||[Boldly Going]||| Star Trek: The Original Series—Season One: Ep. 1.27 “The Alternative Factor” – (Original air date: Thursday, March 30, 1967)


Welcome to my rewatching of the original 79 episodes of the series that launched the franchise. Below are the bulletpointed notes I jotted down while watching “The Alternative Factor.”

  • Happy Together,” by The Turtles, is spending its second week at the top of the Billboard Top 100. “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever,” both by The Beatles, remain in the Top 10, at #3 and #8, respectively. Buffalo Springfield is at #7 with “For What It’s Worth.” A good week in music.
  • Speaking of The Beatles, this was also the day that the band posed with photographic collages and Madame Tussaud’s wax figures for the cover photo for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
  • The following day, Jimi Hendrix would set fire to his guitar for the first time on stage during a performance at The Astoria London. He had to go to the hospital for burns on his hands.
  • And, this first-season episode of the original Star Trek series is crap.
  • There’s no getting around this sad fact. “The Alternative Factor” is an episode that I will avoid watching again unless it’s some sadistic feat Jigsaw makes me perform to keep from having my hands sawn off or something. And, yes, it’s really that bad.
  • The actor Robert Brown was a last-minute replacement in the dual-Lazarus role for John Drew Barrymore (Drew Barrymore’s dad), who failed to show up for work when filming began. Reportedly, Brown was rushed into filming without rehearsal.
  • For the record, I think Robert Brown gives the best performance he could have. He is not what is wrong with this episode. It has a terrible script and awful effects, even after it was remastered.
  • In our teaser, the USS Enterprise is in orbit around an unnamed and uninhabited planet, when, suddenly, according to Spock, all of existence briefly blinks into non-existence. We are treated to some truly awful effects with an overlay view of a nebula.
  • Afterward, a single life sign appears on the planet below where none existed previously.
  • Looks like its time to assemble a landing party and roll that beautiful opening credits footage. Space . . . the final frontier, and all that, even though space has hardly been the final frontier in the series so far. There’s time travel, of course, and now this alternate dimension stuff. Plus, an endless parade of aliens with god-like powers. Final frontier, my eye.
  • As Act One begins, we learn during the Captain’s Log that this “blinking” effect was felt at least through the entire quadrant of the galaxy. That’s huge.
  • We’re back at Vasquez Rocks again. No Gorn captain or Starfleet leprechaun this time. Instead, we have some strange science-fiction flying craft, complete with a Plexiglas dome, looking like something straight out of The Jetsons.
  • Incidentally, The Jetsons originally aired on ABC in 1962-63, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that it provided some inspiration for the production designers.
  • Kirk, Spock, and this episode’s redshirts discover Lazarus, a bearded man with a wild mane of hair and a wild look in his eyes, who asks for their help. It’s not too late, he says. They can still stop him. No indication of who “him” is.
  • Then Lazarus falls awkwardly from the rocks, injuring himself.
  • Back on the ship, the crew discovers that the weird blinking phenomenon drained their dilithium crystals almost completely. They will have to be recharged immediately or their orbit will begin to decay in ten hours.
  • There’s that dramatic clock again. Ten hours.
  • I don’t claim to be a Star Trek technology expert, but something seems wrong in all this dilithium crystal discussion. This episode seems to be treating them like batteries, actually powering the ship. I thought they were used to actually focus the energy of the engines. I know they’re important, but why would crystals need to be charged?
  • A message comes in from Starfleet Command. Code Factor One, which means Invasion Status.
  • Commodore Barstow appears on the viewscreen, in apparent real-time, which I don’t think we’ve seen before this. He tells Kirk that the strange effect occurred in every quadrant of the galaxy and far beyond. Complete disruption of normal magnetic and gravimetric fields, timewarp distortion, possible radiation variations. All of them centering on the general area where the Enterprise is now patrolling.
  • Kirk, like Starfleet, thinks the effect may be a prelude to an invasion. Even though I’m not following that logic. An actual physical invasion would be less threatening than having all of existence wink off and on.
