Captain's Blog pt. 50: The Alternative Factor

Kirk and Spock: Under the Dome
On March 30th, 1967, NBC aired:

Title: 1 out of 3 pts. A better name would be "Lazarus, Go Home."

Script / Theme: 1 / 6 pts (out of 10/10). This is a good example of cool idea, bad script.

On the bad script side: 

- Kirk and Spock don't act like themselves (Kirk in particular seems quick to assume people are pulling pranks or giving him poetic answers, like some generic Captain from any generic military show,) and they fail to put very obvious things together. Except when they need to, in which case, they make deductive leaps that are not at all obvious.
- Repetitive dialogue.
- Contrived mystery and set-up.
- Spock's telling Lazarus he is a liar, so matter-of-factly, doesn't make much sense. When Kirk does, a little later, it makes a bit more, but it's still kind of silly.
- Does the entire galaxy quake each time the cross-dimensional hiccups happen? If not, why not?
- Lazarus is not a very well-conceived character. Neither of them.
- Why is everyone so amazed at the possibilities inherent in the idea of matter vs. antimatter? Hadn't it already been established at this point that that's how the warp core works? Actually, maybe it hadn't. 
- The last line ("But what of Lazarus? What... of... Lazarus?") aches for a profundity the story has not delivered. It just doesn't land.

On the cool idea side, two alternates whose struggle threatens the omniverse and who must be trapped in the dimensional corridor between worlds is pretty cool.

DC sure must have thought so, as it's been the basis for every "Crisis" event since.
Lazarus' ship looks like the submersible from this old Choose Your Own Adventure story, doesn't it?
Lazarus would have been much cooler played by Jacques Cousteau.

Visual Design: 1 pt out of 3. Is there any essential reason they couldn't have filmed the planetside scenes on a soundstage? Does it improve the visuals/ episode by any discernible amount? I can almost hear the line producers grumbling about this each time it cuts to the scenes on the surface. Still, always nice to see. As with "Arena," "Shore Leave," and "Friday's Child," not to mention "Darmok" from TNG and a few others, the exteriors were filmed at Vasquez Rocks.)

This cross-dimensional hullabaloo is effective enough, I guess.
At least the first forty times we see it.
It happens every 4 or 5 minutes.

Guest: 2.5 pts out of 3. Drew Barrymore's Dad was originally cast as Lazarus, but when the first day of filming came, he was a no-show. (A big deal, especially in 1967. He didn't work again for 6 months as a result.) So they grabbed Robert Brown at the last minute.

How'd he do?

Well, like I say, he's not helped by the script. His character exists only to give very generic explanations / nonsensical rage.

Granted he's supposed to be mad/ driven to distraction by knowledge of his counterpart's existence.

When I watched Mr. Plinkett's review of Star Trek (2009) I was taken aback by his insistence that "Parallels," the TNG episode where Worf learns of countless alternate Worfs and realities/ dimensions, was the worst TNG story ever. What? That's a top 3 ep for me; what's his problem? Apparently, argues Mr. Plinkett, such knowledge would rob anyone of their sense of uniqueness/ drive anyone crazy. "Worf discovers nothing he does matters."

That really struck me as kind of wackadoo. How would learning you were not one but several negate the relevance of your own actions? Why exactly is it a given someone would snap upon learning this? Unless you're so egocentric to think not just the world, not just the galaxy, not just the universe, but the omniverse revolves around you, I just don't see how that would be the case. (And that wouldn't even be egocentrism; it'd be insanity.)

That gets back to the failure to properly characterize Lazarus. He is driven to frothing-at-the-mouth-and-wispy-beard-rattling rage at the thought of "the creature," and he must destroy the entire multiverse to get at him. We're told of his planet being destroyed and his blaming it on his duplicate, but all we're shown is this:

I mean, this is so over-the-top it's in orbit. When such things happen, I have to wonder if perhaps it's been exaggerated to draw explicit attention to itself as cover for something else. If that's the case here, it sailed over my head. Nevertheless, Brown does the job required of him, i.e. alternate between insane and not insane, and he does get to scream "KILL! KILL! KILL! KILL!" before the commercial break, so... that's a win of sorts, right?

Never saw this show, but Brown went on to star in Primus.

As for the other guest star:

This part was originally written as a love interest for Lazarus, but then they went and cast a non-white lady in the part and everyone got crazy and TV stations in the South allegedly refused to air such a thing. 

I say allegedly because I can never tell if these sorts of decisions were made in fear of / anticipation of such an action or if they actually received Boss-Hog-accented threats they wouldn't air such race-mixing malarkey. So, it was cut out.

She doesn't have too much of a role, but apparently she likes to spend her coffee breaks with this futuristic Connect 4 thing. MacLachlan went on to have a long career, mostly in television, including a remake of Valley of the Dolls which starred Gillian from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. 

