For most of my life there has been the legend of the original script. Of course, everyone heard Roddenberry's explanation that the script just wasn't Star Trek, Scotty was selling drugs and so on, and most Trekkers bought into it. Why not? Gene said it. It must be true.
But in that story there was always the knowledge that Harlan is not a fool and had worked with Gene on Star Trek and helped gather top flight writers to submit scripts for the show. Surely he knew what Star Trek 'was'.
Here is Harlan's story of the creation of the script, and also a couple drafts of his script. What became an award winning script. A legendary script. And a true masterpiece.
I actually do have a problem with it. It's not Star Trek. Not the Trek I know.
Let me explain.
No, Scotty doesn't sell drugs. But someone on the ship does, sort of. A low ranking member of the crew, never before seen is the macguffin in the script. He goes into the past and changes it. Kirk and Spock chase after him through time.
Is this Star Trek? Sure. Why not? Not as good as chasing a character we know well through time, but...okay.
We are not done yet.
(we are skipping over the space pirates crap, Harlan didn't really want it in his script, he wrote it because he was asked to show what was happening on the Enterprise while the heroes are down on the planet, thankfully that bit was tossed)
Kirk spends most of the script knowing full well Edith Keeler must die. It's not found out in act three, it's not a blindside that the woman he loves must die, he falls in love with her knowing she should die.
And then fails to let her die.
There it is. Kirk is fallible. He is going to let her live and change everything he has ever known so she may live. Kirk fails and Spock has to fix it. Kirk is not just fallible. Hell, he needs to turn in his hero card.
How are you ever supposed to root for Kirk after that? Sure, a normal person, perhaps you, perhaps me, may make the decision to let the world we know cease to exist for the love of a woman, but Kirk is bigger than that. Plus, he has to be back next week saving the galaxy once again. That hero card has to stay in the wallet.
He has to act. Or in this case stop someone else from acting. He has to make this tremendous sacrifice knowing how much it is going to hurt. That is the heroic act Kirk needs to give the viewers for them to believe in him next week when an angry styrofoam creature threatens the ship and Kirk pulls out the hero card once again.
As beautifully written as Harlan's script is, it is not quite Star Trek. McCoy as the Mcguffin is better. Sure, the method of getting him hopped up was clumsy but the payoff when Kirk stops him from saving Edith allows us to experience what we know as the Kirk/Spock/McCoy dymanic at its finest.
Again, we should find out Edith needs to die AFTER Kirk falls for her, not before.
It is said that any story should be about the most important event in a person's life. But with episodic tv you have to come back next week and do it again. Not every episode can be THE event of a character's life. Harlan's script is. By far.
Were this script filmed as a movie with a different ship and crew it would probably live forever in the annals of great science fiction films. Yes the script is that good. But for episodic tv with the characters we already know it did need some tweaking. Not much, just some. So yes, essentially it needs watering down. Harlan's beautiful script needs to be changed to fit that little screen that may or may not be in color. In a strange sort of way it was too good for episodic tv.
Gene Roddenberry did Harlan no favors and Harlan has every right to be quite angry. Gene is not the angel some purport him to be, most of us fans know that. (He wrote 'lyrics' to the Star trek theme music to get royalty money, for example, he knew they would never be used but he wanted half the money.) Gene's claims that Harlan's script was horribly flawed are obviously lies. To be honest, a few tweaks were all that was probably necessary. Even rewritten several times over the magic that Harlan created is still there for us to see in what most fans consider the greatest Star Trek episode ever. Harlan tends to believe his script needed no changes at all, every change was sacrilege and how dare they change a word, after all it won an award!. Well, probably not , but he views the filmed version as a rape of his work. Gene felt he had to throw in his usual preachy the future is perfect scene, and then steal the credit for the script when it became the greatest episode ever. As the years and the conventions grew passed Gene's lies got bigger until myth of the original script had taken on a life of it's own.
Which is too bad. Harlan deserves better. Much better. Gene was a hack writer. Harlan is an artist.
Harlan's script is incredible. But the episode as filmed worked better within the framework of what we know is Star Trek. A bit more heavy handed, a bit less intellectual, but more honest to the characters of Kirk and Spock, and also McCoy. And yes, the best episode ever. Thank you Harlan.
And finally. Why did the portal look like a lopsided rock doughnut? He answers this question.