobby had to do with radio tubes and other technology. She agreed to hire them for 15¢ an hour and asked them to clean up the room they were in. She told them they were in the 21st Street Mission.

Later, as they sat down to eat in the shelter, Keeler stood up and gave the homeless some inspirational words, detailing how there were reasons to live. She also speculated that soon men could harness the atom and achieve spaceflight. Kirk was intrigued.

After dinner, Keeler asked Kirk if they had a place to sleep. Since they did not, she offered a room where she was staying. 

In that room, Spock put together a communications device, but he required a block of platinum. Kirk provided him with some trinkets, but Spock complained. Keeler popped into the room and saw what Spock was building. He explained that he was making a mnemonic memory circuit. She offered them work for 22¢ an hour, and they left.

That evening, Spock opened a locked box in the Mission to access some jewelry tools that he had used on the device. Keeler found them out and confronted them, but Spock said that he’d return them in the morning. She agreed to let Spock use the tools, as long as Kirk agreed to walk her home. She had more questions about them, saying that they both were out of place.

Spock asked where they ought to be. She told him that he looked like he should be at Kirk’s side, but that she could not place where Kirk should be. 

As they walked home, Kirk held Keeler’s hand. She guessed that Kirk and Spock served in World War I, which is why Spock called him captain. He told her that one day, a writer would come from a different planet and write something amazing about love. They gazed up to the sky together. 

Meanwhile, Spock got his device to work and brought up images of newspapers from the near future. He saw the headline reporting how Keeler had been killed. 

When Kirk returned, Spock showed him the screen, which displayed a different story in 1936, Keeler will meet FDR. Spock told Kirk of the other future, in which Keelerdies in a car wreck. 

They agreed that Keeler’s death was pivotal to the future. McCoy was the random element, which affected everything. Kirk ordered Spock to repair the device so they could see how McCoy changed the future. 

But Spock asked, what should they do if they learn that Keeler must die?  

Spock tells Kirk that Keeler was meant to die. Courtesy of CBS / Paramount
Spock tells Kirk that Keeler was meant to die. Courtesy of CBS / Paramount

Later, McCoy appeared in the street, still acting hysterical. He asked a homeless man which planet he was on. The man ran off, and McCoy screamed at him, saying that the doctor would not hurt him, but “they” would. 

In Keeler’s apartment, she and Kirk talked about the future, including the moon landing and other fanciful ideas. They agreed that they spoke the same language.

Outside, McCoy caught up to the homeless guy, and would not let him go. The man assumed McCoy was drunk, while the doctor concluded that he was being tricked by some enemy. McCoy examined the man as if he was not real, but some sort of contraption. 

McCoy collapsed, and when he did, the man took the phaser and shot himself with it. He dematerialized. 

Kirk returned to the room while Spock worked on the device. Spock said that it would be some time before he could get it to work again. Kirk said that he must know where McCoy was, and he must know if Keeler lived or died.

When the sun rose, McCoy wandered through the streets and found his way to the Mission. Keeler helped him to a cot.

In their room, with his device, Spock learned what McCoy did to change history. Somehow, events in the city led to a peace movement, which delayed the U.S. entry into WWII. Thanks to that, Germany developed the atomic bomb first, allowing them to win the war. Keeler was the founder of the peace movement. 

All this happened because McCoy kept Keeler from dying in a traffic accident. 

Kirk admitted that he was in love with Keeler.

“Jim, Edith Keeler must die,” said Spock.

As she cared for McCoy, Keeler told him what year they were in. She said that she had a “friend” who spoke as he did. 

In the apartment, Kirk saved Keeler from falling downstairs, as Spock watched. She kissed Kirk afterward. Spock said that she might have died if Kirk did not catch her. Kirk said it was not her time to die. Spock warned that if the captain did as his heart commanded, then millions would die who did not before.

Keeler returned to see McCoy, who looked better. McCoy said that “all of this” was a hallucination… all except for Keeler. He thanked her for saving his life. She said that she’d have to go. Her “young man” was taking her to a Clark Gable movie.

Kirk grabbed McCoy instead of saving Keeler. Courtesy of CBS / Paramount
Kirk grabbed McCoy instead of saving Keeler. Courtesy of CBS / Paramount

That night, as Keeler and Kirk walked to the movies, she told him about McCoy. He left her on the sidewalk, ran to the Mission, where Spock, McCoy, and Kirk embraced. Kirk turned around and watched Keeler step into the street ahead of oncoming vehicles. McCoy went to stop her, but Kirk stopped the doctor instead. Keeler died. 

McCoy told Kirk that he could have saved Keeler. Spock said that Kirk knew. Kirk walked to the corner of the building and stared.

Back at the Guardian, Spock, Kirk, and McCoy jumped back through the portal. Scotty said that they’d just left a moment ago. Spock said they were successful. 

“All is as it was before,” the Guardian said. Uhura reported that the Enterprise contacted them. Kirk ordered that they “get the hell out” of there. They beamed out.


People hail this as the “penultimate” episode from The Original Series. I think this was a good one, but not that good. This story could have been from any number of different films, shows, or franchises. Compared to some episodes that would air later (like the one from Season 3 — “The Paradise Syndrome”), this stands heads and shoulders above. I much prefer “Space Seed” or “Doomsday Machine” to “The City on the Edge of Forever.”

RATING: 3 out of 5


Directed by: Joseph Pevney
Written by: Harlan Ellison
Produced by: Gene L. Coon
Executive Producer: Gene Roddenberry
Associate Producer: Robert H. Justman
Music composed and conducted by: Alexander Courage
Script Consultant: D.C. Fontana
Director of Photography: Jerry Finnerman
Art Directors: Roland M. Brooks and Walter M. Jeffries


William Shatner as Kirk
Leonard Nimoy as Spock


Joan Collins … as Sister Edith Keeler


DeForest Kelley … as Dr. McCoy


James Doohan … Scott
George Takei … Sulu
Nichelle Nichols … Uhura


John Harmon … Rodent
Hal Baylor … Policeman
David L. Ross … Galloway
John Winston … Transporter Chief
Bartell La Rue … Guardian Voice

Film Editor … James D. Ballas, A.C.E.
Assistant to the Producer … Edward K. Milkis
Assistant Director … Gregg Peters
Set Decorator … Marvin March
Costumes created by … William Theiss

Post Production Executive … Bill Heath
Music Editor … Jim Henrikson
Sound Editor … Douglas H. Grindstaff
Sound Mixer … Carl W. Daniels
Photographic Effects … Film Effects of Hollywood
Script Supervisor … George A. Rutter
Music Consultant … Wilbur Hatch
Music Coordinator … Julian Davidson
Special Effects … Jim Rugg
Property Master … Irving A. Feinberg
Gaffer … George H. Merhoff
Head Grip … George Rader
Production Supervisor … Bernard A. Windin
Makeup Artist … Fred B. Phillips, S.M.A.
Hair Styles by … Virginia Darcy, C.H.S.
Wardrobe Mistress … Margaret Makau
Casting … Joseph D’Agosta
Sound … Glen Glenn Sound Co.

A DesiLu Production in association with the Norway Company

Executive in Charge of Production … Herbert F. Solow