Director: Gerd Oswald
Writer: Don Ingalls
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Brown, DeForest Kelley, Janet MacLachlan, Nichelle Nichols, Richard Derr, Arch Whiting, Christian Patrick, and Eddie Paskey
Composer: Alexander Courage
Air Date: 3/30/1967
Production #: 6149-20
While surveying an uncharted planet, the Enterprise sustains a disturbance caused by the surrounding space momentarily winking out of existence. Following this bizarre phenomenon, a man named Lazarus (Robert Brown) appears on the planet and claims to be locked in a perpetual conflict with a being from an antimatter universe.
Similar in premise to “Mirror, Mirror” and Lost in Space’s “The Anti-Matter Man,” “The Alternative Factor” lacks the philosophical resonance to justify its ludicrous narrative. By combining a repetitive plot with special effects that seem goofy even by TOS standards, this incongruous episode fails to capture the essence of other season one classics.
Though “The Alternative Factor” is plagued by languid pacing and incomprehensible character motives, a solid twist ending coupled with harrowing final observations from Kirk and Spock redeem this entry from its numerous flaws.
Under most circumstances, the obnoxious special effects could be excused in light of obvious technological and budgetary constraints. However, the psychedelic visuals resulting from double-exposure appear so many times throughout this episode that even the most forgiving of fans will be inclined to skip over the redundant fight scenes involving Lazarus and his doppelgänger.
In addition to its irritating execution of a cosmic wrestling match, “The Alternative Factor” suffers from the illogical actions of otherwise responsible characters. Just the fact that Kirk would allow a disturbed individual such as Lazarus to roam unsupervised aboard the Enterprise demonstrates how little thought was dedicated to the nuances of Don Ingalls’ story.
Despite its failure to reflectively contrast man’s dark and light qualities, “The Alternative Factor” succeeds in exemplifying a core aspect of Gene Roddenberry’s humanistic belief system. Just as the creator of Star Trek envisioned a world in which individuals would readily surrender selfish pursuits in favor of advancing humanity’s accomplishments, the conclusion to this episode reflects an unfathomable act of self-sacrifice made with the intent of preserving the universe and all its greatness. Under more competent direction, such a story as this could have easily delivered the same lasting impact as other similarly-themed installments.
“The Alternative Factor” marks a low point in Star Trek’s mostly excellent lineup. A thought-provoking resolution prevents this episode from culminating in total disaster, yet many instances of convoluted writing and over-the-top acting result in possibly the weakest effort season one has to offer.
Overall Quality: 5/10
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