  • Barstow says he’s evacuating all Starfleet units and personnel within a hundred parsecs of their position. The Enterprise and her crew are being left as bait.
  • Time to talk to our guest. Lazarus is okay. He has a bandage on his head. Well . . . most of the time, he does.
  • Lazarus claims to be pursuing a monster who destroyed his entire civilization. He asserts that he will stop at nothing to destroy it.
  • Okay, maybe I was giving Robert Brown too much credit at the top. His acting is definitely over-the-top, even more hammy than Shatner. Plus, I’m distracted by his terrible facial hair.
  • Kirk beams back down to the planet with Lazarus to investigate his claim of some monstrous adversary. Spock says there’s no sign of another living creature on the planet. He comes to the logical conclusion that Lazarus is a liar, and says as much.
  • More truly awful effects and that nebula overlay as the universe “winks” again.
  • Lazarus begins shouting threats at some unseen foe. Then we up the awful-effects ante as we get the negative image effect of Lazarus fighting another humanoid shape, moving nauseatingly against that nebula overlay field.
  • As the winking effect is going on, we saw images of Lazarus’ face. First he has a bandaged forehead, and then he doesn’t, and then he does again.
  • Oh, I get it. Lazarus is also the enemy. There are two Lazaruses. Is this another good-and-evil twin story?
  • Well, Spock was wrong about one thing: Lazarus isn’t a liar. At least not completely. Something is going on, and he was fighting with something.
  • Still, Lazarus comes off looking like a crazy man. He leads us to the act break with this line: “He’ll kill us all if we don’t kill him first! Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!”
  • I think I put in the correct number of Kills.
  • All of Act Two is mostly a waste of time. Dr. McCoy tells us about what we’ve already seen, the disappearing bandage on Lazarus’ forehead. It also reappears, as we find out.
  • Plus, despite the fact that their guest has hardly been the model of sanity, Dr. “I’m just a country doctor” McCoy doesn’t bother to keep him in sickbay, and Lazarus is allowed to roam the ship, unguarded.
  • We get the stupid winking/nebula/fighting effect again.
  • Spock discovers a rip in the universe, but seems uncharacteristically at a loss to describe it. He located it with the dilithium crystals somehow.
  • Lazarus, who recognizes magical crystals when he sees them, demands that Kirk give him his crystals so he can use them to exact his vengeance on our as-yet unnamed enemy.
  • Kirk, naturally, refuses to hand over the crystals, which he insists “are the very heart of the power of my ship.” I guess that’s true. I know they’re important for some reason.
  • Then the unhinged Lazarus, still unaccompanied by security, goes to engineering and steals two of the dilithium crystals himself. End of Act Two.
  • In Act Three, in the briefing room, Kirk accuses Lazarus—who has the head wound again—of stealing the dilithium crystals. He denies it, accusing his adversary, the monster.
  • Kirk points out that the beast didn’t transport up from the planet, because they’d have a record of it. How did he get on the ship?
  • Lazarus says this is a creature capable of destroying worlds, as if that’s answer enough.
  • Kirk presses on. Why does the creature need the crystals in the first place? That’s a good question, Kirk.
  • Head-wound Lazarus says he needs them for the same reasons he does. An energy source for his vehicle, which is the Jetsons aircraft, I assume.
  • See? Energy source. Am I wrong about dilithium crystals? Doesn’t this seem wrong? Do you think I’ll bother to Google it?
  • So, we return to the planet again, which is getting tiresome. The crystals aren’t in the ship. Spock also says that the nonexistent source of the radiation no longer exists. Wrap your head around that one.
  • Lazarus heads off (on his own, once again), and has another one of his bad special effects spells. After this is over, Lazarus decides to go rock climbing again, for some inexplicable reason, and falls, again, but not until he saves Kirk’s life (Kirk’s words, not mine) by warning him about the falling rock that he, himself, dislodged.
  • When Lazarus is coming to in sickbay, Kirk calls him a liar again. The planet Lazarus claims to have come from doesn’t exist and never did. This is all from evidence that Lazarus supposedly gave earlier, which must have all been off-camera, because I don’t remember it.
  • Lazarus changes his story again. I would say he ruins his credibility, but he doesn’t really have any by this point.
  • This time, he claims that the planet below was his home. In fact, he says “my Earth.” And his Jetson ship is more than a spaceship. It’s a time chamber, a time-ship, and he is a time traveler.
  • Okay. What?
