It's been a year since I last posted my thoughts on an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, which means I've pretty much made a hash of one of my New Year'sResolutions for 2014. I suppose I can only resolve to do better in 2015. Anyway, without further ado, here are my thoughts on The Alternative Factor.
I was first exposed to the story of Lazarus and "anti-Lazarus" more than thirty years ago when I read James Blish's adapation of the teleplay in Star Trek 10 (by the way, the cover of the book, which depicts a battle between the Enterprise and a Klingon battlecruiser, is completely misleading – no such scene is portrayed in any of the stories contained between its covers).
I thought the story was interesting, even compelling.
The cover of Star Trek 10 – no such battle is portrayed in any of the stories in this book - needless to say, I was taken in by the cover and snapped up the book and ended up being quite the disappointed grade-schooler
Viewing the actual episode just highlights one of the main problems with the story – the crew of the Enterprise are merely spectators to the story of Lazarus and anti-Lazarus, which goes a little something like this: Lazarus has been driven mad by the discovery that an anti-Lazarus exists in a parallel antimatter universe, and, despite the fact that Lazarus and anti-Lazarus can only come into non-cataclysmic-causing contact in a "corridor" connecting their respective universes (Lazarus on anti-Lazarus contact outside of this "corridor" would result in the destruction of both universes), Lazarus is intent on cornering anti-Lazarus outside of this "corrider" and coming to grips with him.
Lazarus...or possibly anti-Lazarus...either way, one of them, looking rather unhinged
The problem with the episode (I'm referring to the problem of Kirk and his crew being immaterial to the story, not to the rather unsatisfactory motivation of the villain) didn't really register when I read the novelization because the characterizations of Lazarus and anti-Lazarus were interesting enough to captivate me – when I read James Blish's adaptation, I imagined anti-Lazarus, the real hero in this story (Kirk is relegated to being his sidekick in The Alternative Factor), someone who is willing to consign himself to being trapped for eternity battling Lazarus in the "corridor" joining their respective universes so as to save both their universes, as being a tragic yet heroic figure with Lazarus being a malignant enigma.
Unfortunately, Robert Brown, the actor who portrayed both Lazarus and anti-Lazarus, wasn't really up to the task of essentially carrying the episode. As the calm and rational anti-Lazarus, his performance is barely adequate. As the unhinged Lazarus, his portrayal is limited to mad scenery chewing rants and frequent dizzy spells which usually end with him falling from great heights onto very rocky surfaces and somehow managing to avoid turning into strawberry jam from the impact.
Lazarus about to fall, something which happens with alarming, giggle-inducing frequency in The Alternative Factor
The frequency of Lazarus's episodes of vertigo and his being seemingly impervious to blunt force trauma results in many parts of The Alternative Factor being unintentionally hilarious.
Unfortunately, the hilarity of the bad bits aren't enough to catapult The Alternative Factor into the category of being So Bad It's Good.
It's merely bad.