Star Trek 1.27: The Alternative Factor

The Alternative FactorThe Alternative Factor” is one I didn’t remember from the episode title, which is never a good sign with these episodes, though it all came back to me a few minutes in. The Enterprise is orbiting a planet, which Spock describes as pretty normal, with an “oxygen-hydrogen atmosphere”, failing to point out that an atmosphere made of oxygen and hydrogen would be extremely unstable. The ship is then rocked by a bizarre special effect, consisting of a semi-transparent overlay of some random nebula – which, being an astronomy geek, I recognised on sight as the Trifid Nebula – accompanied by camera shaking and dramatic music.

Spock is unable to explain the phenomenon, saying only that it was like reality winking out. Sensors pick up a human on the planet where there was none before and Spock conjectures this person could be the cause of the effect. Instead of fleeing for their lives like any sane people faced with a potentially universe-altering power, Kirk and Spock beam down to investigate. They find a strange man who raves about being hunted by a monster, before he falls off a cliff. They take him back to the Enterprise, where McCoy treats him. Kirk is informed that the space rupture has drained the ship’s dilithium crystals, and the orbit will decay in 10 hours – again for some reason they must be using an orbit so insanely low that it will actually decay that quickly.

Kirk gets a call from Starfleet, in which he’s told that the fleet is evacuating everyone within 100 parsecs of the Enterprise, and Kirk is alone in fixing this problem that has affected “the entire Galaxy and beyond”. One wonders how they measured that. Kirk visits the mysterious man, whose name is revealed to be Lazarus only well after he should have introduced himself, and only because Kirk refers to him by name. I suspect they must have cut the scene in which Lazarus first tells them his name. The mysterious effect rocks the ship again, and we see Lazarus apparently fighting another man in a blue veil of silhouetted special effects. Despite this, Kirk allows Lazarus to wander the Enterprise without a guard! Kirk and Spock do interview him, but without using the lie detector we saw back in “Mudd’s Women” – I guess they forgot they had one.

Lazarus runs amok, beaming himself down to the planet thanks to the lack of any sort of guard placed on him. Kirk goes to capture him again and does so after Lazarus falls off a cliff – again. McCoy says, “He’s not going anywhere, not this time.,” and immediately leaves Lazarus alone, unguarded in sick bay. He immediately escapes, while Kirk and Spock have a discussion and speculate wildly and with no real evidence that Lazarus is one of two copies of the same man, one from a parallel antimatter universe, and that they’ve been switching places every time the reality ripple occurs, and if they ever meet each other it will destroy the universe.

Lazarus steals dilithium crystals and beams down to the planet again to work on his time machine. Kirk races after him alone, not bothering to take 15 seconds to get a security team together to accompany him. He finds Lazarus, who wrestles him into the time machine. Kirk finds himself in the blue silhouette pace, and emerges to find another Lazarus – a sane and reasonable one who explains everything to him, stating that Kirk is now in the antimatter universe. Lazarus says the universes are connected by a “negative magnetic corridor“, and that Kirk must go back and push the insane Lazarus into the corridor, so the sane Lazarus can wrestle him while Kirk destroys the time machine to trap them there forever and save the universe. Kirk reflects on the terrible fate this is, then goes and does it, with the help of Spock, who seems to understand exactly what Kirk is planning to do with no word of explanation whatsoever. The ending seems very choppy, like they cut bits out to make it fit into the episode time – reinforcing the idea that they may also have cut the first mention of Lazarus’s name.

This is a somewhat unsatisfactory episode, probably from poor construction more than a poor idea. The concept is actually interesting, but it hasn’t been carried off very well, with too much poor special effects and plot-induced stupidity on the part of Kirk.

Tropes: Mad Lib Thriller Title, Hollywood Science, Screen Shake, Kirk’s Rock, Space Friction, Cardboard Prison, Alternate Universe, Antimatter, Never The Selves Shall Meet, Negative Space Wedgie, Pocket Dimension, Hell Is War, Oubliette, Sealed Evil In A Duel, And I Must Scream, Plot Induced Stupidity.
Body count: None, but both Lazaruses doomed to fight each other in limbo for eternity.
(Image © 1966 Paramount Studios, used under Fair Use.)

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