Star Trek: The Original Series

"The Alternative Factor"

2 stars

Air date: 3/30/1967
Written by Don Ingalls
Directed by Gerd Oswald

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Investigating what is apparently a "rip in space," a landing party beams down to a planet to find Lazarus (Robert Brown), an unstable man involved in a mysteriously bizarre problem: He's in a battle with his counterpart self from a parallel universe.

Among a stretch of shows that exemplifies many of Trek's most visible qualities is the arrival of this episode, which unfortunately exemplifies science fiction excess. First of all is the ridiculously extreme notion that the meeting of the two Lazaruses (or is that Lazari?) would mean the destruction of the "entire universe." Such overlarge devices are rarely effective. Also, this episode seems to be in love with its own use of sci-fi buzzwords. In addition to matter and antimatter, we've got the concepts of a "parallel universe," a "rip in space," a "time ship," an "inter-universal gateway," etc. Little of this makes much sense, no matter how hard Shatner and Nimoy try in bouncing incredulous dialog off each other.

The episode becomes an untenable collection of disjointed story items with no overriding cohesion. (And, by the way, why would the Enterprise destroying one time ship cause the parallel universe time ship to be destroyed?) Saving some face is the somewhat interesting implication of Lazarus fighting his duplicate counterpart "for all eternity."

Previous episode: Errand of Mercy
Next episode: The City on the Edge of Forever

◄ Season Index

34 comments on this review

Keith
Mon, Aug 16, 2010, 2:06pm (UTC -5)
The most obvious stupidity in The Alternative Factor is that Kirk kept allowing Lazarus to wander around without security - even dismissing security at McCoy's objection to his presence. Not the brightest behaviour for a starship captain trying to figure out if the universe was being invaded and knowing that Lazarus had something to do with it. Of course, keeping him under surveillance would have shortened the episode, but it would have been less ridiculous.
Corey
Mon, Apr 30, 2012, 2:19pm (UTC -5)
This is one TOS episode I always skip. The contact of two MEN, leads to the destruction of the universe? I don't care what technobabble you use, that's ridiculous. If the choice is to watch this or "Mudd's Women", give me the latter any day...
Alex
Tue, Jul 30, 2013, 3:45am (UTC -5)
I'll echo Keith's sentiment, and I'll add that the special effects were particularly hokey and tedious in this episode. It almost made me wonder if the episode was filmed at the beginning of the season and then held back until later.
Riprake
Sat, Aug 31, 2013, 6:03pm (UTC -5)
Actually, when I look at this episode, I see a potentially good story somebody was trying to make that obviously didn't quite manage to emerge on the screen. If I understand the technobabble correctly, one Lazarus was from the regular universe and the other from an anti-matter universe. If you put matter and anti-matter together, they'll explode, so obviously mixing one universe with the other would cause both to explode, and one Lazarus was determined to stop this at any cost while the other hated him and was determined to kill him at any cost, including the destruction of all the universe.

The story that this could have been? Had the technobabble been done better, maybe this whole situation would have made more sense. Also, instead of suggesting the whole universe was at stake, simply suggest you'll get a supernova-sized explosion if a planet from the other universe gets through, and worse if more than that does. Suggest also that tragic and disastrous stuff like this has happened before because there wasn't any Enterprise around to intervene (which might even make it a little more justifiable that the Enterprise keeps running across all these world-threatening cosmic events week after week; hey, here's what happened when it was Cyrano Jones who encountered the world-threatening anomaly instead--the whole sector got fried).

But what would have made it the best of all would be if anyone had been looking forward to the revelations of a slightly later episode. Imagine this ending: as the U.S.S. Enterprise goes its merry way after resolving the situation with Lazarus, the scene suddenly flips over--literally--to the anti-matter universe, where a certain other Enterprise is just arriving...

Kirk: "What was that? Spock, what the hell just happened down there?"

Spock: [Strokes his beard.] "I am unable to make any determinations at this time, Captain..."
redshirt28
Thu, Apr 3, 2014, 10:05pm (UTC -5)
This episode was a 6 min Clip shown over and over again. Lazarus lurching around as a madman, newspaper spinning, video negative of 2 stuntmen rasslin in a room, kirk asking spock whats up and spock saying it all makes no scientific sense. Repeat 6 or 7x, enterprise blows up george jetsons sspacecraft, run credits.

