Nearly 50 years after it was written, the most famous unproduced Star Trek script of all time is finally being adapted.
In June 1966, legendary genre writer Harlan Ellison submitted a teleplay for what would become a landmark Star Trek episode: "The City on the Edge of Forever." Ellison's tale of the Enterprise crew traveling through a time vortex and fighting to prevent a very different future for the entire universe has since become the stuff of legend among Trek fans, and the teleplay went on to win both the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and the Writers Guild of America Award for best hour-long script. One thing the teleplay didn't earn, though, was a spot on television. Because of both the subject matter and the cost of shooting Ellison's teleplay, it was rewritten by other members of the Star Trek production team, including Gene Roddenberry.
Though Ellison wasn't happy with the rewrites (he considered changing his name in the credits to a pseudonym), the filmed version of "The City on the Edge of Forever" became a classic and is today revered as one of the greatest Star Trek episodes ever made. Ellison's original teleplay didn't just vanish, though. It took on a life of its own, and was exposed to a new generation of fans when Ellison released it in book form in 1995. Now, at last, we'll see Ellison's version of the story play out before our very eyes, not on the screen but in the pages of a new miniseries from IDW Comics by writers Scott and David Tipton and artist J.K. Woodward, the same creative team who recently brought us the awesome Star Trek: TNG/Doctor Who crossover series. Covers for the miniseries will be done by artist Juan Ortiz, who you may know for his quest to create brilliant prints for every original series episode.
For more details on this dream Star Trek project, we reached out to Scott Tipton, who noted that the creative team's first priority in adaptating Ellison's original June 1966 draft of the episode was remaining as faithful to that teleplay as possible.
"Our goal here is to present Harlan’s story as he originally envisioned it, and as if viewers could have seen it back in 1966," Tipton said. "So that directive trumps all other considerations in our minds.
"It’s all about the work. And besides, though many fans know that Harlan’s original differed drastically from the filmed episode, I’d wager that not quite as many of them have ever actually had the opportunity to read it. And even for those who have, it’s one thing to read Harlan’s descriptions in the teleplay, and quite another to see how J.K. Woodward brings those descriptions to the canvas with paint and color. I’m confident it will feel fresh and exciting even to those who know Harlan’s teleplay by heart."
The project's also involved not only working closely with Ellison's teleplay, but working with Ellison himself.
"Harlan is overseeing everything we’re doing, and at the same time he’s been remarkably open about us interpreting his work, trusting us to make the right decisions where necessary in transitioning the material from television to the comics page," Tipton said.
For his part, Ellison's both happy to be working on a Star Trek project again and happy that his original vision is finally coming to light as something more than a teleplay.
“It was a superlative joy of my long life to have worked with Leonard Nimoy, who became my friend, and many others at Star Trek; and an equally heart-happy joy to be working with J.K. and the Tipton Bros. and (IDW Editor-In-Chief) Chris Ryall on this long-awaited visual of my (humbly, I say it) brilliant original ‘City…’," Ellison said in a press release from IDW.
So, at long last, the original "The City on the Edge of Forever" story is getting new life. It may be in your comic shop instead of on your television, but the fact that the project is happening at all is a testament to the power of the story, as Tipton noted when asked why the original teleplay has survived so long.
"I think it’s a couple of things: the fact that the final produced episode is so beloved, which makes people want more of it, which they can get by reading Harlan’s original draft," he said. "And also, not to put too fine a point on it, it’s the words on the page. Harlan’s voice is like no other in fiction, and we’re working hard to retain all of that flavor in the comics adaptation."
The first issue of Harlan Ellison's The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay hits comics shops in June, and if you're a die-hard Trek fan, you won't want to miss it.