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I remember reading in, I believe, The Making of Star Trek, how Harlan Ellison was quite upset with Gene Roddenberry over the rewriting Roddenberry did on Ellison's script The City on the Edge of Forever. He was so upset that, while waiting in the outer office, he supposedly picked up some cord or twine that was nearby, fashioned a hangman's noose, threw it over a pipe running through the room just under the ceiling and, when Roddenberry walked out of his office, Ellison pointed at the noose and said, "Tell me it's not true someone re-wrote my words."

I remember reading comments by Roddenberry that included him saying, "He had Scotty selling drugs," and that the original script had Kirk and Spock arrive in the middle of worker riots and that many other parts made the script too expensive.

I also remember an interview (I think it was in the photo-novel) where Ellison made some comment like, "If they loved the version that aired, they would have been crazy over the original."

How did Ellison's original script differ from the final version that we saw on screen?

  • I don't remember the details, but I know I read it once, when I was a teenager. It's in fantasticfiction.co.uk/e/roger-elwood/…, which includes one or two other great scripts as well. – James McLeod Feb 17 '12 at 3:11
  • I just found this book by Ellison, so I'm going to wait until I can read that. If it adds new material, I'll add an answer myself. If not, I'll go with the answer that best fits what I learn. – Tango Feb 18 '12 at 2:14
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As summarized in the Wikipedia entry, the script went through many rewrites; apart from the info already available in Memory Alpha, here is Harlan Ellison on the subject, as quoted in the oral histories included in the 2016 book by Mark A. Altman & Edward Gross, The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek - The First 25 Years:

The idea of "City" came from the image of the City on the Edge of Forever, and it was an image of two cities, which is what it says in the script. The City on the Edge of Forever is the city on this planet. It was not a big donut in my script; it was a city. That was a city that was on the edge of time, and it was where all of the winds of time met. That was my original idea. All the winds of time coalesce, and when you go through to the other side, here is this other city which is also on the edge of forever, which is New York during the Depression. They're the mirror image of each other. In that time, all I was concerned about was telling a love story. I made the point that there are some loves that are so great that you would sacrifice your ship, your crew, your friends, your mother, all of time, and everything in defense of this great love.

That's what the story was all about. All of the additional stuff that Gene Roddenberry kept trying to get me to put in, kept taking away from that. The script does not end the way the episode does. Kirk goes for her to save her. At the final moment, by his actions, he says, "Fuck it. I don't care what happens to the ship, the future, and everything else. I can't let her die. I love her," and he starts for her. Spock, who is cold and logical, grabs him and holds him back and she's hit by the truck.

The TV ending, where he closes his eyes and lets her get hit by the truck, is absolutely bullshit. It destroyed the core of what I tried to do. It destroyed the art; it destroyed the drama; it destroyed the extra human tragedy of it.

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    What's interesting is how full of himself Ellison is. Saying "Screw it, I'm going to save her" is so patently selfish and self-absorbed in disregarding everyone else, including his crew, that it's completely at odds with every other portrayal of Kirk. – Keith Morrison Jan 10 at 15:56
  • @KeithMorrison Indeed. But these were still the early days, even the show bible had probably not been finalized yet, and the whole thing was very much an innovation/experiment. The invited scifi authors (like Ellison) were frequently complaining that the serial nature of the show (hence the need for stable characters) was depriving them from creative freedom. – desertnaut Jan 10 at 16:13
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    "City on the Edge of Forever" was episode 28. Before that, "This Side of Paradise" had Kirk so devoted to duty that he was able to break free of mind alteration that Spock couldn't, in "Dagger of the Mind" he was able to overcome the mind-control that had made him fall in love with a crewmember in order to carry out the mission, and in "The Naked Time" he fights to retain control of himself because of his duty to his ship. Kirk's character had been fairly well established at this point. That Ellison didn't get it was on him. – Keith Morrison Jan 10 at 18:55
  • @KeithMorrison right, but don't forget that the episode had been commissioned way before it was aired, and most probably well before the episodes you mention – desertnaut Jan 10 at 20:38
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I don't have my copy of David Gerrold's book about making The Trouble With Tribbles, but I think it's covered in there, as well.

Wikipedia has a good explanation that matches what I recall reading about Ellison's version.

One thing I recall from Gerrold's book that makes sense to me is that the differences in characterization and in the overall "feel" of the Federation and Starfleet were too extreme. It wouldn't have fit with the rest of the series.

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In Ellison's original script it wasn't McCoy who went back and changed history; it was a crew member who was a murderer and drug dealer. After history was changed, there was a scene in which they beamed back up to the ship and found themselves in an alternate timeline(I've heard that this was Roddenbery's idea). In Ellison's version the captain froze at the crucial moment and it was Spock who prevented Keeler from being saved. It was the villain of the episode who tried to save her, which seemed out of character for him. There was a maimed World War I veteran who died saving Kirk's life and there was a reference to American racism and nativism.

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    You need to have sources for this. Could you please edit them in? – Stormblessed Jan 9 at 18:40
  • Citations are definitely needed. – T.J.L. Jan 9 at 18:41
  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. While much of this agrees with the Wikipedia entry for the episode, it would be useful if you could cite sources for the rest, like the "reference to American racism and nativism." – DavidW Jan 9 at 18:41

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