07 September 2016

Mechanical Rice Picker for Sale, One Careless Owner (Review: 'Star Trek' 1.28, "The City at the Edge of Forever")

He's just watched "The Alternative Factor".

The penultimate episode of Season 1 of Star Trek is a lot better than the dog's breakfast of "The Alternative Factor". In fact, it won the show's second Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (the other nominees were all TOS episodes as well!) at a time when there was not a separate category for TV episodes and also a WGA award. Many consider it the best episode of the entire run... in fact of the entire franchise.

It probably has one of the most famous guest stars of the show's history as well.


A series of freak temporal disturbances leads to an Exploding Bridge Console (TM) going off in Sulu's face and McCoy giving himself an accidental overdose, going crazy. He beams down to the planet that is the source of the disturbances and after going through a talking time portal, ends up changing history... so the Enterprise no longer exists. Kirk and Spock have to go after him and reverse the damage...


We get a classic opening, involving the good old "Starship Acting" - with one extra rather out of time to everyone else - and Kelley getting a chance to chew on the scenery that hasn't already been munched by Shatner.

This is the second episode of Star Trek involving time travel and we get the tremendously fun sight of our two leads (DeForest Kelley not being in the title sequence at the time) having to go undercover in 1930 New York to await the arrival of McCoy so they can prevent him from changing history. This allows for a truly hilarious scene in which after stealing some clothes, Kirk and Spock are confronted by a policeman. Kirk passes Spock off as a Chinese man whose ears are the result of a childhood accident with a 'mechanical rice picker'. There are plenty of other great scenes, including one sad scene demonstrating why you shouldn't play with a phaser if you don't know what you're doing and Spock knocking Angus MacGyver into a cocked hat. Nimoy does great sarcasm as well.

Kirk (who brings out his Concerned Face a number of times) discovers the source of the problem, a social worker called Edith Keeler... and you guessed it, he falls in love with her. Keeler is played by Joan Collins (now 83 and Dame Joan Collins) who employs a sort of very clear American diction you don't really see with actresses from the US today.

This episode is another case of using your friendly neighbourhood back-lot - in this case, the final appearance of the 40 Acres set - signs from The Andy Griffith Show are apparently visible. It also had more money spent on it than any other episode of Season 1 and it shows.

The ending is reminiscent of the Doctor Who episode "Father's Day", but I have to admit I wasn't particularly moved by it, probably because it's been often imitated since. Another case of Trek writing the clichés and looking clichéd as a result.


A very strong episode of the show indeed with some vintage comedy, but I wasn't sold on all of it. I would personally consider other episodes better, but I can see the acclaim.


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