- The Original Series (TOS)
- The Animated Series
- The Movies
- The Next Generation (TNG)
- Deep Space Nine (DS9)
- Voyager
- Enterprise

- Season One
- Season Two
- Season Three
- "Season Four"

Season One:
-1: "The Cage"
-2: "Where No Man Has Gone Before"
-3: "The Corbomite Maneuver"
-4: "Mudd's Women"
-5: "The Enemy Within"
-6: "The Man Trap"
-7: "The Naked Time"
-8: "Charlie X"
-9: "Balance of Terror"
-13: "The Conscience of the King"
-16: "The Menagerie"
-20: "The Alternative Factor"
----: _Time Travel Season 1
-21: "Tomorrow is Yesterday"
----: _Prime Directive Origins
-22: "The Return of the Archons"

-23: "A Taste of Armageddon"
-27: "Errand of Mercy"
-28: "The City On the Edge of Forever"
-29: "Operation -- Annihilate!"
-Season 1 Rankings

- Doctor Who
- Sliders
- The Matrix

- Main Index
- Site Map

The Alternative Factor

(Star Trek story #20 in production order)
  • written by Don Ingalls
  • directed by Gerd Oswald

The Alternative Factor

In one of this story's many misleading moves, its main guest star Lazarus claims to be a time traveler. However, the episode has practically nothing to do with time travel per se, and time travel only seems to be mentioned as one of a number of excuses the writer could have come up with for separating Lazarus from the rest of his society.

More to the point, Mr. Spock spends most of the episode convinced that Lazarus is a liar, and it remains unclear, and ultimately unimportant, whether or not he is lying about the time travel bit.

Lazarus actually turns out to be more of a "slider", but unlike in Tracy Tormé's 1995 TV series "Sliders", the more primitive, dualistic thinking here postulates only two universes, and generates much fear surrounding the idea of a matter-antimatter collision. Seeing as how the Enterprise's engines operate on such collisions regularly, this shouldn't be such a big deal, nor should a parallel opposite universe be required to find this particular danger in the first place.

So, despite invoking both time travel and parallel universes in the same breath, this episode actually does nothing to demonstrate how the two ideas support each other in maintaining an anti-tragedy arena that allows free will, or indeed how the two ideas interact at all.

Our focus today is on the aspect of doubles, particularly Lazarus's double, and how the idea of looking into such a mirror can drive one to madness. The episode proceeds to be one that is difficult to follow closely and appreciate on a character level though.

The Big Cheat

The writer holds a lot of honest explanation back to attempt to create a bit of a mystery, but this doesn't really ring true for the characters he has put into the episode. Even after one has seen it once through, each occurrence of the lengthy effects sequence tempts one to believe that Lazarus has once again switched places with his double. Not so, and attempts to figure out their separate characters this way will easily have one shrugging one's shoulders with the disappointment that they are both equally silly.

In actual fact, we are often left with the same Lazarus we started off with (instead of his double) after some of these effects sequences. At other times, Lazarus switches with his double and no effects sequence is shown, for example during one of the commercial breaks. The cut on the forehead is a much more accurate indicator of which Lazarus we are seeing at any given time - and this reveals another bizarre writing cheat. The "good" Lazarus has no on-screen dialogue whatsoever until the final act of the show. Yes, believe it, even though our regular characters apparently have plenty of opportunity to talk to him earlier on, and apparently do talk to him when the camera's not around to show it. It seems that the only reason they don't get his superior explanation of what's going on from the beginning is the writer's artificial desire to keep it a mystery until the end.

Many other processes remain confusing as well. Does Lazarus really need his space/time craft on the surface to use the corridor between universes? He seems to end up there quite well without it "during his alleged confrontations". Also, why does Spock sometimes detect the whole universe winking out when Lazarus enters/exits the corridor, while at other times he detects nothing?

Though this episode works hard to open up a new concept of parallels and succeeds in leaving its audience with something interesting and haunting to provoke substantial thought afterwards, its sloppiness in creating characters and processes that we can believe in, follow on-screen, and root for, make it one of the lesser episodes of the season. No wonder it was held back while countless other episodes that were filmed later were broadcast ahead of it.

