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The Alternative Factor

"What's going on?" asks Kirk at about the halfway point in this episode. He speaks for everyone watching. Though a late cast change might explain Robert Brown's abysmal performance, nothing can explain the incoherence in this script. It's a sci-fi hotdish, with a little of everything thrown together in the hopes that someone out there sees a story. No one does.

Breaking one of their own cardinal rules, the creative team has allowed a script with virtually no character development, either in the regulars or in the guest. The guest -- or guests, if you prefer -- serves merely as a catalyst for a series of events which seem to make sense to him, but not to anyone else. Frankly, I think Kirk is bluffing when he says he's starting to understand. I think that, even at the end, he remains as baffled as anyone and just does what he is told. His "What of Lazarus?" might just as well have been "What of story? What of characters?"

There is a nugget of a good idea here in the notion of alternate universes, and it will be explored to much greater effect in the second season ("Mirror, Mirror"). But the details simply haven't been thought through. It's as if the writers couldn't figure out for themselves who Lazarus was, how and why he got there, and how this whole alternate universe interface works. Dilithium crystals suddenly have many more magical properties than they've ever had (or ever would again). There is even an elaborate mention of time travel which goes exactly nowhere and is never mentioned again.

Technically, the quality of the production has also begun to break down. For one thing, though it's been a slippery slope, finally any pretense of interesting lighting onboard the ship is completely gone. Compare the briefing room shots in this episode to those in "Mudd's Women" and you will see that all the drama is gone. The same is true in sickbay and the corridors. The photography is pedestrian, and everything looks completely flat.

The location photography, only one week removed from some very fine work on "Arena," is no better. The terrain suddenly looks anonymous, and the rock formations are intentionally downplayed (perhaps because they had been photographed so distinctively the previous week). The Lazarus ship is straight out of a comic book. Similarly, the make-up crew hasn't even attempted to keep Lazarus' beard consistent. It looks like there were half a dozen versions, with the briefing room version reaching laugh-out-loud proportions of thinness.

Again this week some scenes had to be shot on the planet soundstage and intercut with the location photography. These are the scenes in which the "sane" Lazarus explains it all to Kirk. One has to believe that these could not be shot on location because they hadn't been written yet, or were substantially rewritten and had to be reshot later. Unfortunately, it emphasizes how unrealistic those planet sets have begun to look. Going from real rocks to fakes is quite noticeable.

A few small things are worth noting. Doohan apparently had the week off (lucky him) and is replaced by a Lieutenant-of-the-week who simply inherits all of his lines unchanged. The music recycles Courage's weakest score, from "The Man Trap," and we are forced to endure the creepy organ sounds again. The optical effects are comparable to other episodes, and manage to give some sense of the movement between universes. The special filters work well for the netherworld between, and there is one very nice new shot of the Enterprise engaging phasers as viewed from behind.

But clearly the cast and crew knew they had a dog on their hands. Shatner and Nimoy go through their paces, having established their characters very thoroughly during better times. Here they need do nothing but read the garbage they are given. Thankfully, neither tries to make anything out of it (which would have just pushed this from bad to worse).

Perhaps guest star Brown also knew how bad this would turn out. He seems to give extra emphasis to his three -- count 'em, three -- dramatic falls off rocky ledges. Would that this script had been dropped from a similar ledge.

Rating: Very Bottom (7)


I think this is my least favorite of all. This is the only episode of the original series that I simply cannot endure on repeated viewings.

Posted January 10, 2010 6:41 PM by Huckle

I found this episode very disconcerting when first viewing it in my tweens. Even at that age, I found the concept that matter and antimatter could somehow be in close physical proximity without some kind of huge explosion to be nonsensical. As you point out, Brown's beard, just plain bizarre-looking anyway, changes thickness so much (and so randomly) that it's disturbing. There were numerous other choices Kirk could have made (destroy the ship WITHOUT Lazarus in the corridor, so they can't switch places any more, for instance) which would have probably been more humane or at least made more sense. Lazarus' sanity seems the same for whichever version we're dealing with, despite what Kirk and Spock say. And what about all the "episodes" Lazarus has where he's switching universes - how come no one else on the ship sees or feels these things happening? Not to mention not keeping the guy under restraint and security watch since dilithium crystals just start disappearing with him around. I mean, seriously, guys - was anyone thinking on this episode at all?

But in watching it now, maybe the most disturbing thing is a completely different Engineering set (why?). Add in some seriously high-voltage stuff available to ANYONE in the corridor outside it that can seriously mess the ship up if someone fools with it, and it seems like this is a completely different ship from anything I'm familiar with. And Charlene Masters - she's wearing a science uniform and insignia (and no braid - that's "Ensign", not "Lieutenant"). Good actress, but where's Scotty? (Jimmy Doohan was likely thankful to be left out of this one.) So many holes and inconsistencies, so much bad dialog, and so many unexplained set and cast differences. This is a royal stinker that I keep returning to either because of masochism or because it's so different and unreal feeling that I'm still trying to get my bearings.

Posted November 18, 2013 10:07 AM by Robert Tukey