  • This still-unnamed planet (let’s call it Lazarus World) is Lazarus’ world in the far future, long after his civilization was destroyed. He came here in pursuit of what we’re still calling the monster.
  • Dr. McCoy realizes that Lazarus isn’t making any sense and gets everyone out of sickbay so that their guest can recover from his latest fall. Maybe he’s going to consult with a script doctor as well.
  • As soon as everyone leaves the medical bay, Lazarus gets out of bed again and has another of his spells. No one, apparently, notices.
  • Using some convoluted and unlikely logic, Spock and Kirk determine that the source of the elusive energy they’ve been looking for is from another universe, perhaps in another dimension, occupying the same space at the same time.
  • Extrapolating on that idea, they determine also that Lazarus is, in fact, two men. One Lazarus is calm, mild, and rational. The other is paranoid. One minute he’s at the point of death, the next he’s strong as a bull. And, oh yeah, the cut on his forehead appears and disappears.
  • It’s plain as the nose on your face that one of these parallel universes is positive and the other negative. One is matter and the other antimatter. And if the two meet, it will result in the total annihilation of the entire universe.
  • Spock and Kirk just figured all of this out themselves. Just now.
  • Which is just silly. It’s almost as if whoever wrote this script had never watched the show. Hasn’t it already been established that a matter-antimatter reaction is what powers the Enterprise? Certainly, it wasn’t dilithium batteries.
  • And the way Spock and Kirk leap to their conclusions is ludicrous. Just because the ship’s sensors can’t detect this mysterious other energy, it must come from an alternate universe, because their sensor can “locate and identify any object in our universe.” No. Just, no. That implies that everything in this universe has been discovered and properly catalogued, which sort of negates the entire reason for exploration.
  • You didn’t think I hated this episode just because of crappy special effects and weird facial hair, did you?
  • Meanwhile, Lazarus, allowed to prowl the corridors of the ship alone yet again, steals more dilithium crystals and beams back down to the planet. Yes, we’re doing this again.
  • Kirk orders Spock to organize a security detail while he goes after Lazarus alone. You know, business as usual.
  • When Kirk attempts to enter Lazarus’ spaceship, he vanishes, travels through a magnetic corridor and into that other universe, the one theoretically composed of antimatter. Lets get to the final act so we can end this thing.
  • The calm, rational Lazarus on the other side has a plan and needs Kirk’s help to carry it out. He’s going to trap the other Lazarus in the corridor, then Kirk is going to destroy Lazarus’ time ship. This will trap the two Lazari in the magnetic corridor (that Sane Lazarus tells us both connects and protects the two universes) for eternity, but both universes will be protected.
  • Sounds like a solid plan, doesn’t it? It’s not matter and antimatter meeting that’s a problem, it seems, because Kirk is made of matter and he seems to be doing fine in the antimatter universe. It’s just the matter and antimatter Lazarus meeting that causes on the ruckus. Makes perfect sense.
  • At any rate, Kirk destroys the ship and the two Lazaruses sacrifice themselves to save both universes. End of threat. I assume the Enterprise recharges her dilithium batteries in time to keep from falling out of orbit, even though we lost two more of them.
  • For our quick bridge outro, Spock reminds Kirk that the universe is now safe, to which Kirk responds, “For you and me. But, what of Lazarus? What of Lazarus?”
  • Blecch!

There are people who actually like this episode. I know, it’s difficult for me to believe as well. I’m not one of them, in case you think I’ve pulled a Lazarus and managed to deceive you.

This one is just a mess. It won’t be the last bad episode of TOS, but I think it’s the worst one so far. The other episodes I gave fewer than 3-stars to were “Charlie X,” “Conscience of the King,” and “Shore Leave.” This episode reminds me most of “Charlie X,” but I can forgive that one’s lapses because it was so early in the run. Yes, “The Alternative Factor” is worse because, by this point, we’ve already seen what a good Star Trek episode is like.

I don’t need to reiterate the things that made this a subpar episode. It’s just a mess throughout. 2 out of 5 stars. The only reason I didn’t give it less than 2-stars is because at least Captain Kirk didn’t wear that stupid green V-neck tunic in this one.

On deck: “The City of the Edge of Forever.” Thank you, Great Bird of the Galaxy.

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