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This question may look confusing, but it's really pretty simple.

In the Star Trek episode "City on the Edge of Forever," there are three timelines. In one, Edith Keeler is hit by a car while crossing the street. In the second, Dr. McCoy saves her from being hit by the same car. In the third, Captain Kirk stops McCoy from saving her and she is hit by the car.

However, it is made clear in the third timeline that when she crossed the street, she was walking toward Kirk, with whom she had been going to the movies and who had crossed the street to talk to McCoy. So, in the first two timelines, she would not have been crossing the street at that time and must have been hit by a different car. Right? Does this change the future just as much? Or is it just a big plothole? Any explanations are welcome.

  • I had the same kind of question when I watched the entire movie of Interstellar and realised how the books were falling off Murph's shelf. – Mr Pie Feb 26 '18 at 21:45
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First of all, don't think too hard about time travel in Star Trek; it's not any less convoluted or better explained that in any other fictional work.

Obviously, the presence of Kirk, Spock and McCoy in the past would have changed the timeline, regardless of the outcome of that episode. People would remember them having been there, their actions would rippled out from there, etc. So, it's not surprising that some details about Keeler's death were different.

However, the major event of her dying was the thing that needed to happen either way. We don't get any details about the car accident to know what she was doing crossing the street. Presumably, without Kirk in the picture, there would have been other people she was friendly with, possibly even someone else she was going to the movies with. There's any number of reasons she might have been crossing the street at that time.


Another possible explanation is that there was only ever one timeline: the one in which Kirk went back in time and ultimately caused Keeler's death. Everything else that happened in the episode was merely the events of that original timeline playing out, including the temporary "glitch" where McCoy changed things.

This doesn't make much sense if you think of time linearly, but note that this episode was largely written by Harlan Ellison, who has written a number of high quality time-travel stories (and was a big fan of Doctor Who). It's possible, even likely, that Ellison put this paradox into the episode on purpose, to demonstrate the complexities of time travel and force the viewer to draw their own conclusions as to what really happened.

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    People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to affect, but actually, from a non-linear, non subjective point of view it is more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey...stuff – pleurocoelus Jan 25 '16 at 17:39
  • Just a note that while Ellison is credited with the episode - there was a large amount of rewriting that occurred – NKCampbell Jan 25 '16 at 17:51
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There's circumstantial evidence to show that in Timeline 1, she gets hit by the black car that passes in front of the 21st Street Mission (onscreen from right to left) just as she is walking out of the mission. In Timeline 2, McCoy saves her from that car. In Timeline 3, we see Kirk save her from that same car, only for her to get hit by a separate oncoming truck while crossing back to the mission to see what all the fuss is about with the Kirk/Spock/McCoy reunion. Edith Keeler does not look both ways. I'm surprised she wasn't killed eventually in Timeline 2 anyway.

Explanation: Earlier, while in the mission talking with McCoy, she states, "My young man is taking me to a Clark Gable movie." Notably, later while crossing the street, she tells Kirk, "Maybe if we hurry we can catch the Clark Gable movie..." to which Kirk responds with surprise/confusion. He either didn't know this was the destination, didn't know who Clark Gable was, or both. Either way, going to the movie was a surprise to him. It was not a surprise to Edith.

Based on this, it appears that in Timeline 1, Edith had intended on seeing the movie that night regardless. The only difference now being she was with Kirk. In Timeline 3, prior to the event, she postponed an in-progress conversation with McCoy to meet up with Kirk. In Timeline 2, that conversation may have continued as McCoy walked her to the front door or across the street to the movie theater, placing him in position to save her from the first car in Timeline 2.

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