In this episode of Trekking Through Compliance, we consider the episode City on the Edge of Forever which aired on April 6, 1967, Star Date 3134.

Story Synopsis

As the Enterprise investigates ripples in time which are resulting in spatial disturbances, Sulu has a heart flutter after his control panel short circuits. Bones gives Sulu cordrazine, a mind-blowing drug at high dosages but a valuable cardiac medicine in small dosages. Sulu immediately recovers, but McCoy accidentally injects himself with the remainder of cordrazine in the hypo when the Enterprise passes through a particularly strong space disturbance. McCoy freaks out and becomes extremely paranoid, knocking out the transporter chief and beaming down to the planet to escape the ship of “murderers.”

The transporter had been locked in on the center of the time ripples, and when Kirk, Spock, and a landing party follow McCoy down, they discover 10,000 century-old ruins surrounding the annulus-shaped structure from which the time distortions are emanating. The structure talks with the landing party, identifying itself as the Guardian of Forever, and is apparently a time portal. Spock finds the crazed McCoy and nerve pinches him, but McCoy recovers and rushes through the portal before anyone can stop him.

Communication with the Enterprise immediately ceases, and the landing party concludes that McCoy’s actions changed the past, affecting the present. To return the present to what it was, Spock and Kirk enter the time portal at a time shortly before McCoy did so that they may find McCoy and prevent him from changing history.

They materialize in America during the 1930s Depression and are forced to steal clothes so as not to draw attention to themselves. When questioned by a policeman, Kirk explains Spock’s ears by claiming that Spock was caught in a mechanical rice picker as a child. After escaping and hiding in what they think to be a deserted building, they meet Edith Keeler (played by Joan Collins), guiding light of the 21st Street Mission. They agree to do odd jobs for her to obtain the funds necessary for Spock to construct a mnemonic memory circuit to read the information in the tricorder and discover what historical events McCoy has changed. They discover that Keeler is the link, either dying in a traffic accident or meeting with the U.S. President.

Unbeknownst to Kirk and Spock, Bones appears and is given shelter at Edith’s mission. After his arrival, he accosts a man on the street and then falls down unconscious. The man then accidentally vaporizes himself using McCoy’s phaser. McCoy recovers from his cordazine trip and tells Edith he is chief medical officer on the U.S.S. Enterprise. Initially he does not believe he is in 1930 America, but soon realizes that indeed he is.

After hours of careful work using primitive vacuum tube circuits, Spock discovers that McCoy, if not stopped, will prevent Keeler’s death. Keeler will then found a peace movement which will delay U.S. entry into World War II and allow Germany time to develop the atom bomb and conquer the world.

On his way to see a Clark Gable movie with Edith, Kirk learns from Edith that Dr. McCoy is in town and then immediately sees Bones across the street. Despite his love for Edith Keeler, Kirk holds Bones back to prevent him from saving Keeler as she crosses the street in front of a truck.

The past is returned to what it had been before, and Kirk, Spock, and McCoy return to the planet of the Guardian where their landing party has been waiting, but for only a few seconds of real time. Communications with the Enterprise are restored, and when the Guardian asks if anyone else desires to make a journey in time, Kirk responds “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

Fun Fact

“Edith Keeler must die!” “Let’s get the hell out of here!” These are two of the most iconic lines of the show. Harlan Ellison, the credited writer of the screenplay wrote an original draft but it was not used. The eventual script was worked on/written/rewritten by Gene Roddenberry, Dorothy Fontana and/or Bob Justman.

Compliance Takeaways:

  1. Small accidents and changes can lead to huge consequences.
  2. You can get a lot more done, if you don’t worry about who gets credit.
  3. How much can you do with the tools you have at hand?


Excruciatingly Detailed Plot Summary by Eric W. Weisstein for City on the Edge of Forever on the Edge of Forever