Star Trek “The Alternative Factor” (part 1 of 6)
Just when I think I’m out, Star Trek pulls me back in! I honestly didn’t plan on doing another Trek article. After all, I’ve taken the TNG crew back behind the woodshed twice, ribbed the fifth movie’s rather overly generous DVD presentation, and given DS9 a solid slap upside the head. What more could I possibly have to say about the franchise?
Then it occurred to me that I haven’t really given any attention to the original series. We’ve had two episodes from the third season, and while that season does have an embarrassment of riffing riches, it’s also like shooting fish in a barrel. Today’s tepid tale comes from the first season, a miracle of television that yielded legit classics such as “Space Seed” and “City on the Edge of Forever”.
It also managed to grunt out “The Alternative Factor”, the twentieth episode shot and twenty-seventh aired. It is truly one of the most confusing, poorly thought-out fifty minutes I have ever witnessed (not counting any random stretch of fifty minutes from any Michael Bay movie, other than The Rock).
In light of this, I have Tylenol and a bottle of Cabo Wabo on hand, just in case. Why Cabo Wabo? Because Sammy Hagar rocks, that’s why!
Very little actually happens, and what little that does comes about only because Kirk and Company are written to act in such a way that can only be described as severely brain damaged. Confusion reigns here, folks. Abandon hope all ye who enter, for we are truly about to enter Hell.
We begin, as tends to be the case, with the Enterprise orbiting a planet. On the bridge, Spock is looking over some readings while Kirk signs something for a random officer. Hmm… I wonder if they’re still using Space Pens.
And no, that sort of pun is not beneath me. In fact, given how bad this episode is, puns may be the only thing that saves me.
Spock begins to report on the planet, noting that it’s pretty much nothing worth talking about… much like this episode. As Kirk gives some orders to the replacement helmsman (no Sulu or Scotty in this one—maybe they read the script), the ship is suddenly rocked by something (done by way of the classic “moving the camera back and forth” trick), while a spatial anomaly is superimposed over the bridge.
After a second round of this, in which we see an interesting contrast between William Shatner’s acting style and Leonard Nimoy’s, things settle down again. To clarify, Nimoy throws himself around the set, while Bill puts his hands up like an actress in a silent movie being menaced by Lon Chaney while twisting around in his chair.
Kirk leaps up and demands an explanation. Well, Leonard is a somewhat more reserved, traditional performer, while you, sir, are such a bizarre ham that even Nicolas Cage would tell you to tone it down.
Spock, after some back and forth, explains that everything ceased to exist for a brief moment. Uhura chimes in, reporting that Starfleet has issued a general alert, which I would imagine is bad. Spock comes back with a report of one lifeform on the planet whose appearance coincided with the bout of non-existence.
Spock is at a loss for an explanation, but reports that the lifeform could pose a potential threat to the ship. Kirk puts together a security team to beam down to the planet, and we go to the opening credits.
Back from the credits, we arrive on the planet, played more than likely by the area near the Bronson Caves. Sadly, there will be no guy in a gorilla suit wearing a diving helmet to provide laughs; we’re nowhere near that lucky.
Overly dramatic music starts up (it’s like the composer knows the plot is a dud, and is overcompensating) as Kirk, Spock, and a few random redshirts beam down. A captain’s log reiterates what we already know (for the folks who were taking a leak for the first four minutes of the episode) and after some wandering around, they find a small one-man spaceship.
The music blares upon the reveal of this, which would be okay if this wasn’t a sci-fi show that featured spaceships all the time. This is sort of like having a musical sting on a cop show every time you see a dude in blue with a badge.
As they approach the ship, a voice cries out, “You came!” from behind. They turn to see a disheveled looking man with a cheesy looking fake beard on a mountain. He rants for a bit about there “still being time to stop him” before doing a rather overly dramatic stage faint and falling.
This will prove to be Lazarus, played by Robert Brown. No, not the one who was “M” in a few James Bond films. This one has done…Well, not a hell of a lot outside of some TV guest spots, but I’d guess he has an extensive stage background going by the way he plays his scenes. It gets to the point where Shatner just says, “Fuck it, I’m going low-key if this guy is going to do it like that.”
Brown, it seems, was a late replacement for John Barrymore, Jr. who was initially cast in the role. Apparently, Mr. Barrymore didn’t show up for filming. Given the script, I can’t say I blame the fellow. The rest of the cast should have done the same thing, to be perfectly frank.