Not a member yet? Register for full benefits!

Star Trek: The Original Series, & VR ~ The City on The Edge of Forever

Topics Covered || Plot Synopsis || Topic Technicalities || Part of Set

Topics Covered

  • Virtual Reality


Twenty-Eighth Episode
First Released for general viewing: 1967

Plot Synopsis

The Enterprise encounters a strange planet, uncharted, and as they settle into standard orbit, things begin to go awry. Violent space-time distortions rock the ship, bubbles of broken time rippling through its substance. Kirk commands to alter course, and as the ship begins to do so, another bubble passes through the bridge, straining the centre console. Unable to cope with the disparity between time passage speeds whilst the ship is turning, the console is put under too much stress and the surface explodes violently into sparking shards.

Lieutenant Sulu is injured in the blast, and Doctor McCoy is called to the bridge for emergency medical treatment. McCoy arrives, and swiftly prepares a hypospray of cordrazine.

Kirk sees what his doctor is doing, and warns him that cordrazine is dangerous - a slight overdose could be fatal. McCoy snaps that he knows, but at this point it is the only thing that could save Sulu'e life.

After Sulu is revived, the cruiser collides with a second time bubble; this one passes through a nacelle, causing the ship to pitch wildly as one engine experiences time faster than the other. McCoy and several other bridge crew stumble as the ship's gravity attempts to compensate. McCoy lands on the hypospray, which pumps all its cordrazine into him.

The doctor screeches in agony as the drug overloads his mind, and tears away his thoughts. Lost in paranoia and shrouded in madness, he sees only assassins come to murder him, all around him. Spock grabs the doctor to restrain him, but McCoy breaks free in pure panic, and dives into the turbo lift.

Security is instantly alerted, but the feral doctor evades the teams, and heads for a transporter room. He incapacitates the operator and beams himself down to the class M planet they are in orbit-ish around, to get away from the assassins.

Shortly afterwards, an armed Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Scott, Galloway and nameless security grunt beam down to look for McCoy. They arrive at the co-ordinates McCoy chose, and Spock notes that, according to his tricorder, the time displacement bubbles are being generated near there, drifting up into space soon after they form. He triangulates the source of the bubbles, and the team starts their search there.

They discover a crude ring, like a squashed doughnut made of a rock-like substance, standing like a portal on the icy, lifeless surface. After a debate on its function between Spock and Kirk finalises, the portal speaks up. It introduces itself as the Guardian of Forever. It also states that it is its own beginning and its own ending - an infinite circle that cannot be broken. "From before your sun burned hot in space, I have awaited a question".

Kirk asks it what it knows of Earth, and the hollow in the middle of the guardian fills with smoke. In the smoke, images form. A complete history of civilisation on the planet plays out, piece by piece.

Partway through, McCoy rushes out from the undergrowth, calls them all assassins and goes to strike the group. Spock nerve pinches him and collapses. As they continue to watch the portal, Spock suddenly realises he is not recording this, and countless aeons of history have passed by. Quickly he starts his tricorder and directs it towards the portal.

As the group concentrates on recording, McCoy returns to consciousness, and listens to the group's chatter. He realises this time portal would be the perfect escape, and, leaping to his feet, dives through it. Instantly, the comm link to the Enterprise, through which data was flowing, drops dead. The group is unable to contact the ship at all.

The guardian speaks up that history has been altered, all that they knew is gone. The Enterprise was never created.

"Captain's log, no stardate. For us, time does not exist. McCoy, back somewhere in the past, has affected a change in the course of time. All Earth history has been changed. There is no starship Enterprise. We have only one chance. We have asked the Guardian to show us Earth's history again: Spock and I will go back into time ourselves, and attempt to set right whatever it was that McCoy changed."

Kirk and Spock are forced to enter the portal in an attempt to stop McCoy from changing history. Spock uses his tricorder recordings to try and gauge the exact moment, but they arrive over a week early. They arrive on Earth in the 1930s, and attempt to blend in as best they can.

In trouble with the law for stealing clothes, they run into a soup kitchen called the Twenty-First Street Mission. There they meet Edith Keeler, the woman who runs the shelter.

Upon explaining to her that they didn't have any money, Edith offers them a job cleaning up around the mission. Impressed with their work, she puts them up at her place for somewhere to stay.

