The Alternative Factor
Overall Ep :
First Aired :
30 Mar 1967
Season Ep :
Main Cast :
Guest Cast :
The Commodore claims that the energy distortions where felt throughout every quadrant of the galaxy and far beyond. How does he know, they'd only explored a small fraction of the Alpha quadrant by this time!
Worst Moment :
Normally, I dont mind bad science too much, but in this episode the science is so bad that it makes it almost un-watchable.
Body Count :
The clear plastic dome on Lazarus's ship was later used to cover the Providers in TOS Episode The Gamesters of Triskellion"
This episode is a nominee for the DITL "Worst of Trek
The Enterprise is surveying an uncharted planet when it experiences a strange anomaly. The ship and everything within sensor range suddenly "blinks", as if the universe itself had momentarily been on the edge of vanishing from existence. Immediately afterwards they detect a ship on the surface with a life form reading nearby. Kirk leads a landing party to the location and finds a man there. They bring him back to the ship where they learn some worrying news - the odd anomaly has drained the dilithium crystals almost completely. Worse, Starfleet has issued an emergency code indicating a possible hostile invasion. The anomaly has apparently been felt throughout the entire galaxy and beyond.and it is feared that it might be a preparation for invasion by some hostile power.
Kirk talks to the man, learning that his name is Lazarus. he claims to be pursuing a monster, a "thing" who he claims destroyed his entire civilisation. Yet Kirk can find no sign of any other person anywhere on the planet. The "blink" phenomenon happens again and Lazarus seems to be subtly changed by it, a wound on his head which had been bandaged suddenly vanishing. This version of Lazarus seems much more reasonable, but as time goes on he switches back and forth between the two states.
On the bridge, Spock has found the beginnings of a explanation. There appears to be radiation emanating from what he describes as a "rip" in the universe, a point where the regular laws of physics do not apply. Spock suggests that the dilithium crystals could be used to locate the exact point, causing an excited Lazarus to ask for the crystals. When Kirk refuses he steals them anyway.
Kirk confronts Lazarus and he confesses that he is a time traveller from the planet below, which in the past supported his civilisation. Kirk and Spock begin to realise that there are two versions of Lazarus, one from this universe and one from another antimatter universe. They are periodically swapping places via the rip. Should one ever catch the other and exist in the same time and place then the resulting annihilation would destroy everything in the entire universe in a massive explosion.
Eventually Kirk is able to come up with a plan; the more reasonable of the two will enter the rip at the same time as his antimatter counterpart and hold him there. The Enterprise can then destroy the ship on the surface, sealing the rip. Although this will make both universes safe, the two Lazarus's will be trapped in the rip forever.
The plan works, and the universe is saved.
There's the germ of a good idea here. Parallel universes have been suggested for a long time, with much speculation about whether they really do exist or are merely a mathematical contrivance. The idea of an insane person in one universe becoming obsessed with his sane counterpart in another is kind of interesting, and could have been played well given the possibility for one man posing as the other, fooling people, etc.
But oh my do they foul it up here. What we get is a clearly good Lazarus and a clearly evil one, who basically just chase one another around and rant and rave a lot. There's nothing here to engage us, nothing to make the episode interesting or involving.
Then there's the technobabble. There's just so much that doesn't make sense. For one, this "blink" effect. Spock describes it as everything just sort of blinking out, which Kirk calls a moment of non existence. But... if nothing existed, then how was Spock able to see it happening on his instruments? Surely he and the instruments and the ship itself would have blinked out just like everything else. And Starfleet's reaction is weird. As mentioned above, there's really no way they could have known that this effect had extended throughout the galaxy, let alone beyond. But let's accept that as hyperbole and say it was felt over all of known space. How exactly could this be considered to be a prelude for invasion? The effect did no harm, caused no destruction. What exactly would an invading power accomplish by doing it? Not to mention that any invading power capable of it would be so advanced that resistance would probably be moot. The whole thing is just sort of thrown in there and left dangling.
Then we have the other universe Lazarus is from. Apparently it's an antimatter universe. That's a fascinating idea - there's a principle in physics along the lines that you can't distinguish matter from antimatter by the way it behaves, meaning that a planet made of antimatter atoms would behave exactly the same as a planet made from matter atoms. So there really could be a universe made of antimatter and it really could have everything ours does -s tars, planets, people, all made of antimatter. But the thing is, if something from that universe came into our universe, standing on a planet or a ship made of matter, it would immediately go BOOOOOOM. Matter and antimatter mutually annihilate one another when they come into contact - hell, that's actually the exact reaction that is supposed to power the Enterprise herself. And indeed, the writers seem to know this and use the idea that both versions of Lazarus will be annihilated in a cataclysmic explosion if they touch. But they mistreat it so badly... first, the assumption seems to be that the reaction will only happen if Anti-Lazarus touches Lazarus, specifically. In reality an Anti-Lazarus would explode as soon as he came into contact with any matter at all, even the molecules of air around him. And likewise for the matter Lazarus when he went to the antimatter universe.
Nor would the explosion be as bad as is made out. It would certainly be bad, no doubt about it. But the worst it could possibly be would be something like 3 billion tons of TNT going off. That's a hell of a wallop, no doubt about it, a good fifty times as powerful as the most powerful nuclear bomb ever. It would make a nice mess of that planet to be sure. But destroy the whole universe? Not even remotely close. A single supernova puts out millions of times more energy and more, and those are going off constantly somewhere in the universe.
Of course back then the writers didn't really know too much about antimatter, and likely didn't expect the audience to. And if there had been a decent story to carry us past it, I wouldn't mind too much - look at The Naked Time, in which antimatter can't be mixed when it is cold. Um, yes it can. But that is a relatively minor point in an episode that was carried by an exploration of the characters and their motivations. Here, the technobabble is front and centre, right in our face... and the story that hangs off it is a desperately weak one.
All in all, a worthy entry in the worst of TOS awards.
The remastered version has a new planet and shots of the Enterprise orbiting it, as usual.