(Our review of "Mirror, Mirror" has moved to its own page here: "Mirror, Mirror"

Read the next Star Trek review article: "Time Travel - TOS Season One"
which, amongst other things, covers the next episode "Tomorrow is Yesterday"
and the infamous "City on the Edge of Forever"....

"The Alternative Factor" is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the desired disc format and location nearest you for pricing and availability:

Star Trek Season One "Purist" Standard DVD Box Set:

Watch the legend develop from its infancy. Set contains 29 episodes from the first season in their original wacky broadcast order, including "The Menagerie Parts 1 & 2" which used footage from the original unaired pilot "The Cage". However, "The Cage" itself is only included with the Season Three Box Set.

As someone interested in researching how the episodes actually looked and sounded originally, and when and exactly how certain musical cues first debuted, this was the DVD set for me, and it remains the most untampered-with full-season collection of Star Trek out there. Unique extras include pure text commentaries on select episodes. Sadly, these sets are starting to become rare, and prices are now rising as these become collectors' items....


DVD Canada


Standard DVD Extras include:

  • original restored broadcast versions of the 29 episodes.
  • "The Birth of a Timeless Legacy" documentary (24 min.)
  • Text only commentary by Denise & Michael Okuda on "Where No Man Has Gone Before", "The Menagerie Parts 1 & 2", and "The Conscience of the King".
  • "To Boldly Go" featurette (19 min.) discussing
    "The Naked Time", "City on the Edge of Forever",
    "The Devil in the Dark", and "The Squire of Gothos".
  • "Reflections on Spock" featurette (12 min.)
  • "Sci-Fi Visionaries" writing featurette (17 min.)
  • "Life Beyond Trek: William Shatner" featurette (10 min.)
  • "Red Shirt Logs" Easter Eggs (7 min. total)
  • Photo Log (still menus)
  • Original Trailers for every episode (1 min. each)

Standard DVD Remastered with CGI:
DVD/HD Combo R1
DVD/HD Combo R1
DVD/HD Combo R2
Standard DVD only R2

The Original Series Remastered Sets

The re-mastered Star Trek sets are more readily available, and in addition to picture and sound quality restoration, liberties have been taken with "upgrading" the episodes. Most famously, new CGI effects and optical shots have replaced many space scenes, matte paintings, and phaser effects. Unlike similar upgrades applied to select Doctor Who DVD releases since 2002, the CGI effects cannot be turned off to see the original effects. The kicker for me comes from reports that the episodes have been rescored with new music. Interesting, funky, but since it's primarily the original music I'm after in the first place, this was not the set for me.

Another curiosity: Season One was released on double-sided discs, with standard DVD on one side and HD on the other. Reportedly, not all extras are accessible on the standard DVD side. However, by the time the remastered versions of seasons two and three were released, HD had clearly lost the standards war to Blu-Ray, and so seasons two and three "remastered" offer standard DVD only yet again.

Adding to the bizarre formatting is the very gimmicky, awkward packaging that is prone to damage both during shipping and with light usage. The season 1 set fares better than its counterparts for seasons 2 or 3 though, in having some interesting bonus features not found on any other season one Star Trek set:

DVD/HD Combo Season 1 Exclusive extras:

  • Starfleet Access interactive trivia plus picture-in-picture interviews for "The Galileo Seven" (HD version only).
  • "Beyond the Final Frontier" History Channel documentary (SD, 90 min.) with host Leonard Nimoy.
  • Trekker Connections interactive DVD game (SD side)
  • Star Trek online game preview (SD, 3 min.)

Season One - Blu Ray

  29 episodes @ 51 minutes
Star Trek sets are now available on Blu Ray. Picture and sound quality restoration has gone up yet another notch since the remastered version, as have the liberties taken with "upgrading" the episodes. Once again, even newer CGI effects and optical shots have replaced many space scenes, matte paintings, and phaser effects.... but this time the upgrades have the same respect and user-functionality applied to select Doctor Who DVD releases since 2002, as the CGI effects can now be turned off to see the original effects. Good show. It seems that the music has still been tampered with too much for my liking though.

