Written by Don Ingalls and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Gerd Oswald
There are some episodes of the original Star Trek series that I look at right from the beginning and say “I know this one! I loved this!” Then there are others that I know I will hate. Surprisingly, as I’ve viewed them in the order they were aired, there are a fair number that I don’t remember at all, or remember bits and pieces. Sometimes it’s because they weren’t heavy in the rotation of episodes that aired as reruns on our local television station in New York. Other times, there are enough parts that are familiar that I know I saw it before but it didn’t leave a particular impression on me.
The Alternative Factor is one that didn’t do enough to leave an impression on me. I can remember certain key scenes and plot points, but the entire story was one I don’t recall seeing before.
The Enterprise is orbiting a dead planet when it experiences a dramatic moment of “nonexistence” caused by a fluctuation in the planet’s gravity. Subsequently, they begin picking up a humanoid life sign on the planet below that wasn’t there before. A communication from Starfleet orders Captain Kirk (William Shatner) to investigate, as they fear an invasion is at hand.
Kirk and the Vulcan Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) along with a security team beam down to the planet’s surface. They come across the humanoid who calls himself Lazarus (portrayed by Robert Brown). This man tells him there is another humanoid on the planet who is his enemy. This enemy has destroyed his entire civilization and is causing the effects the Enterprise has detected.
Spock does not believe Lazarus, and tells him so rather bluntly. However, Lazarus soon makes his case quite well. He describes his enemy as existing only to destroy and he has made it his crusade to chase him down. Lazarus seems to flicker in and out of existence, encountering this enemy when he does so. Each of these flickers causes the blips the Enterprise has been experiencing.
On top of the issues with Lazarus, the blips the Enterprise is experiencing somehow affect the dilithium crystals, draining them of power. If nothing changes, the ship will drop out of orbit in about ten hours.
This is the first time the idea of an alternate universe of sorts is broached for Star Trek and it won’t be the last. It’s not as in-depth as many other stories involving alternate universes are, only giving a taste of the potential for stories. Lazarus tackles his enemy in a sort of corridor between the two universes. This is a concept that was quite similar to the ending of the second series of the new Doctor Who where Rose must stay in the alternate universe because of what ends up in the corridor between the two.
The story is pretty good, it’s the delivery that’s lacking in some ways. Due to the constraints of the effects of the time, the idea of the two men in a corridor isn’t handled well and sometimes it becomes a bit hard to follow what’s going on.
Guest star Robert Brown does fine with the material he’s given. He tries to be convincing as Lazarus and his doppelganger and generally pulls it off. The performances are subtly different, making it convincing that the crew of the Enterprise believes it is the same man.
The regular cast is here, and what’s a shame is that The Alternative Factor doesn’t build on anything we know about the characters. There’s no development and not every episode has to have pivotal moments for a character. However, it is nice when they at least draw on a character’s history. The lines here are pretty much interchangeable between characters. There’s little that is said that wouldn’t be just as convincing coming from another character
The Alternative Factor creates a good crisis with a satisfying resolution. It’s somewhat predictable, but a good story overall. It’s something I don’t mind viewing, but it isn’t one of those episodes I think of as being among the best, which is probably why I remember so little of it from my younger days.
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – Errand of Mercy
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – The City on the Edge of Forever