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Rewatching... Star Trek: The Alternative Factor

My continuing mission: to watch classic television exactly fifty years after original broadcast date...

Thursday 30 March 1967

This one starts out very promisingly. A quite gripping prologue in which the Enterprise passes through some kind of magnetic field, and as Spock puts it, reality momentarily "winks out". We get some classic Enterprise turbulence acting this week, as the crew on the bridge do some synchronised staggering as the ship lurches back and forth. I don't think I've seen much of that (if any) in the series so far. Spock also reports that at the exact moment of this 'winking out', a man suddenly appeared on the previously lifeless planet below them.

This week's landing party (Kirk, Spock and another team of red-shirted extras) beam down to the planet where they meet a rather excitable bearded man called Lazarus. This is a bad sign; I find ranting, shouty people rather dull and this guy seems like one of those classic arm-waving evangelical types. And he's got one of those rubbish wispy moustaches like the Klingons had last week.

Lazarus gets so excited to see the Enterprise team that he falls from a rock and has to be taken back to the ship's sickbay. There's the first mention of dilithium crystals now as Kirk is informed that said crystals were more or less drained at the moment of the disturbance earlier.

The ship is contacted by Starfleet Command who are getting jittery, not being accustomed to the whole of existence winking out every so often. Yes it wasn't just the Enterprise, the phenomena was experienced everywhere. Worrying that this could be a prelude to an invasion Starfleet tells Kirk that his ship is bait, so they're getting out of it and he's on his own. Nice. The Enterprise is under quarantine and Kirk declares Battle Stations! Very dramatic but I must admit I'm a bit confused at how reality being on the blink could be connected with invasion. It seems a bit of a stretch to assume there might be a weapon they hadn't heard about that can destroy all of existence in the universe! You'd think they might assume this to be a natural phenomena. Maybe I missed something.

Kirk chats to Lazarus who rants about a monster who's killed everyone in his civilisation, and declares his intent to find and destroy him/it. Oh dear, he used the phrase "holy cause", I knew he was going to be one of those fanatics... They beam back down to the planet and Spock informs Kirk that there is no other life there so he accuses Lazarus of being a liar. Spock's not very tactful is he? Just outright calls him a liar to his face!

Before they can argue for too long though, there's another one of those magnetic attack things. There's lots of that type of trippy psychedelia that's quite in vogue in 1967, and Lazarus appears to confront this humanoid he's been ranting about. We can't see the features of either of them because of the visual effects but it looks to me as though they might be twins. Now at this point I make a guess as to what's going on. Whilst for the purpose of these reviews I pretend to have time travelled 50 years backwards, whilst I don't recall seeing this episode before, being a sci-fi fan (or if you like, being from the future) I've seen this sort of thing before, and so I wonder if this humanoid is Lazarus's 'anti-man' self...

Lazarus is taken back to the Enterprise sickbay but wanders off when no-one's looking. McCoy finally makes an appearance (hurrah!) and tells Kirk that not only has the man himself vanished but Lazarus's wounds have also disappeared. "Where is he?" asks the captain. "I don't know. This is a big ship. I'm just a country doctor" replies Bones, getting the best lines again.

The ship can't be that big though because they've already found him in the very next scene. He's having another funny turn and his wounds are back, so Kirk thinks McCoy was just winding him up. You'd think Kirk would trust McCoy by now. It's almost as if he has never experienced any kind of weird phenomena before, like for example McCoy telling him a while ago in a previous episode that he saw a giant white rabbit. A mad thing which turned out to be true. Just like this mad thing...that he doesn't believe.

Later Spock gets all enigmatic and tells Kirk that he's pinpointed the source of the magnetic disturbance/radiation/whatever. It's there on the screen, on the planet. It's there but...it's not there.

Lazarus reveals that he wants the ships dilithium crystals. He can use them to locate his monster. He starts ranting again (yawn) and warns that the ship is in danger. Of course Kirk won't let him take any crystals so Lazarus runs off, knocks out a couple of crew and steals some anyway.

Uhura reports that security are saying Lazarus has gone missing. I have to say security are a bit rubbish if they can't keep an eye on this one man.

They immediately find him and he denies he took the crystals. The same gang as earlier beams down to the planet...again...and Lazarus wanders off...again. Why do security keep letting him out of their sight?! It gives him a chance to have another psychedelic fight with the monster man though.

Once that's over he spots a rock about to fall near Kirk and shouts a warning. Kirk's ok but Lazarus falls...again...and is taken back to...well you know the drill by now.

In the sickbay: he's ok! Just a bit of a headache. Kirk confronts him about his lies, and we get the truth at last: he's a time traveller! From Earth! The creature destroys the earth in the distant future so he's trying to stop it. I love McCoy's random annoyance at one of the security redshirts hanging around the sickbay: "Would you get that muscle man out of my sickbay!"

After the advert break Kirk helpfully recaps the whole plot for those who fell asleep. Then he and Spock hypothesis about the 'radiation' (disturbance) coming from another universe, a parallel dimension. They confirm my theory that Lazarus is in fact two men, one from each universe. Man and anti-man. Hooray, I was right! The two types of matter making contact would be catastrophic for both universes.

Meanwhile Lazarus is up to more mischief. The two engineers who were knocked out earlier are back on their feet again but now they have to deal with a fire started by Lazarus. This really isn't a good day for these two. Lazarus makes off with crystals again and beams himself down to the planet. I had no idea you could beam yourself down like that, but of course it makes sense to have a built-in delay.

Kirk follows and catches up with him, but as he reaches him disappears himself. He reappears in a night time version of the same location. He finds Lazarus again but it turns out that this is 'good' Lazarus who is chasing 'bad Lazarus'. Bad Lazarus apparently couldn't cope with the fact that there were two of him so it drove him mad and he wants to kill it. Good Lazarus wants to trap bad Lazarus forever and save both universes. 'Going mad' is very common (and very quick) in sci-fi/fantasy. People often develop serious mental illness in the space of days or hours. Though in fairness in this case bad Lazarus probably had a long long time to become mad.

Kirk returns to the other universe (easy when you know how) and has an End-of-Episode fight with bad Lazarus. I thought at this point that there might be some bluff and good Lazarus was really the bad one...but actually, no. The Lararuses disappear and fight, Kirk returns to his ship, and with good Lazarus's blessing they destroy both versions of his ship to trap the two versions of the man on the planet forever.

"The universe is safe" assures Spock to the troubled captain. "For you and me", he replies, "But what of Lazarus? What of Lazarus?". Yes, the idea of being trapped for eternity, locked in combat with a duplicate mad version of yourself is a rare downbeat ending for Star Trek. I imagine there'd be two madmen on that planet before long.

So after the promising start I was a bit disappointed really. I enjoy a parallel universe story, and this was an early one for the genre. But as with the last episode, there was too much beaming down, beaming back up, and then in the sickbay, out of the sickbay, Lazarus disappears, Lazarus is found... A quite nice, clever idea, but a bit dull in execution really. I assume the limited budget /sets may have been a factor in the repetitive plot, and with more time/money they could have extended it a bit, shown something of the destruction of the world which was referred to. But you know, it wasn't terrible.

Next week's episode however looks brilliant!

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