Episode: 27Title: The Alternative FactorStar Date: 3087.6Writer: Don IngallsFirst Shown: 23rd March 1967
The Alternative Factor is probably one of the few original season stories that doesn’t quite work, although it’s notable in that it explores the idea of parallel dimensions – something that became a staple of later Trek stories.
The Enterprise is stuck by an unknown energy from a strange planet, one which appears to be jumping between existing and not.
Scanning the planet, they sense a lifeform that had not previously been there, and an away team is dispatched to investigate. They find a tiny flying saucer and a crazy man, who looks like he’s been attacked. They let him fall off a cliff, and then realising that it didn’t kill him, they beam him back to the Enterprise to check out his injuries.
But he’s not alone in having problems. The dimensional winking is draining the dilithium crystals rapidly, and the Enterprise has only 10 hours before it falls out of orbit. The effect isn’t restricted to just them. The impact on Federation starships is sector wide.
Kirk is ordered to find the source of the problem, and all other ships are instructed to leave the area.
Once their guest is well enough to talk, they realise he’s connected to the events, as he phases in and out of their dimension. Lazarus tells them of a mission to stop a ‘monster’ that destroyed his civilisation, and who must be stopped. Confusingly, Lazarus sometimes exhibits an injury and then alternately doesn’t – is this man fighting himself?
Spock detects a tear in space which has formed near the saucer, and Lazarus tells them that this has been done by his enemy and he can fix this if they give him some dilithium crystals to power his ship. When Kirk refuses, he tries to steal some, and blames his nemesis when accused.
It’s Spock’s analysis that Lazarus’s real enemy is an anti version of himself, possibly from an anti-universe where normal matter is antimatter. Why this doesn’t cause him to self annihilate when coming into contact with matter isn’t explained, disappointingly. Spock also assumes their getting together could be disastrous for both universes. Nice theory Spock, although he seems short on actual evidence for that conclusion.
We then get into another run around where Lazarus goes down to the planet, falls and ends up back in sickbay, again. Bored with this game, Kirk demands the truth, which Lazarus confusingly provides (so why not earlier?). He’s a time traveller, and his ship is a sort of Tardis, and he’s been running away from his enemy for centuries.
Kirk doesn’t trust him, but doesn’t actually put enough security on sickbay to stop shoplifters. As a result Lazarus escapes again, gets some dilithium and head back to the planet, again.
Kirk goes to stop him and is the one transported when the ship is activated, and meets the amazingly rational anti-Lazarus. He confirms his part in the plot and that Spock is correct about how their getting together would be a bad thing.
The resolution is that the two of them must meet in the inter-dimensional portal, which they do once Kirk returns and pushes the crazy one through. He then uses the ship’s phasers to destroy the ship and seal them forever in the portal.
I have to say that as a child I found this story very hard to follow, and I didn’t find it much easier as an adult. Which version of Lazarus we’re looking at often isn’t obvious, and why the sane version didn’t explain earlier what was going on seems inexplicable.
However, Gene Roddenberry must have liked what Don Ingalls did writing this story, and invited him back to create A Private Little War in season 2. This was the director, Gerd Oswald’s second Trek, having directed The Conscience Of The King previously, and this was his final contribution to the original series.
The most interesting aspect of this episode is that Robert Brown wasn’t supposed to be Lazarus, as it was originally to be John Drew Barrymore. Except Mr Barrymore didn’t actually turn up on the first day of filming, and Robert Brown was brought in, causing the schedule to slip by two days. John Drew, the son of screen legend John Barrymore, had a spurious acting career that this didn’t contribute positively to when the Screen Actors Guild withdrew his membership for six months.
After this slightly disappointing outing, Star Trek comes back with a vengeance next with the seminal The City On The Edge Of Forever.