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Exploring The Final Frontier

The Alternative Factor

When it comes to the original series, there are a handful of episodes that I’ve watched so many times that I can practically recite the dialogue along with the characters.  Many of those episodes come from the mid-point of season one to the mid-point of season two when Gene Coon’s influence on Star Trek became more prominent.

But even in that near-perfect run, there are one or two stinkers that don’t make their way into my viewing rotation that often.

“The Alternative Factor” is one of those stories.

lazarusIt may be the episode of the original series that I’ve re-watched the least.   There are a lot of reasons for that, the most prominent being that it’s confusing as all get out and repeat viewings don’t do much to help it make any more sense.

The teaser for “The Alternative Factor” is eerily similar to that of “City on the Edge of Forever.”  Both episodes start out with the Enterprise in orbit around a planet that seems to be the focal point for “rock the ship” acting.  But that’s where the similarities end with “City” becoming one of the best-regarded episodes not just of the Trek canon but all of television.  And then there’s “The Alternative Factor” with its crazy discussions of mirror universes, people switching places and Lazarus with and without his head bandage.

There are so many things that just don’t add up in the episode.  For years, I wondered why the story was so confusing with Lazarus apparently exchanging places between non-bandaged Lazarus and bandaged Lazarus at will with the episode offering up little in the way of explanation.  I couldn’t help but also be a bit disturbed by how lax security is on the Enterprise.  Lazarus is allowed to roam freely the corridors of the Enterprise, despite previously announcing he needs the dilithum crystals from the warp engines to do – well, there I’m not quite sure and neither is the story for this one.  Needless to say, it feels like they might have wanted to post a red shirt or two on our near the guy.    In a few episodes, Khan will get guards posted outside his quarters once Kirk and company realize he could be a threat.  So why isn’t it a standard procedure here?

1x20_The_Alternative_Factor_title_cardThe good thing about the behind the scenes books on the history of Star Trek is that they have finally provided a bit of insight into just where this episode went astray.  The initial concept sounds interesting enough, including a high profile guest star in John Barrymore and a script that included a romance between Lazarus and Lt. Masters. But Barrymore didn’t show up for work because the NBC censors wouldn’t allow the romantic subplot to stay in place.  So, the script was slashed and rewritten and then we had a hasty last minute replacement take on the role of Lazarus.  Honestly, this is one of those episodes where I’d rather see a dramatic re-enactment of what went on behind the scenes than the actual episode itself. It sounds far more compelling.

I can’t help but wonder if the multiple scenes of Lazarus falling off rocks were inserted into the episode because the Masters/Lazarus romance was stripped from the original scripts.

There is some wonderful location shooting at Vasquez Rocks peppered in here.  But that’s really about the only thing that I can say is going for this episode.

Honestly, I’d rather watch “Spock’s Brain” than this one.

But don’t just take my word for it.  Here’s what others say:

Mission Log: “The Alternative Factor”
Star Trek Fact Checker: The Alternative Factor
Tor’s Star Trek Rewatch 
Onion AV Club Review
The Movie Blog
The Uncommon Geek
Jammer’s Review
Scruffy Rebel Fan Commentary

 

Arena

At its core, “Arena” is an episode that (almost) perfectly encapsulates the things that set Star Trek apart from a lot of shows.

It’s a story about being who we really say we are and overcoming our own internal prejudices.  It’s a story that says our first instinct may not always be the right one and that sometimes we need to look at how our actions appear to another.

It’s an essential, philosophical episode of classic Star Trek. 

And it’s also one heck of an action/adventure story.  Continue reading “Arena”

The Squire of Gothos

Before the rise of “Peak TV,” fans of a series or franchise had to find the connective threads for their favorite show or shows.

One of these threads that created rampant speculation among Trek fans when The Next Generation debuted was if there was a link between the Q and Trellaine’s family in “The Squire of Gothos.”  While the series never acknowledged the connection on-screen, it did lead to one of my favorite tie-in novels, Peter David’s Q-SquaredContinue reading “The Squire of Gothos”

Shore Leave

 

“The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play.”

If you watch the original series in the order that NBC aired the episodes instead of production order, it may seem that Ensign Martine gets over her fiancee relatively quickly.   The end of one episode she’s mourning him in the Enterprise chapel, the next she’s on shore leave in the company of another guy and showing little or no after effects of having just lost someone she was ready to marry the week before. Continue reading “Shore Leave”

The Menagerie, Parts I and II

Watching through original Star Trek in production order means you come across a three episode chock full of courtroom drama.

You may also be tempted (as I am on occasion) to fast-forward through the flashback portions of “The Cage” since it came up in the rotation sixteen or so episodes back. And while I like “The Cage,” it isn’t necessarily one of those installments that I can watch and then feel like I’d enjoy watching again within a few days or weeks. Continue reading “The Menagerie, Parts I and II”

Court Martial

While Star Trek has had some interesting fight scenes up to this point, it’s really with “Court Martial” that you can begin to play the “spot the stunt double” game in earnest.  It’s not really all the difficult.  All you have to do is watch for any wide shot that involves the regular cast and thanks the wonders of high definition, you can tell without a doubt when the stunt doubles are taking part in the action and when the regulars are.

Though, if we’re totally honest, I noticed this trend LONG before the advent of the HD remastering. Continue reading “Court Martial”

The Galileo Seven

While there is a lot to like about the first dozen episodes of Star Trek, I always feel that “The Galileo Seven” is when the series begins to hit its stride.  From here to the midpoint of season two, we get a run of episodes that I’d put among the best any Star Trek series has ever done (one glaring exception, aside.  But we’ll get to that later.)

And a lot of the credit goes to the entry of Gene L. Coon onto the scene.

“The Galileo Seven” is the first episode that sees Coon as producer and showrunner for the series and you can almost feel the series stepping its game up a notch with this one. Continue reading “The Galileo Seven”

The Conscience of the King

When Star Trek celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy hosted a marathon of the top ten episodes as voted by the fans.  The list included “City on the Edge of Forever,” “Mirror, Mirror” and “The Trouble With Tribbles.”  It was, pretty much, the usual suspects from the first quarter century of the original series.

In the last twenty-five years, it’s been interesting to watch as a re-evaluation of the original 79 episodes has taken place.  And while most of the usual suspects still make the ten best episodes list, there are a few that have crept up in the estimation of fans.

One of those is “The Conscience of the King.” Continue reading “The Conscience of the King”

Miri

“Bonk! Bonk!”

Let me preface this by saying that it feels like every time I try to watch “Miri” I always am starting or end up with a splitting headache.  I’m sure this isn’t true for EVERY time I’ve watched the episode, but it does feel like it happens most of the time.  And maybe that’s why I don’t think “Miri” Is exactly a great episode of the original series.

Or it could be that “Miri” is simply one of the least enjoyable segments of the original run of Star Trek. Continue reading “Miri”

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