Spock uses the primitive technology of the time to construct a viewer for his tricorder, and discover Edith Keeler is the focal point. Two different timelines diverge. One is Edith Keeler's obituary. The other, Edith Keeler's meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt six years later. So, do they need to save Edith, or let her die?

McCoy arrives approximately one week after Kirk and Spock. His face is mottled and green from the effects of the cordrazine. He shouts, "Murderers! Killers!", and startles a vagrant, whom he questions about the location, time, planet, and constellations. His shock at the unfamiliar world in his weakened condition, combined with the after effects of the nerve pinch, are too much and he collapses unconscious. The vagrant searches McCoy and finds his phaser. While trying to assess its value, he activates it, and it discharges into his face, vaporising him.

After regaining consciousness, McCoy finds some of the effects of the cordrazine have worn off and he makes his way to the shelter, where Edith helps him into a room where he can rest. Spock narrowly misses seeing him in the lunchroom.

With more work, Spock concludes that McCoy changed history by saving Edith Keeler's life. Keeler went on to organise a peace movement that delayed the United States' entry into World War II - and Germany was able to complete its heavy water and rocket experiments. With atomic bombs, and rockets to carry them, the Nazis conquered the world.

He explains his findings to Kirk, as Kirk confides he is in love with Edith.

The effects of the drug slowly wear off, and McCoy eventually has the strength to offer to help at the shelter, in gratitude. Edith explains that her "young man" is taking her to a Clark Gable movie. McCoy surprises Edith by not knowing who Clark Gable is.

That evening, Kirk and Edith are strolling along on their date. As they make their way across the street, Edith mentions going to the Clark Gable movie. Kirk asks, "A what?" Edith responds in shock that Dr. McCoy said the same thing. Kirk, finally hearing of McCoy's presence, tells Edith to stay put and heads back to the shelter yelling for Spock. As he approaches the curb, McCoy exits the front door. With expressions of joy and relief, they hug.

Edith, confused by the commotion, begins to cross the street. A large truck is heading in her direction. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy look on to see the event that is about to take place. Kirk restrains McCoy and prevents him from rushing to Edith to save her life.

"Do you know what you just did?" McCoy questions. Kirk, in agony, pushes him away. Spock responds, "He knows, Doctor. He knows."

Having corrected history, the three men return through the portal to their own time. The Guardian offers more opportunities to visit the past, but Kirk declines, saying only "Let's get the hell out of here."

A heartbroken Kirk and the rest of the landing party return to the Enterprise. History has been saved, but at a terrible personal cost. As the party beams away, the howling of the wind once more becomes the only audible sound, as the Guardian awaits the next moment in time that it is asked a question.

Topic Technicalities

The guardian offers the chance to visit any time frame, any settlement, any possible world, exactly as it was, in intricate detail. It itself is not a VR since it changes the actual history of events, but in all other ways the metaphor is the same. It is a window upon worlds, in which countless possibilities unfold, and which may be stepped through; immersed into to see how any civilisation lived in the past.

This is one of the greatest achievements of VR in education and historical research. To recreate an ancient settlement in every detail, or as many as we can, and then open it up, allow visitors from the 'future' in, in avatar form, to interact and to study.

We have such VR environments now: small-scale, limited interaction, limited AI involved. However, it is an area seeing continual research and frequent improvement. We use VR to reconstruct physical artefacts, and understand how ancient cultures lived. We use it to restore ruins to former glory, and to create set pieces for drama.

Ultimately, we will be able to do as the guardian does: Enter a recreation of a given time period, and through interaction with the characters within, change the results of delicate turning points of history, to see what might have happened. Saving Caesar from assassination, removing King Leonidas from the Spartan stand against Persia, killing off Richard the Lionheart at the start of the crusades. From there, letting the simulation run off of most likely routes at the time, and seeing how our world might have been changed.

It would not have the sweeping change that actually changing history would have, but it would change our understanding of the world, maybe just a little more. Used in more contemporary times, it would have greater effect. "What would likely have happened had this policy not been introduced?"

Part of Set

Star Trek: The Original Series

A complete listing of Star Trek: TOS, built up one by one in chronological order, regardless of the strength of their connection to VR & AR. Set included for the sake of completeness.


Star Trek: The Original Series, & VR

A complete listing of Star Trek: TOS which reference virtual reality, alternate lives, AI, or augmented reality. They are built up one by one in chronological order.

Staff Comments


Untitled Document .