I would not give this 1 star.
Henry
Mon, Jul 13, 2015, 11:39pm (UTC -5)
To me, this is without a doubt the worst episode of Star Trek: TOS, because it is the only truly boring episode. Even the way to Eden, the children shall lead, and Spock's Brain, as bad as they were (actually I think Spock's Brain is better than most people give it credit for, but still not great) weren't boring.
Maq
Sun, Dec 6, 2015, 8:48am (UTC -5)
Yes, definitely not a hit. How many times is he able to just walk out of the sick bay and strolle around on Enterprise? Sci fi is a little bit like an alternative universe to me. You buy the concept of warp, parallel universe, time travel, beaming etc but expect some sort of clever behaviour of the human beings being a couple of hundred years ahead of us. Sometimes there is in TOS, this time not. The only positive with this episode was that it gave me a remaining memory that must be more than 45 Years. Yes, this episode created a strong impression on me in my childhood. At least a credit for that.
Skeptical
Sun, Nov 13, 2016, 9:14am (UTC -5)
What the heck did I just watch?

OK, for one, I've completely ignored TOS' lack of special effects so far, as I know they were doing the best they could with a limited budget and limited technology. My problems with Arena stemmed from the story, not with the absurdity of the Gorn captain. But here? The effects were just downright hokey. Stars randomly appearing? A spinning universe? Two people awkwardly struggling against a washed out monochromatic screen? Sure, special effects in other episodes can be bad, but you know what they're trying to convey. Here, well, I have no idea. This is supposed to be a high concept story, but they simply didn't have the tools to properly show it. It'd be like trying to play Beethoven with a kazoo.

Actually, not really, because Beethoven's music is brilliant, and this plot is stupid. I'm in agreement with Jammer and others that the bizarre technobabble explanations just didn't make sense and seemed like a bunch of hooplah just to get to the ending they wanted. I mean, admittedly my attention was wandering by the end, what with the ridiculousness of the plot and all, but why didn't they just stun crazy Lazarus? Then drop him off at some loony bin, and drop his timeship off at the warehouse where they're storing the Ark of the Covenant. Voila, problem solved without the pathos of sacrificing sane Lazarus.

It also didn't help that, even with the scar and all, I wasn't quite sure which one was which at times. Again, I admit this may be my fault, because I stopped caring about this episode about halfway through. It's too bad, really, because I was interested at first in the mystery of what was going on. But the hokey effects, the poor pacing, and the utterly ridiculous way the mystery unraveled killed any interest I had.
eastwest101
Sun, Dec 4, 2016, 4:39am (UTC -5)
Lame repetitive boring sequences of SFX tied together by random generic thoughtless technobabble topped off with such obvious incredulous leaps of logic?

This is categorically the worst ep of Trek ever put together, an unredeemably sloppy lazy hot mess that must have been "phoned in" and then half heartedly put together in a week that the the technical department were all on annual leave and left it to the work experience kids

Commits the two worst sins of simultaneously boring and confusing it's audience without any unintentionally comedic moments.

Negative 5 stars
Trek fan
Sat, Jan 21, 2017, 2:29am (UTC -5)
This one is okay and I think Jammer's 2-star review is pretty fair. And it's definitely NOT the worst Trek episode ever -- there are huge swaths of Seasons 1-2 "Enterprise" (let's not even start on Seasons 1-2 "Voyager") that are completely absent from my memory, as they fell into a cookie cutter of phaser shootouts without any substantial story or ideas. By contrast, "The Alternative Factor" has some neat ideas and iconic imagery, even if the high-concept SF story does tend toward tedium and incomprehensibility.

Despite the boredom in long stretches of this episode, I will give it this much: I have never forgotten it. The image of Lazarus fighting himself, the reverse-negative photography of their battles and Kirk's journey into the antimatter universe, and the nifty-looking "time ship" are all memorable concepts. It's the kind of "hard sci-fi high concept show" that TOS rarely did -- and in some ways, I suspect it set the stage for many later Trek stories, especially those written by Brannan Braga and Joe Menosky. Not a bad thing.

