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Star Trek TOS - Season 1 - Episode 27

Star Trek TOS - 1x27 - The Alternative Factor

Originally Aired: 1967-3-30

Synopsis:
An alien being fights himself between two realities. [Blu-ray] [DVD]

My Rating - 0

Fan Rating Average - 2.33

Rate episode?

Rating: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
# Votes: 102 28 13 17 17 11 3 10 10 5 8

Filler Quotient: 3, bad filler, totally skippable.
- If you skip only one episode of all of Star Trek, let it be this one.

Problems
- The entire episode's premise is an unworkable problem. See my review below for more details.
- Spock says the entire magnetic field of this "solar system" simply blinked. This is a common error. The term they were looking for is planetary system. The planetary system we live in is called the Solar System because our star is named Sol. As such, the term "Solar System" is a proper noun, not a generic term.
- Why wasn't the clearly unstable Lazarus under more heavy guard throughout the episode? The guards seemed to come and go whenever they wanted.
- Lazarus' fake beard seems to change in thickness throughout various scenes. The most obvious (and unintentionally humorous) example occurs around 24 minutes and 20 seconds into the episode.

Factoids
- This episode establishes that there are at least 431 people aboard the Enterprise at this time.
- This episode is the winner of my "Worst Episode of TOS Award" and is also the winner of my "Worst Episode Ever Award."

Remarkable Scenes
- Just when you think the technobabble and bad science can't get any worse, it gets worse. All through the episode.

My Review
The Alternative Factor is an overwrought story in which the fate of two entire universes hangs in the balance over what amounts to little more than an incoherent stream of technical nonsense vomited at the screen by nearly every character. Vague, half-assed references to parallel universes, time travel, dilithium crystals, and antimatter get strewn about the dialog as if they somehow constitute a satisfactory explanation for the incessant glowing, psychedelic flashing, screeching, and noisy interludes which mightily assault your visual and auditory senses every few minutes. Production quality on Star Trek was never something to write home about, but this episode's is unforgivable.

But even with better production quality, there would be no saving the science in this story. The most incoherent scene is when after a lengthy discussion filled with pseudoscientific reasoning, Kirk and Spock deduce that the two Lazari must be matter/antimatter opposites from parallel universes. They further reason that their cosmic battling is what's causing the universe to occasionally "wink out" because an antimatter Lazarus coming into contact with a matter Lazarus would, they surmise, destroy both universes. Except for the pesky fact that that makes no sense at all and it isn't even consistent with what appears on screen.

Assuming for the moment that it's possible for a parallel universe made up entirely of antimatter to exist and that a man from an antimatter universe and a man from a matter universe could ever come in contact with each other via some means similar to what's depicted in this episode, then the two men in question would most certainly not enter into some sort of cosmic psychedelic wrestling match as this episode depicts. Instead they would instantly annihilate each other. Moreover, their mutual annihilation would not destroy any universes, let alone two. Their mutual annihilation would not likely even destroy a single planet, seeing as how planets like Earth have withstood repeated asteroid impacts which released considerably more energy than the ~90kg matter/antimatter explosion the two Lazari would yield.

A related problem is introduced when Kirk accidentally travels to the antimatter universe. Since Kirk is made up of matter, the very moment he came into contact with anything from the antimatter universe, he and it should have instantly annihilated one another. And while we're on the subject of the episode's bad science, Spock mentioned that he used the ship's dilithium crystals to localize a source of radiation on the planet. Setting aside the fact that that line makes no coherent sense at all, Spock later contradicts it entirely by saying that the ship's instruments cannot see the radiation at all; a statement which by itself doesn't make a lot of sense because the radiation source is visible to the naked eye. Do none of their sensors measure visible light?

As if the bad science in this episode weren't enough, the actual storytelling is abysmal. Once again we revisit Star Trek's tried and true cliche in which the mystery guest of the week fails to adequately explain what's going on despite repeated direct, pointed questioning. We don't want to let the plot move too quickly now, do we! There is some legitimate dramatic appeal in the idea behind a story about two identical men seeking to destroy one another, but whatever potential there is in the idea drowns under the weight of bad writing, bad science, bad production quality, and bad acting.