Blu-ray U.S.

Blu-ray Canada

Blu-ray U.K.

Blu-ray features add:

  • option to watch episodes with original or new CGI effects.
  • Spacelift: Transporting Trek into the 21st Century featurette (HD, 20 min.) covering the restoration, CGI effects, and music upgrades.
  • Starfleet Access - Okuda interactive trivia plus picture-in-picture interviews on 6 episodes:
    • Where No Man Has Gone Before
    • The Menagerie Part 1
    • The Menagerie Part 2
    • Balance of Terror
    • Space Seed
    • Errand of Mercy
  • Behind-the-scenes 8mm home movies (HD, 13 min.) from Billy Blackburn (Lt. Hadley / Gorn)
  • Kiss 'N tell: Romance in the 23rd Century (8 min.)
  • Interactive Enterprise Inspection (HD)
  • plus all documentaries, featurettes, and episode promos from the "purist" standard DVD set listed far above.

Both "The Alternative Factor" and "Mirror, Mirror" (along with 3 of its best Deep Space Nine sequels)
are available in the following themed DVD box set.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the desired disc format and location nearest you for pricing and availability:

Star Trek Fan Collective:
Alternate Realities

Region 1, NTSC, U.S.
Region 1, NTSC, Canada
Region 2, PAL, U.K.

A series of "Fan Collective" DVD Sets are also on the market, offering a sampling of episodes from across all Star Trek series and spinoffs. "Alternate Realities" is apparently the first of those to offer the remastered versions of original Star Trek episodes, with the upgraded special effects. Those who are dubious about this process may wish to try this less-expensive-than-a-full-season set to see what all the fuss is about.

We also get some long-awaited audio commentaries on a few of the episodes, a welcome rarity for Star Trek's live-action TV shows, although some British fans have complained that the audio commentaries are missing from the Region 2 version.

20 episodes @ 43-51 minutes each:
  • Mirror Universe
    • TOS: "Mirror, Mirror"
    • DS9: "Crossover" (with director's commentary)
    • DS9: "Through the Looking Glass"
    • DS9: "Shattered Mirror"
    • Ent: "In a Mirror, Darkly (Part 1)"
    • Ent: "In a Mirror, Darkly (Part 2)"
  • Parallel Dimensions
    • TOS: "The Alternative Factor"
    • TNG: "Parallels" (with writer's audio commentary)
  • Twisted Realities
    • TOS: "The Enemy Within" (with audio commentary)
    • TOS: "Turnabout Intruder"
    • TNG: "Frame of Mind"
    • Voy: "Shattered"
  • Alternate Lives
    • TNG: "Yesterday's Enterprise" (with director's audio commentary)
    • TNG: "The Inner Light"
    • DS9: "The Visitor"
    • Voy: "Before and After"
    • Voy: "Timeless"
    • Voy: "Course: Oblivion"
    • Ent: "Twilight" (with writer's audio commentary)
    • Ent: "E2"
  • Special Features
    • Mirror Universe: Part 1 (14 min.)
    • Mirror Universe: Part 2 (5 min.)
    • Parallel Dimensions (7 min.)
    • Twisted Realities (13 min.)
    • Alternate Lives: Part 1 (11 min.)
    • Alternate Lives: Part 2 (15 min.)
  • Audio Options (may vary according to region)
    • English
    • Español
    • Portugues

Article written by Martin Izsak. Comments are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

Contact page

If you liked this article, or simply enjoy the parallel universe theme in science-fiction, be sure to check out the 1995-1999 TV series "Sliders" by Robert K. Weiss and Star Trek the Next Generation writer Tracy Tormé, and read our complete series of in-depth Sliders episode reviews, best accessed from our SLIDERS Episode Guide Catalogue.

You may also be interested in: Doctor Who #54: "Inferno" or Doctor Who #176: "Rise of the Cybermen"


Read the next Star Trek review article: "Time Travel - TOS Season One"
which, amongst other things, covers the next episode "Tomorrow is Yesterday"
and the infamous "City on the Edge of Forever"....

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