Being memorable for its imagery and ideas, despite the average execution, is a solid point in this episode's favor. By contrast, there are many (many, many, many) other Star Trek episodes from each series from which I can recall nothing at all. And there are many Trek episodes which are downright offensive and dumb. While this one is a bit of a drag, it's sincerely executed and strives for some big ideas. So I do think an "okay for effort" is in order. And let me be daring: Maybe it even deserves 2 1/2 stars for the cool female assistant engineer with the short haircut.
Rahul
Wed, Feb 15, 2017, 8:34pm (UTC -5)
Not one of the episodes that will resonate with a lot of folks -- went too far on the sci-fi scale with plenty of technobabble resulting in a confusing story. Some interesting ideas - as is almost always the case with Trek TOS - but one major flaw it how Lazarus is just allowed to wander around the ship without restraint. He even threatens Kirk "Captain, I'll have my vengeance" and then is just free to go. Bizarre given the threat the Federation believes it faces (prelude to invasion).
As for the special effects of the parallel universe and the transition between the 2 - I won't complain about 60s special effects but this episode made it hard not to cringe. It just seemed particularly low-budget / amateurish to me.
I'm also not a fan of how the Enterprise is in a situation where the whole universe could be destroyed if the 2 Lazaruses meet. Seems excessive.
Anyhow, this is a very disappointing episode. 1.5/4 stars for me and peculiar that it is sandwiched by 2 excellent episodes "The Devil..." and "The City on the Edge..."
Rick
Sat, Feb 18, 2017, 11:11pm (UTC -5)
Add to all that the fact that they make Shatner's character so unnecessarily cranky - He's pissed off the whole episode!
cdrood
Sun, Sep 10, 2017, 9:35am (UTC -5)
The resolution to the episode is a textbook case of something rigged up for dramatic effect without a sliver of logic.

1. If all that was necessary was to destroy a ship on one side, why didn't "sane" Lazarus do that years ago?

2. Why was it necessary for them to be trapped between universes? Simply destroying the ships was all that was necessary. The insane Lazarus could have been imprisoned and treated. "Sane" Lazarus would be free (albeit possibly stranded).

3. Why did Kirk tell Spock and two security guards to "stay back" as he struggled to throw insane Lazarus into the portal? Wouldn't it have been easier to just stun him and throw him in or at least make it 4 on 1. Stunning would have given "sane" Lazarus a little time without having to hold his counterpart and given Kirk and company time to get to cover.

4. Why did Kirk and company beam back to the ship and then go from the transporter room to the bridge BEFORE ordering the ship destroyed? They could have sought cover on the planet surface or if was quicker, beam up and order the strike to occur as soon as their arrival was confirmed.

5. Like with most such technologies in Trek, what's to prevent some race somewhere else from discovering the same technology when a ship without Starfleet's best and brightest in the vicinity? What if they let the Lazarus twins out? That's why just destroying the ship and keeping on Lazarus imprisoned makes more sense.
Bill
Fri, Feb 16, 2018, 6:59pm (UTC -5)
Just plain awful. No reason to wonder why this was held back and put in the stinker slot as next-to-last episode of the season, huh?

There might have been a good story here, but multiple circumstances doomed this poor episode. First, they removed a huge sub-plot where Charlene Masters was supposed to be in love with stable Lazarus and taken advantage of (not that way!) by the unstable one. Roddenberry and company didn't want two scripts (this and the up and coming "Space Seed") have crew women who forgot their duty by going gaga over a handsome face. So Lt. Masters just became the engineer (in blue) who was in charge of the Lithium Crystal Recharging Section.

(Recharging the crystals? Hm, that would have been a nice thing to be able to do in future...)

And when it came time to shoot this gutted script, the guest star (John Drew Barrymore) decides to up and not show up on the first day of filming. And to not answer his phone when they called. They shot around him and hired Robert Brown ASAP, altered the costume, glued some random beard on him, and shoved him in front of the cameras. Not a good situation even if the script had been top notch.
RandomThoughts
Thu, Apr 5, 2018, 12:33am (UTC -5)
Hello Everyone!

@Bill

I never knew those things about this episode and I always thought his beard looked funky. I suppose they thought he/they needed a beard, because where was he going to shave? :)

I wonder what they added into the episode? It always seemed a decent(ish) premise to me, but felt like it was half an episode stretched out. Perhaps it was...

