It's great to see this iconic symbol of Star Trek return, 53-years after its first appearance.
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Ask any Star Trek fan one the greatest episode of the franchise is and you’ll get a variety of answers. Some might say Deep Space Nine’s “In The Pale Moonlight” or “Far Beyond The Stars”. Others might pick The Next Generation’s “Yesterday’s Enterprise” or maybe “The Best of Both Worlds”. But the answer you’ll always get more than any other is the original series episode “The City on the Edge of Forever”. At the center of that episode is the Guardian of Forever, and Star Trek: Discovery just brought it back.
The Guardian of Forever’s return happened in the tenth episode Star Trek: Discovery season 3, titled “Terra Firma Part 2”. In the previous episode in this two parter a strange figure, an old man in period garb in fact, appeared on a snowy planet. The elderly man called himself Carl and he sent Philippa Georgiou into the past and also into what appeared to be a version of the infamous Mirror Universe using something which looked exactly like an old wooden door. That figure and his wood door looked like this…
The newspaper in his hand…
…is a direct reference to “The City on the Edge of Forever”. In that episode, The Star Dispatch is seen in the past. However, in that version it’s just a standard newspaper and not a newspaper that tells the future.
At the end of “Terra Firma Part 2”, the elderly man with his future telling newspaper reveals himself as the Guardian of Forever…
Yes, it’s the same Guardian of Forever last seen in “The City On The Edge Of Forever”, way back when it first aired 1967. After that much beloved episode, the Guardian of Forever made no further appearances in Star Trek, at least until not now.
Here’s what the Guardian of Forever looked like back in 1967…
In “Terra Firma Part 2” the Guardian of Forever reveals that it was used extensively, and perhaps against its will, in the frequently referenced but never seen Temporal War. Eventually it decided to go into hiding and, though the means used aren’t explained, transported itself to a new planet where it remained undiscovered.
By the end of “Terra Firma Part 2” Georgiou has returned and the Guardian of Forever tells her that she’s proven herself. Now her fate is less certain, as revealed by the newspaper…
As a result, the Guardian of Forever will send her back into the past as a means to save her life. It will send her back into a past where she’ll, “help more people. A lot of them.” And with that, Philippa Georgiou, former emperor of the Terran Empire, leaves Star Trek: Discovery forever.
Don’t worry, you’ll see her again. CBS is developing a spinoff series for her called Star Trek: Section 31. Presumably, it is to that fate which the Guardian of Forever has just sent her.
This new Guardian is a marked departure from the Guardian of Forever we knew back in Star Trek: The Original Series. Back then, the Guardian of Forever was a dispassionate observer, a portal that sent people back in time and didn’t seem to care what happened to them. If they screwed up the timeline, it had no effect on the portal because as its name suggests, the Guardian is forever.
This new Guardian of FOrever is functionally changed too, that Guardian of Forever seemed to lack the ability to control where it sent people. Instead it showed an endless stream of historical images and in order to travel to a specific point you had to watch for the time period you wanted to show up, and then step through at the right moment.
But this new Guardian of Forever is different. In Star Trek: Discovery it tells us it has learned a few things over the years and now it’s more discerning. Maybe this Guardian of Forever still doesn’t care whether or not people change the timeline, but it does seem to care about things like right and wrong.
Is this a change for the better? A big part of what made the Guardian of Forever’s first appearance in “The City on the Edge of Forever” so great was the writing of that episode. That specific Star Trek episode was written by Harlan Ellison, a man widely regarded as one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time. Nothing Discovery has done, let alone this Terra Firma Part 2″ episode, is as well written as Harlan Ellison’s worst effort, let alone one of his best. That said, Discovery handled the Guardian of Forever with respect and that should be enough to keep fans happy. It’s great to see this iconic symbol of Star Trek return, 53-years after its first appearance.