Well folks, here it is, the all-time greatest episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. This isn’t just my opinion, it’s also Roddenberry’s favorite, tied with “The Menagerie” (which was a re-working of the original pilot episode “The Cage”).
From the series’ inception, Star Trek actually had the support of elites in the sci-fi community. When “The Cage” was shown by NBC and Roddenberry to these people, Isaac Asimov himself was in attendance and personally congratulated Roddenberry. But he wasn’t the only elite that supported Roddenberry. He also had Harlan Ellison, who had a special story he wanted to write for the show.
Harlan Ellison was a sci-fi writer who wrote novellas, screenplays, and even scripts, and not just for Star Trek. In fact, when Twilight Zone was revived by CBS in the 80’s, Harlan Ellison was brought on as the show’s executive producer, and wrote many of the scripts. (By that time, Rod Serling had died.) He actually was not pleased with this episode, as he and Roddenberry had disagreements over how the script was supposed to be written. These disagreements soured his relationship with Roddenberry, which is why this is the only story he ever wrote for the series.
The story begins with McCoy treating a comatose patient, and injects him with cordazine. The drug has the potential to cause insanity, but the patient does not appear to be affected. However, when the Enterprise is rocked by a galactic distortion, he accidentally injects himself with too much of the drug, causing him to become paranoid. Driven by his paranoia, he beams down to the planet’s surface, with Kirk and Spock chasing after him. When they arrive, they discover a “time tunnel” (no relation to the short-lived TV series), which is causing the distortions. McCoy runs through the tunnel, and moments later, Kirk discovers that the Enterprise no longer exists. In fact, neither does Starfleet itself!
Kirk and Spock run in after him and find themselves in pre-WWII America. There, they meet Edith Keeler, who not only runs a mission, but also leads a pacifist movement that opposed involvement in Europe. She was supposed to die of a car crash, but McCoy stopped that from happening. Kirk and Spock must allow her to die and prevent McCoy from making any attempts. This in spite of the fact that Kirk has fallen in love with Keeler.
So, why do so many people like the episode? I believe it’s because of the ending. Most Star Trek episodes end with a quick resolution that seems happy, but here, Kirk must make a choice he does not wish to make in order to preserve history. This is the only episode where Kirk suffers a loss.
For those of you who are fans of The Next Generation, I am in the process of re-watching it. When I finish, I will do another countdown for it as well, possibly a longer one since the show lasted longer than the original. I might also do countdowns for the two spin-offs.