Trek Review: “The Alternative Factor”

Where in the world do I begin to analyze this very confusing mess of an episode?

Any attempt by me to try and describe the plot here would probably confuse you even more and might melt your brain.  Suffice it to say that I don’t think anyone could do any better or worse.  If you are curious, just read the entry at Memory Alpha (the Star Trek wiki.)

This show was very troubled at every stage of production.  One of the great blogs out there that I love to read is Star Trek Fact Check by Michael Kmet.  He has done a whole series of articles looking through production documents trying to make some sense of what was going on behind the scenes in the production of this episode.  His blog was started to try and clear up misinformation printed in other books, but on top of that there is lots of great information about what was going on during the development of this disastrous episode.  Here is a link to Part 1 of his look at the production.  He will be writing more on the topic in the future.

It’s well documented that John Drew Barrymore had agreed to guest star in this episode and play Lazarus, only to not show up for work.  Desilu complained to the Screen Actors Guild and he got suspended for 6 months as a result.  Robert Brown had to step in on practically no notice and play this role.  He tried, but I don’t think any actor could have salvaged what was already a watered down, confusing script.

Let’s examine some of the many story points that I have problems with here:

The propensity for Lazarus to continue to fall off of cliffs and ledges is just flooring.  He does this multiple times throughout the episode.

I can understand it happening the first time, but *two* times?  Even the most inexperienced starship Captain would not let him go near a rock formation after the first time.  Maybe Kirk just hated Lazarus.  The galaxy may never know.

The cheapened Engineering set.  A set was already built, why did they go to this crappy setup?

I mean, it’s nothing but a small room with various consoles we’ve seen in previous episodes.  Granted, it was described in earlier drafts as the “Energizing Lab.”  Couldn’t they just have called it the “Dilithium Chamber Room” or something more conducive to it *not* being Engineering?  Another blemishing script detail that was overlooked.

Speaking of which, in that photo, is Lieutenant Masters, played by Janet MacLachlan.  She does as good as she can do here, but her role was to be so much bigger than it actually ended up being.  I refer to of course the fact that Masters and Lazarus #1 (the bad one) was supposed to have some sort of romantic relationship.  As the Fact Check article mentions, “Space Seed” also had a female crew member in love with the antagonist.  One of the stories had to be changed.   As a matter of fact, Stan Robertson, the NBC Standards and Practices representative assigned to Star Trek, suggested that Masters be a civilian instead of a crew member in order to make the plot in this episode make more sense.  That suggestion fell on deaf ears apparently, Gene Coon removed this aspect of the story.  I felt that if Robertson’s idea had been utilized, it might have made the story stronger and more coherent to me.

I get the story.  I get what it was aiming for.  Two beings in parallel universes.  The bad one, the negative one, trying to destroy the positive one and bring down two universes in the process.  Matter and anti-matter.  Like I said, it’s not that I don’t get the story idea at all.  It’s just that the execution of this is very, very sloppy, awful, painful, downright…. I think I’ve ran out of adjectives to describe the debauchery that is going on here.

I don’t think there is an actual soul out there that even likes this episode.  Is it the worst episode of the entire series?  I’m going to go out on a limb and say it very well could be.  If “Spock’s Brain” didn’t exist, I am sure that a lot of people would think that this would be the worst.  If you were to say this was the worst episode of the first season, then you would not be debated for an instant.

Fortunately, next week, we go from what could be the worst, to my absolute favorite episode of the entire Original Series:

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