Thanks for the insight... RT
Daniel Bolger
Fri, Apr 6, 2018, 3:13pm (UTC -5)
It's funny that many episodes have alien species that happen to look virtually identical to human beings. Highly unlikely.
TrolCy
Tue, Jun 19, 2018, 2:36pm (UTC -5)
This episode is the anti-Tylenol: guaranteed to induce headache upon viewing.

Events do not follow logically from one event to another. We have no rooting interest in Lazarus, or hissing interest, for that matter. He's a plot device. The episode is also unceasingly boring. Characters make obvious or inane observations. The pacing is way off. I John Drew Barrymore, who was contracted to play Lazarus, probably made the smartest career choice ever when he refused to show up for work when filming began.

The Memory Alpha wikia for this episode states that he grievance filed against him by the Star Trek production team led to him being unable to obtain acting work for six months in 1967. Better a mere six months than an eternity of humiliation, sneers, and snickers whenever the mention of who played Lazarus would have come up.
Joe Menta
Wed, Jun 20, 2018, 6:48am (UTC -5)
Where was Scotty? Why was Engineering relocated to some broom closet sized room off some random corridor? And yes, it was indeed ludicrous that Lazarus was allowed to simply roam around the Enterprise as he saw fit. Lol, strange episode.
Steve McCullagh
Thu, Jul 12, 2018, 8:55am (UTC -5)
Two stars is exceedingly generous for this one; it's so bad that before I did a full TOS rewatch last year I actually misremembered it being a season three episode 😁

Just awful. One of the all time worst episodes to me.
Lisa
Wed, Nov 7, 2018, 4:05pm (UTC -5)
These comments are so funny!! I think this episode was unintentionally funny and terribly overacted by Robert Brown. Yes this episode is boring and ridiculous and the special effects are amateurish.
Jason R.
Fri, Nov 23, 2018, 5:14pm (UTC -5)
So tedious. Half the episode was spent on these lame special effects. Meanwhile the concept is ridiculous. A man has a mass of what, 90 kg? That much matter meeting an equal quantity of antimatter would be insanely destructive but it would hardly blow up the universe.
Dave M.
Mon, Mar 4, 2019, 8:09pm (UTC -5)
The second time (or third... I lost count) Lazarus screamed and fell off the rocks I just said to myself "Oh I remember now, he does that a lot".

Nothing else to add. I'm pretty tolerant of the weaker episodes and the poor special effects of the time, but this one was just a terrible.

Oh, also pleased to see these forums still so active after all these years.
hifijohn
Tue, Mar 5, 2019, 7:49pm (UTC -5)
Absolute mess of an episode.
Springy
Sun, Apr 7, 2019, 8:28am (UTC -5)
Boring and nonsensical, not a good combination. Awful.

But plusses:

Robert Brown is good looking.

Props for the Lt Masters character, a black woman with a short fro even, and in Engineering! She's taken seriously and given important responsibility. Really daring for its time.
Leif
Thu, May 2, 2019, 2:51am (UTC -5)
Come on didn't anyone else think this was an imaginative, original, and memorable unconventional sci fi outing..other than Lazarus looking human? Original premise, if repetitive..
Bobbington Mc Bob
Wed, Sep 25, 2019, 2:38pm (UTC -5)
Agree with all the criticisms above. The scenery chewing acting from Lazarus was as headache-inducing as the constant ear splitting sound effects and music. The long-lived sci-fi plot device of intelligent characters doing stupid things to make plot happen seems to have been invented here. He's the most dangerous man in the universe and 1701 is the only ship within hundreds of light years specifically tasked with stopping him. But Bones is just "IDGAF where he is captain, I'm from Texas" and dudes in the bar grin at him inanely like its a rough pub in Ireland where you expect injured people with torn clothes to just wander about whilst in the most severe alert condition Starfleet ships have. Then there's the "fight" scenes, which are a huge step back from previous episodes.

When Lazarus made his plummet off the cliff, I prayed he was dead so we didn't have to see any more of what has to be the worst acting by a supporting cast member in Trek. Then, still wandering about the ship rather than being in the brig where by now he absolutely should be, we have a fire in not-engineering affecting two characters we give zero shits about. Presumably Scotty was attending a warp drive symposium during the gravest threat the universe has ever known. Everyone just abandons any semblance of intelligence from this point on to make the ending happen.

