Star Trek: The Alternative Factor

Kirk: "So you're the terrible thing? The murdering monster? The creature?"
Alt-Lazarus: "Yes, captain. Or he is. It depends on your point of view, doesn't it?"

I actually put off watching this one, and wasn't looking forward to writing about it.

With focused writing, better effects, and an actor better suited to the part, "The Alternative Factor" could have been compelling. It could even have been one of the strongest episodes in the series. It is a perfect example of why effective execution is as important as a good story. Think of where they could have gone with this. A man voluntarily sacrifices himself and spends eternity in an inhuman hell to save two universes – what was he like? What if he had been giving up his family? What if we had learned more about both Lazaruses, other than that one was a lunatic and the other a saint?

The parallel universe idea is undoubtedly cool (and will be a lot cooler, several episodes from now). But what Alt-Lazarus said didn't make sense: that if Kirk destroyed his little time ship, the other would be destroyed as well. By what? Would it have just vanished into thin air at the same time? Or would the alternate Kirk have destroyed it? If so, where was he? (And for that matter, where was the alternate Enterprise?) Pretty much anyone would rather have died than spend eternity with a mad man in photographic negative hell. If it would have taken out Lazarus, too, then why didn't alt-Lazarus just kill himself?

And why did Kirk trust alt-Lazarus to save the galaxy? I mean, the galaxy is sort of important. I don't think I'd trust just anyone, especially when his opposite number was crazy. And why wasn't alt-Lazarus crazy, too?

What bugged me most was a simple plot point. Lazarus kept slipping out of Sick Bay and wandering around sabotaging the ship, even after the dilithium crystals started disappearing. Why wasn't he confined? And afterward, when his importance was known, I mean, if you have one guy who could deep six the entire galaxy, what about putting him in a cell under really, really heavy guard? What about a special order to execute him? There was precedent. Think of Talos IV.

And what Starfleet told Kirk at the beginning of the episode made no sense, either. What would be the point of evacuating starships if the entire galaxy and possibly all of existence was affected? I'd send in every ship in the fleet, and ask my allies to do the same. I'd invoke general order whatever and fry the planet around Lazarus. Wouldn't you?

It may not seem so, but I hate picking holes in stuff that I love. I love Star Trek. This episode is not one of its shining lights.

Crossover weirdness:

The television series Here Come the Brides (1968-1970) was about mail-order brides in the old American west. It isn't the sort of series that you'd think would lend itself to a Star Trek crossover, but the characters and setting were featured in Barbara Hambly's Star Trek novel "Ishmael." And Here Come the Brides starred Robert Brown (Lazarus), David Soul (who appears later in "The Apple") and Mark Lenard, who played the Romulan commander in "Balance of Terror" as well as Spock's father later in the series. As Spock would say, fascinating. Okay, weird.

Ben says...

Evil twins again, really? I hadn’t realized how many evil twin episodes there were and we aren't even through season 1. And this one is clearly the stinker of the lot, so I don't have much to say about it specifically.

Instead, a few words about evil twins generally. It is well-known that in any pair of twins, one will always be evil. (Oddly, in a set of triplets you have a good one, a flummoxed one and a tall one. And with octuplets the eldest girl is generally a Disney Princess... but I digress). From Star Trek, we also learn that the evil one will be better drinkers, but not smooth with the ladies ("The Enemy Within"), made of anti-matter ("Alternative Factor"), often a robot ("What are Little Girls Made Of?"), and not big on the whole greater good thing. The good twin is frequently a milquetoast, but generally wins in the end because of inherent sweetness... wait, stop him... argghhh... it's my evil twin! He has taken over these comments! Ignore the preceding comments as the words are clearly made of pure anti-matter (or possibly the related "just-doesn't-matter").

Did I mention there were too many evil twin episodes this season?

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

— Stardate 3087.6. The Enterprise visited an uncharted, unnamed planet.

— "Code factor one" means "invasion status."

— Shatner kept trying unsuccessfully to make all of the strange exposition work. He threw himself into it with Shakespearean zeal, and a lot of extensions of the letter S.

— A security team of four was beamed down to the planet with Kirk and Spock. And they all survived.

— Do I even need to mention the biblical Lazarus? No, I won't bother.

— Was this our first mention of dilithium crystals?

— Lt. Masters was played by Janet MacLachlan, who has a long list of screen credits.

— The shrill music signaling that the universe was in danger came out of nowhere and was mostly irritating, not alarming.

— The planet appeared to be a location instead of a sound stage.

— In this week's hair report, Robert Brown's waggling Fu Manchu beard was a poor make-up choice. It stuck to itself a couple of times, and even partially disappeared during some scenes.



Quotes:

Spock: "I fail to comprehend your indignation, sir. I've simply made the logical deduction that you are a liar."

Kirk: "You'll be trapped inside that corridor with him forever. At each other's throats throughout time."
Alt-Lazarus: "Is it such a large price to pay for the safety of two universes?"

One out of four dilithium crystals,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

3 comments:

Jerry Modene said...

A very troubled episode in production; this is the one in which actor John Drew Barrymore, who was supposed to play Lazarus, failed to show up for filming, later claiming that he'd "forgotten". He wound up being suspended by the Screen Actors Guild for a year.

The episode feels padded, and for a ridiculous reason - in the original script, Lazarus and Charlene Masters were supposed to get romantically involved with each other. Unfortunately, since "Plato's Stepchildren" was still two years away, when they cast Janet MacLaughlin in the role, the romance was taken out of the script - and with nothing else to fill time, they had endless scenes of Lazarus falling off cliffs, etc.

CDR said...

It's one of those episodes where Kirk looks like an idiot, because several better, more merciful solution are quite obvious:

1. Just destroy the ship. Why force these guys to spend an eternity fighting (no aging between dimensions?), when without the ship there's no way to cross?

2. Just lock one of them up somewhere secure. The insane one would be preferable, but either would do. If he's willing to "spend all eternity with a madman at his throat", I'm sure hed agree to a life in some secure facility. The Federation could make him quite comforatable.

3. As stated above, just kill one or both of them. Again, the crazy one is crazy and it would be less stressful than fighting forever.

The advantage to all of these is that it actually takes into account someone else developing the technology and letting these guys out.

Now to the one really "What the..?" moment. Kirk returns from the powwow with anti-Laz and goes to throw matter-Laz into the corridor. Now there's Spock and a couple of security guards who have managed to maintain a pulse. These guys have phasers with a stun setting (and kill, but that was covered above). Kirk, who really needs to get over his need to prove how tough he is, tells them to "Stay Back!" Admittedly, Kirk should be the better fighter, but wouldn't it have been a lot easier to have the others help, including Spock who's the strongest guy there? Better yet, stun the guy or have Spock nerve pinch him. At least you're giving anti-Laz an easier time of it.

Next, what does Kirk do. Do they run for cover and call for the phaser strike on the communicator? No. He beams up to the ship, exit the transporter room, get in a turbo lift, get to the bridge, and then order the strike. Did he need to see it in HD from the comfort of his chair? Isn't this whole idiotic operation hinging on the amount of time anti-Laz can hold regular-Laz in the corridor?

tinkapuss said...

The visuals made me feel nauseated in this one. I couldn't wait for it to end.