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City on the Edge of Forever:The Original Teleplay book review


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Report this Oct. 20 2013, 1:07 pm

(To start the debate, I have reposted my review from Good Reads. Note that I read the e-book version, so your page numbers may vary)


This is a good script, but definitely not a good read. While the Harlan Ellison's original script should be an enjoyable read for fans of Star Trek and his work, the motivations behind this book lead to a presentation which is a chore and a headache to read.

In 1966, Harlan Ellison was approached to write a script for "Star Trek". The script he submitted, "The City on the Edge of Forever", was heavily edited and modified before it made it to the air, with major changes to the storyline completed by other authors, including Gene Roddenberry. Although the episode won a Hugo and is considered one of the best in the series, it sparked a thirty-year feud between Ellison and Roddenberry.

If the book presented both scripts and a forward written by an impartial but knowledgeable Star Trek historian (D.C. Fontana, for instance), it could have been an insightful and informative look into the making of one of the most beloved hours of televised science fiction. Instead, what we have is a vanity project dedicated to praising Harlan Ellison and vilifying Gene Roddenberry.

This book is in no way connected to the makers of Star Trek, as Ellison retained the legal rights to his original screenplay. This book is his soapbox, and he uses the first 48 pages to harangue the reader about his victimization at the hands of Roddenberry, express his distaste for all things Star Trek (including the fans, who are the only people who would possibly be interested in reading this book)and attack Roddenberry as a hack writer with paranoid delusions. Even though his grievances against Paramount appear legitimate, Ellison comes off as a drooling lunatic, literally comparing Roddenberry to Hitler and accusing him of "shitting in my consume". 

Broken down with all pettiness removed, Ellison's arguments are as follows:
1)Roddenberry claimed that the original script had Scotty dealing drugs; this is untrue.
2) Roddenberry claimed that the original script was impossible to film due to budget concerns. While the episode did go over budget, Ellison did not write the space battles and crowd scenes attributed to him.
3) Roddenberry deliberately undermined Ellison by rewriting his brilliant script and stripping it of all emotional impact. 

The first two claims are pretty much true, but Ellison fails to convince me on the third count. Let's (finally!) get to the script.
(Mild spoilers follow

THE GUARDIANS OF FOREVER: Ellison's original script has multiple Guardians, not ancient artefacts but timeless, all-knowing beings who will provide access to the past to any yokel who wanders by. They also are prone to spouting inane riddles and prophecies when asked for clues about how to repair the time stream. These guys get annoying really quick. After mocking Roddenberry's reliance on god-like beings, Ellison presents us with powerful, immortal titans who dispense boons or punishments. It is the first of Ellison's many hypocrisies in this book.

EDITH KEELER: The entire plot to "City" relies on us believing that Kirk could become so enamoured with a woman that he would sacrifice everyone he knows in the future so that she can live. If we don't buy the relationship, we don't buy the story. In the aired version, the script shows Kirk and Edith grow close over a short period of time, the relationship's growth developed on-screen with well-constructed dialogue and scenes. In Ellison's original script, Edith doesn't even appear until the third act, and the author delegates the establishment of any emotion between them to the actors and director through a cheesy montage! It's a pretty lazy move for an author who in the introduction claimed that the writer is the most important component in telling a story on television. 

KIRK and SPOCK: Some of the finest scenes in this script are between Kirk and Spock, including an epilogue that is quite good. Still, Ellison does not have Spock quite right, and this dialogue has none of the humour or light that makes the final episode so charming. In fact, the scenes where Spock argues with Kirk are essentially a clone of the second pilot; Spock argues logically to put someone to death, and even produces a weapon against Kirk's orders, while Kirk clings to sentiment.

While some may prefer Ellison's original resolution to the story, this reader is grateful for most of the changes made to Ellison's script.

Sadly, we are not yet done with this book. Although Ellison claims that his work speaks for itself, he then unleashed a parade of Ellison apologists on us to convince us that his version is better. Peter David, David Gerrold, and Melinda M. Snoddgrass all line up to bite the hand that fed them and tell unrelated stories of how awful it was to work on "Star Trek" projects. Actors DeForest Kelley, George Takei, Leonard Nimoy and Walter Koenig all stay neutral on the feud and say polite things about how they liked the script. Only D.C. Fontana provides an intelligent commentary on her role in the transformation of the screenplay.

The script itself deserves a higher rating than I have given it here, but reading this book was such a distasteful experience that I cannot recommend it to even the most die-hard Star Trek or Ellison fan.

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