Review: Harlan Ellison’s City on the Edge of Forever

Star Trek: City on the Edge of Forever

Considered by many to be the finest hour the original Star Trek ever produced, the televised version of “City of the Edge of Forever” is very different from the initial storyline submitted by Harlan Ellison. Ellison has been famously unhappy ever since his story was re-written by various Trek staff members including Gene Roddenberry, Gene L. Coon and Dorothy Fontana, even going so far as to publish the original script and various drafts a decade ago, along with a long rant about how terrible Gene Roddenberry was.

As a long time fan of Star Trek, I read the book though I’ll have to admit that I find reading a television script a bit dry. Years later, IDW got Ellison’s blessing to adapt the original script as a comic book and give fans a taste of what the story might have looked like visually had it gone before the cameras as Ellison intended back in 1967.

The result is the five-part mini-series collected in this volume.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t find a lot in Ellison’s original draft that is any better or more nuanced than the final version of “City on the Edge of Forever.” In fact, I’ll even go so far as to say that the televised version is a better episode of Star Trek than what we see either in the script book or in this comic book adaptation.

The fascinating part (to borrow a phrase from our favorite Vulcan) is to see how both stories have the same germ of an idea and how each one executes them in different ways. Ellison’s story has a drug dealer on board the Enterprise who is the catalyst for the changes in time and the decisions Kirk and Spock must make. There’s also a bit more tension between Kirk and Spock (Ellison may have been working initially from “Where No Man Has Gone Before” that features a bit more antagonistic relationship between Kirk and his (then) science officer) and the character of Edith Keillor doesn’t appear until the third act and is less of a focal point in history than she is in the televised version.

Part of what takes away from Ellison’s take is that his characters look and sound like the ones we come to know and love, but they don’t feel like the ones we come to know and love. Ellison is willing to allow Kirk to seriously consider throwing away the entire future of humanity to save Edith and have the captain paralyzed by indecision once the fateful moment occurs — two things that don’t feel like the Captain James T. Kirk I know from the television shows and movie. Ellison may argue this shows a different side of our favorite starship captain, but I will (respectfully) disagree with him and say it’s not the James T. Kirk I know and love. There’s also the question of having Spock be a bit more jaded and, at times, downright hostile toward Kirk and humanity in the story presented here.

The one thing Ellison’s script features that I feel is a strength and one that is not included in the televised version is the character of Trooper, a wounded war vet who Kirk bonds with during the story. I can’t help but wonder how the televised version might have benefited from having this character included, though I can see how he was probably dropped for time constraints.

This adaptation of Ellison’s script has won high praise among Trek fans , for good reason. The art work is solid and it’s easy to recognize the faces of the crew. The highlight of the single issues was the covers from each segment Juan Ortiz.

If you’ve heard about the original version of “City” and are curious about it, this volume is worth checking out to see how similar and different what Ellison wrote and what we saw on screen are. It will allow you to decide which you prefer.

And if you haven’t heard me ramble on enough about this, you can hear my good friend Barry and I debate the whole Ellison controversy on episode 19 of our All Good Things podcast.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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