KIRK: (fighting mad Lazarus) "Stand back!"
Redshirts: * nowhere near Kirk, do not move at all *
Atomguy
Tue, Dec 17, 2019, 1:25pm (UTC -5)
This episode was utterly awful. Even the mediocre episodes usually make you feel something when it ends, but this one dragged so much that the only thing I felt at the end was relief. Worse than Threshold. Zero stars
P'kard
Sun, Mar 8, 2020, 10:45pm (UTC -5)
Love how this whole episode could have been prevented if they had used their security forces, brig and fire suppression systems
Pete
Mon, Mar 9, 2020, 7:21am (UTC -5)
This feels more like a bad episode of The Outer Limits rather than a bad episode of Star Trek. The montage-style effects have an Ed Wood quality, or rather lack of quality. It works for me on one level only... it's creepy. The Lazarus(es) are creepy. The music is creepy. Anything involving "for all eternity" just gets to me no matter how stupid it is. Also: I saw this as a child. Total nightmare fuel, logic be damned. TOS to me is like a beloved, battered old teddy bear. I can forgive practically all its missteps while not being blind to them, sometimes out of sheer kindertraumatic nostalgia and remembered wonders.
Pete
Mon, Mar 9, 2020, 7:37am (UTC -5)
Regarding matter/antimatter annihilation, there seems to be an old SF trope (if not an actual theory) that all particles may have very specific (unique) counterparts that are apocalypse-level destructive when they meet, rather than the generic kind of antiparticles meeting in the engine room. I know I've seen it used somewhere besides this (?!) but I really can't remember (or care?) when. And how does the Mirror Mirror universe fit in to all this?
Ginger
Sun, Apr 19, 2020, 8:02pm (UTC -5)
Ok, I didn't notice this when I was a child, but, just rewatched, THANK YOU NeTFLIX, and....... Lazarus's Beard kept changing, in the corridor, full as at first, still, looked like a lost whisk broom, then, sitting at table, almost clean shaven, then, beamed down to time ship, back again....... why am i so bothered by this ???? I can overlook everything else, but, please tell me I am not hallucinating ???? Nope, rolled it back..... uGHHHHHH, the HORROR, the HORROR ! ! !
Lazarus
Fri, Jun 5, 2020, 2:14am (UTC -5)
Every time I get the chance, I make sure to fall of a cliff.
What of Lazarus
Sun, Jun 14, 2020, 7:59pm (UTC -5)
I rewatched this to decide which was the worst TOS episode. Yes, this was the winner. Nothing made sense. The Galaxy winking out where everything had zero gravity? Why did Star Fleet think there was an invasion? The constant switching of good vs bad Lazarus. How did this happen? What started it and what ended it? Sometimes they switched, sometimes they didn't. What's up with the safe corridor? How did they even get into it? How did good Lazarus end up in this universe in the first place if dilithium crystals are needed? Why should a parallel universe be anti-matter? How can whole existence be wiped out? How could Lazarus be a time traveler? What was the relevance? Where was Scotty and Sulu? Why did Kirk risk the universe by wrestling Lazarus into his ship rather than just using his phaser?
Silly
Sun, Jul 5, 2020, 7:36pm (UTC -5)
lol, like others, I quite distinctly remember this episode from my childhood, literally 40 years ago! I didn’t like it whatsoever, but it sure stuck in my head.

Ok, I actually did quite like the Lazaruses spaceship/time machine. Nice little prop.

It’s really not clear that one Lazarus is sane and one crazy. I could scarcely tell the difference. Bones couldn’t seem to tell either.

What really always bothered me was the place they get trapped to fight for all eternity... so, they are immortal? Is there food there?

Also, considering the two Lazaruses NEVER meet outside the over-exposed room, it seems a reasonable explanation is that they CAN’T, so there was actually no danger. How would they *know* that meeting would destroy the universe? Its not exactly something you can test.

Lol, horrible episode, but a good conversation starter.

Submit a comment





◄ Season Index

▲Top of Page | Menu | Copyright © 1994-2020 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication or distribution of any content is prohibited. This site is an independent publication and is not affiliated with or authorized by any entity or company referenced herein. See site policies.