It’s time for Star Trek Saturdays #20!!!
This week’s episode is “The Alternative Factor” and while it drags in quite a few places, it’s still an enjoyable episode.
We open with the Enterprise completing a routine survey of an uninhabited planet when suddenly, the ship is thrown into chaos. Everything is shaken up and all within sensor range seems, as Spock records later, on the verge of “winking out” of existence. After things come back to normal, the instruments detect a life form on the surface of the planet. Kirk, instantly suspicious, beams down with Spock and a security team to the planet’s surface, where they encounter a strange man (Robert Brown) who screams at them hysterically about how “We can still stop him!” and then falls off of a rock.
Returning to the Enterprise with him, Kirk learns that the strange phenomenon they experienced earlier nearly completely drained the ship’s dilithium crystals. Even worse, Starfleet contacts them with a Code Factor 1 message, signalling the possibility of invasion. An unnamed commodore appears on screen–incidentally, this is the first time someone from Starfleet communicates with the crew in real time–and informs him that the phenomenon was felt at the exact same time in all quadrants of the galaxy and behind. Kirk requests help, but the commodore denies it, saying he is withdrawing all Starfleet ships within 100 parsecs of their position. “So we’re bait,” Kirk concludes somewhat bitterly.
Kirk then heads to sickbay, where the man–who is called Lazarus–is recovering. He tells Kirk that he has been pursuing a “thing”–not a man, but a monster–across the cosmos for destroying his entire civilization. Kirk then beams Lazarus and himself down to the planet, where Spock informs him that there is no other creature present on the planet. Kirk grabs Lazarus and demands the truth. Suddenly, Lazarus begins spasming and the strange phenomenon occurs again.
Later, Kirk is informed by McCoy that a cut on Lazarus’ head, visible when he came in, has disappeared. But after finding Lazarus, who has escaped sickbay and spasmed again, with the cut still visibly there, Kirk doubts McCoy. But just who is Lazarus, and why does he keep spasming at the same time the phenomenon occurs? And what of this mysterious “thing” he’s been pursuing?
This episode does have its moments, but they’re undone by some rather odd scripting. Gerd Oswald returns again as director and does much better work here than in “The Conscience of The King,” in part because he’s called to do some really cool visual effects. As realized by the effects team, we get some neat 2001-esque stuff, such as a nebula-like thing that’s superimposed over the screen every time the phenomenon occurs to a very trippy image of two men fighting in a space that looks like a photographic negative.
Such nifty effects–which are made even cooler in the remastered version, where that still is taken from–and a very neat sense of pacing helps make up for the relative crumminess of Don Ingalls’ script. As my roommate pointed out, the big discovery about Lazarus comes about not through fact, but through pure conjecture between Kirk and Spock. To his credit, Oswald frames this conjecture with some nice gravitas and mounting close-up shots of the two men going back and forth, but it’s still conjecture.
Brown does a fine job as Lazarus, even if that job is mostly screaming and hysteria. He’s good at it and, later on, when the full truth about Lazarus is revealed, he handles things with gusto. According to Memory Alpha, John Drew Barrymore (yes, that one) was originally supposed to be Lazarus, but he simply didn’t show up to filming. Maybe, as Ed Harris groused in his recap of this episode for The Agony Booth, “he read the script.” Anyway, this resulted in Brown hurriedly being cast, then dragged on set, as well as a grievance filed against Barrymore by the production crew that cost him work for six months. One wonders what Barrymore would have done in this part, but Brown does just fine.
For some strange reason, Sulu and Scotty don’t appear in this episode. Even more puzzling, a key bit of action occurs in Engineering, but it happens on a new set, rather than the one we’ve seen previously. Like I said, some odd choices are made, and Ingalls’ script has some rather crummy beats, but Oswald and the actors keep things better than they should be. So I’d still recommend this.
Thanks to Memory Alpha, the official Star Trek wiki for the pics and episode information, as well as Amazon Instant for hosting the show. We’ll see you next Saturday and until then, live long and prosper.