Monday, February 18, 2019

Star Trek -- Season 1 Episode 28 (The City on the Edge of Forever)

Star Trek was known for generally not revisiting things.  Useful technology would pop up only to never be used again.  An episode might deal with a very personal issue which, while not resolved by the end of the hour, isn’t dealt with again.  When this happens, it usually raises the question of why.  This was especially true of Voyager, which was looking for a way home.  When something useful came and went, we were left to wonder why it was never explored.

There were a few rare cases where it was obvious why the show wouldn’t want to revisit something.  Take City on the Edge of Forever.  The Enterprise discovers something that can allow people to travel to any point in any planet’s history.  One could understand why the subsequent live-action series would never visit the planet.  (Interestingly, this one time when something was revisited, in this case for The Animated Series.)

Imagine a large, misshapen torus that glows and can speak.  The Enterprise finds itself caught in its wake.  While the ship is shaking violently, Dr. McCoy accidentally injects himself with a drug that makes him crazy.  Before he can be caught, McCoy beams down to the planet where The Guardian of Forever happens to be.  Not only that, McCoy manages to put himself fairly close.

What is The Guardian?   It’s not machine nor living being, but it is sentient.  It’s its own beginning and its own end.  Kirk and Spock are told that they could go to any planet at any era in that planet’s history.  It doesn’t  allow for an exact moment, which makes things difficult when McCoy jumps through.  Not only does he change history, but there’s no way to send someone back to the exact time of place that McCoy landed.

Spock had been recording The Guardian‘s display, which makes things easier.  Still, when Kirk and Spock go through, they could find themselves a year before or after McCoy.  The best they can hope for is to get as close as they can, preferably a little early.  They have only The Guardian’s assurance that they’ll all be returned when history is set right.

Kirk and Spock come out in New York City in 1930.  They eventually find their way to the 21st Street Mission, where they meet Edith Keeler. This is fortunate for several reasons.  She not only sets them up with work and a place to stay, but she happens to be the focal point of whatever McCoy did.  Thus, it’s no surprise when McCoy happens upon the same 21st Street Mission, where he meets the same Edith Keeler.  All becomes clear and Kirk is able to put history back the way it was.

This was one of a handful of Original Series episodes that I remember liking throughout the years.  I’m also not alone in this assessment.  It tends to make a lot of lists of favorite episodes.  It’s funny because I’ve always had a few issues with the episode.

The big one that stood out for me was that someone in the past dies and there seems ot be no consequences.  The character’s name is Rodent, which I’m assuming is a nickname.  He had the unfortunate luck to pick up McCoy’s phaser and shoot himself.  Not only was it questionable that McCoy even hade a phaser, no one mentions it later on.

Not only that, but when McCoy, Spock and Kirk return to their present, the Guardian tells them that history has returned to its original shape.  Is this to say that Rodent was supposed to shoot himself?  The only theory I can come up with was that the Enterprise was supposed to stumble upon the Guardian’s planet and that McCoy was supposed to go into Earth’s past.

Sure, it’s possible that Rodent had no effect on history.  He was a homeless man that most people might have ignored.  It’s even possible that he was supposed to die around that time, anyway.  But why even include the scene?  This episode was said to have had a lot of rewrites.  It’s possible that this was a holdover from an earlier draft.  It’s also possible that it’s a way of saying that you can’t go back into the past without consequence.  However, McCoy is the only possible witness and he was under the influence of drugs.  And, as I said, The Guardian implies that there were no real consequences.

Speaking of The Guardian, what is it he’s supposed to be guarding?  Yes, he’s in the middle of a civilization’s ruins.  I would imagine that there was some sort of building and/or support staff that would have aided in guarding literally all of history.  But the structure is called The Guardian, meaning that there should be some sort of measure to prevent basically anyone from changing history.  The Guardian not only realizes that the landing party is mostly human, but identifies itself and offers up human history without being asked.  Starfleet and The Federation are temporarily wiped from existence as a result.

One could argue that whoever or whatever built The Guardian knew enough to trust that the universe wouldn’t be wiped from existence due to a civilization’s carelessness.  Granted, it did almost happen, but any race smart enough to make it to a distant planet should be smart enough to realize what’s at stake.  This is the one time I can forgive The Next Generation-era shows for not revisiting something from The Original Series.  (I would have like a nod, though.  Maybe have someone mention that The Guardian is too dangerous to use.)

One thing that gets me with the alternate timelines is whether or not the adventure still exists.  I’m assuming that the original timeline still exists after the movie reboot split off.  Still, Voyager and The Next Generation each have their own adventure that might not have happened.  It’s enough to give me a headache.  Maybe I should just stop here.

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