Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Original Series, Season 1: The Alternative Factor

The Original Series, Season One
The Alternative Factor
Airdate: March 30, 1967
21 of 80 produced
27 of 80 aired
Click here to watch on


The Enterprise encounters a strange effect while exploring an abandoned planet - space seems to "wink out" for a moment. They are shocked to learn that this effect is not localized, it seems to have occurred everywhere. Will the mysterious stranger they encounter on the surface help them solve the puzzle, or will he endanger everything, everywhere, for all time?
Lazarus' goatee threatens the fabric of spacetime...


Matthew: I am a big fan of multiple-universe science fiction. One of my favorite comic book miniseries of all time, Crisis on Infinite Earths, seems to have borrowed some concepts from this episode - with an outcast figure from another universe acting as a harbinger of doom and destruction. Lazarus, like that story's protagonist, is raving and monomaniacal in his desire to prevent this catastrophe. The notion of a doppelganger is stimulating, as is that of a destroyed world and its sole survivor. The conclusion is also chilling, with Lazarus being trapped for eternity between universes, fighting his double for all time.

Kevin: This episode's ending was second for me only to that episode of The Twilight Zone where the guy who loved to read broke his glasses when he finally had time to read all he wanted, in terms of how badly it freaked out seven-year-old me.

Matthew: But while there is a lot of evocative writing in this show, there is precious little explanation and story logic to undergird it. How do these fights in the negative zone occur? I'm not quite sure how Lazarus fights his double in the negative zone if he's away from the ship, which is apparently a gateway to the zone. How and why does the switching take place? Why can Kirk exist in the anti-matter universe (which means touching it, from air molecules to standing on the ground), but for some reason Lazarus and anti-Lazarus cannot touch? Essentially, there is a high-minded notion here, but not a lot of established rules that I can sink my dramatic teeth into.

Kevin: There is no sentence in science fiction phrase that annoys me more than "The laws of physics don't apply." It's a short hand to indicate that something bizarre is going on, but the sentence doesn't make sense. If the laws don't apply, they aren't the laws. They were the laws, but it turns out they were wrong. New laws will have to be drafted that cover all the observations. It's lazy writing and it annoys me. Also, it allows the writers too much leeway in making the rules fit the story instead of making the story fit the rules.

Matthew: Some dialogue is problematic as well. Why does Kirk suggest that the winking out is a prelude to invasion? Why does Starfleet agree? There seemed to be no indication of conscious intent behind it. And would the Enterprise crew really give this galaxy-threatening dude free run of the ship? The "drama" created by an escape which is allowed by the heroes' stupidity is lazy and false drama. Luckily, it is not the basis of this episode.

Kevin: I am supremely annoyed whenever Kirk dismisses an officer out of hand, like he does with McCoy, when he first notices the wound differences on Lazarus. Kirk routinely believes much wilder claims from his officers on pretty much faith alone. Dismissing his officer is both out of character and it just, like you said Matt, creates false drama. One element I did really like was that it our universe's Lazarus that was the crazy destructive one. I liked that the parallel universe wasn't posited as EEEEEVIL, just not ours.


Matthew: I liked Robert Brown as Lazarus. He confidently handled the dual nature of the role, and the contrast between his raving and his cool demeanor was interesting. He also looked the part. We get a slightly above average supporting cast, as well, with some interesting Lieutenants and Commodores filling out the cast. Shatner, Kelley and Nimoy have settled into a rhythm, and they know their characters backwards and forwards with little apparent effort.

Kevin: I agree, particularly the supporting cast. I liked the banter about the coffee in the mess. It was cute and genuine office chatter. Apparently, there was supposed to be a romance between Masters and Lazarus which got cut when the African-American Janet MacLachlan was cast. That's sad, as I think it would have made both characters more interesting and made Lazarus' sacrifice more poignant and personal.

Production Values

Matthew: The effects are admittedly hokey, but they are a good demonstration of how simple things can be evocative. The negative zone that Lazarus fights his doppelganger in is a room with a smoke machine, and the camera set to negative. But I'll be darned if it doesn't paint an eerie picture, especially when we consider being trapped there forever. The "winking out effect" is just a fade out of the image to a space backdrop with a nebular cloud visible. Does it make sense? Not really. Does it work? Yes.

Kevin: The only thing that really got me as hokey was the transition effect between the universes looked exactly like the twirling newspaper wipe in every movie ever. I kept expecting a headline to splash across the screen. "CRAZY LAZARUS SWEEPING NATION - YANKEES WIN 4-0"

Matthew: Again we travel to Bronson canyon, the most ubiquitous landscape in the galaxy, apparently. The strange ship is neat looking, even if it is some sort of leftover prop from a 50's flying saucer film.We get to see the dilithium crystals, in all their odd, glowing, rhomboid glory. I found it interesting that the positive universe is in the canyon, while the minus universe is on a soundstage - I didn't mind it, because it lent the minus-universe an otherworldy air that was quite effective.

Kevin: I really liked seeing some of the internal circuitry of the Enterprise. While it may look dated now, at the time, I'm sure it looked quite sophisticated.

Matthew: Goofs: a Lieutenant (Masters) with no stripes on her blue uniform. For some reason, she works in engineering, despite said blue uniform.

Kevin: Over time I have just come to accept that did not have enough uniforms in enough colors in enough sizes. You see it in TNG too where background cast are occasionally wearing season 1 and 2 uniforms in seasons 3 and on.


Matthew: As much as I like multiple universe fiction, this episode never gels. It has concepts to spare, but none are developed effectively. Decent performances and production values land this squarely in 3 territory.

Kevin: This gets a 3 from me as well, for a total of 6. The acting was good and the concept is certainly interesting, but lack of clear rules to the alternate universe drag it down to a 3.


  1. "Will he mysterious stranger they encounter on the sirface help them solve the puzzle..."

    Sirface? Do we mean "surface?"


  2. No, it's sirface. Like "Sir, please face this way."

  3. It also says "Will he mysterious stranger they encounter on the surface help them solve the puzzle..."

    I think that should be "Will the..."

  4. You know, you could just email me spelling corrections... :P

  5. Sorry. I suppose I could from now on. The typos are just so unlike you. :)