Star Trek: The Original Series (1967) – The Alternative Factor and The City on the Edge of Forever

Captain’s log: stardate 3087.6

Well, it had to happen. In a season with twenty-nine episodes, at least one of them had to be iffy, and The Alternative Factor is definitely that one. Written by Don Ingalls, this lacklustre episode had it’s premiere on 30 March, 1967.

But it did introduce me to one thing, even if I didn’t understand it at the time… the idea of parallel universes.

While conducting a mapping assignment, the Enterprise comes across a lifeless planet, but after a violent spatial phenomenon, Kirk (William Shatner) and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) are puzzled to discover there is now one lifeform on the planet below.

With their dilithium crystals drained, the Enterprise is stuck, at the mercy of the violent spatial outbursts, and their cause – the lifeform, Lazarus (Robert Brown) and his alter-ego from a parallel universe which the alien claims is anti-life to his life, and possibly the entire galaxy.

So our stalwart Starfleet crew and the audience try to figure out what is going on, and how the Enterprise is going to survive this bizarre threat. Unfortunately, it’s not done in an exciting or engaging way, and consequently, this is an episode that I can never remember the plot of, because I just keep blanking it out of my memory. I know I’ve seen it countless times, and I know I must have first seen it as a child, but I just can’t remember it.

Starfleet declares the possibility of invasion, and that idea sounds exciting, but nothing comes from that, but for the struggle between Lazarus and his alter-self.

Kirk and Spock look suitably bewildered throughout the episode, and poor McCoy (DeForest Kelley) can’t figure out why Lazarus’ bandaid keeps moving around his forehead.

As much as I like the idea of alternate universes, this one just doesn’t pay off, and even the special effects used to convey the two men, locked in an eternal struggle to keep their respective universes safe just doesn’t work.

The whole episode is a bit of a mess. The whole episode lacks the banter and the moments we’ve already come to expect from Kirk, Spock and McCoy, their left to try and share muddled exposition, and look in shock and awe at the events that are occurring around them.

Oh well. They can’t all be winners I guess, and I am well aware that there are a few more disappointing episodes to come, but this is the first one that really feels like a misfire.

Happily, that is made up for by the next episode.


Captain’s log: stardate UNKNOWN

The City on the Edge of Forever, penned by Harlan Ellison first aired on 9 April, 1967, and has gone down in the annals of television history, as, quite possibly, the best Star Trek episode of all time.

While orbiting a strange planet, filled with incredible ruins, McCoy accidentally injects himself with an overdose of a drug, driving him temporarily insane. When he escapes to the surface, Kirk and company pursue, only to discover the Guardian, a sentient piece of technology that serves as a doorway through time.

McCoy leaps through it, and somehow changes Kirk’s present, so the Enterprise, and all he and the crew on the planet are all that’s left of Starfleet. Everything they know is gone.

Spock and Kirk decide to follow their friend back in time, and find themselves on Earth in the early days of the 20th century, during the Great Depression. They need to find out what McCoy changed and get time back on the correct path.

Unfortunately, the cost will be too dear for Captain Kirk, when he and his Vulcan friend, discover that everything centres around one woman, Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), and her fate changes it all.

In order for everything Kirk holds dear to survive, to exist, Edith Keeler, a woman he is in love with must die.

Just wow.

I remember seeing this one as a kid, and knew it affected me. At that point in my life, I hadn’t made any big decisions, I hadn’t lost anyone close to me, not even a pet at that point (as far as I knew. I’d learn later the fate of Scamp).

The idea of sacrifice on this level was beyond me. I couldn’t fathom what Kirk had given up. I knew he had saved the lives of his crew, his future, at the expense of a woman he loved, I knew that was important, but didn’t quite comprehend how much.

Now, and the countless times I’ve seen it before it resonates with a beauty and a heartache that shows Star Trek at its best.

The relationships between Kirk and Spock work perfectly as they trail McCoy, and seeing Kirk fall for Edith, knowing how things have to play out. Just ouch.

It’s a beautiful episode. There is humour, time travel, and those brilliant character moments…

This is Trek at its finest, showing devotion to a higher calling and belief that things can be better, even if there is sacrifice and pain to make it so.

Better writers than I have talked about this episode, and all I can do is share my personal experiences with it. It’s a fantastic episode with fantastic performances by everyone involved, and showcases Kirk and Spock’s friendship, as well as the lengths they will go to for a friend, and the sacrifices they will make.

It doesn’t get better than this episode.

Next week, the Human Adventure continues…






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