Star Trek TOS: Testing Fate While Seeking a Sickly McCoy in the Portal

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Star Trek: The Original Series

Season 1, Episode 29

The City on the Edge of Forever

A theme developing — this was the third consecutive episode to begin with massive turbulence to Enterprise. The crew was passing through ripples in time, and an unknown something was causing it. 

A medical accident beset McCoy as he accidentally stabbed an overdose of cordrazine into his abdomen. And that turned him into a total maniac. So, here we go — McCoy, the villain. He overpowered the personnel in charge of the transporter, beaming down to a planet. Kirk and a search party go after McCoy. 

The group encountered an oddly shaped object/structure that claimed to be the guardian of, well, everything. This is supposed to be God or something very God-like, although the word God is not explicitly used. The talking structure offered a portal back into time, and Kirk speculated on ways to use this technology to their advantage. 

But Kirk and Spock’s spitballing was too late. McCoy hurled himself into the portal, somehow ensuring his antics would change time, as they knew it, and cancel out all of human history. Bizarre. There was only one thing left to do — Kirk and Spock hopped through the portal, too.

They landed in the Great Depression era, which Spock called “barbaric.” The two had to find a way to blend in with early 1930s society, a tall task for Spock and his ears. When searching for new attire to assimilate, Kirk proclaimed he would “steal from the rich and give back to the poor later,” a Robin Hood theme that fits in aptly with Star Trek’s progressivism. 

Discovered by police, Kirk leaned heavily on anti-Chinese stereotypes to trick a policeman. He explained Spock was from China and that his ears were funky because of an accident, only rectifiable by American plastic surgery. Even Star Trek in the late-1960s couldn’t escape American exceptionalism. 

After foiling the would-be arrest, Kirk and Spock dressed up in dad outfits, complete with tucked-in shirts. Then, they happened upon a lovely woman who ran a mission. 

Side note: This episode felt like a movie with its plot, cinematography, and sound.

Kirk was smitten with the mission manager as she mused about the ills of poverty and the potential for society’s bright future. Of course, she constantly possessed the patented Star Trek “female shimmering glow” used for attractive women throughout the first season.

Channeling Tomorrow Is Yesterday, Kirk contemplated the prospect of changing the future with knowledge aforethought as an unfair advantage to manipulate. That dilemma and poverty were the core themes of the episode.

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McCoy arrived in Depression-era American in Terminator life fashion, looking terribly sick. Meanwhile, Kirk informed Spock that he was in love with Edith, the mission woman. Spock replied she must die to keep history on its fateful path. 

Kirk and Edith went on a date when Kirk learned McCoy was in town. On that date, Edith was killed in a traffic accident, one of the most dramatic and emotional moments to date in the series. 

To restore human history, Kirk had to knowingly allow the sacrifice one human life — of a woman he loved — brushing up dangerously close to his Batman-esque no-killing rule. Not an easy decision.

But, hey, it saved the entirety of humankind. 

Themes: Perils of Time Travel, Poverty

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. His odyssey with Star Trek starts from beginning to finish, watching ‘The Original Series,’ all the way to the present day. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).