Know It All Joe

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Harlan Ellison and “The City on the Edge of Forever” Script (and Fotonovel)

IMG_2240_zps87d373a8The penultimate episode from the original “Star Trek’s” first season, ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’ aired on NBC on April 6, 1967.  It is unquestionably the best of the 79 episodes produced.  It was also the only episode of the Original Series to win an award (a Hugo in 1968 for Best Dramatic Presentation).

The story centers around the need for Kirk and Spock to travel back to the past (1930’s Earth) to undo a change in the time line that Dr. McCoy unwittingly caused.  And in the process, Kirk falls in love and unfortunately learns that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few… or the one (Hey, gotta quote my “Star Trek II.”)

Harlan EllisonAward winning writer Harlan Ellison, who wrote this episode, has famously gone on record as saying that he hated the final outcome and even wrote a book (Harlan Ellison’s The City on the Edge of Forever) chronicling his experiences with the show.  The short of it is this… he didn’t like the idea of being rewritten.  And Gene Roddenberry and his staff definitely reworked Ellison’s original draft.  The core idea is there, but a lot of the dialogue and characters have changed and events are played out differently.

There is no denying Harlan Ellison’s talent, and even though his script didn’t really fit neatly into the model for “Star Trek” that Gene Roddenberry had established, it’s an interesting read all the same.  I mean, who knew they had drug dealers onboard the Enterprise? 

theguardian-of-foreverAs a writer, I can respect Ellison’s views on not wanting to be rewritten and just letting the work stand on its own merits.  But unfortunately in TV and Movies, it just doesn’t work that way.  In Television, even if you are the creator and showrunner you still don’t always have final say over the script.   The Network gets what the Network wants.  And as a writer for hire, you are agreeing to work in collaboration with others. And what that unfortunately means is compromise.  In other words, you don’t always get your way. (And believe me, I love getting my way, though it seems I seldom do.  LIFE!)

Let’s face it – in the entertainment industry, if you want total control of your product, well, maybe start a website.  🙂

Edith_Keeler_and_Jim_KirkSo what I’ve put up here today is Harlan Ellison’s Writer’s Draft for “The City on the Edge of Forever.”  And below that is the finished Shooting Script for the episode (although there are some minor differences from the finished broadcast version).  Please feel free to compare both drafts and let me know which version of the story you prefer.  It’s time we settle this ongoing dispute once and for all!

That aside, I would like to introduce one more element into the fold.  I have also included the Fotonovel of this episode. 


“A photonovel (sometimes spelled as fotonovel) is a type of book, adapting a film or television episode and using film stills instead of artwork along with the narrative text and word balloons containing dialogue. The photonovel concept was most popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s, before the widespread advent of home recording devices such as VCRs, though some are still published. Several popular films and television programs were adapted to the format.


For some reason, I have a crazy fascination with these books.  I just think they are really cool.  I plan on doing a separate article on Fotonovels sometime in the near future.  So I won’t delve any further into it right now.  But I certainly hope you enjoy the one that I have posted below. 

So let’s now go visit “The City on the Edge of Forever.”

Click HERE to read Harlan Ellison’s Writer’s Draft
Writer's Draft Cover

Click HERE to read the Final Shooting Script
Shooting Script Cover

Click HERE to view the Fotonovel
City on the Edge Fotonovel Cover

Watch the Preview


  • jack2211

    There’s nothing that was cut from the first draft that should have stayed — except for maybe a female officer actually acting like a competent starfleet officer (although I think the Enterprise simply being gone works far better than it being filled with random pirates).

    The heart of Ellison’s story is still there (the time travel, the tragedy of having to let Keeler die because her progressivism and pacifism could have destroyed the future ) and the drug story doesn’t really say anything about anything. Sure, Ellison says he wanted to show that social problems still exist, but the character is so one-note and drugs shown as so evil and reefer-madness destructive that it’s simply saying “drugs are bad, kids — and murdering, parasitic drug dealers should spend eternity in hell.”

    I think the rewrites made this great television and great Star Trek. The show had already found its footing and Ellison’s versions of the characters didn’t fit how they’d been written all season. That, and most of the dialogue is awful.