Internal Logic: -5 pts out of 3. First off, things start off with a disturbance so profound that it hits every quadrant of the galaxy "and beyond." Okay. Even if we assume the Federation has enough outposts and technology sophisticated enough to make an estimated projection, the "beyond the galaxy" bit is a bit of a stretch. Maybe the Admiral who relays this info is just a big exaggerator. As previously mentioned, I'll be forgiving of TOS for a lot of this stuff, as they were basically writing the rules as they went along. But a few things I must mention:

If that's the case, they're pretty casual about letting their only suspect / only guy at the crime scene lollygag about the ship.
Those are the Dilithium crystals there, tucked under his arm in a blanket. Please read that sentence again.
This really cracks me up. It's not really an error, just seems a little retro to me. Reminds me of this business from TAS:

Kirk and the Gang: 3 out of 10 pts. Everyone turns in a rather perfunctory performance.

McCoy comes across more or less like himself. He refers to Lazarus having the recuperative powers of "a dinosaur." Seems kind of an odd reference, but hey: Bones.

Memorability: If you've been adding up these points, you'll see a rather paltry sum. (9.5) Yet this episode has always stuck with me. Part of it is what I described way back in Captain's Blog pt. 1: episodes that weren't on my parents' VHS tapes remained the ones I hadn't seen as often. As such, "The Alternative Factor" had that special rare B-side/ bootleg quality to it, in my imagination. And despite all of the above, still does for me.

Side-note: I came of age in an era where "alternative" meant non-commercial radio music, but not all non-commercial radio, only stuff like The Smiths and Love and Rockets or Sisters of Mercy, what Rolling Stone called college rock before that became the commercial radio stuff. (I remember "the alternative has gone mainstream" being a profound thing to say circa 1993. By 1995, such an insight was cliché. So it goes.) I mention this because for many years, "The Alternative Factor" actually had an "alternative" factor; it was always one of the episodes I never heard anyone talk about, mention, or caught in re-runs. These days, of course, you can google the episode, find a summary, production detail, several re-watches, essays, clips, and side-trip blogs like this one.

I do like the scene between rational-Lazarus and Kirk once he goes through the corridor, though.

Nevertheless, if we end up on the same desert island and I got to pick the 50 TOS episodes, you'd likely be angry that I wasted a pick on this one. But, I would have to. 9 out of 5 pts. (Extra point for the terrible beard. That stays with you.)

Total Points Awarded: 18.5


  1. I can see how this one would make an impact regardless of its many deficiencies. I don't get much out of it, though; I'd watch "Spock's Brain" and "The Way to Eden" AND "Turnabout Intruder" twice rather than this one once.

    Like you say, they were still figuring out what, exactly, "Star Trek" was at the time. So I can cut them some slack. As I've said before, it was a very different era, so some of the same rules don't necessarily apply on an episode-by-episode basis.

    All in all, this one probably ought to be filed in the same mental bin as the Gold Key comics.

    1. Gold Key is a fair comparison.

      I'm surprised you didn't comment on the Kirk and Spock Under the Dome biz! I don't know my readers as well as I thought... I'll have to send these results back to the lab and re-strategize...

    2. (Of course, it may very well be that it's just not very funny and you were just being polite. Watch, that'll be what the brainiacs in the Dog Star Omnibus Labs say when I bring them this. I'll fire 'em all. WHO'S LAUGHING NOW!)

    3. CURSES!

      Rest assured, everyone at staff at The Truth Inside The Lie got a chuckle out of that screencap -- but every single one of us forgot to comment on it. (Technically, there's just me, but don't tell the cats; they'll become sullen.)

      The pink stars are falling in lines...

      The pink stars are falling in lines...

    4. Excellent, excellent. Well, good - the trained chimpanzees I keep on staff for the exclusive purpose of captioning screencaps can avoid "corrective measures" for another blog. I may even let them watch Any Which Way But Loose.

      You mentioned "Turnabout Intruder." I give that ep a lot of crap, but it's probably better than this one. And it's got that lunatic mutiny subplot where Shatner gives one of his top 5 over-the-top freakouts. I really should include it in this TOS Top 50, just for that. I'm trying not to, though, because I fear it'll be the crack in the dam that is currently holding back this from turning into a full-on rewatch, which I'm really resistant to doing. (For some reason.) I just think a top 50 for TOS is a good capstone for the Captain's Blog series whereas a rewatch would be overkill. It doesn't make sense, but I'm holding the line.

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  2. Your comments are dead-on about Plinkett being an egomaniac due to his apparent inability to conceive of a worthwhile existence as an individual if there are countless parallel universe versions of himself. That seemed like such a bizarre criticism of Parallels, or any parallel universe tale when I watched that critique. To tell the truth, it soured me on the guy. I mean, I get that he says outrageous and bizarre things in the course of his reviews, and that's his schtick. That, though, was the straw that gave the camel an irritating back spasm. The investment of time to watch his now apparently unending string of reviews had been starting to tax my patience, and that bit shoved it over into the shadowland of the annoying. And that's even taking into account that he purposely says stuff just to be aggravating.

    1. I find Plinkett's reviews more helpful than irritating. As someone who indulges a fair share of my own eccentricities in my reviews, I'm willing to shrug off some of his oddities. But in this case, I was just baffled. That characterization / interpretation of "Parallels" or alternate realities in general makes zero sense to me.