The climax of absurdity is Kirk's final line, "What of Lazarus? What of Lazarus?" Uttered in a fashion intended to be thoughtful and reflective, the line is in fact overwrought and laced with false profundity, much like the rest of the story. I didn't think it was possible for an episode of Star Trek to be worse than Miri, but here it is folks. Do yourself a favor and skip this one.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Tim on 2006-05-07 at 7:50pm:
    I SO Agree with this review! Spot on. I HATE this Episode.
  • From Orion Pimpdaddy on 2007-12-13 at 3:05pm:
    I just watched this episode with my wife and I have to say we were not entertained. I think the whole universe blinking out thing was too over the top. Neither of the two Lazaruses were interesting, especially compared to other guest stars you normally see on the show. Also, you can kind of tell when the actors think that the episode is bad; everyone seemed subdued here. I would have also liked a little more background about Lazarus and his people. There are so many unaswered questions. I gave this stinker a 1, not a zero, because it was original. That is the only good thing to say about it. Warning: do not watch this episode late at night, you'll fall asleep!
  • From TashaFan on 2008-09-11 at 6:00am:
    I agree with every point made so far. Where is the parallel Enterprise? The other universe seems to be empty. How does "our" Enterprise limp away without retrieving the 2 dilithium crystals left in the parallel universe? Two particles, identical but one "anti" and one not, destroy EACH OTHER totally, not the ENTIRE UNIVERSE. And, the biggest problem, where the heck is the DOOR to Lazarus's ship? The front of it is just a big empty HOLE! He must get a lot of bugs in the face flying through the atmosphere.
  • From b goldstein on 2012-01-08 at 3:56pm:
    It's nitpicky, I know, but Solar system is generic. It is a set of planets rotating around a star.

    Ours might be the "Sol system"
  • From Kethinov on 2012-01-08 at 6:25pm:
    Sorry Goldstein, that isn't correct. Sol is the Latin term for our star. Thus the term "solar system" only refers to our system because the term "solar" is an adjective derived from Sol.

    A lot of people mistakenly believe "solar system" is a generic term precisely because Star Trek and other media like it made this error over and over again. But just because it's a common error doesn't make it any less an error.

    If you pay close attention, you'll notice that later Star Trek eventually corrected themselves and began using more correct terms over time, although the occasional error will still creep in.
  • From Mark on 2012-05-02 at 3:23am:
    Wow! I'm watching all of the original series episodes on Netflix. I've loved them so far. Then I came to this one. I thought to myself that this one MUST be the worst episode ever. On a whim, I Googled "worst Star Trek episode," and this page came up. I LOVE that I'm not alone in disliking this episode. However, Uhura's legs are awesome.
  • From Cameron on 2012-08-22 at 8:27pm:
    I agree in so many ways -- there's nothing resembling a story arc, just a bunch of disjointed incidents. As for the "science," I'm willing to suspend disbelief for something dramatically compelling.

    But my next point: I frankly envy you who are so dismissive that the harshly disturbing resolution didn't "implant" in your brain like with many of us. I was on a forum with a woman saying she saw this years ago and it still bothers her. Me, too - for all this episode's sins I give it a perverse credit. The idea of the ultimate sacrifice being not death, but having to eternally endure combat in that nauseatingly spinning chamber. It still bugs me when I'm reminded of it. Maybe a quality episode could be made with a similar ending - but I'm not sure I'd enjoy it.
  • From warpfactor 10.1 on 2012-09-10 at 1:24pm:
    I want 50 minutes of my life back. This was so tedious. I wish I had read your review first and avoided it. I did fall asleep for part of the time and I can only be thankful for that. Don't watch it; you'll hate yourself.
  • From Tom Gettins on 2012-09-16 at 8:48pm:
    I watched this episode as a kid - and I found the payoff (Lazarus fighting a loony for eternity to save the Universe) quite haunting.


    Bad science? What bad science? It happened people!
    There IS a small corridor between parallel universes to act as a safety cut out for bad AM confinement.

    We owe thanks to the original research carried out by Star Trek writers.

    Otherwise we wouldn't know that Anti Matter only affects people that it is related to.
  • From Glenn239 on 2012-10-20 at 12:13pm:
    '1'. My favorite bit is where Star Fleet determines that a threat to the entire galaxy exists in Enterprise's sector, so it runs away and tells Kirk to handle it alone.

    I save '0' scores for episodes so bad that I would not watch them again, being wretched enough that I don't even consider them part of the series. This one is horrendous, up there with waterboarding if inflicted repeatedly upon prisoners against their will, but not quite so traumatic that I can't rule out another peek in 10 or 20 years.
  • From Oz on 2012-12-16 at 4:42am:
    The use of uncapitalzed (or spoken) "solar system" to refer to another sun with its associated planets is fine. This is much the same as the Church largely refers to the Catholic church, where "church" is any church. I don't think we would call our solar cells something else just because we were on Vulcan. "Sol" refers to the Roman sun god. Great website by the way.
  • From Kethinov on 2012-12-16 at 7:09am:
    Thanks Oz.

    The use of "solar system" is definitely not correct. It's not a generic term, it's a proper noun. People get this wrong a lot and most science fiction frequently misuses the term.
  • From Sloop on 2013-08-30 at 2:05pm:
    This is the first TOS episode I had to watch a second time just to take it all in. With regards sloppy science, pacing, repetitive effects etc, almost all of the TOS episodes have plotholes so I think we should cut 'Alternative' some slack. Its ambition alone makes it a worthy episode. For me, Mudd's Women is the poorest season 1 episode.
  • From Tooms on 2013-09-07 at 3:17am:
    I think it would be more correct to say there is no standard term for a star and planetary system outside of the solar system. If there is no official term, I don't think it's necessarily an error to use solar system. It's possible that will eventually be the standard term. It's just not something that we've needed a term for until recently. The study of geology on another planet would probably still be called geology even though geo means "earth".

    As for this episode, definitely a 0!
  • From Kethinov on 2013-09-08 at 7:00am:
    There is a standard term. The term is "planetary system" which is well documented by the scientific community.

    Geology on other planets is still geology. The Latin root comparison is wrong because "geo" is the Latin word for earth, not Earth. The term "earth" can be generic to refer to the ground or soil, whereas "Earth" is a proper noun referring to our specific planet.

    Such is not the case with Sol. There is no accepted generic form like with earth and Earth.
  • From John on 2013-09-09 at 11:22pm:
    I have just watched the episode and, of course, I immediately hit the internet with a search for a review...I found the episode irritating at best, and I needed to see I am not alone in being totally dumbfounded by the 'science', the plot and the uninspired acting.
    With regard to the science, I understand that writers were under no obligation to provide scientifically accurate details to their stories. Even if it was a not-so-secret agenda of the show to promote interest in science, kindling interest in something is not the same thing as explaining it or teaching it. You learn science from books on science, not from a tv fantasy show. However, kindling interest is one of the things what they dismally failed to do here. The confusion caused by Kirk touching antimatter to go into the parallel universe (as antimatter?) then coming back to send...whatever, its irritatingly confounded!!
    As for the ending, it is haunting, true. But it comes after such a bungle of ideas and underdeveloped themes that it loses much of its force. It is a pity as the theme of personal sacrifice (with its references to abortion, public health and social policies) is an important and recurring theme throughout the star trek shows. It would have made an excellent contribution to the franchise but not this terribly scripted stinker.
    Excellent site, by the way!!
  • From Tooms on 2013-09-11 at 7:20am:
    The term planetary system does not include the star. Sol and it's planetary system make up the Solar System. Much as you compare earth to Earth, you could also compare the Solar System to a solar system. You could use extrasolar system to be more descriptive, but there is no standard term for a star and its planetary system other than our own.
  • From Kethinov on 2013-09-11 at 4:03pm:
    Tooms, your post is full of misinformation.

    "The term planetary system does not include the star."

    Yes it does. A planetary system cannot exist without something for the planets to orbit. The term necessarily implies a central star.

    "Sol and it's planetary system make up the Solar System. Much as you compare earth to Earth, you could also compare the Solar System to a solar system."

    There is no "solar system" generic term. The term literally doesn't exist. Lots of people think it does, but it doesn't. It's not recognized by the scientific community. There is only "Solar System" the proper noun.

    "You could use extrasolar system to be more descriptive, but there is no standard term for a star and its planetary system other than our own."

    That's not true. There is a standard term. The term you're looking for (and what Star Trek is looking for) is "planetary system." That's the term the scientific community uses when referring to a system of planets orbiting an arbitrary star.

    There's tons of information out there confirming what I've been saying. Look it up!
  • From jeffenator98 on 2013-09-26 at 6:08pm:
    My favorite part is when Lazarus opens the panel in the hallway and switches a couple of Radio Shack type fuzes to start a fire.Uhuras legs are awesome.
  • From Deggsy on 2013-10-05 at 12:30am:
    Part (but not all) of the incoherence in the story is due to extensive rewrites caused because originally, there was a romantic subplot between Lazarus and Lt Masters, but the actress hired was black and the network didn't want to upset the Southern markets, so it was hastily rewritten to put in more planetside scenes of Lazarus falling and other crap.
  • From Tony Cole on 2013-11-16 at 1:32am:
    I really think you people need to get over the solar vs. planetary argument.
    Who cares?
    The last comment I read was the most compelling. The one about the deleted romance. It explained a lot of the disjointed scenes, the repetitive, boring hikes on the planets surface, the lack of scenes with anti-matter Lazarus. Even as a young kid I remember the controversy over Kirk's kiss with Uhura. But I agree this one's a stinker!
  • From SheriDH on 2014-02-03 at 12:50am:
    As I watched this episode, I kept wondering where Scotty (James Doohan) was? Lt. Masters had a blue uniform (usually implying science or medicine although that's not consistent in the series), what was she doing in engineering with no sign of Mr. Scott?

    Interesting comment about the scenes that implied a romance between Lazarus and Masters being deleted - what's the source for that?
  • From Scott Hearon on 2014-03-31 at 9:33pm:
    Wow. Atrocious episode, on nearly every level.

    I would give a blow-by-blow of what bothered me, but Kethinov and all of the other commenters have done it for me.

    On top of the serious logical errors with the plot, the episode was just plain boring. Raving psychos are usually boring, and Lazarus was another example (and what are the chances that some dude from a far-off planetary system is named "Lazarus," anyway?). The acid-trip wrestling matches were equally tedious.

    I had read that this episode was bad, but I'm forcing myself to watch the entire first season (I've never seen any of them before), the good, the bad, and the ugly. The one was one of the absolute worst, along with "Miri."

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